Facing the Challenges of Adolescent Stepchildren

I recently began teaching a Sunday School class for 13-14 year-old girls at our church. Some days I wonder why I agreed to do it. Since our youngest son is the same age, I’m seeking to invest in his youth group and get to know his peer group.


As I observed the girls at a youth event recently, I couldn’t help but notice the drama that surrounded many of them as they related to one another. My first inclination was to step away and escape the uncomfortable feelings that began to arise as I reminisced about difficult adolescent years with my stepdaughter.

My thoughts turned to, “Do I want to re-live the drama I’ve moved past that naturally accompanies girls this age?” I could choose to bail and escape the headaches that will accompany the role I’ve taken on.

I must tell you the answer to the question I asked myself was not a resounding “Yes.” However,  I can say this is where I believe God has placed me for this season.

So I have a choice. Will I change my thinking to how I can help these adolescent girls and invest in their emotional and spiritual maturity, or will I selfishly choose to run, leaving behind a part of God’s plan for me right now?

It reminds me of the choice I made when my stepchildren were adolescents. Many days I wanted to run and escape the heartache I was experiencing as a stepparent. Rejection. Loss. Disrespect. Unfair treatment.

I considered leaving. I pondered my option of becoming a single parent again. I wasn’t sure I had the strength to endure the challenges thrown at us as our stepfamily walked through the minefield of adolescence.

But I reconsidered the vow I’d taken when I married. I knew God had placed me in the lives of my stepchildren and had a role for me to play– to invest in their lives emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, to be a light in the midst of darkness, to show them a relationship with a loving God they might not experience otherwise.

Would I run away from God’s plan for me through a difficult season? Would I choose to completely detach so I didn’t have to experience the pain of rejection again? Or would I allow God to use me to help raise two of his children and heal the wounds they had experienced, growing and maturing me in the process?

I’m thankful today I didn’t quit. It was during their adolescent years that my stepchildren unexpectedly lost their mother after a short battle with cancer. The loss further complicated our stepfamily dynamics and created challenges I didn’t know how to face.

But with the Lord’s help, we muddled through. And today I can look back and know that I played an important role in the lives of my stepchildren during a difficult season.

I’m reminded of an appropriate phrase I’ve heard stepfamily expert Ron Deal say, “Stepfamilies were not made for the emotionally fragile.” And I’d like to add: the emotionally fragile stepparent won’t make it through adolescence.

If you’re in the midst of parenting adolescent stepchildren, don’t negate the importance of effective communication and conflict resolution. If you need help in these areas,  please find a counselor, pastor, or coach who can help–one trained in stepfamily dynamics.

Adolescence can bring out the worst in stepfamilies, leaving behind a trail of destruction. Be prepared to deal with it with good communication and conflict management skills.

If you’re looking for support as a stepmom, or maybe just a few days of respite with women walking a similar journey, I hope you’ll consider joining us at our next Stepmom Retreat. You’ll find laughter, hope, healing, and friendship with others who understand the road you’re on. Come enjoy the amazing Cooper hotel and spa in Dallas. Learn more here: http://bit.ly/2j1wko6

If you’re parenting adolescent stepchildren, step back and take a deep breath. It’s not easy. They’re in the midst of significant change and so are you. But don’t give up!

There are blessings on the other side.

Can you share tips on how you’ve overcome adolescent challenges with your stepchildren? I’d love to hear them.

Pic by Vlado

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3 replies
  1. Susan Sheldon
    Susan Sheldon says:

    I have a step daughter. I met her when she was 15 and now she is turning 18. When her parents divorced at 13 she attached herself to her father and rejected her mother as it was her mothers decision to end the marriage to be with another man. Dad has full custody of her and her brother 13 visits his mother every other weekend. This girl never wanted daddy to be with another woman. She has rejected me since I entered their lives criticizing everything about me to her father and ignoring me and rejecting that I live in the house or that I am Dad’s wife. It got so bad I no longer eat with, ride in a car with or talk to her at all. It always ended unpleasantly when I did any of these things. My feeling is give her what she wants and avoid her at all costs. Not sure how anybody could engage this kid. She is going to college soon- ( we have to pay for it) and her dad hopes she will mature and overcome this attitude toward me. I worry that she won’t and we will be plagued with this into her adult life. Do you have any tips for this?

    • Gayla Grace
      Gayla Grace says:

      Hello Susan,

      I’m so sorry to hear of your difficult relationship with your stepdaughter. It’s hard to know if things will change when she goes off to college or not. But I have to ask about how her dad handles her behavior. He needs to be the one to step in and address the issue – it will likely never get better until he does. She’s being given way too much control in the home and it saddens me to hear you’ve had to go to such drastic measures. I highly recommend you read the book, The Smart Stepmom. There is a chapter in there dedicated to the dads also. I think it would give you some good perspective. You and your husband could also read the book, The Smart Stepfamily together. I think it would be helpful for your husband to understand the steps he needs to take also. It would also be great if you could find a stepfamily class or attend one of our stepmom retreats. I know you’re in a hard spot and use some support!
      God bless you. Don’t quit trying but please find support! Gayla

      • Susan Sheldon
        Susan Sheldon says:

        Thanks so much. My husband says he “talks” to her but there are no consequences for her. He is ruled by guilt over her mother’s reported bad treatment of her and he is non confrontational with her . He wants to believe time and maturity will solve it but I think he is setting us up for a lifetime of issues. I will get the book and ask him to read his part. I pray it will help. God bless thank you so much for responding to me.

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