When two people get married, they expect to stay together forever. But sometimes people's feelings change over time, even when they have children together whom they both love. A couple might realize that they would be happier apart than they are together, and so they choose to get divorced. This is never an easy decision.
Divorce can be painful for parents, but eventually, each person involved starts to heal. A divorced parent may even meet someone new he or she would like to live with or marry.
Sometimes spouses die and husbands or wives are forced to start over. Despite all the pain of losing someone they love, in time, they might find people they want to share their lives with again.
If a kid's mom and dad never married, just the mom or just the dad might be the only parent in the kid's life. Someday, that mom or dad might decide to marry someone else.
When this happens, a new family is created. A new husband or wife for your parent means a new stepparent for you. It's normal to be sad and scared as your family changes and it may take some time to get adjusted to your new family situation.
Getting Used to Stepparents
Suddenly having a new adult in your life and your home can be really tough. You'll probably have lots of questions, like what you should call your stepdad or stepmom. (Some families use the person's first name.)
You also might wonder about rules and whether you really have to listen to your stepparent even if he or she is not your real mom or dad. A stepparent is another adult who's looking out for you, so it's best to give him or her the same level of respect you give your own parents, coach, or teacher at school.
You might worry about what will happen on holidays — who you'll be with and exchange presents with. These are all good questions and ones you should talk over with your family. You might want to talk with your parent alone or call for a group family meeting, or even ask a parent to write a schedule for you.
What if You Can't Get Along
OK, so you've given it some time. You've tried to like your stepmom — but you just don't get along! You can't stop wishing that things were the way they were before. But ask yourself, is it really her you don't like?
Could it be the fact that someone else is taking away some of your dad's attention? Or watching TV in the living room when there's a show on that you wanted to watch? Or taking extra-long showers in the bathroom? If something is bothering you, it helps to figure out exactly where the problem is happening and speak up.
It's not easy sharing your parent and your home with a stepparent. (It can be even harder if your stepparent has children, and you have stepsiblings now, too!) Don't be afraid to let your mom or dad know that you miss spending time with him or her alone.
It's also a good idea to have a family meeting to hash out any problems. Maybe your stepmom can wait and take those long showers after you go to bed and you can come up with a schedule for sharing the TV. Better yet, maybe the family can do something other than watch TV, like play a game together.
But if you just can't seem to get along with your stepparent no matter what, it's time for a major heart-to-heart with your parent, and maybe your stepparent, too. When you're mad, it can be tempting to scream, "I can't stand her!" or "He's ruining my life!" But this will only hurt your stepparent's feelings and will not make anything better. Instead, explain why you're upset with your stepparent. Be specific about what the problems are and why you feel so angry.
You might even go to a family counselor or therapist. Sometimes someone who doesn't live with you and knows how families work can help figure out how you can all get along.
One Big, Happy Family
When you're still getting used to a new stepparent, it may seem as though things will never be OK. It takes a while to get comfortable with someone, and it also takes patience and lots of talking.
But you might surprise yourself when you realize one day that you can't imagine your life without your stepdad anymore. He's the only one who understands what's so funny about that joke that everyone else thinks is dumb, and he makes the best peanut butter fudge sundaes!
It's also important to understand that when you do get along with your stepparent, it does not mean you care less for your parents, especially a parent you may no longer live with most of the time. A caring stepmother understands that you still love your mother and enjoy spending time with her. She will also understand how much you still love your mother, even if she died. Families are about love and understanding, not about competing with each other.
The more good you can find in your stepparent and your situation, the closer you'll become. And the entire family will be a whole lot happier — especially you.
Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: September 2013
Originally reviewed by: W. Douglas Tynan, PhD