24 answers

Step-Daughter Issues

Hello all...
I am needing some advice on my step-daughter. First of all it is one of those unfortunately common situations where the child's mother enjoys putting our family down to the child. Anyway, my step-daugher is 8 years-old and has been a single child up until 5 months ago. She has no cousins living nearby, and is extremely spoiled by her mother and maternal grandparents (she has electronics before we do!). My husband and I recently moved about 1.5 hours away and had a new baby. At first she was very excited about the baby and came to visit us frequently. She has always left happy, and we each make one-on-one time with her. Since my husband and I both have the summer off, we were planning on taking her for extended periods of time over the summer. This is where I need advice. Her mother has enrolled her in several summer activities, also mother is now claiming panic attacks because of her job, has quit her job to have the summer off also, and is telling my step-daughter that she is ill and needs her around. My step-daughter has stopped visiting and/or calling us. Should we push her to come to our house, or simply keep encouraging her to do so, and letting her know how much we miss her? My husband and I are afraid to put more pressure on her, and we are unsure if she really doesn't want to come, or if it is her home situation that is keeping her from visiting.
P.S. The parents have joint custedy(sp), with no set visitation schedule, and mom is not really sick.

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As a step-child myself who went through this as a girl, my advice would be to have the three parents (Dad, Mom, step-Mom) work this out between the adults. Then tell her what days/weeks she will be with Mom & which with you guys. Otherwise she is being put in the middle & she it too young to have to choose.

No matter what I did as a child, one parent was mad & the other happy. It was not a nice situation for me to be in & now I have no relationship w/ my dad.

Best of luck to you & congratulations on the new baby!!!

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Hi J.,

Sounds like you are in a difficult situation and your step-daughter is in a more difficult situation. I would seriously consider going back to court and getting a set schedule for visitation. She needs to be with her Dad too, and she should not be put in the role of a caregiver. She is a child and needs to have a childhood. If her mother is claiming to be that ill maybe suggest taking her so that her mother can get her rest and get better.

I am also divorced and no matter how much I dislike my ex I would never keep my son from his dad. Good luck


you said she was 8, my daughter is a couple months shy of 8, and in no way shape or form, would i expect her to stay home and take care of me for any reason. your husband has to step up and point out that if the maternal mother was really ill, the 8 year shouldn't be there. the mother should be getting help from family and friends that are adults and from nurses. of course if she really isn't ill, this will all change once your husband steps up. but honestly, if he were to push the matter, and was available all summer, he could get a lawyer involved and if mom is really ill, they wouldn't expect the child to be there all summer taking care of her.

What type of relationship do you have with your husband's ex? Are you friendly? Does your husband have a good relationship with her?
Sounds like mom is feeling insecure about things and the daughter may be caught in the middle.
It's very common in situations like these, when dad remarries and has a child, that dad suddenly decides he wants full custody. Mom could be afraid of that happening.
My suggestion would be to talk to mom in an understanding way and try to be friends with her, working together to co-parent the child. Let her know you're there for her and you want to be a team.
It is very hard raising a child alone, she may want the emotional support she lost when they divorced.
This is a tough situation but sadly all too common. I know, I'm in it too.
Good luck!

I think that since you have came into the picture and have a new baby, the mother of your step daughter is probably feeling threatened by your happy family and is acting up on that. My brother's first wife was that way after he remarried years after their divorice, even though she was already married and had two more children. I think it is a treat to her to have another woman in her child's life acting as a mother. It is selfish of her to use her daughter like that, doesn't matter if she is sick or not, to expect a 8 year old to take care of her is horrible.

First thing I would do if I were your husband is get a set visitation schedule, joint custody or not, you need it set where there is arguments over when she will be at your house.
Look into summer activities available in your area and enroll her into some, so she isn't missing out on anything.
Then let her know that you want her with you both. Let her know that you aren't taking her mother's place, but also let her know that you love her very much, that her father loves her and misses her while she is gone. Let her know that if anyone says anything negitive about her dad (or her mom) she has the right to stand up to them and say "That is MY Dad" Or "that is MY mom" to remind them not to talk negitive things about someone she loves. I did this with my niece when my sister and her husband divoriced. When my sister would talk horrible things about her ex, my niece would agree but would look so hurt too. My niece was 18 years old at the time. I told my niece who said she didn't want to visit her dad and grandparents because they would talk bad about her mom, she has a right to stand up and say "That is my mom, don't speak of her like that in front of me" and I said to her that she should and could do the same thing if she hears someone talking that way about her dad. She burst out crying and my sister realized what she had been doing and how it effected her daughter. She never again said anything negitive about him and they are now very good friends. Kids shouldn't have to pay for parents dislike of one another.
The only way you can keep her out of the middle when arguing about who gets her for the summer is having set visitations.

Don't pressure her to visit, but let her know that you love having her visit you. She obviously needs a stable environment to come to where she can be a child. Further, if you pursue court involvement, be prepared for her mother's response-whatever that may be. It is important to have a set plan in place for situations like this, but there may be some initial "fall-out" if mom is the kind of person to stoop to the level of making her daughter responsible for her. Your stepdaughter may be reluctant to come for visits because she feels she is betraying her mother by enjoying time with your family and leaving mom alone. Maybe you should confront her mother on this situation. Find out her motivations for the things she is telling her daughter and maybe even point out the position she is putting her daughter in. You could even find that this is actually more about your stepdaughter's perception of things rather than what she has actually been told. If this is the case, mom can help reassure her-hopefully. No matter what, this sounds like a very delicate situation. Mom appears to be having issues with your new family status, but she shouldn't be making those issues into her daughter's. It may also be helpful to involve someone who can be a bit more objective-maybe a grandparent? I know sometimes the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree so that may not be helpful, but it's worth a shot. This sounds eerily like something my husband's ex would do. She went so far as to basically tell my stepdaughter (she's 6) that she was being replaced by my son and her dad would not want her anymore. But, my stepdaughter seems to be giving it all right back to her-she told her mother that she could not have baby with her boyfriend. Unfortunately, mine may be a case where the apple is lying right next to the tree! Good luck to you!

The advice about the court ordered visitation is important, however, you are just beginning some long years of struggles. You as the stepmom have to take a deep breath and step back. I'm speaking from experience with my stepdaughter who is now 22. You should always make her feel special and welcomed at your home, include her in all family plans. I wouldn't push her to visit, just encourage. Sometimes she will be hurtful, but keep in mind what her Mom is telling her and that she is only a child. If you are a Christian, you will need to do a lot of praying. It's also important that you and your hubby see eye to eye on discipline before there's a problem. God bless your special blended family!

Is there any way you (or your husband really) can deal with this directly with the mother? Do you have any type of set visitation that she can't take away from you? If you do, and your stepdaughter is opting out (which is likely being provoked by mother's guilt), your husband needs to make it very clear that he loves her very much too, and it's important for her to spend time with your family too. She would likely be fine once she got there. If you don't have set visitation rights, and the mother can keep her as she pleases, you'll probably have to take the high road, and keep calling and reassuring your stepdaughter how much you love her, and miss her without putting any direct pressure on her to come. (keep the pressure on her mom) I am a stepdaughter myself, and there's nothing worse than feeling guilty about leaving your sad mother alone (especially at 8), except thinking that your dad and stepmom don't love you as much. I've been through both. I'm also a stepmom, so if you ever want to talk, definitely email me!


This has got to be between your husband and your ex. Regardless of how courteously you try and handle it, bringing a step parent into these kind of things fuels an already ugly fire.

Please make sure that your step-daughter doesn't get caught in a tug of war. Of course you want to see her because you love her, but her feelings have got to come before yours and your husband's. Let her know you love to have her visit and she is always welcome, but don't give any pressure. Children have this uncanny ability to make every parent's problem their fault. She is probably feeling guilty already.

Good luck,

You've already gotten a lot of good advice. As a stepmother to 2 grown children, I'd agree with advice that suggests that your role as a stepparent means that you need to be supportive of both the child and her mother and to work with your husband to find solutions that work for your stepdaughter.

My stepdaughter explained to me just 2 years ago (she's 30) that the divorce left her feeling abandoned by her father even though her father and mother worked very hard to have a "good" divorce ... my husband and I never had children but I can imagine that your baby may have contributed to feeling of abandonment and your relocation could reinforce those feelings. All of these typical feelings would be intensified if her mother and grandparents are making inappropriate comments.

Someone gave me advice when I married a man with children ... she told me that I had to be more adult than any of the other parties because being the stepparent is the hardest role of all!

Good luck in supporting your husband as he negotiates visits that work for everyone.

Dear J.,
your stepdaughter is a victim of parental alienation by her mother and this little girl is also being parentified. She needs you and your husband in her life as much as possible because it sounds as though her mother is having mental problems or is too immature to be having primary custody of this little girl...or both. If she were truly putting her daughter first, she'd encourage her daughter to bond with her new sibling and her family on that side. She would want her daughter to feel like she belongs there, as well as at home with her. Do what you can to get her to your home for as much of the summer as possible and keep an eye on the relationship she has with her mother. The mother needs to have it made clear you and your husband will not be putting up with that type of damaging behavior towards her daughter. I would get a consultation for your stepdaughter with a clinical therapist who can meet with you and your stepdaughter and her father all together for counseling so she can keep in perspective all the good coming from that side of the family by discussing her concerns and questions.

Would it be possible to set a visitation schedule through the court system? I know in our area there is one step down from actual court where you meet with someone who tries to come up with a solution that fits both sides.

It sounds like both the 8 year old and her biological mom both need some stability - a set schedule might help them both.

What about family counseling? If the biological mom is unwilling, perhaps see about getting it court-ordered. You all have to be able to work together in an open and honest way without someone emotionally hijacking everyone else.

The sanity and future success of the 8 year old may depend on it.

I think that you should definitly encourage your step daughter to come to you house, but let her know you understand if she doesn't. I also think that although the drive with a 5 month old might be difficult, you should attemp to do things with her near her home so she won't feel like she is abandoning her mother. My parents divorced when I was young and I was in a similar situation. It is important for her to feel loved. Her mother should not put this responsability on her and you and your husband might want to consider getting a set visitation schedual, then your step daughter will not feel obligated to stay with her mother if she wants to visit and her mother can't try to stop her from spending time with you and your husband. It is odvious that her mother is putting her in the middle and has some kind of issues with the divorce/your knew baby/being alone and she may need help to get over it. I hope that every thing works out and I sure it will in the end, if her mother doesn't back off I am sure she will eventually understand what her mother is doing and will come around.

Wow... a lot of opinions on this subject. I have been the child in the middle of a custody battle and I separated from my children's father 2 weeks before my 9 year old was born, so I have been in both. My sister still has issues with our mother over the visitation problems that arouse and she is now 23, so it can be tough!!

I hated the pressure my parents put on me to be loyal to one over the other. I will not have my children feel that same pressure. I agree that there needs to be a court ordered visitation schedule put into place. Your step-daughter needs to not be involved in that. It's between your husband and his ex. If his ex says things to her and she confronts either you or your husband, you can just nicely say that you are just trying to get something set up so everyone has a schedule so you can all be together and her mother and the two of you each get your time with her. It's that important. Nothing more.

In the mean time I would suggest just keep a consistency on phone calls. You can say you love her and can't wait to see her again. Make an effort to be informed on what is happening where she is and try to be around for events in her life. If her summer stay is being shortened because she is in activities, try to make the drive to see one or two of these events this summer. Show her that if she can't come to you... you will come to her, she is that important! Also, send pictures of her new baby sister every once in a while, maybe with the i love my big sister bib on it, so she feels involved even from afar. Don't put on pressure... her parents need to get that visitation thing figured out. Just make her feel wanted and loved.... and important even though she is not there.
Good luck!

It's time to go to the court to ask for a set visitation schedule J.. You can start the process by filing for mediation services in the county in which the mother resides. However, because they have joint custody, you might be able to do it in your own county. Check with your county first.

Either way, an 8 year old needs stability more than anything. A regular visitation schedule, court ordered if need be, will do the trick.

I would assume that Mom is probably worried about not seeing so much of her little girl. Signing her up for these activities was one way of encouraging her to stay home with her, another might be feigning being sick so the little girl feels she needs to be with her.

There's nothing you, personally, can do about it. However, this is your husband's child and he has every right to have visits with her. I would have him talk it out with Mom to come to an agreement. If she is unwilling to budge, then your best bet is going through the court system in order to have formal custody arrangements. I know it's a lot of trouble, but sometimes it's the only thing you can do.

As a step-child myself who went through this as a girl, my advice would be to have the three parents (Dad, Mom, step-Mom) work this out between the adults. Then tell her what days/weeks she will be with Mom & which with you guys. Otherwise she is being put in the middle & she it too young to have to choose.

No matter what I did as a child, one parent was mad & the other happy. It was not a nice situation for me to be in & now I have no relationship w/ my dad.

Best of luck to you & congratulations on the new baby!!!

Just continue to be supportive. If what you are saying is true (that the mother is putting presure on the child) then adding more to the pot will only make it boil. Calling her and talking to her. Encouraging her to come when ever she feels up to it. Letting her know that you have plans to do (xyz) would she like to be included and leaving the door open is a good alternative. You are her care giver as well and do have rights to have visits and overnights and if the childs mother is getting in the way of that after several months then possible talk to the mother without the child nearby.

First and foremost, what does the divorce agreement state for visitation? If she is supposed to come for a certain amount of time or a set every other weekend, type schedule and if er mother isnt letting her come, then she is in contempt of court. I hate to sound mean, but she is 8 and she is the child, the parents need to tell her what to do not her telling the parents. If she is scheduled to come, then she comes. I would certainly make changes if her mother was truly ill (like in the hospital or a terminal illness), but you need to follow the court order and go from there.


I am the stepmother of a teenager and was involved in custody issues when he was 10 and 11. Something that was common advice from everyone involved in the court system was that a child (especially younger than an adolescent) should not be allowed to make decisions on visitation, because it puts too much pressure on a child. (For example, a child may say that she doesn't want to see you and your husband, because she wants to make her mother (the parent she lives with most of the time) less sad.) Your husband and his ex need to either make a visitation schedule and stick to it, or go back to court and draw a schedule up. Your stepdaughter needs to see her father - no question about it - and she needs to know her father wants to see her, regardless of what she says she wants. If you want to put less pressure on her, tell her that her father and mother (and the court if it happens that way) will be making the decisions on when she will come visit.

Hope this helps! Be strong and pray. Find a church program for blended families for support. (Elmbrook Church has a good one.)


First of all, the mom IS really sick if she is telling an 8-year-old to stay home and take care of her. Mental illness is real illness.

What your husband needs to do is first offer to take over care of the daughter so that her mother is free to get the treatment she needs. Second, in order to reduce the stress of the unpredictability, (which can only contribute to panic attacks, right?) he has to formalize a visitation schedule and not hear of deviation from it. The child needs this security, and maybe the mother actually will get help.

I have to say that I feel for this kid that is put in the middle by her mom. It sounds like her mom might be jealous of her x having another kid. A child should never be put in the middle and should be allowed to be a child. To be around to take care of mommy is not right. Also if you push it might make her feel guilty about not being with mom. Sounds like dad needs to talk to mom privately. You just need to keep encouraging her to come visit and let her know she is definiately wanted by your house.

Question. Is the mother telling you she is ill or the daughter? Sometimes 8 year olds lie to get out of things they do not want to do. If her mom got her signed up with all these fun activities and she does not want to miss out on these things like camp, swimming lessons, baseball, whatever... she may be trying to find a way to be there for all the fun things she wants to do on her summer break. If I were you, I would stay out of it completely! Her mom and dad need to have a good talk about the summer plans and come to a comprimise that works for everyone. My husband never gets involved with my oldest sons dad. They are nice to each other and my husband is "dad" and does all the things he needs to do for my son, but he never ever gets involved with the decisions that his real dad and I have to make about visits, trading weekends, whatever it may be. You can be a sounding board to your husband, but he needs to step up and talk to his daughter and her mother on his own. Remember too, that it is not a competition who's house is more fun to be at this summer. You guys do not have to plan to do something huge just to lure her to visit. My son's dad does a lot more fun things than we do. He takes him to movies, skating rinks, bowling, arcades, rents his favorite video games, whatever Aaron wants. And we do not feel like we have to do more to keep up. Of course we do some fun stuff, but most of the time it is stuff you do not have to buy. We pitch to him, play catch, go on bike rides to fun parks around the neighborhood, set up the slip n slide and actually will go on it with him when he does not have a friend over to do it with him, take him fishing. But it is not a competition. Just be careful is all I am saying. Kids can smell out a situation and use it to their advantage:) They can manipulate. Even the sweetest kids you would not expect it from can lie to get what they want. congrats on your new baby! Have a wonderful summer!


Wow I have also been through this with my husband and his ex, although she was doing those same things when she was younger (she is now 8). We ended up getting a lawyer and before anything goes to court the two parents have to go through mediation and try to come up with an agreement about what they want. If they can't agree on it they will place the child with a gurdian at litam(sp?) to see what the best situation would be and then it would go to court. We did not have to go that far, they ended up working it out in mediation and is well worth it. His ex always had would always walk all over him and would not let him have her for certain holidays and had to be in control. Now it is all figured out and on paper so when she does try and pull something he has that to fall back onto.

I think it is very important for you guys to see her and for her to be involved with her sister. I also think if she did come by you for the weekend and didnt' really want to she will have a lot of fun and realize what she is missing out of.

Good luck

When you don't have a court order in place it is very hard to have anything planned. I am not the one to try and split up a family, because a child needs there mother and there father even if the parents are divorced.. But I would encourage that your husband gets a lawyer and gets a set schedule in place. Since they have joint custody, both parents should be able to have there daughter the same amount. It sounds like to me the mother is getting lots more time with her even though you have joint.. Your husband just really needs to get a schedule in place on paper that way the mother can not just keep her when ever. You don't have to follow that schedule if you are all getting along, but that schedule that is signed by a judge will help in the times that you are not getting along.

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