Reconstituted families and adolescents in conflict with their parents’ new partners

Adolescence is the stage of maturation between childhood and adulthood. It begins in puberty, around fourteen years in men and twelve years in women. According to the American psychologist G. Stanley Hall, adolescence is a period of emotional stress generated by the series of important physical and psychological changes that take place in accelerated form since puberty. If this transitional stress is compounded by that caused by the problems that arise during the reconstitution of a new family, complications may appear that make it even more difficult to adapt to the new family scheme. However, with the right help and guidance, this process can become more bearable and even become a positive transition towards the formation of a happy home.

This is explained by experts from the Union of Family Associations (UNAF), a non-governmental organization funded by the Ministry of Social Policies and Family of the Community of Madrid, Spain. The specialists point out that in the past this type of family was formed only after the death of the father or the mother, but that with the advent of the figure of divorce the reconstituted families have become much more frequent.

“Today, the reconstituted family model is becoming generalized, while it is accepted more normally by the rest of society,” says Inés Alonso, UNAF psychologist.

For its part, Belén Rodríguez-Carmona, mediation sensitization technique of UNAF, indicates that despite this, “reconstituted families do not usually identify themselves as such and, therefore, do not recognize the characteristics of that model or the challenges to the that face. “

And it is precisely at the beginning of adolescence, between 11 and 13 years, when the difficulties are greater. According to Gregorio Gullón, UNAF social worker: “Two very complex processes overlap, on the one hand, there is the formation of the new family and, on the other, adolescence itself. The problem comes when the adolescent is asked to join a new adult figure, such as stepfather or stepmother, when this child is evolutionarily in the process of disengagement from their parents”. At this stage of his life “what he needs is to separate or take distance, but he is asked to belong to a new family system. The teenager feels the need for differentiation, which adds to the search for their own identity in the new family, the relationship with the new figures that appear … For the boy it is often very difficult to resolve this contradiction “, emphasizes Gullón.

The social worker points out that it is necessary that the members of the new couple understand that the fact that they love each other and understand each other does not necessarily imply that their children automatically feel affection for the partner of their parent. “There is a generalized tendency to think that, ‘as we want, we are going to live together, and automatically we are all a new family’. This does not happen like that. Love has no transitive character. The fact that I love my new partner does not mean that my children have to love her. What they do have to do is respect it. “

Any process of separation, such as a death or divorce, or moving away from a father or mother, involves a grieving process, which includes several stages that must be lived, one by one, for the process to be completed; However, parents live their grieving process in different times and ways than their children, and usually do not coincide.” Normally the adult who wanted to separate, has long since gone through the difficult time involved in making the decision … And has the duel already drawn, while the teenager is likely to finish learning. In consultation many times we see that they try to do everything without giving the necessary time to the children, and it is usually longer the time of mourning for a separation than for a death, “explains Gullón.

It is common that, as a result of these “forced” unions, frictions and conflicts occur between the children and the new partner of their parent, which often generates what Gullón calls “invisible loyalties. When there is a reconstitution is that there has usually been a previous divorce, and often, it has been a difficult or conflictive process, where the adolescent becomes an avenger of the other parent regarding the new partner, who is blamed a little that their parents are no longer together We usually say that you can not occupy a place that is already occupied.” This means that in a divorce, the adolescent son usually takes sides, is more affectionate and attentive to the parent who in his judgment has lost more in the process.

When this happens “it is easy for conflict to occur, a situation that arises especially in relation to stepfathers: if there is a confrontation and they try to ‘rescue’ their partner when the adolescent creates a conflict and tries to assume a normative role in front of the stepchild … Given this situation, it is likely that the so-called invisible loyalties will arise and the typical phrase: ‘you are not my father’ or ‘you are not my mother’. These are situations that we see a lot when there are teenagers involved. “

In such circumstances it is advisable that “new couples try to take a back seat. Particularly when they are men, it is recommended that they do not try to assume a normative role, and when they are women, that they do not try to assume a more affective maternal role towards the adolescent,” warns Gullón. “These are just some of the most common problems faced by families reconstituted with adolescents, but we want to launch the following message: they are possible challenges to manage positively if the help is contextualized correctly with the child’s life stage”.

An interesting article and topic that we share from the Torres-Picón Foundation, within our purposes of comprehensive preventive disclosure, and as a reflective contribution to the smooth running and development of family relationships, said Pedro J. Torres, our president and spokesperson.