In this episode we talk teenagers with Dr. Ginni Mansberg. We cover teenagers’ emotions when adjusting to a blended family, loyalty conflicts, their need for independence, co-parenting, communication strategies specifically for teens and more.
If you’ve got a teenager in your blended family brood this is one episode you won’t want to miss.
Dr. Ginni Mansberg (00:01): You want your teenagers to feel safe to talk to you by truly listening, not interrupting them, but truly listening and asking a lot of questions and echoing back to them. What they’ve said
Laura Jenkins (00:13): In the Blend is a podcast series that helps parents navigate life within a blended family. Join me as I speak with experts and guests to get practical advice on how to have a harmonious blended family life. This series dives deep into the unique dynamics, logistics and challenges of raising a blended family. From new partners to juggling mixed finances, we will help guide you through it.
(00:41): Welcome back to another episode of In The Blend. I’m thrilled to be joined by Dr. Ginni Mansberg today as we talk all things teenagers. Now, if her name sounds familiar, it’s because you might have seen Dr. Ginni on morning TV program Sunrise. If you’re listening in Australia, you might’ve read one of her five books, heard her on the radio, or listened to one of the podcasts she hosts, including help. I’ve got a teenager, which is on the Mama Mia network, but that’s not all. She’s also a mom of three and step
mom of three. So has plenty of firsthand experience when it comes to blended families too. During our chat, we cover teenagers emotions when adjusting to a blended family loyalty conflicts, the need for independence, co-parenting communication strategies specifically for teens and more. So if you’ve got a teenager and your blended family, brooded, this is one episode you won’t want to miss. Let’s jump in. Okay, hi Ginni!
Dr. Ginni Mansberg (01:42): Hey Laura. How you going?
Laura Jenkins (01:44): Hello. Very well. Thank you. It is such a pleasure to be speaking with you today so looking forward to our chat. Ginni, so as well as being a doctor, you’re in a blended family yourself and you’re just telling me your children are grown up now, but you’ve got three of your own and three step kids. To start us off, can you tell us a little bit about your own blended family?
Dr. Ginni Mansberg (02:06): Yes, so I have my kids go basically from age 31 to 27, and the kids that I got as a wedding present go from 23 to 18. So we’ve got quite a large age gap and they were quite different ages when we blended our families. So I really had teenagers and my husband’s children were much younger. My youngest was about three and a half years older than Daniel’s elders, but they were and still are very close. So that’s I guess the closest two who had the most, I guess the smallest age gap between them. I’m always fascinated by blended families where all work out.
Laura Jenkins (02:59): Oh, definitely, definitely. Well, I’ve got two and two and I know there’s been, it’s hectic at the best of time, so I can only imagine having three and three Ginni, lots of different questions I’ve got for you around this theme of teenagers, but when a blended family first forms teenagers might be experiencing resentment or resistance during that adjustment process to the blended family, how have you approached these emotions in your professional work or personally and work towards helping foster that positive environment at the outset?
Dr. Ginni Mansberg (03:37): So I find often when a family blends, it’s got nothing to do with the kids. It’s because the two adults fall in love with each other and they decide that they’re going to mesh this family together, and you often have these incredibly lofty dreams about now getting extra children into your life and now you’re going to have an even more extensive and beautiful and committed family. Your children are so lucky they’re going to have extra siblings that they weren’t otherwise going to have, and it’s not always that easy. There are some where it just goes beautifully and seamlessly to plan, but plan, we have six children, you guys have four that are individuals that approach everything very, very differently and what works for one won’t work for another. You also, sometimes there are other families, so sometimes there is, there’s a mom and her new partner and all of the new siblings there and a dad and his new partner and a whole new set of siblings.
(04:36): There are complexities in there as to how those relationships are and if there are other parents involved. Were that, was it a pretty amicable good relationship and an okay breakdown? No marriage breakdowns are awesome, but did they maintain a really great relationship or is there a little bit of conflict in there which can make things really difficult and really different And sometimes there’s conflict in one couple and there’s not conflict in the other. So in terms of approaching it, I would say if you’re going with the best intentions, but be open to it going in any direction and getting lots and lots and lots of help, don’t try and do this on your own. It’s a really big deal.
Laura Jenkins (05:20): Definitely, especially if you’re dealing with things like loyalty binds, which can happen at the outset as well if they’re feeling that pull between the biological parent and the new stepparent and they’re trying to navigate that.
Dr. Ginni Mansberg (05:33): Especially if one of the biological parents, so only one has and perhaps that biological parent, the kids might truly feel in their heart that they want to protect that parent and look after them. Sometimes it’s the dad, sometimes it’s the mom, but here embracing a new dad slash mom can make them feel so disloyal to the parent who’s at home and it’s really tough. There’s no right and wrong answer. I would say that if that’s you and if you are the parent who has not repartnered but your child is going into a family where there’s a new kind of parent or stepparent, it can be really tempting to say, I will miss you like crazy. I won’t sleep a wink. I will cry every minute until you come home because I love you so much. And I know in a lot of ways it’s true in a lot of ways.
(06:25): You want your child to know how much you love them and care about them and want them to understand that you are pining away for them. But sometimes as kids leave with just so much guilt and so much fear for the wellbeing of that parent and you don’t realize what’s going on there. So I think it’s really important to say if they’re going off to the other parent’s house, you are going to have the best time. I’m going to have really great time, going to miss you like crazy. Can’t wait to see you in three days time, but time. I’m actually really looking forward to having some time out and so we’re all going to have
the right time and we’ll see you in three days time rather than sort of making it maybe a bit catastrophic without, it’s always from good intentions, right?
Laura Jenkins (07:04): Yeah, that’s good advice. Keeping it upbeat so you don’t have to go through that heartache each week when you’re going back and forth forth. So what about independence? And I know teenagers in particular, so I’ve got a 13-year-old stepdaughter at the moment, 15-year-old stepson, so I’m very familiar with this one right now. How do you strike a balance between allowing the autonomy and maintaining that necessary structure or boundaries if you like, within your blended family?
Dr. Ginni Mansberg (07:34): So you’ve got to think about what the objective is at the end of this transition period that we call adolescents of teenage years. So the idea is that you are going to now pass that of competency to them so that they make great decisions for themselves, that they’re competent adults who are really good at seeing, judging people, making good decisions about their futures, their careers in this time they are genetically and biologically programmed to prefer the input from their peers than from their parents. And so it’s a matter of you saying, let me give you enough rope to fail, but to fail small, it’s not going to do any damage to you. And then assessing your child. No two children are different and within a family, no two children are different, but what you can say is, I want to see you thrive. So you know what?
(08:25): This weekend there’s a big party on you are going to go, can’t wait to see what happens. And you know what? Maybe next time you’ll be allowed to stay out till 11:00 PM instead of 10:00 PM So let’s just see how this one goes. Now it’s on them, are they going to make good decisions? Are they going to make bad decisions? So we normally say you just loosen the guardrails a little bit and then but slowly and bring them back in. If you don’t think your child’s ready for that level of responsibility. But there is no point you trying to control that journey because all what’s going to happen is the subtext of that is I don’t trust you and I don’t think you’re very good at making decisions. And even worse, they’re not equipped then to make decisions for themselves. They never have to everything else that happens to them, they’re a passive player in their own life and they’re not taking an active role in determining their own future. And you want them to be those people, those adults who feel empowered, who feel like the world has something to offer for them, but they have power in that. And a lot of that is to do with passing that button of competency. So I wouldn’t try and control everything they do, but at the same time just slowly loosen those guardrails.
Laura Jenkins (09:29): That’s such good advice. And when it comes to a child who might be living in two different houses, would you suggest that as co-parents, they get aligned on what those guardrails are in an ideal world or could they potentially be different at either house?
Dr. Ginni Mansberg (09:46): Look, in the ideal world, there has been a low conflict separation that both parents are loving that child and available for them and stepping up as parents and being fully present whenever they’re needed and are very keen and committed to the wellbeing of their children and putting that first, therefore you of course having incredibly constructive conversations about what is in the best interest of the child. That doesn’t always happen, unfortunately. And often when relationships break down, there’s a lot of sadness, a lot of hurt, a lot of shame, a lot of fear, a lot of financial struggles, and that can really impact on the way that you can collaborate with your ex. So ideally you could, and this is often a really good opportunity to say, Hey, this kid really needs us to get on the same page here, so why don’t you and all of your partner and his kids all come over for a barbecue and let the kids see that we are all on the same page?
(10:46): It’s a good opportunity to do that now, and I hope everybody who’s listening to us today is nodding along going, absolutely, that’s exactly what we did. And I hope if you’re somebody who’s still feeling a lot of hurt and sadness and fear and anger that maybe this is the spur to make you put that away and to I guess do what is in the best interest of the kids, which is just to try and get on and to try and align on the same page. If you can’t, if there’s absolutely no way that one of these Xs is going to be available or on the same page with you, then kids can adapt. And it is quite amazing. There will often be completely different rules at soccer or cricket than there are at school than there are at Sunday school or at grandma’s or at a friend’s house.
(11:35): And kids can adapt to different sets of rules, and all you can do is just say at this house in our home, this is what we’re going to do and here’s why, because I’m your parent and my job is to keep you safe, and my job is to make you the best freaking amazing adult. I know you already are. I can see it in you, and my job is to get you there. So this is how we’re going to do things. I love you too much for doing anything less, and that’s the message that you’ve just got to send and don’t talk about the other parent. It’s just not a conversation we’re having.
Laura Jenkins (12:06): Yep, yep. I love that you can’t control what goes on in the other house ultimately, but I love the way that you position that and it’s really about empowering the child, as you say, to make the right choices if they’re not making the right choices, which tends to happen quite a bit in the teenage years, would you have any advice for stepparents in terms of how they might respond if a stepchild, for example, is making life a little bit difficult through the choices that they’re making?
Dr. Ginni Mansberg (12:41): So stepparents, unless the other parent has sadly passed away, and now you are stepping up into almost a loco parentis role. And that’s a very different situation than let’s say when there’s two homes that the children are going to or sometimes there’s even three homes. There might’ve been a very close stepparent that they continue to want to have contact with even after their parent has moved on. And sometimes there’s three homes. Let’s say that there are two homes trying to negotiate the wellbeing of this child. Your role is not to parent. Your role is to be a support player for their main parents and hopefully both of them, and hopefully you can be their biggest cheerleaders for both of those parents and to say, yeah, I understand my mom was coming from and I understand where dad was coming from. Your partnership is the most important thing now for that child and for you and for your children and for everybody else.
(13:42): So if you don’t agree with the way that your spouse is parenting their children, your job is not to go into World War III with your spouse, but to work on your relationship with your spouse to make sure that how could you play a supportive role. Now all of us have been in a workplace where things have been done, where you’ve thought, I wouldn’t choose to do that. That probably wouldn’t be the way I would do it. But you can get on board with doing it because you understand you don’t own the company and person who owns the company is going to set that agenda when it comes to a marriage, your partner is the boss of his own or her own children, and your role is to support them and to take offline any concerns that you might have, and hopefully they’ll listen to you because you have earned each other’s respect. And if they won’t and you think it’s a deal breaker for you, well that’s a whole different discussion. But it’s not for you to go in there and parent their children in a way that you think is better than they’re doing for themselves. That’s not appropriate.
Laura Jenkins (14:45): That’s such a good reminder that you stay in your lane when it comes to being a stepparent and actually had a guest on the show a little while back, and we focused specifically on discipline, and he echoed that exact advice in saying you’re the friendly aunt or cousin or what have you, and you’re leaving the discipline to the parent unless it’s some sort of exceptional circumstance. Ginni, I’m keen to talk about communication. What communication strategies have you found that have been particularly effective in fostering open and let’s say constructive dialogue with teenagers as well? So I know sometimes it can be hard to get teenagers to open up maybe even more so if they’re in a blended family situation, any tips?
Dr. Ginni Mansberg (15:36): Lots. You want your teenagers to feel safe to talk to you about stuff you can help them feel safe to talk to you by truly listening, not interrupting them and just lecturing them and talking over the top of them or disciplining them really hard, but truly listening and asking a lot of questions and echoing back to them what they’ve said. So they say, it was just a really shit day at school. Everyone hates me. And in your heart, you’re just going, oh my God. Oh, this is the worst thing ever. And you go, why do you think everyone hates you? What makes you think that? So you’re sort of echoing back to them, showing them that you are listening. Also understanding that they really care about their friends. So often talking to them about their friends is a safe space for them to go. So what do you reckon is going on for Jane?
(16:31): Why would she be doing something like that? I’m really worried. Are you worried about her? I love the way you’re such a great friend to her. I love the way you really care about her, but you can talk about her rather than the child. That’s sometimes a lot easier for them because a lot of what they’re saying often reflects what they’re feeling as well. Let them be the master. So a lot of conflict is happening in Australian households at the moment in let’s say gaming. So the kids want to be on the gaming on their PlayStation all the time, and you go get off your PlayStation and in 10 minutes they’re still on their PlayStation. You go, right, get off your PlayStation right now. Or I’m taking your phone away, or I’m going to ban the PlayStation for a week or whatever instead of that because they’ll just go, but I’ve just got to finish this game.
(17:21): I can’t leave in the middle of the game, go up and sit with them and just go, show me how this works. I’m always telling you to get off, but I don’t really get it. Tell me why. And so what would happen if you got off the game now? Okay, can you teach me how to play it? Let them be the expert and teach you. They love that because they’re used to this whole relationship being you talking down to them, you explaining things to them, you telling them the rules. Now they get to be the teacher and they often love that. Know when to back off. If you’re not getting anywhere, don’t push them. But often a really good time to have chats to teenagers is in the car sometimes. What you’ve got a captive market there, really they’re just sitting in there, they’re facing straight ahead so they can’t make eye contact with you, which is often a bit safer.
(18:09): And often you’ve got a 25 minute drive to get them to sports training or to go pick up their school uniform or whatever it is. And now it’s a good time to have the kind of conversation where you are asking the questions, not talking at them, truly listening, reflecting back to them to make sure that they know, talking about their friends and that Rome wasn’t built in a day. But you start slowly and you build, and when they tell you something, remember it and come back. So if they tell you that Jane had had a massive fight with her parents, let’s say just another in the car on the way home from school, or as they walk through the door, go tell me, I’ve been thinking about Jane. How’s she going? What happened with her mom? Is everything okay now so that they know you were listening to them and you care about what really matters to them, which is their friends.
Laura Jenkins (18:58): That’s great. It’s really relating to them, isn’t it, Ginni? And showing them that you get it and really being interested in them and their world. What about, I know that’s another big one that comes up all the time with teenagers. So if a teenager’s feeling like they don’t look like that girl they’ve seen on TikTok or they’ve got bad skin perhaps or they don’t like their hair, what are some ways that you can help them through some of the self-esteem issues?
Dr. Ginni Mansberg (19:30): Wow, there’s a lot to unpack there, Laura, but I would say, this is going to sound really dumb, but my teenage patients tell me all the time about things that their parents have said that I’m sure they didn’t mean, but that’s stuck in them like a knife, and that has poisoned the well of the rest of their future. So if the kid doesn’t do their homework, it’s not as least you’ve got a great future in front of you. You are going to never get into you uni and you’re just going to be stuck being pavo and useless for the rest of your life, hurtful things like that that can come out when you are in a bad place. Don’t worry. It’s not just you, it’s everyone. But if you realize you have said something really awful because they have pushed all your buttons or because you have just had a terrible day and you’re very worried about things, you’re very insecure about things yourself, but if you say something that could be harmful, please own it, apologize it, and tell them that you didn’t mean it.
(20:26): Because if you don’t say that they believe you did mean it, and they do that, you have more power than anyone to destroy their self-esteem. And I don’t go a day without teenagers telling me about things that I know these parents, they’re beautiful, but when their children tell me what they’re saying to them, I’m absolutely horrified. So everybody, but just know how much that hurts your child when you say something really mean in terms of their looks, it’s very easy to go, don’t be ridiculous. You are beautiful. Don’t be silly. I love your hair. I know where that is coming from, but you need to validate where they’re coming from because I can’t see any acne, but I am your mom and I of course think that you’re the most gorgeous thing on the planet. Show me the acne that you worry about. I get that.
(21:19): Would you like to go to the doctor? Would you like to go to the pharmacy and just get some advice about what we could use, validate their concerns, but be alert for something like an eating disorder or body dysmorphia. So if you honestly hand on heart, look at your child and think, my God, this child does not eat and she’s skinny ass and she’s now complaining about a bulge in her bump on her belly, which quite frankly the organs need to fit somewhere. It can’t be a scooped out belly. We need to have something that there is going to be a little bit of bulge there and we’re a little bit concerned, then I think you can raise that with her and just go, look. I think not only that you’re beautiful, and I know I would say that because your mom, I think you’re beautiful, but I’m really worried because when you tell me that you think you’re fat, I’m terrified that there’s something else going on here.
(22:09): Can we go and see a doctor? Because I’m worried that when you say you look fat, that there’s something bigger going on there because I can’t see one bit of fat on you. Those kinds of honest conversations in which you talk about your own concern and don’t dismiss their own concerns about themselves with acne. A lot of these children have got dreadful acne, and they didn’t have acne before. When we were kids, everybody had acne, so it was not the worst thing in the world, have acne because everybody had it These days with drugs like Accutane, nobody has this sort of cystic acne anymore, and a lot of parents are terrified saying, oh, we’re not going on that. We’ll not be doing the pill. We’ll not be doing, so they are going to lay down the law without first listening to what your child wants and making a collaborative decision framework with them that allows them to take on that batten of competency to make really important decisions for themselves. So if they are really concerned about acne, then listen to them. Why are you concerned? Tell them your concerns and make sure that you are, before you say that the pill is going to make them get pregnant and die or become sexually active or become the biggest slut in the school, which just has some really negative connotations of what you’re telling them there. Maybe do your research a little bit as well and make sure that what you’re saying before you say something like that.
Laura Jenkins (23:33): Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And if you’re a stepparent and there’s a stepchild going through some of these things as well, again, it’s the adults, sorry, it’s the parent’s place to be helping that child for the most part. Unless you’re in a situation where you’ve got a close relationship with a stepdaughter or a stepson, for example, and you’re able to provide that extra support and another ear for that child who might need to hear it,
Dr. Ginni Mansberg (24:02): Absolutely. Because you are on a minefield. Now, if you said, even darling, do you want me to give you a little bit of help with those little pimples? They might hear that as, oh my goodness, you have the worst acne. You look like a pizza face. You’re completely foul and ugly and now they hate you and that can happen. You’ve just got to let their parent navigate the minefield. It’s a lot easier than for you as a stepparent.
Laura Jenkins (24:27): Yep, yep. Ginni, just lastly, are there any resources that you would recommend for listeners if they’re looking to get more help around anything to do with step families, blended families, or parenting in general? What are be your Go-tos?
Dr. Ginni Mansberg (24:43): So the new Teenage, which was the book that I wrote just a couple of years ago with my darling friend, Joe Lamb, who’s a fantastic clinical psychologist. We do have a whole section on blending families, which was great, and specifically for teenagers. And there’s some really good frameworks as to how to approach things with teenagers because it is different when you’re trying to blend a family with littler children. There’s no doubt about it. Help. I have a teenager podcast on the Mama Ma network, which was Joe and I took the new teenager to the next level. We have a lot of blended family step parenting kind of questions coming in all the time. And I mean, Joe’s amazing. Such great advice on that podcast. So highly, highly, highly recommend.
Laura Jenkins (25:31): Fabulous. I’ve listened to a few of those myself, GI and I can certainly vouch for the blended family episodes in particular being super useful. Ginni just lastly, where can our listeners go if they’d like to connect with you or get in touch?
Dr. Ginni Mansberg (25:46): So I’m on Instagram at Dr. Ginni, D-O-C-T-O-R-G-I-N-I, or I actually have a skincare company, so I dunno if anyone knows that. It’s called Evidence skincare e sk care com, and it’s got a lot of stuff. We’ve got a teenage acne kit and got a lot of information. We’ve got a free ebook about teenage acne as well, so if your kid is suffering a bit of acne, maybe head over there and it’s just a free download and you can read about what the best things are to do for your children with acne.
Laura Jenkins (26:16): Fantastic. Thank you so much for that. We will link to all of that in the show notes. Well, once again, appreciate your time, Ginni. Thank you so much.
Dr. Ginni Mansberg(26:24): Thanks Laura.
Laura Jenkins (26:25): Thanks for listening to In The Blend podcast. The show notes for this episode are firstname.lastname@example.org au. And if you like what you heard, be sure to subscribe and please rate and review in your podcasting app. You can also follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.