13 answers

Help with 20+ Step Daughter Who Won't Help Herself

My husband's first daughter (who just turned 21 in Jan.) has been driving us crazy! My husband was a single father after her mother walked out when she was 2 and was living with us untill she turned 16. She and her father had a huge falling out over a boy 2 yrs. older that we thought was unsuitable and was possibly emotionally and/or physically abusive. She made the decision to leave us and live with her mother (who is recently divorced with 3 children from her second marriage) on the opposite coast. For two years she would have nothing to do with her father (neither taking his calls or responding to his emails) and only spoke to me when her sister was born that same year. We found out when she was 19 that she had left her mother's house after high school grad. and moved out of state with the very same boyfriend we had such trouble with. She also gained about 50 pounds and her health is also suffering. After about 1 year living with this boy he decided to take a "break from school" and move back in with his mother, leaving our daughter with no where to live. She was working a min. wage job but it wasn't enough to pay rent on her own (and have I mentioned that she has never shown any interest in obtaining a driver's license?). She moved in with her mother, who promptly kicked her out after a few months. She finally came to live with a friend of my husband's in VA, but now it seems that that's not working out either. My husband and I are stationed overseas and he is retiring next month, so we can't bring her here. His friend is reporting that she is lazy and even though she's signed up for full time classes at the local community college (which my husband paid for) she shows no interest in getting a job, establishing residency in VA to obtain in-state tuition, getting a driver's license, or helping out with his friend without being asked. Our hands are tied for the moment but my husband wants to give her the opportunity to come stay with us (also in VA) after he retires. I don't mind that, but should he continue to support her (paying for school, room & board, etc.) if she's done nothing to help herself. We've been trying to encourage her to go to school for a while now and she's insistent that she wants to become a teacher, but she is still under the illusion that her dad will pay for her to go to an out-of-state university. She wants to transfer to NC where her boyfriend is attending school, but with her track record I don't think that's a good idea. What should we do? We can't abbandon her to the streets, but I'm tired of supporting a woman who should be able to support herself!

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I am 25 myself however my mom and dad are going through this same thing with my 19 yr old sister. Not the boyfriend thing, however my parents paid for her college and she just got kicked out for skipping, she won't get a job and goes to my parents house every week asking for money. She was staying with my older sister since her school was in the same town, however since she got kicked out my sister kicked her out as well and my parents have put their foot down and dont give her money. She called me the other day and she is suffering for it! She has 17 buckd to her name, however has lined up an apartment with a friend come April and has now gotten a job. Now my sister just got out of high school and has never been out of her own. We are really hoping this helps her, she seems to realize now that she can't go through life being a moocher as i call her lol. I hope some of this helps or if anything makes you feel better knowing others are going through it as well!

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I will pray for you because you are in a very big situation. But what I will tell you. She needs to get a JOB!!! Paying for school is one thing as long as the grades stay up. If they start going down at her age at some point she will quit and the money was paid for nothing. Does she show any responsibilty at all? To me I would say no. Because she wont get a job or a driver license.

I have a 18 year old daughter in Louisana that is going to school to be a nurse. I pay for school and help with what I can. I am a single parent in the Army and I explained to her that im not made of money.

As for housing im not really sure about paying for that one. I would give her no extra money. Make her eat in the cafeteria. They have meal cards. That way you know that your money is not being spent on junk. If she needs school supplies ask her what she needs and you buy it. Its not that you dont want her to have it you just cant trust her to spend it wisely. My daughter has a parttime job goes to school full time. I know that if I send her money she will use it wisely. This needs to be established with her. Let her know how you feel. At some point in her life she will feel embarrassed that she has put you in a position that you dont trust her. Look how she has treated your friends, and look how she treats those that try to help her. She has to grow up and if you baby her all the time she will never grow up and always use those that try to help. Just by listening to you talk about her mother it seems that she is just following suit as in watching her mother. Some people have to fail in order to succeed. I know its hard to see your kids with nothing but once they see that they cant go out with friends or have things they want then they will hopefully start to straighten up. But if you give them everything they want it will never stop. I hope I have been of some kind of help. K.

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Hi R.,
I am not very old, but I have never been the type of female to want someone to wait on me hand and foot either. I think you guys should let her come live with you. Simply because it's time for some "tuff love" and putting her on the street is maybe a little too "tuff." I say let her live with you. Don't give her money, don't take her places, make sure she has a roof over her head and leave the rest to her. Lay down some ground rules like if you want money and food, you need to get a job. Now, in most states (since she wants to be a teacher) she can get a job as a substitute without having to take a test or anything and even if she does have to take one, they are fairly easy, so she should pass it with no problem. She can bring in her own money, and attend school at night to earn her degree. Make her see that you guys are willing to help and that you love her, but she has to do some things on her own. Of course, this is going to cause tension, but I say a little bit of tension is better than having a freeloader in the house. Let her yell and scream and pitch a fit, but you and your husband need to stand your ground, and if she chooses to leave again, let her leave. And tell her once she leaves, you guys will not continue to support her, and she'll probably want to stay. I know I would. I am 25 years old, and I have always been independent, so I don't know what it feels like to be in her situation, but I fully stand behind the advice I just gave you. I have lived around free loaders for almost all my life and they don't change unless someone lays it out and makes them. Hope this helps!!! Have a blessed day!!!

(8 VAC 20-640-10)
Substitute teachers must:
A. Be a minimum of 18 years of age (21 years of age preferred);
B. Possess good moral character;
C. Have earned a high school diploma or General Education Diploma (GED);
D. Attend an orientation to school policies and procedures conducted by the
local school division.

If she really wants to be a teacher, she will like substituting!!! Good money and she'll be doing something that she wants to do.

1 mom found this helpful

if you let her live with you, you should charge her rent and even have her sign a contract! She sounds like she has been sponging off of anyone and everyone.
You are in a tough situation especially because she is not your biological child and you don't want this to become a sore point with you and your husband. But you have rights as his wife and a mother to his other child/children. This girl is old enough to get a job, a driver's license, and support herself at LEAST somewhat.
It sounds to me like she needs counseling, too. She is obviously unhappy and doesn't knwo what to do about it.
You and your husband have some serious discussions ahead and you need to reach an understanding that works for both of you. I would think his instinct as a parent would be to help out his child, but how long does it continue? You need to set boundaries before (if) she moves in and absolutely stick to them. If this girl is allowed to continue as she has been then you all just become enablers and she won't ever stop taking advantage.

1 mom found this helpful

Hi R.,
As a mother of 3 and 35 years old, I have to say there are a lot of things you and your husband can do to your stepdaughter. However, after reading all the comments and your frustration, as an outsider looking in, you have to know what's going on with your stepdaughter.

I know this sounds crazy, but really, that's what you need to do. I was in your stepdaughter's shoes over 10 years ago and truly, she's hurting inside and to be able to have her open up to you and your husband and have her do things that you would like for her to do (i.e. get rid of BF in NC and get a job). Ask her what she enjoys doing. Have her start volunteering at schools to see if that is what she really wants. When she isn't volunteering, you can ask her to get a part-time job and go to school part-time. That way she has options out there and she knows that you guys are willing to support her emotionally and somewhat financially.

When I say support her financially, you can give her an allowance for volunteering/going to school (i.e. give her gas money, feed her, give her a room to stay in). BUT also teach her how to manage her money as well as paying for "rent". You don't have to charge her hundreds of dollars (you can charge her something to live w/in her means) but charge her an amount she can use to help establish herself.

Yes she is 21 years old, however, you have to understand that she has been through a lot within the last five years. She moved out to be with a woman she didn't know and was turned away by her several times. She hasn't had the emotional stability nor the proper parental guidance that would allow her to make "reasonable" decisions. If you know the BF was abusive, you have to ask her about those things too. It will be hard, but as long as you and your husband make that effort to "know" her, she'll open up. Some people may think "she's just playing you guys and you should just let her make her own bed." But really, think about where she has been by herself and if you would want your own daughter to go through everything she has gone through.

My parents were tough, but showed me things that I now use with my kids. When I was going through what your SD experiencing right now, my Mom and I started a journal between the two of us and we would write things to one another...good and bad...constructive and destructive...happy and sad...loving and hurtful...but what the main thing that we did was communicated.

A lot of the kids that are in her age group have been spoiled to succeed with the help of their parents---my sister is the same exact way as her and I've been working with her for four years. She's made progress and that shows me and my parents that she's realizing the world can swallow you up quickly, but family will always be there to help you out of the water.

I know this is long winded, but sometimes tough love may not always be the solution. Find out what would work for you and your husband. Encourage her to do well, make good choices and if you choose to do a contract, make sure you do one with her to show her that you are making an agreement and commitment to each other to help her achieve her goals.

If she wants to get advice, she can truly always e-mail me or call if she needs to. I wouldn't mind helping you out! ;)

All my best,
P.S. I'm a military wife and reservist too! :)

1 mom found this helpful

Hi R. :)

Im not to much older than your stepdaughter but I do know she needs to do something... Im not really sure if I should even be giving you advice LOL but I can try :) Ive told my mom to do this to my brother, First make sure she knows hes not gonna pay for her to be with her boyfriend. Have her get her license its not hard in VA I got mine there LOL then have her get a ok job and have her help a little bit with paying something to give her some sort of responsibility I think it may help her. Try and have her pursue her wanting to be a teacher and tell her she has to go to the school in VA so she can get tuition assistance. Try to make her see that life is not all fun and games. I have seen that chores around the house help a lot but if shes that bad she probably wont want to do them. Well I guess my advice sucks but hey maybe something will work :)

I am also a navy wife :) of 5 yrs... we have a 5yr old Son and Im 7 months pregnant with our little GIRL!! YAY :)

R., She is on a self destructive state if she returns to this boyfriend who apparently doesn't respect her enough to care for her properly, so I agree it's a mistake that she stay away. Also I wouldn't toss her to the streets she may have abandonment issues brought on my her biological mother and that is why she becomes self destructive. I understand your position but your husband shouldn't pay for her college unless she submits to conditions, which I know will be hard since she is being rebellious. Obviously if she is to live under your roof for the duration of college she must obtain a job, with her own source of transportation. Seek therapy to resolve issues that are causing her to become self destructive. Respect for rules that you and your husband come up with really. She will continue this path until she wakes up and god knows when that could be. My oldest daughter is only 8 years old but I see her behavior going in the wrong direction as she lives with her father but I can say that I did things like this including rushing into my first marriage to get away and stability. Encourage her to fill out FASFA for pell grants and other financial aid available. If she is really serious about college then I would offer assistance after the first 6 months, if she can last that long with commitment then I think it may be a good investment for her. I moved out my house when I was 17 but I have been working since I was 14 years old. I still jumped job to job but it taught me responsibility in the long run. I have no idea if this makes any sense but I also hope that something I said gives you insight of what you can do. I know it's hard but your right can't just let her live on the streets or worse back with the selfish boyfriend. Good Luck!


First let me say I am all for supporting our children in what they want to do, but not when if affects lives negatively. I am a firm believer in tuff, not cruel love. Give her an ultimatum. I don't see anything wrong with paying for school if she is going to class and making decent grades. However, sit and talk with her and help her to understand if she decides to go to another school what is she willing to do to help with the change? If she decides to go to NC she will have to be responsible for her own way there-period. If it would relieve the friend, start paying for her to live on campus and give her an allowance for necessities. Let her know if she blows it that's just it until the next month. That way one of these suggestions will hopefully help her understand she has to grow up and be responsible for HER life. She needs to also know that NOT many people have a free ride in school take advantage and get your education because the boyfriends will obviously come and go. Always Pray that God will direct you in the way you should go with this situation!!! I pray that something I said was helpful.

You already have some great advice about setting Boundaries and Rules from some of your other respondents. Go with them! But don't forget about something called Enabling. You and your husband will be enabling her and even encouraging her to continue with this behavior if there are no consequences. She has found that she can get something for nothing. As with any advice to anyone with children at any age, ALWAYS follow through! If you say you are going to do something, then you had better do it.
But remember, she is "agewise" an adult, and has the right to choose her own path. She has displayed this choice in the past by going to live with her mother and then leaving there as well. Be prepared, she will probably start out following the rules, but then run away again, when she gets (frustrated, tried of the rules, bored, in an argument, etc... pick your description). At some point she will have to take responsibility for her own life. Better sooner, then later!
I know she is a little old for the Behavior Contract, but for some reason, getting someone to sign on the dotted line, really works. By a behavior contract, I mean write down EXACTLY how much you will give her and for EXACTLY what purpose that money is to be spent, and in return write down the EXACT behaviors you expect from her. Also include in this contract, EXACTLY the consequences that will come from her failure to follow Each of those Behaviors/Rules. This will take awhile to think about and formulate, and you can include Total cut off as the last resort, but the most important thing is that all parties involved sign the contract (Including the boyfriend if you have behavioral expectations there) AND you follow through with the consequences when they are called for. You could even put in Rewards for excelling beyond your expectations (all A's in classes, taking a full load, etc.) Oh and one last thing, when creating this contract come to the negotiating table with your rules/expectations ready, but include her in the process of creating the contract. Give her some ownership and the contract is more effective.
I hope this helps.

Hi R., My advice would be this: For sure I would be kicking in a little known thing called "Tough Love". Yes, it's dificult on all parties involved, but in the long run, well worth it. I wouldn't contintue to help her with support unless she can start proving that she can be 1)self sufficient & 2)that she can be trusted. So far she hasn't proven either from what you've said.
As far as wanting togo to where the BF is, well give her the "Ultimatum". By that I mean: tell her that if she goes she's on her own, she'll get nomore support from you & Dad. Let her see just how hard it is out there to support herself for a while & she'll come running home. Sometimes we have to let the ones we love hit the bottom (with tough Love) before they realize just how wrong they've been. I've seen it happen too many times. Please feel free to contact me if you'd like.

Hi R.,
I live in Germany and have a soon to be 20 yr. old. Who is living in an Apartment in Italy attending Culinary School.

Although I have not had these kinds a problems I thought I would just offer some life experience advice. She is old enough to take care of herself. I would not continue to fund anything if she will not take responsibility. That only takes away from the household. He cannot allow any guilt or having her mad at him cloud his judgement. And I disagree about "abandoning her on the streets" How can you abandon someone who doesn't want your help? She has to be held accountable and she has to be allowed to choose the path she feels is right for her.
I hope something I said helped.

My daughter has made choices and we support her and may not agree but we are all the happier because of it.
God bless,

I am a mother to three boys; my oldest is 21 turning 22 in July. I understand your frustration. We are overseas also. He lives in Fl. and until this spring term was attending college fulltime. He has followed his girlfriend around too. Now, they are at a breaking point and he is coming to live with us for a short time until he enlists this fall. We have been paying his rent/car insurance/tuition ect. from 2004. Our agreement with him was as long as he was in school fulltime we would continue to support him. After he lost his scholarship we insisted he obtain student aid/loans from the school in his name. If your daughter wishes to attend an out-of-state school, I recommend setting some rules before she leaves. The hard part is sticking with them. But, sometimes you really have to hand out some tough love. If you want to help her the rules are so important. Example: 1. You will pay what in-state tuition would be, she must get aid to cover the difference, this can be done online at www.FASFA.edu.gov 2. She must get a job for extra's ie. going to dinner, movies, social life. 3. If your going to help with rent/utilites--she must attend full time school or half-time if she's working. These are just a few things we did. At first it was very hard, but in the longrun it paid off. Getting a job and taking responsability helped him to start felling like he was "growing up" Now, he's becoming a man and moving on in his life. We've reached a turning point.
Hope you are able to get through to her and help her see that she's an independant, intellegent young woman who can take care of herself. Don't give up, keep your faith in her, yourself, and your husband--and let her know it.

I too have a daughter that 21 and feel like we owe her the world. I have on many occassions baited her out of different situations. This year I finally made the decision that she needed to grow-up. With that in mind, I provided a few suggestions and tolded her "NO MORE HAND OUTS". Thus far this year she got her a job, and a place to live. She now see that her bills are her bills alone without mommy and daddy help.

I know it will probably hurt your husband to say "No" to his daughter, but he must stop. It ok for hime to pay fgor school another term, but she must find other ways to continue to attend college. There are many grants and scholarship programs available. It her boyfriend mean so much to her, then she should let him take care of her. Then on the other hand she should step up and grow up.


I am 25 myself however my mom and dad are going through this same thing with my 19 yr old sister. Not the boyfriend thing, however my parents paid for her college and she just got kicked out for skipping, she won't get a job and goes to my parents house every week asking for money. She was staying with my older sister since her school was in the same town, however since she got kicked out my sister kicked her out as well and my parents have put their foot down and dont give her money. She called me the other day and she is suffering for it! She has 17 buckd to her name, however has lined up an apartment with a friend come April and has now gotten a job. Now my sister just got out of high school and has never been out of her own. We are really hoping this helps her, she seems to realize now that she can't go through life being a moocher as i call her lol. I hope some of this helps or if anything makes you feel better knowing others are going through it as well!

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