a challenging stepdaughter - FamilyEducation
a challenging stepdaughter
01/08/2008 at 14:04 PM

Hi there.  Thank you for all of your insight[s]... I find it helpful in a difficult situation.  I've read through most of these messages and realize it's not just 'us'.  I have been living with my boyfriend for almost a year, he has three daughters 12, 14 and 16.  The two older girls have been challenging, and wonderful at the same time.  The challenges have been "normal" to growing up and being teenagers with a lot of personality.  They listen and are not opposed to talking.  The younger - we're like oil and vinegar.  When she is getting what she wants she is great, albeit ignoring us and the fact that she got what she wanted, but in a great mood.  However, her behavior is self absorbed, manipulative, deceitful and extremely dramatic.  She seeks attention constantly, onto herself.  She lies to get out of doing anything.  She has a pattern of getting in trouble at school with not only her peers, but teachers and parents as well.  As an 'observer' I see her patterns, but my boyfriend and his ex wife are completely oblivious to it - "she's just SO adorable."  Last night was the first time in a year that my boyfriend and I went to bed arguing, no goodnights....  He claims that I am frustrating him, that I am acting more like the 12 year old than the 37 year old that I am and that I allow her to behave as she does - that she feeds off of me.  He says someone needs to protect her, that shes's only 12 and it takes years to learn and grow.  From there forward he refuses to discuss it - says I need to figure it out.  This is a problem that I need to work out but I have no idea how.  She's a brat.  I 've tried the route of giving her everything, of rewards, of positive reinforcement, but we always end up where we are now.  We live in a small house, so we're on top of one another when the girls are here [every other week].   She acts like a princess and gets her sisters in trouble all the time, but she gets away with it because her Dad is always working and not around to know. He doesn't hear what the parents/kids are saying about his daughter at school.  It's almost like he's in total denial, doesn't want to hear it, ignores it.  I know, but when I chime in I become the bad guy.  Please help.  I love my boyfriend SO much, but his daughter irritates me to no end. Thank you!!

So, is one of the reasons you are living there is to provide supervision during the weeks the girls are supposed to be spending time with their dad? 


Hah, you are the second person that has pointed that out to me this week.  I guess one could put it that way, although I would not want to think that was our reality.  Yes, I left all that I knew: job, condo, dog, friends - and after a month of dating moved in after he "would not let me leave."  Now, after 10 months I am getting stepped on, there are no boundaries, I get frustrated, don't have a job other than cleaning, cooking, finances, errands, "housewife" duties and when the girls are here all of the same but add the driving around, dropping off, homework, school, etc.  Should I be complaining, NO.... but I do need to vent and get this off my chest.  I've read that most of what's going on is typical of any "step" family, but basically he is uninvolved or unavailable, unless to be at the kids defense. He gets involved when he's reached his limit and rants and raves, punishes and grounds.  Is that typical for Dad's/men? I don't know.  What I do know is that I am in love with him.  In our love he is patient and kind, compassionate and loving.  It's sort of different when you add the kids in the loop - he's different.  


So, do the girls come because it is court-ordered, and it gives the mom's household a break?  It doesn't sound like they are building much of a relationship with their father. 

I don't believe what you describe is how most dad's are, but it is what you will hear mom's complain about.


ok, let's see if I can define/describe their situation, briefly. basically, he was in the navy and lonely. she was luring him in and planned a wedding while he was at sea. he felt helpless and guilty so married her only to months later want a divorce. she got herself pregnant and he felt bound to stay for the child. their marriage was never one based on love or friendship, understanding or respect.  they had two more, his in the meantime having multiple affairs to try and find some fulfillment.  she was abusive to the kids and him, angry and demanding and stuck in her families traditional ways. she has also been diagnosed with being bi polar. he worked nights, cared for the kids in the mornings... seeing them off to school. he was the breadwinner, with a guilty conscience. he never did do anything about the abuse, other than hold it over her head when he finally asked for the divorce.  because he felt the kids needed to be with their mom, he put the schedule together, one week on and one week off.  in the last few years he became so miserable in his marriage, he built a house from scratch - when he wasn't working he was building. the girls, they have learned to just be on their own at both homes - until I came along. now I am present, I am home, but I am an outsider.  to have boundaries and rules and expectations is not something they have been used to.  they manipulate both parents, get away with a lot, but are none the less used to that way. their mom's family is basically completely dysfunctional/warped, and my husbands family is non existent unless called upon. the kids have no real role models, especially at their mom's. I do feel that my husband is the better model in his education, respect, organization, and work ethics.... but he isn't always "present" if you know what I mean.  I grew up in the big city, he in the country. we have come from different lifestyles/upbringings, but we are now together and I am trying to find a way of making this work for all of us, positively.  like I said, take the kids away and he's wonderful.  add them and he gets frustrated, impatient, as do I, and tension arises.  I needed to reach out and 'talk' so as to find the light at the end of this tunnel, because I know it's there.  although the older two have their moments, we all do and I remember being their age.  it's the youngest who gets me so tightly wound inside I become someone I don't like being - stressed out, aggravated, tense, annoyed, unable to relax and laugh and enjoy "home".  I find more and more I retreat to my corner just to get away from her so as to not show my emotions, because we will clash.  she exhibits all the characteristics/traits of being the youngest, and the youngest of a divorce, but it's not my place to discipline her.  she knows how to push my buttons though, and she knows how to play the adults.  I finally figured that out, so now I am trying to be an adult and above all of it and be a positive role model instead of exhibiting negative behaviors that will only fuel her fire and make her rebel even more.  it helps to talk to outside sources, listen/read to  similar stories, advice is most appreciated.  talking to my husband has not helped, and of course for the obvious reasons.  I now realize that and am reaching out.  I know I am not unique in the challenge, and I want this and know this can work.  I am grateful to be on this path now, off of the one that had me banging my head on a wall.  thanks. 


It sounds like you have all the responsibility of parenting, without the relationship or the authority.  That has got to be the worst combinatoin possible, for all of you.  I don't have any easy advice.  I'll think on it awhile.  Hang in there!


thanks gail!  I am looking for a counselor for my husband and I.  I am hanging in there, but am starting to feel desperate for a balance of any kind.  authority only exists when my husband has had enough, but it's inconsistent on all levels.  I stepped in head first, whole body... instead of one toe at a time, let alone foot.  the older two and I have gotten to a pretty good place - we know our limitations and boundaries and I'm not afraid to just talk to them.  they actually come to me a lot - so there is a relationship, a friendship between us.  the younger one... she has more presence here than anyone else, but she also annoys everyone.  I can't say I have a relationship with her, but for a while I thought I did until I found out she's been talking garbage about me left, right and center - and basically taking advantage and manipulating.  now I see through her.  for a while I wasn't tolerating it and was constantly on her to clean up, do homework, leave sisters alone, etc.  xmas was my breaking point and now I realize it's all just gotten worse and in fact there exists no respect or relationship of any kind with her. so now, since we live in the same small house, I need to find a way to not simply ignore her behaviors/actions but at the same time walk away and not get frustrated - or at least not show her my frustrations because that's when she puts on the best show, for her daddy. thanks gail!!!!!  are you a step parent?  counselor? 


I'm "just a gramma", but ever since I grew up (about age 35) I've been really interested in children of stressed families.  M best friend then was a mother of 5 whose husband was dying of a terminal illness.  I still love them dearly, but no longer have contact.  I seem to have a knack of really ticking people off.


haha, you sound like my mother in law, and I love her to pieces.  there is a lot of wisdom there!!!!!!!!!!  well thank you for your thinking, and for continuing to care. you can provide insight that I know I appreciate, as I am sure others do too.


thanks,.  Hey, keep posting on your progress.  I know it will take a lot of self-control and grit, and humor.  Got to go


good morning gail.  any insight you can give me? things seem to be getting worse - more stressful here at home. I feel as if I'm losing touch with my mate, and so the challenges with his daughter become more profound. I am ready to ask him to go to counseling with me.  what if he says no.  I know that is negative thinking on my behalf... but I seem to be feeling negative about all of this lately.  it's just getting to be a more frequent stress factor at home.  


You've been referring to your mate lately as husband, and his mom as mil.  Does that mean you made it legal?  I ask because it does show a different level of commitment to the family than if those steps are still in the future.


no, he is not officially yet my husband.  he wants to get married on 6/7/08, but has not said anything to the girls yet.  he keeps telling me though that in colorado there is common law, that already considers us husband/wife. I don't know - confusing.  His mom refers to me as her daughter in law... she says I mind as well be - and we get along.  I have vented to her.  Mil?? perhaps I was referring to the youngest?  that's not her name, but I would need to go back and read what  I wrote.  I'm just real confused about a lot right now.  


I noticed other posters used MIL for mother in law.   Ooo, family crisis gotta go  keep cool!


I think it is a good idea to find out what your status is.  I don't know anything about the law, but I wonder if you are in a common law situation, what your obligations and protections are.  Like debt and  - - - stuff. 

   I also believe (and I've been wrong before) that part of the problem with the 12 year old is the ambiguous status that you have.  You aren't the mom.  You aren't the "we had a ceremony" wife.  You aren't the neighbor.  You aren't a friend's mom.  You aren't a teacher or a counselor or a girl scout leader or even a store clerk.  You are Dad's girlfriend who lives here, who takes on the crap because you are the one "on base."  So she treats you like a servant. 

  This is harsh, but she doesn't show respect for you because you are in a less than respectable situation.  I told you it was harsh, I'm so sorry.  I would get a license today, get married as soon as you could, and tell all three of them, look, I stayed!   I love you all.  Let's do our best to be a family.

   If that doesn't sound right to you, then I would move out.  I would stay out of sight, out of mind for the next 6 years.  After Miss Princess 12 year-old is 18, I'd see if Dad was still available.  Either way, you resolve the status question.

   Right now, you can walk away.  And she knows it, and she is pushing as hard as she can, being as unlovable as she can, because if you convince her that you care for her, and then walk away, that is Two moms who rejected her.  And one Dad who is too busy working to spend time with her.  She's taking it personally.  I would too.  Even if I was 51 instead of 12.

   I think you are compassionate, I think you like the Dad, but if you aren't going to commit, get out.  If you are going to commit, and you already said you'd jump clear in, then do it.  It's already almost as bad as it could be.  But don't do a trial marriage.  If you are in, you are in for at least 6 years. 


I really feel for you.  I have a friend who just finished going through the same thing.  He felt guilty for what he had emotionally put his daughter through the divorce and let her get away with anything.  When she approached him, same response.

If it were me, and mind you I have not been in this situation before, I would get everyone into a counseling session.  That way you could paint a picture of what is troubling you for all to hear and get some feedback from a neutral third party.

Also, why is he not at parent-teacher meetings?  We have them every quarter to talk about grades, behavior, social-emotional growth, etc.  If you do not have those, set one up. 

He needs to hear that this IS a problem from someone else.

I would also be concerned as to why your opinion and observation are not being taken seriously.

Sounds to me like he is the one action like a 12 year old.


sorry for disappearing... odd days.  I know we are "married" in the eyes of colorado... so strange.  legally I can consider him my spouse.. not sure about all the legalities though. I know I am on his health ins and beneficiary for this and that.  ????  I am about ready to tell him we're doing it the right way and we will tell the girls, or we're not.  I think it would make a difference for them.  I am committed or I wouldn't be investing myself like I am.  you are right on all counts and I am in.  but in the 12 yr old eyes she'll do all to push and not love me, and test me.  that's ok, I'm awake and very much in the present and reality of what's going on here. she will be here on monday for the week and I am going to call a family meeting, set rules/schedules/boundaries... for all of us.  I've also found a counselor - for me and hopefully my mate will come too.  he sounded fine with it, but changed the subject quickly.  he's been distracted.  I'm also curious to see how much of our meeting with his friend the other night got through to him.  apparently he was completely drunk - so much so he was afraid to drive to work the next morning still having alcohol in him. deep breath.  I know we're going to get through this. I'm reading and reading and reading amazing books that describe this entire situation to a tee.  there is a light at the end of this tunnel - and if it is going to be me gently nudging us forward then so be it, but I don't want to lose my love.  I hold on to our memories and won't let go.  thanks gail!


yes to all of your observations.  he is ignoring a huge red flag and his daughter will only get worse.  she is causing problems left, right and center - really the most for herself, but no one [that counts in her life] wants to be around her anymore, except for her mom and dad.  he has been to parent-teacher conferences when I've scheduled them and made it not an option. I have just found a therapist so I hope - my goal - is to eventually get her in. I am ready to take the bull by the horns and set certain boundaries, rules... and you know what, we're all going to have to be accountable.  she's 12, not 2.  she's growing up, I understand, and with circumstances she didn't ask for, but.......  thanks for your comments.  I'm feeling strong [right now anyway]. 



   Your stepdaughter is forming a personality disorder because her father defends her instead of parenting her.  He, like a lot of men, don't see that not disciplining turns them into little monsters and bad adults.  She is pushing limits, like all kids, and is begging him to make her be respectful.  She probably is a brat, like my stepdaughter, and you don't have to like her.  At the end if he doesn't step up you either accept it and learn to not let it bother you or end it.  Life is too short and you deserve to be happy and can find it with someone else.  I am in the mental process of kicking my husband and stepdaughter out and it is scary but my two boys need a mom and I can't be a good mom if I am miserable. Good luck.