A Stepchild’s Perspective on Divorce: Living Between Two Worlds

A Stepchild’s Perspective on Divorce: Living Between Two Worlds November 1, 2020

Dear Terry,

 When I was ten years old I became a stepchild. When my mom told me that she was going to marry Bill, I hoped that everything would be good in our new life. Like other kids, I’d have two parents living together in the same house. My parent’s divorced when I was six and I don’t get to see my dad much because he moved to another state pretty quickly. My mom even promised me that I’d have a sister or brother, since I never much liked being an only child.

I felt as though my life would be like the other kids who had a sibling and two parents, but now at age thirteen, things are not much better. Actually things became more stressful when Bill’s two daughters started coming for the weekend. Even more upsetting was getting used to his large family who would come over a lot on weekends.  To make things worse, my two stepsisters are younger and we don’t have much in common, so we don’t hang out much together.  

From the start, my stepdad tried to treat me like his own daughter but whenever he came close, I’d push him away or say something mean. I never really developed a father-daughter relationship with my stepdad. To this day, I still have a closer bond with my real dad, even though I don’t see him as much since he moved away. 

The problem is that I’ve always felt torn between my two parents and their different lives. I’ve always felt as if I had to choose between them.  My family was split apart after the divorce. I’ve lived with my mom and felt like I had to take sides when they disagree. Since my dad two hours away, I visit him every other weekend, but he is also getting remarried and his fiancé, Jill, is usually there. They are very relaxed and let me pretty much do what I want (like go on Instagram and Tic Toc and have sleepovers) which my mom and stepdad forbid.

This brings me to an experience that I’m currently having. Now that I’m thirteen, I want to move in with my dad and my mom thinks it’s a bad idea. Since I’ve visited him on weekends for several years, I have friends in his neighborhood and the schools are good. I’m not doing too well in school right now so feel like I want a fresh start. My dad agrees that I should be able to choose where I live but how do I convince my mom that it’s the best decision for me?       

– Kerry, age 13  

Dear Kerry,

It is not surprising that you want to make your own decisions and that you’re questioning your living arrangement. It’s normal to feel torn and to experience being “in the middle” between two competing households in your situation. You never asked for all of these complications and being raised in a stepfamily is a mixed bag for sure. Living in a stepfamily is incredibly challenging – especially blended or complex ones, where one or both parents bring in children from previous marriages.

It makes sense that you would want to be closer with your dad and enjoy his more relaxed lifestyle. After all, stepfamily life is by far the most challenging for teenage girls. Based on my research, girls have more difficulty coping with life in a stepfamily during adolescence than when they are younger. In most cases, living in a stepfamily means taking one day at a time.  If your mother won’t agree for you to move in with your father, consider the following coping skills:

  • Try not to think about your situation as permanent by taking on the perspective that life is always changing. Most likely, you will be able to assert more independence and have more options as you get older.

  • Attempt to adopt a realistic viewpoint of your parents’ divorce. While you might wish that they never split, most parents divorce because they don’t get along. So if they’d stayed together, they’d probably have more problems today an be unhappy.

  • Use friends and websites geared for daughters of divorce as a way to vent your frustrations and to get support.  Professional counselors can be a good sounding board and sometimes they offer groups for teens from divorced families. Consider talking to a counselor in your middle school about creating a group for kids dealing with divorce and stepfamilies if one doesn’t exist.

  • Keep in mind that there has been a dramatic upsurge of people living in stepfamilies in recent years. Half of all divorced adults will remarry within four years after a divorce. These statistics may help you to realize that you’re not alone. Try not to take on the burden of your parents’ divorce and remember that things can and do get better.

By being tolerant and patient, you might find that your mother’s decision about you moving in with your dad becomes more flexible as you get a little older. I would suggest that you focus on improving your grades and get involved in extracurricular activities at your school. You can create a new story for your life – one that includes checking out new interests and viewing them as an opportunity for personal growth. You can find Terry on

You can find Terry on Twitter, Facebook, and, movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Her new book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, was published by Sounds True on February 18, 2020. Her books can be ordered here.

I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry 

Regards,

Terry 

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