How to Deal with Stepdaughter's Jealousy

Updated on September 23, 2011
H.P. asks from South Hadley, MA
14 answers

Any other stepmoms out there? How do you deal with a jealous stepdaughter? I've been her stepmom since she was 4. She's now 10. She was antagonistic from the start and I have done everything I can to alleviate her fears.. encouraging her to spend one on one time with her dad, me spending lots and lots of one on one time together with her, doing fun things like baking (she loves that), art projects (she's good at that), and riding bikes together. One on one we do all right... not the best, but ok enough to feel good. But enter my husband (her dad) and suddenly the dynamic changes and she becomes a passive aggressive, attention-seeking, needy, clingy, and jealous kid. I've talked to her dad about this but he doesn't do anything to address it (that's another story). So what can I do? More background info: my husband and I have had 3 kids together since we got married, so we have a blended family with 3 full and 2 half-siblings. I'm the only step person in the family unit. We made sure all the kids (including my sd) are included, listened to, taken care of, loved, spent time with, and treated the same. I make a point of that. So I'm perplexed at her continual (and actually worsening) jealousy toward me. Some examples of what I'm talking about: she shows visible signs of sulking and discomfort if my husband and I hug or spend time together. She will insult my cooking or any of my "likes" when we discuss things at the dinner table (she makes sure she has the opposite opinion of me always and agrees 100% with anything her father or brother say). She doesn't do this when they're not around.. only when they're around, like she's trying to show everyone where her loyalties lie and that they're not with me. I try to be patient but I tell you, after so many years, it's getting really old. She is trying to draw lines in the sand in our household, taking sides, likes to see me and her father in disagreements (usually about her), and no one seems to address it except me. Talking to her is like talking to a turtle. I just get stared at and she doesn't say anything. Her life at her mom's is tumultuous.. she's in and out of relationships and is very outwardly aggressive and nasty to most people. So I can't help but think that's influencing her negatively. But I'm the stable force in her life, taking care of her when her mother doesn't. I used to raise her full time until her mom came back into the picture a couple years ago. I just don't get it. But more importantly, her jealousy is the green-eyed monster that is eating away at my marriage and at our household.

What can I do next?

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So What Happened?

Thanks for your input! Many of you suggested counseling. It's hard for me to push that for my sd because it should be her dad and mom's decision and responsibility. Much of the stepparenting advice out there says to let the bio parents handle big issues with their kids and not to interfere or take control. So I walk a tightrope. I have had lots of talks with my husband about many issues, this one alot, but he doesn't see it as a problem (he is quite a selfish man) and so he won't acknowledge it. He is a difficult man to live with in general, so I often do the "work" of relationships alone. I know, sad, yes, it is. But it is my life and for now I want all of my kids under one roof and not have to be living the hard life of a broken home. It really is more difficult when you don't have the support, emotional backing, and unified front from your spouse, which is why I ask this question online. If I go to counseling then how do I get my husband to buy in to being a better spouse? He has to want to change and be a better listener and work on his family dynamics alongside me instead of avoiding it. Anyway, I do so appreciate your empathy and insight, advice and feedback. It helps! :)

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answers from Dallas on

Awesome post from WindyCityMom. I would just add find a counselor who specializes in blended families. My dear friend married a man 25 years ago who had 3 young children. She went through what I would have considered to be hell. But she never gave up on those kids and they have changed from monsters into awesome adults who really appreciate her. She is also a counselor who specializes in blended families. Wish you were in Dallas so you could see her.

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answers from Chicago on

Imagine this.... you are on a boat in the middle of the ocean and it's storming. it's been storming for 10 years, but you're pretty much adjusted to that on most days because you're only 10 so all you know is the rocking motion of the boat, vomiting over the edge and the feeling of nausea that overtakes you contstantly.

Off in the horizon is this little tiny lifeboat in clear sailing. You can see it. Some days you get to visit the lifeboat and so you know what it would feel like if you didn't have the storm around you all the time. Sometimes you're there long enough that you can actually go an entire day without feeling nauseaus. Some days you think about what life would be like if you lived on the tiny little lifeboat again. With your dad and your step-mom. And your siblings. You used to live on lifeboat full time. And then for NO REASON that you can think of you were just thrown back into the sea - to be sick again every day and to have to live in the constant storm. So you know that no matter how nice the people are that get to live on the lifeboat... you know you aren't good enough to get to live there and you sorta resent the fact that your other family gets to live on the houseboat where it's not storming.

The other wisdom I will impart is that abandonment sows seeds deeper than you can possibly imagine if you have never been on the receiving end of such a love.
She will test EVERY relationship she will ever have to see if that person will leave her. The more you don't leave the nastier she will get. that's how it works.

Has she had counseling? She needs to develop a sense of self-worth and that is going to be hard to do on her own until she's an adult and can put herself through therapy or read books on her own. Until then...... not a picnic.

Good luck and bless you for doing what you have.

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answers from San Diego on

This is a family issue and it needs to be dealth with as a family. You live in Mass and there are some fantastic family therapists there. This is not a couple or individual problem.

As much as you sound stable, consistent and absolutely wonderful, her mother is primary example of what it means to be a woman. She is going to test you again and again and again because you DO NOT fit her example of who women are. Even though you've been in her life a long time, 0-4 are powerful years regarding bonding esp between mother and child.

Family counseling with all of you, your bio children as well. If counseling is done just between you and your husband or if your step-daughter is identified as the problem, that will be more detrimental to the family relationship and her psyche.

I gotta say, I think you're awesome. This is going to sound strange, but I don't think she's jealous of you. I think she plain resents you because you're not her mom.

And, 10 is an awkward age any way. Pre-teen. Whew. You're a saint: )

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answers from Boca Raton on

Counseling with you and your husband first . . . this is an ongoing issue with lots of deep roots. You will need some help to effectively deal with it.

Good luck.

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answers from New York on

You sound so nice and I imagine this is beyond tiresome. The way her mom was out of the picture for awhile I bet has really negatively impacted your SD. All this likely has nothing to do with you or much to do with her dad and probably is deep insecurity that her mother LEFT HER and is still unstable. I agree that professional counseling would probably be the best course. I'm sure that's not easy to do with all you have to manage but she probably needs it.

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answers from Dallas on

10 is the new 12 and she is testing boundries as she would do if you were her biological mother.
I do agree, though, that the added complexity is she does have a bio mom who is back in the picture and counseling is key to get you and hubby and her and other kids all on the same path to success.
I love what Angela S mentoined. If you can't get the whole family into a session. focus on you and your husband's marriage first. I also recommend reading Kid CEO.

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answers from Dallas on

Awesome post from WindyCityMom. I would just add find a counselor who specializes in blended families. My dear friend married a man 25 years ago who had 3 young children. She went through what I would have considered to be hell. But she never gave up on those kids and they have changed from monsters into awesome adults who really appreciate her. She is also a counselor who specializes in blended families. Wish you were in Dallas so you could see her.

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answers from Austin on

Counseling will help you and your husband have the tools to help this daughter. She is testing, but there is something she is missing in her life, soul. She probably has no idea what it is or is not able to verbalize it.

You sound like you really have tried to be fair and to allow this little girl to find what she is searching for.. But I promise.. there is something deep, she cannot face or does not want to share for a reason

That is how I was as a child. I, eventually as an adult went in search of help, but my sister is still dealing with this and she is almost 50. It has torn the family apart and she is a mess.

Please consider counseling for her and then for the 3 of you.

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answers from San Francisco on

H., some of the things you are describing are so similar to what I experienced in our blended family, except that my husband and I do not have children together, and my stepdaughter and daughter did not get along at all in the beginning.

I promise you, it does get better. It sounds as if you are doing everything you can in order for her to feel close to you. Keep it up. My stepdaughter is now 12 and we get along so much better than in the beginning. She is also less clingy and needy with her dad because 1. she's more mature and 2. she sees that he loves her no matter what.

It sounds as if her home life at her mom's is creating a lot of uncertainty and she probably picks up quite a few bad relationship "habits." This is also the case with my SD's mom. My husband's ex loves her kids very much--I keep reminding myself that--but her way of raising them I will never understand.

Despite that, I have seen my stepdaughter grow from a very immature, fearful kid into someone who can accept her relationship with me on her own terms. The 10-year old stage was tough though. Hang in there, because as she nears her teens she will probably start to identify with you a great deal...and she will need your support.

PS You sound like a really cool stepmom who is managing to do the right thing in spite of being irritated by her, good job!!! : )
PPS My husband and I did also do some couples counseling, and it helped a lot...

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answers from New York on

Why are you allowing the inmate to run the asylum. Stop playing into her antics and drama by not allowing yourself to get sucked in. She probably needs counseling or at the very least you do which would help you get some strategies and insights into how to deal better with your situation.

Understand and know the only person you can control is yourself and never let them see you sweat. Have some set ideas in your mind about how you are going to respond when she is in your house. It would be better for you to show a united front before this child that let her little games interfere.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I am not a step parent ( I had a SF myself) but I read this and think:
She's 10.
Surely a 10 year old doesn't have *that* kind of power in a household.
Ignore the nastiness and hold her to a higher standard.
Don't play childish games--you're a grown woman.

I really see this as an issue with your husband. Daddy guilt goes deep. Maybe he's over-compensating.

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answers from Dallas on

Do everything you can to calm her fear and help her to see you as family, not a competitor for dads affections. Continue encouraging them to have a close relationship and be sure you aren't jockeying for his attention when she's around.
A cautionary tale.... My ex remarried. His new wife competed for his affection with my daughter. She would even make my girl get up and move if she was sitting next to her daddy. She'd say, "you're in my spot" Stupid broad! They are now divorced. Had she encouraged dad to spend more time with my girl and insisted they remain close, my girl would've been an ally to her. She wants her dad to be happy, but she wants it to be with a family oriented woman that doesn't compete with her for dads time and money.

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answers from San Francisco on

I see a couple of things that might be happening here. First, little girls are always in love with their fathers so she very well may be jealous of your relationship with her father. There's really nothing you can do about it, but Dad may be able to help by spending more quality one-on-one time with his daughter. Other than that, you might have to wait until she gets to the age where she's interested in boys and a boy her age grabs her attention toward him and away from her dad. Also, seeing you being a good mother might slap her in the face with how bad a mother her mother is. Again, there is nothing you can do about that. All in all, I think in time this will resolve, but you've got to give her time to mature. Sorry! Hang in there!

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answers from Columbia on

Have you talked to your husband about this? You MUST present a united front. Once you've talked through all of the above with him, you should sit down together with her and make it clear that you see what she is doing and will not put up with it. I'll bet she is not seeing the effects of her selfishness and needs a reality check.

Talk to her. She's not a baby anymore. She needs to know that what she's doing has consequences. When she acts that way, make it very clear that it's unacceptable. She might be seeing how her mother treats her SO's in relationships and thinks that is what she's supposed to do. You have to teach her how we are supposed to treat one another.

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answers from Boston on

It sounds like you are doing a great job. I have a 14yo stepson and we have 2 other children together. Some things that have made it easier for me: I had to come to the realization that the kids are not 'equal', once I accepted that it made it easier. I realized that my stepson is probably always going to try or at least wish that I was not in the picture and his 'real' parents would get together again. I backed off totally on any parenting duites besides regular support, cleaning, cooking, clothes, rides, I no longer tell him to chew with his mouth closed or to not lie down on the table while eating. I only rarely will ask him to do anything like pick up his shoes, or help empty the dishwasher. He questions every decision I make, takes issue with the the kind of sunblock I use on the little ones, etc. I bite my tongue and do not engage, he wants a fight and he wants to see my husband and I fight. As hard as it is, the less I engage the easier our relationship is.

I think the responses you got about holding her up to higher standards don't live with a step. My ss can bring down the room and the whole house for the whole weekend if he doesn't get his way. Now I can say that's his problem and his parents problem and his future counselor and wifes problem!!

So I mostly mind my own business. the book that helped me is 'how to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk' as well as 'mom, get out of my alife, but first take cheryl and me to the mall'.

The less 'work' I do trying to make a harmonious family, the better. I do talk to my husband, but he also does not see what I see, so I don't talk about it anymore. The problems just aren't there like they were when I was banging my head against the wall everyday. It is getting easier now that his social life has started, he is not going to identify with his family as much in his teen years. I think if you can make it through the next few years, tweens are difficult, it will get easier. I lowered my expectations and I am much happier for it. He has a mother and I will not expect him to appreciate anything that I do, it works much better.

Someone described step parenting to being an unpaid babysitter, frankly babysitters get treated better. Keep your chin up, stop trying so hard and enjoy your family.

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