step; family; sister; parent; brother; sibling; stepfamilies; stepfamily; stepparent; stepfather; stepmother; stepbrother; stepsister; relationships;
Sometimes when parents break up, or someone passes away, mum or dad may eventually start a new relationship. This is how people come to have stepfamilies. All relationships have their ups and downs, and stepfamilies are no exception. When one or more people join your family, it can create a lot of change and this can be hard to accept at first - but being in a stepfamily can be really cool too.
There are many good things about living in a stepfamily.
- Some young people have said they like the idea of being a 'family' again.
- Others say that they feel more safe and secure.
- Some young people have said they have two sets of parents to look up to, to get support from, to help with homework, to talk with about other problems, and to help with major decisions eg. education and career.
- You have another adult to do things with.
- You may have stepbrothers and sisters to do things with and have fun.
- Some may enjoy the differences between two homes.
- Some say it's nice to see their parent so happy being with a new partner.
- Some young people recognise that their standard of living is better because there is more money coming into the household.
- Having more relatives can be positive.
- There may be a new baby brother or sister to love.
- Some have said that one benefit is getting more presents!
- Others enjoy having a bigger family.
A 14 year old boy tells us about his 13 year old step-brother:
"I can't wait to see Jamie on weekends. He is my best friend and has been for years."
not so good stuff
Being in a stepfamily may not always be fun. There can be some difficult issues to deal with.
The following sections cover some of the potential problems, and how they can be worked through.
Young people in new step-families will have experienced important losses.
- You may have been through the trauma of your parents breaking up (see the topic Family Breakdown) and experienced all the feelings of loss this brings.
- When one parent moves into another relationship, this can mean the loss of all your dreams and wishes that your parents will reunite.
- If a parent has died, there is grief and mourning for the loss of your parent (see Loss and Grief).
- There may be the loss of time and attention from your parent as she spends time in the new relationship.
- There is a loss of the old familiar ways of how your family used to be and the ways that the family used to do things.
- If stepbrothers and sisters move in, it may mean having to give up or share your bedroom.
- If you're moving to a new house, it may mean the loss of a familiar neighbourhood, friends and school.
Just one of these losses alone can be difficult to deal with, yet sometimes young people will have to face several losses at one time.
When this happens, support and love from parents is really comforting. Sometimes parents can be caught up in what is happening for themselves with the break-up, death or the new relationship, and need time for themselves also.
- Try talking to your parents about how you are feeling, ask for help, and share the new experiences together.
- Try working out solutions together, eg. if you are moving, can arrangements be made for you to stay at your old school?
- If it's too hard to talk to your parents, is there a relative or adult family friend you trust and can talk to?
- How about your student counsellor, teacher or youth health service? In South Australia you could call the Youth Healthline on 1300 13 17 19 to have a chat and maybe make a time to see a counsellor.
In a new stepfamily, young people have to get used to different ways of doing things and get used to living with new people.
- Apart from the new step-parent, there may be new stepbrothers and stepsisters to get used to. For example:
- You might not be the oldest or the youngest in the family anymore.
- Change can also be a source of stress, and even simple changes such as day to day chores around the house can take time to get used to, eg.
- Do you do the dishes after each meal of the day or do you do them once a day?
- What meal times and routines are people used to?
- Do you eat meals at the table or in front of the television?
- How do you divide up household tasks?
Change can also be a good thing. You might learn new and better ways of doing things in a stepfamily, or you might be able to teach other members of the stepfamily some new ideas.
- Some young people feel like they're divided between their two natural parents. You may love both parents, but feel bad because there is still some conflict between them. It can be really upsetting to hear awful things about the other parent.
- You could notice one parent is still really upset about the break-up. The break-up probably happened for many reasons, not just one thing, and neither person can be entirely to blame. All you can do is let the hurting parent know that you love him or her and that you care, and maybe do something nice for that parent.
- As hard as it is for you, these things are for your parents to work out. It is their problem. If you're angry about the break up, it can be best to find other ways to get the anger out, perhaps by talking to a school counsellor. Check out the topic Managing the anger in your life.
- Some parents continually ask young people questions about the other parent. It's best not to get involved. You may have to even tell your parent, "I don't want to get involved in telling you things about Mum (or about Dad). It is too hard for me to be pulled in the middle. If you want to know things, please ask her (or him)." Say it as respectfully, yet as assertively, as you can manage.
- Sometimes a parent may say things about the other parent which make you feel bad. Maybe you could say something like, "I know you're upset, so let's talk about something else."
It can be difficult to get used to the idea of discipline coming from a step-parent.
- Your new step-parent may have different ideas about discipline from your parent.
- If the issue becomes a problem, it's best to get things out into the open and let your parent know how you are feeling.
- The most effective way to discuss any conflict is to make a time to talk together when you won't be interrupted.
- Be respectful and try and stay calm (yes, it is difficult when you're upset about something, but it works better this way).
- If you can't talk to your parent, is there a family friend or relative who can help? Is there a school counsellor who can help?
Moving between houses
Sometimes young people can have two houses to stay at. If things aren't going well at one, then it's handy to have somewhere else to go to. But if this becomes a way to avoid solving problems, then house-hopping can become a problem in itself.
An alternative to constantly moving between houses might be:
- Tell your parent/s you want to discuss something that is really important to you and ask that they make a time when you can sit down together quietly.
- Tell them how you're feeling - in a respectful way, without blaming.
- Ask if there is any way you can work this out together, eg. set new rules that give you a little more freedom, so that you all know exactly where you stand.
- Have a look at the topic on Conflict and negotiation - it may offer a few helpful hints.
- If this is just too hard, is there a relative you could talk to who could speak to your parents for you?
- Would you consider going to counselling or mediation with your parents? Mediation is when a trained person helps both parties to come to an agreement together. The mediator should not take sides. See Resources below.
- Sometimes it happens that there is so much conflict between a young person and parent or step- parent that the parents ask or demand that the young person leave the home.
- If this happens, it is a good idea to check out where you stand by talking to someone at your local government body responsible for children's welfare (Families SA in South Australia).
- In most places parents do have some responsibility for their children, depending on their age.
- There are counselling services that can help to mediate the situation.
- If the conflict can't be resolved, can you live with another family member? Can you stay with a family member for a while so that you and your parents can have a break from each other?
Contact refers to the time young people and parents agree to share with one another.
Contact can have its ups and downs. Some of the good things are having fun with your other parent, going out with him, seeing other relatives or stepbrothers and stepsisters, and talking with and getting support from your parent.
Some of the tougher things can be living out of a suitcase, and feeling like it's not really your home. See if you can make it more like home for yourself. Here are some ideas.
- Ask if you can put up a poster or two.
- Keep some of your "things" there, like a trophy or something you made at school.
- Ask if you can have a cupboard or even a drawer you can keep things in.
- Keep a toothbrush and a few spare clothes there.
- Can you invite a friend over?
- Can you give the phone number to your friends so they can call you there?
- Try and keep up with your usual weekend sports - if your parent or stepparent can't take you, can you arrange something else?
You don't have to like your step-parent - although it would be nicer for you both if you do like each other. It can be difficult living in the same house with an adult you don't like. The best way to ensure that things run smoothly in the home is if everyone tries to treat everyone else with respect.
Many step-parents feel unsure of themselves and their place in the family; they can feel like outsiders.
- You could try doing some nice things for your step-parent to include her in the family. Little things like saying thanks for a lift or a meal can be helpful, so can saying hello and goodbye as you would with your parent.
- Inviting a step-parent to your sports grand final or another function can be helpful in including them in your family life.
Step-parents seem to take on different roles.
- Some are like friends, some are like another parent and others seem like a distant stranger.
- There's no real right or wrong; it's what works best for your family and the different people who are in your family.
Some step-parents get really bossy and try to take control of everything. It is hard to get on well with someone who is bossy all the time. In this situation it may be best to get counselling or mediation to live together in a more positive way.
Sometimes it can be so tough, young people start using drugs and alcohol as a way to try and forget painful feelings.
- This may work for a short time while the person is affected by a drug, but doesn't always block the bad feelings out (think about people who get drunk and cry about their problems).
- When the person straightens up, the problems and painful feelings are still there because the feelings haven't really been dealt with.
- What's worse, you may have spent a tonne of money, have a hangover, or have taken other health, legal and safety risks in using drugs.
It's best to get some support about ways to handle the feelings. That way you'll find solutions that last. Talk to a counsellor or another supportive friend or relative.
a step-parent is abusive
- If you are in a situation of real abuse from a step-parent or a parent, this is very different from the normal (but still difficult) conflicts that arise in a family. It is important to get some outside help. See the topic on Child abuse for more information about what abuse is and what you can do about it.
Sometimes step-brothers and sisters get along really well and become close friends. Sometimes they become friends for life.
Sometimes step-brothers and sisters become sexually attracted to each other. It is normal to become attracted to someone you like. But in a step-family it can become a problem for several reasons.
- Having a relationship with someone in the same household can cause all kinds of upset to relationships in the house.
- Parents may suspect young people of sneaking into each other's bedrooms and arguments begin between parents and the young people.
- The couple may argue or break up (which is highly likely at a young age) and this can cause major dramas in the household.
- One may eventually want to go out with another person. Can you imagine how uncomfortable that other person would feel coming over to the house?
What is the answer? It can be difficult to handle this attraction. It may be best to bring the situation out into the open by talking about it to your parents or to speak to a counsellor at school, a youth service or a community health centre.
Other problems arise because there are jealousies or feelings of not being treated fairly or because one person in the family feels left out.
Have a look at our topic on Fighting with brothers and sisters.
One sex can be outnumbered by the other.
"I like my stepbrothers and brother but it means there are three boys in the house and only one girl. Sometimes I feel left out. Sometimes I go and stay with a friend overnight to have another girl to hang out with".
Jayne, 13 years old.
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Youth Healthline on 1300 13 17 19 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).