Remarriage and the Effect on Teen Kids

It takes at least two years for stepfamilies to adjust to their new situation and evolve into their own unit, according to information from Jody Johnston Pawel, a licensed social worker and certified family life educator, on her Parent's Toolshop website 2. In the event of a remarriage, a teen can experience a variety of emotions that he must struggle to deal with, from confusion to full-blown anger. As a parent, it's important to explore your teen's viewpoint and move forward with patience, empathy and a willingness to listen.

Turmoil and Readjustment

Going through a divorce inevitably means major changes for teenagers, which can result in a complex mix of emotions, such as:

  • anger
  • confusion
  • sadness
  • anxiety

They lose close contact with one of their parents, possibly move to another house, have to deal with custody issues or schedules and are forced to adjust to a new type of family. Another forced adjustment -- remarriage -- can result in renewed apprehension, confusion, anger and sadness. After experiencing such big changes in their lives, teenagers may view remarriage as another uprooting of their home life. Also, remarriage can add another difficult facet to the lives of teenagers who are already plagued with various biological and emotional changes. A warning sign that the teen is not adjusting well to a remarriage is if she distances herself from spending time with the family or avoids coming home at expected times, according to Dr. Andrew Cherlin, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who studies the effects of family changes on children's well-being, in an article on The Washington Post website.

Feelings of Resentment

A teenager can view the new adult as a source of competition for her biological parent’s attention. A teenager may begin to feel resentment for the interloper who has now become a key part of the household and a major focus of her parent's time and energy. If the teen has no prior history of love and acceptance with the stepparent, she may believe her feelings of resentment are warranted. After all, she has nothing to lose. If the teen acts on these negative feelings, it can cause tension between family members and possibly a development of resentment for the teen on the part of the stepparent. To further complicate the issue, the new parent may also influence the way the biological parent disciplines the teenager. For example, the stepparent may point out where the biological parent is lacking in disciplinary methods, or the stepparent might try to take on the role of disciplinarian as he sees fit. The teen may view this as an alarming situation where her biological parent has become someone else in the presence of the new individual. She may begin to rebel, creating further difficulties.

Confusion Over Adult-Child Roles

There are also some circumstances where remarrying may cause role confusion for the teen. Before the new parent came along, the child may have been forced to become the “man of the house,” influence adult decisions or make adult choices. For any teenager, the transition from child to adult is not easy. For those with single parents, experiencing more responsibility and authority can give them a sense of being an adult. However, when another adult comes into the picture, teens may find themselves confused as to which role they fit in. With a stepparent present -- an adult partner for their parent to rely upon -- the teen may be expected to regress into a subordinate child’s role.

Feelings of Betrayal and Discomfort

Even if the teen's relationship with the new family member is positive, she may feel like she is betraying the absent parent by forming a bond with the new one. Interactions with her absent biological parent might become strained due to feelings of confusion and guilt over her acceptance of a new parent. In addition, feelings of discomfort can arise from sharing a house with an unfamiliar person. It's important for the biological parent to make sure that, when her new partner moves in, the teen retains enough privacy and space to feel comfortable. Also, a teen seeing a stepparent interact romantically with the resident parent may trigger feelings of discomfort. Facing the realities of the remarriage results in a teen's loss of the fantasy of having her biological parents back together while simultaneously being forced to have a connection with someone she barely knows.