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The Complexities of Second Marriages for Parents of Teens With AD/HD

Learn about common challenges for parents and their kids with AD/HD in blended families.

By Chris Zeigler Dendy, M.S.

In her book, Teenagers with ADD and ADHD: A Guide for Parents and Professionals, Chris Zeigler Dendy discusses the challenges teens with AD/HD - and their parents - face. Her insights are based on her personal experiences and those of the many parents, teens, and experts whom she has interviewed.

In this excerpt from the book, Ms. Dendy addresses the difficulties many parents of teens with AD/HD encounter when they remarry.

What are the Complexities of Second Marriages?

Second marriages present complex issues for all families. When a child has ADD or ADHD, the pressures on stepfamilies are compounded. You should be aware of the factors that make step-parenting difficult for all families, as well as the unique ways an attention deficit can affect stepfamilies.

First, being a member of two families can become very complicated. The teenager may have as many as four "parents," plus extra grandparents with whom he must interact. Parents may or may not agree on child management strategies. Each family's ability to maintain consistent family rules and consequences for misbehavior varies. This could be a nightmare for the teen with an attention deficit who needs structure, routine, and consistency. Remembering which rules apply in which family will be extremely difficult.

Second, making decisions about living arrangements may be difficult. Since most children of divorce live with their mothers, the typical stepfamily consists of the teenager, his mother, a stepfather, and sometimes other siblings or stepchildren. Frequently, the teen spends alternating weekends with the absent parent, most often, the natural father. Usually, the "weekend parent" spends less time with the teenager, has fewer conflicts, and may be tempted to just have fun with the teen. He or she doesn't want to be the "bad guy" and may ignore the need for routine, structure, and consequences. However, if parents have joint custody, the teenager may live alternating weeks with each parent. In this situation, it is very difficult for the teen to make transitions such as moving back and forth between families.

On a more practical level, can you imagine what havoc a teenager's attention deficit related to disorganization and forgetfulness can cause when living arrangements are divided? Now he has two homes where he can lose or leave things. If he needs the math book, homework, or computer, it is probably going to be at the wrong house.

Third, the teenager's natural loyalty to biological parents may result in strong conflicting feelings. The teen may think subconsciously, "If I like and have fun with my stepfather (stepmother) that means I am not loyal to my real father (mother)." The teenager may fear that the stepparent is trying to replace his natural parent. Stepparents have to carve out their own special relationship with the teen and make it clear that they are not trying to take the absent parent's place.

Fourth, the teenager and the parent with whom he lives are sometimes extremely close and develop a very special relationship. When a stepparent enters the relationship, their time must now be shared among three people, not just two. Initially, feelings of displacement are common among teens. Sometimes, the son (daughter) who has been the man (woman) of the house is resentful, jealous, or frightened that he or she is being replaced by the new spouse. These feelings increase the potential for family conflict.

Excerpted from Teenagers with ADD and ADHD: A Guide for Parents and Professionals, by Chris A. Zeigler Dendy Copyright © 2006 Chris A. Zeigler Dendy. Reprinted by permission of Chris A. Zeigler Dendy and Woodbine House, Inc. 6510 Bells Mill Rd., Bethesda, MD 20817. 800-843-7323