By Jasjit Sangha @jasjit_sangha
Jasjit’s Blog: JasjitSangha.com
As a stepmother in a blended family, I am once again dealing with the teen years in my house. The mood swings, the focus on peers, the inability to wake up before noon on weekends, and the “need” to shop are once again a regular fixture in my household; but with a big difference. The first time I parented teens, I was the new stepmom in my mixed stepfamily, so I had very little say in how my stepdaughters lived their lives.
When I got married to their father, they were on the cusp of adolescence so my South Asian values were not welcomed by them. In fact, they were flat out rejected. My stepdaughters did not want to hear that they should focus on their school grades, make sure they spent time with the family, and listen to the advice of the adults in their lives. Their peer groups were very important to them, and having been raised with a more western style of parenting that focused on individualism, my South Asian values seemed very conservative in comparison.
I had no choice but to sit back and watch as hanging out with their friends started to overshadow excelling at school and the influence my husband and I had on their lives started to dwindle. While I did not agree with the decisions they were making, they were just “one of the crowd” in their peer groups in which experimentation with drinking, drugs, and pushing boundaries with parents, was commonplace. As a South Asian stepmom, it was an extremely emotional time for me as I had to let go of any expectations I had for them. They were never going to be the kids I wanted them to be. For them, personal fulfillment trumped any sense of duty or obligation to fulfil the wishes of their family, or live up to the expectations that others had dictated for them.
Although being a stepmother to two teens raised in another culture was really overwhelming, it did teach me a lot about being a mother and pushed me to reflect on which South Asian values I really wanted to hold on to and why. I had to consider which values were worth preserving and passing down to my two other children. Now that my daughter is a teenager and my son close behind, I am constantly evaluating how to find that balance between allowing them their personal autonomy, while also maintaining South Asian values in our household. Do I let them go to the movies with their friends downtown on Saturday or do we go to visit Nani and Nanu in the suburbs? Do I say yes to an overnight camping trip that includes boys if it is supervised by an adult? Do I congratulate them for bringing home a B on their report cards or do I push them to only get A’s? Do I make celebrating religious holidays a priority even when the kids would rather stay home and catch up on episodes of Glee or Sherlock?
It is a constant juggle and sometimes I am caught in limbo. South Asian parents question my decisions and think I am allowing my children too much “freedom” whereas non-South Asian parents think I am sheltering my children and need to allow them greater autonomy. Being a stepmom in a mixed blended family means that I literally have my feet in two different worlds, yet I have to try to make these two worlds seamless for my children. So far it seems to be working, as my children don’t seem to think their quest for personal autonomy and fulfillment means they have to distance themselves from their family. Instead of being “allergic” to adults as many teenagers are, for my children the intrusion of family in their lives is expected and accepted.
My hope is that by recognizing the role that Western values play in my children’s lives, while keeping them grounded in the core South Asian values I strongly believe in, the tension and friction I experienced with my stepdaughters (and my parents experienced with me) will be reduced. I don’t expect the teenage years to be easy, but I am much better prepared on my third attempt at raising a teen!
I know other moms – whether you are a stepmom in a mixed family or not – are similarly making decisions about how to parent a teen without losing their cultural identity. I would love to hear your stories! Have you ever allowed your children personal autonomy but had to hide it from relatives or even your own husband? Do you second-guess yourself as a mother of a teen? Do you wonder what the “right” way to parent a teen is? Would love to read your feedback!