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Ask The Expert: Coping with Divorce and Step Family Problems

Dear Your Teen:

I have a 14-year-old son. His father and I have been divorced for eight years. This past year, my ex moved in with a woman and her son. While my son enjoyed the new buddy at first, now there is jealousy and competition.

My ex and I have shared custody, but my son no longer wants to go to his dad’s. These step-family problems are taking a toll on my son. My ex and I are not on great terms so I can’t speak to him about this. I don’t know what to do. How can I help my son who is still coping with divorce to handle this new situation?

EXPERT | Esther Neuman

One of the hardships of coping with divorce and children is the eventual merging of families. Whereas before your son only had to deal with the concept of his parents living apart and getting used to living in two places, there is now the added challenge of a new woman and boy in his father’s life. They are now taking away from his valued alone time with his dad. As you’ve seen, this change and introduction of a step parent or a new family can cause a tremendous amount of frustration for your son. Part of the issue it seems is that your son feels that he is losing precious one-on-one time with his dad but if he stops going for the whole week he has expressed that he will lose out even more.

Your 14-year-old can’t ask his dad to get rid of this other woman and her son so he must come up with another strategy.

He might feel comfortable asking his dad for some alone time.

Because your son loves his father and wants to spend as much time as possible, you can suggest that he ask his dad to give him some more one-on-one time—perhaps just the two of them going to a sporting event or the movies. This will allow your son to feel that his dad loves him and wants to spend time alone with him. And the special time together will differentiate himself from this new teenager in his dad’s life.

Are you struggling with step-families?

There may be times in the future when your son will have to navigate his relationship with his dad and other people who will come in and out of their lives.  He is old enough to begin doing this now.  While it is hard to be a bystander to his anger, what you can still offer him is your support.

Esther Neuman

Esther Neuman holds a master’s degree in social work, is the co-creator of the Neuman Method (NeumanMethod.com), and speaks publicly on relationships and adolescent issues. She is available for in-person and private online therapy and life coaching at [email protected].