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Loyalties Divided

A stepmother with 15 years of stepparenting under her belt approached me today because she is having difficulty with her 20-year-old stepdaughter. Apparently, when the daughter is with both the mother and stepmother, she tends to belittle her stepmother, or worse, ignore her altogether. While this may seem harsh in a family that has been in its current form for at least 15 years, it’s not unusual. I believe that it comes down to a matter of being unable to discern that yes, you can get along with all of the parents in your life without feeling as though you are being disloyal to one or the other.

Until recently, most scientists believed that development of the brain was completed by as early as three years of age. Perhaps more interesting, they also believed that the brain was fully mature by age 10 or 12. Having been involved in the rearing of three teenagers, I know better! Recent findings show that the greatest changes to the parts of the brain that are responsible for functions such as self-control, judgment, emotions, and organization occur between puberty and adulthood. This may help to explain certain teenage and young adult behavior that parents can find challenging. This may be what explains my friend’s situation with her stepdaughter.

A teen or young adult likely understands the issues that resulted in his/her parents’ divorce. Still, they are unable to process the psychological and emotional aspects of divorce. They see divorce as all or nothing. Developing relationships with all of the parents in a divorce/remarriage situation is frustrating, especially when the teen/young adult is in company with all of them. Also, they may misread or misinterpret social cues and emotions, (i.e. not knowing the proper behavior in some social situations) which is common at their age.

Sometimes bad behavior is just that, bad behavior. But it is still important for us as parents and stepparents to realize that it is a child’s right to love both parents. Loyalties should not be divided and a child, whatever their age, should not be made to feel guilty for whatever relationship they have established with the parent or stepparent. If we can convey that sentiment, maybe we can make life a little easier for the teens and young adults in our lives. By making it easier on them they may make it easier on us.


1. Convey your love to your child/stepchild/bonus child.

2. Allow them time alone with their parent(s).

3. Acknowledge the other parents/stepparent/bonus parent and the relationship with the child.

4. Attempt to engage the other set of parents/step parents/ bonus parents in the conversation or activity so that the child is not forced to bridge the gap.

5. Realize that your child/stepchild/ bonus child, may not yet have the ability to adapt to all social situations at this point in time.

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