Bonding with Stepchild Really Possible After All This Time?

Updated on January 03, 2019
T.P. asks from Farmingdale, NY
15 answers

I’m not sure if all of this is something I can live with. I have a 5-year old, who can be challenging in his own way, but has always been lovely to my boyfriend of 2 years (been active with he kids together for 3) He adores my boyfriend and has never been the slightest bit jealous, because he feels securely attached to both of us. My boyfriend’s daughter, on the other hand, is now turning 10, and is usually with us two weekends a month (we don’t live together yet.) We spend all holdiays together and have gone on vacation together too. She seems to be eaten alive with jealousy and it makes me feel really out of place. He can barely talk to anyone without her acting panicky and trying to get as close to him as possible - touching his face and sliding around on him disruptively or even once pinching him to try to get him to stop talking to her aunt. If she is not the center of attention for a moment, she’ll cry or sulk or make rude comments if I try to strike up a conversation with her or pull her in to make her feel included. I understand that she’s miserable at home (I unfortunately don’t know the mom; I’m not supposed to talk to her) but her behavior is really hurtful to me. She pretends to be helpless; constantly needing assurance and instructions, needs help dressing from him, pretends to nearly choke on her food at the table almost every meal to get attention. She’s kicked me quite a few times, glares at me while cuddling with him and - worst of all - I’ve discovered multiple personal and valuable items in my home that were willfully destroyed and then put carefully back in their place. I will never know who did it and, in a way, I’m not sure if I even want to know because I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to forgive. I don’t get to see my boyfriend constantly either and only have one-on-one time with him every few months or so, so I feel a little neglected and resentful to be made to watch helplessly while they act like we don’t exist. I’m sure he misses her terribly so he coddles her a lot and goes to extremes to make her feel like she’s the most important one in his life. In a way, I admire that he can dote on a child so much - but sometimes I feel plain left out, even though we’re usually at my home and I’m doing my best to make sure everyone is well fed and happy and loved. Sometimes he does a really good job of including my son in their snuggles, but sometimes they’re in their own little bubble and my son just doesn’t exist, which he has expressed hurt over. It pains me to see him tearfully yelling for them to wait up for him while they skip along hand in hand far ahead. As a grown woman, I somehow have no right to sit next to him without her immediately squeezing herself onto him, she sulks wordlessly through every car ride because I’m up front, and he can’t even hold my hand for a minute without her flying over and jumping all over him and trying to get him to hug her instead. I do my best to do girl activities with her, like taking her shopping, brushing and braiding her hair every time she comes, asking her questions about her interests, teaching her simple cooking, doing crafts - my apartment is plastered full of pictures of her although I can’t get her to let me take one with me in it too because she’ll pull an awful resentful grimace. I’m starting to feel resentful and helpless. I don’t think counseling will be an option - I understand my boyfriend’s behavior in a way too; I’d be more than heartbroken if I only had my son for 4 days a month. Sometimes lately I urge them to stay at their place and enjoy their time together so that I just don’t feel so darn awful and left out. Since I’ve been expressly instructed not to get involved with the birth mom I can’t look to her for help bonding either. I worry that things will get worse if we move in together, as is someday planned - and he plans to try to get full custody of her. Will this get better with time as she gets older and more distracted with her own interests? I’m truly afraid that I’ll be demoted to a maid in my own home otherwise, doomed to dote on her and have no needs for attention or affection of my own or for my son. I’m not sure confronting her about her behavior will do much good - boyfriend talked to her once after I finally opened up about being kicked and feeling mistreated and she denied all of it.

What can I do next?

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So What Happened?

Thank you everyone for your input! I appreciate the feedback. Obviously things are always more complicated than one can explain in a post but it’s still been good to get a variety of opinions - I struggle with knowing my role in the whole thing.
I would have liked backing things up more with her, a lot! You can’t force a child to love and accept you. I’d be happy to spend that time alone pursing my own life. But he was definitely the one to insist that I shop with her, do her hair, and that we spend so much time together - even if she’s clearly miserable, as I’m becoming. Holdiays and vacations are together - I wouldn’t be “allowed” to do them alone or go on vacation without them, because he’d see it as a slap in the face and me not accepting his daughter. Which I’m torn between thinking is nice that someone wants to make sure that their relationship moves forward but also feels forced and wrong. I’m mostly fearful of making a mistake, and I think I tend to make myself feel responsible to fix other people’s problems that shouldn’t be mine.

Final update: I find it interesting that you share my feelings of the whole thing seeming controlling. I always felt a little suspicious in the direction due to a few more minor incidents but I think I just very recently really started noticing that he is indeed oddly controlling. Everything was honestly ok for me until November when I turned 30 and he suddenly announced a few days before my birthday that he wouldn’t be able to do anything at all with me because he would have his daughter. I was initially hurt, because holidays are important to me and I make a special effort long in advance planning my workload around special occasions for others. My facial expression annoyed him, but I insisted that he just leave my face alone and let me look hurt if need be, that I have a right to my feelings. Later I said that I had thought things over and was disappointed but understood und would just go out with my best girlfriend for a dinner then because she had already arranged weeks in advance for childcare and was looking forward to the evening. He forbade me to go have dinner with her without him and to just wait until he’d have time for me in January or so. It ended up working itself out so the 3 of us went to dinner after all and I didn’t have to choose sides but I found the whole thing really strange. About 3 weeks ago I went to a Christmas dinner at a chinese buffet that had planned with bunch of my coworkers and clients, and he sent a text message right before saying that there would be trouble if anyone flirted with me. I wrote back that he should be saying something like “enjoy yourself!” Later sent me a picture of myself he had gotten out of someone’s Facebook, sitting next to a woman on one side and a man in the other (no touching!) and asking me if I was enjoying myself. I was humiliated and furious and ignored him to the next day when he wrote and called multiple times to demand to know why I sat next to this man.

I think I’ve made a huge mistake of judgement and just realized what I’ve done, which is why I’m reaching out for help. I’ve been angry and off-Standish since then but obviously will need to do something about it!

More Answers

D.B.

answers from Boston on

ETA: I just read your "So What Happened" and I am really alarmed by what you are saying. Your boyfriend is extremely controlling - you aren't "Allowed" to take vacation, you aren't "allowed" to talk to the child's mother (which by itself isn't a huge problem, but it is along with everything else), you are required to take the daughter shopping and do her hair. He skips ahead with his daughter and your little boy can't keep up - yet instead of making your own way, you feel heartbroken. You've lost your way, my dear. You have no rights, and you are desperate to have any sign of affection from this man for you and your son, no matter what happens to his daughter. And although he only has his daughter 4 days a month and insists on you taking her out of there for part of it, he wants custody? He's using you to be the "perfect mommy" as if he thinks that will help his case. It won't. You're being used. And you already say counseling won't work. Get out. Now. Get counseling for yourself to learn to make better choices. I don't know if you'll go back over older responses so I hope new responders will tell you to do so and tell you this sounds like very controlling behavior.

Original: You feel out of place…because you are out of place. Your boyfriend doesn’t know how to parent, and if he sees his daughter so infrequently, it’s almost impossible to learn.

If she’s with him so rarely, I am baffled about why he spends that time with you at your house. This child needs her father. She’s already transitioning from Mom’s house to Dad’s, but no, you add in your house, you and your son too. No wonder she’s confused.

Should she be kicking you? No, of course not. But why is she with her father so rarely, and when she is, he’s snuggling on the couch with you? And why are you feeling insecure and resentful? She’s 10. She’s struggling. If he can’t talk to her aunt without her having a hissy fit, he needs to deal with that. You cannot bridge that gap and “make her feel included.” She’s either included by him, or she’s not. If she’s not, he’s screwing up and you cannot fix it.

I think you (and your boyfriend) might want to consider updating your attitude about what girls need. You seem to think there are “girl activities” like shopping and hair brushing. That’s pretty antiquated – at least until you know this girl a whole lot more than you do. Just because you like braiding or shopping doesn’t mean she does. And if she’s shopping with you, she’s not with her father – which defeats the purpose of visitation.

I’d say to back off. Be 200% more patient than you are now. Let them have dad/daughter time at his place, not yours. Learn to be without him 2 weekends a month. Stop with holidays and vacations. You’re forcing this girl into relationships she’s not ready to have. Wait 2 months – then consider a children’s museum or a picnic or a hike together, without hand-holding or kissing. Just be an adult in her life, and not a needy girlfriend (which is how she will see you).

Your boyfriend needs a parenting class. And you could benefit from one as well, so you learn more about the developmental stages of a 10 year old. If you don’t do this now, she’ll be in puberty in a year or so, and it will be so much worse. You two are jumping the gun, and you are more concerned with her adapting to your relationship that you are with you adapting to her reality. I’m a stepmom, and I can tell you this situation is doomed if you don’t back off.

You don’t have to dote on her and be her maid. But you cannot be her competition either. And you should not be with her when he’s not there – that will solve the problem of kicking and denying. I have no idea why he is abdicating his responsibility and making you handle her, but I can see why she’d resent it.

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M.D.

answers from Pittsburgh on

I appreciate that you try to do girl things with her. But try to understand - from her point of view, when you take her out to do girl things, this is taking her away from her dad again, who she barely spends time with as it is. I see that you are trying to bond, but can you see why she might see it her dad pawning her off one someone else again, when all she wants is to feel secure in his love for her?

Also, try try try not to take this personally. You said it yourself - she feels insecure in her dad's love for her, and is desperate for his attention including when he's on phone calls or even talking to his own sister. This isn't about you at all. Don't make it about you.

I think you already did exactly what he should have done in the first place. He only sees his daughter 4 days per month. Those days should be off-limits for dating since they are daddy-daughter days. Get the visitation calendar from your boyfriend, and plan your dates with him around that. During holidays, they can spend some time with you (maybe you host 1 dinner for everyone 1 evening), but most of the time should be just the two of them. I think that vacations with your boyfriend should be without kids, but if you really feel that you must all go together, plan some time all together but also a schedule of separate daddy/daughter and mother/son time every day - they go to the beach while you and your son go mini-golfing, they go out to her favorite place for lunch while you and your son have a picnic on the beach, etc.

Will this slow down the pace of your relationship? Yes, but when a person is dating with kids, things have to move slowly. I don't think you need to end your relationship over this IF you are happy with things the way that they are, and IF you are ok with staying boyfriend/girlfriend living in separate homes for at least a few more years.

ETA: I just noticed that he's planning to try to get full custody. Do not move in together until AFTER he does this. He needs to learn to parent his daughter full time in his own home without you there. Once he does this, if it is going well, THEN you start increasing the amount of time you spend together. If that goes ok, then you talk about combining homes. But you and he are several steps - and several years - away from moving in together.

ETA #2: You would not be ALLOWED to go on vacation without your boyfriend?? I am now concerned in a whole bunch of new ways. This is a HUGE red flag to me. My advice has changed. Run.

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G.♣.

answers from Springfield on

What a sad, sad situation. While this is very difficult for you (so hard), imagine how hard it must be for your boyfriend's daughter. For her to feel so desperate, so afraid of losing his attention, so terrified that if she doesn't constantly seek his attention he will stop paying attention to her, must be horrible for her. It does make one wonder what her life is like when she is not with her dad. Does she feel ignored or unwanted? For her to behave in this way, I can't help but think she must be neglected when she's not with him.

I would consider talking to your boyfriend about this again. But this time, don't talk to him about how it makes you feel. Try not to mention that at all. Rather, focus on how desperate his daughter must be feeling. Let him know that you are concerned that she might be neglected or mistreated when she's not with him and that you are very worried about her emotional health.

This sounds like so much more the jealousy. I'd honestly be very concerned that she is being abused or neglected.

Since your boyfriend sees her so infrequently, he will probably need to talk to his lawyer about what he can do and how best to help his daughter. Something is not right for her to be acting this way.

This is not normal at all. This is not about bonding with her or her just being jealous of daddy's girlfriend. You owe it to her to talk to him and encourage her to find a way to help her.

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E.J.

answers from Chicago on

ETA: After reading your SWH, I am concerned for you. He is dismissing your feelings and thoughts. That is not a healthy partnership. He is emotionally abusive. Get into counseling or at least talk to someone from a domestic violence hotline to help you understand the dynamic going on here and your options.

========================= original==========================

I think you already know the answer.

You are just hopeful that someone on a public forum will help you deny what you already know is true.

Your boyfriend of two years does not know how to parent nor does he know how to coparent. Until he can manage these skills, you and your child will not be a priority to him.

Very concerning that you are not to have any contact with birth mom. Why would your boyfriend want to keep your relationship a secret?

This is not a good environment for your son. Put his needs first. If your boyfriend isn’t willing to go to counseling and work on this issue as a couple, then it’s time for you to move on.

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M.G.

answers from Portland on

We get questions like this so often, I'm starting to think we should be a step mom hotline. It's just one variation after another of this same question. The dad is dud, the girl is 'jealous' and misbehaving, and the new stepmom feels boyfriend is choosing daughter over her.

Ugh.

Sorry - child is obviously the one that matters in all this. You two are the adults and you're not handling this well. Dad is the parent - obviously he's not parenting well. You know this - this is why you've written in to a parenting site. You've talked to him about her kicking you. She's still kicking you. So he's not an effective parent. There's your answer.

Does the kid have big time problems? Yes.

Do you want to be involved in this? Yes or no. That's what you need to ask yourself.

Because you can't change other people. You cannot change your boyfriend. You cannot change the girl.

You can -

1. Have them hang out at his place. That's what I would do and what would be most beneficial for the girl (and everyone, including you and your son). Why worry about this bonding between you and she. It's not going to happen. What's more important is her emotional well being.
2. Take it very slowly with this guy. He doesn't appear to be a good parent - whatsoever. Nor does he seem to consider your feelings at all.
3. It seems to involve a lot of drama. Weird situation with the ex. Weird situation with the child. Weirdness all around. Do you want this for your child? Do you want it for you? Why? More fish in the sea. I would be running from this situation. So would most women.
4. What advice would you give your best friend or your child? Listen to it.

I don't mean to be harsh - you deserve better. In five years, will you look back and think Oh why on earth did I allow myself and my son to get all tangled up in his mess? If you think the answer might even possibly be .. ugh ... then just go very slowly and if there's more sacrifice than what it is worth ... walk away.

ETA:
Read your SWH.
Ask yourself - why are you with this man? Why do you want him around your son?
Stop focussing on this child of his. Focus on you. Stop being a doormat. This is classic doormat behavior. Make an appointment with a counselor, for YOU.
When someone (him) treats someone else (daughter) like this, learn from it. He's not making time for his daughter. I suspect he didn't treat his ex well either. When people show you who they are, believe them. Don't go making excuses for them.
Why are you with this man???? That's what you need to be asking yourself. Again, you and your son deserve better. I feel for the little girl.

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M.6.

answers from New York on

My gut says there is WAY more going on here than meets the eye. In any event, someone in the triangle has some pretty serious mental health issues. I can't quite figure out who due to lack of information, but in any event, this triangle is extremely unhealthy.

Walk away, get some counseling to make sure that you are choosing healthy relationships going forward, and look for someone else.

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D..

answers from Miami on

Added after your So What Happened:

I think there are some real “red flags” here with the explanation you have given that your holidays and vacations aren’t “allowed” to be on your own. He doesn’t have the right to tell you what you can and can’t do. The other red flag is that you are afraid of making a mistake. So he is controlling you to you and your child’s detriment, and you are allowing it.

Talk about a “a slap in the face”... he demands that you dote on his daughter despite her anger over having to spend time with you, while he ignores your 5 year old. The slap in the face is from him. Drop him from your life before he doesn’t allow you to do other things.

Original:
I absolutely disagree with the characterization that you are jealous of this child. That’s an unfair assertion. I do think that you understand that she is messed up, but what I am not sure that you understand is that you shouldn’t be with this man.

He is not currently capable of dealing appropriately with this child while you and your son are present. You ARE demoted to a maid, an interloper, and your son is not shown love. This is not something you should be showing your son. He will end up not knowing how to treat a spouse or his own children when he grows up.

You are lucky to not be married to him. Cut your losses now.

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B.C.

answers from Norfolk on

Your boyfriend and his daughter need a lot of counseling.
He needs to be able to tell her to quit it when her behavior gets out of line.
He's allowing/tolerating her beating on her rivals for his attention - and at 10 yrs old her draping herself all over him is going to get really inappropriate.
Really? How can he NOT notice that she is kicking everyone away from him?
And he doesn't say anything right then and there to her about it?
I could see someone accusing him of sexually molesting her if they see how she acts around him.
She's not a toddler - it sounds like she's got some development delays.
He needs to see that she needs some professional help - and HE needs professional help so he has the tool set required to deal with her issues.

I'm sorry but this will not get any better any time soon even with full custody.
You need to step aside while he learns to parent his challenged child.
It might be best for you to move on - he could be busy for a decade and that's a long time for you to be waiting for him.
If you are going to be in any relationship at all - your son needs to see you in a healthy adult relationship.
This isn't it.
Cut bait and move on.
There are more fish in the sea.

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M.C.

answers from Chicago on

I read this last night and didn't respond. I read your SWH and now all I see is red flags. I would be out of this as quickly and as cleanly as I could.

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Z.B.

answers from Toledo on

I think it's really important for you to know that the way this girl is behaving is a huge
warning sign that she is not feeling loved! This is not your fault in any way, but she is not feeling loved or valued in her other home. She goes to her father's house, and she is terrified that she could be unloved and unwanted there, as well.

Something you said in your SWH really jumped out at me:

"Holdiays and vacations are together - I wouldn’t be “allowed” to do them alone or go on vacation without them, because he’d see it as a slap in the face and me not accepting his daughter."

I really didn't like the use of the word "allowed." It's very controlling, and you are not a little kid. I realize that that may simply be the best way you have of expressing how you feel, but it did concern me. Also, I understand why you think he might be wanting the two of you (plus kid(s)) to vacation together and be "like a real family," but keep in mind, even in families where the parents married first and had kids second, the parents take time away, each parent spends one-on-one time with each kid and may even take them on a weekend sometime. That's healthy. That's actually very, very important for each member of the family.

My husband and I spend one-on-one time with our kids. We've taken them on trips alone. We've taken them on overnights as a special treat. It really helps us to bond with them and help them to know that they are valued and special to us.

You might not be able to convince your boyfriend to go to counseling or take his daughter to counseling, but you could go to counseling. This sounds like a very serious problem, and it might really help if you had a trained professional who could help you figure out what your role is and if there is anything you can do to help.

This is just so unhealthy. Try to remember that this is not about jealousy. This is about a little girl who doesn't know that she is loved, that she is valued and that she matters to anyone.

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S.T.

answers from Washington DC on

sounds untenable.

she needs help, but you're the one who is jealous and resentful of a desperately unhappy little girl.

she doesn't have coping mechanisms. she's just doing whatever she can.

her dad isn't helping by coddling her, but your helpless dislike of her won't help either.

since you can't discuss it with your boyfriend, i'd throw in the towel on this relationship.
khairete
S.

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L.H.

answers from Abilene on

I think unless your boyfriend sees there’s an issue with her behavior, it likely won’t get better. You are not “helpless” to watch this happen. You are a grown woman and MOTHER to your son who you’re watching be mistreated. Why? You love him so much you’re willing to sacrifice your well being and that of your son so he can shower his daughter with the attention he thinks she needs because he’s only with her 4 days a month?

If you’re afraid you’ll be demoted to a maid in your own home, you have your answer.

Cool your jets and let him know your concerns about the way she is behaving and how she rules his life. Then ask yourself if you’re ready to subject yourself and teach your son it’s okay to be treated like that.

If your best girlfriend explained this situation to you, what advice would you give her?

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C.T.

answers from Santa Fe on

Your boyfriend and his daughter need to find a highly qualified family therapist. He sees this therapist on his own, his daughter sees the therapist on her own, and sometimes they do a session together. Perhaps you can meet with the therapist also (at first) to describe all this like you have here. They need to go long term...definitely the next couple years if not longer. Really bad patterns have been established and the therapist will help them to break these patterns and help your boyfriend establish boundaries. He also needs to take a parenting class...one that focuses on tweens. I cannot recommend the family therapist enough. It is crucial that he starts doing this with his daughter. He is the adult here and he is handling the whole situation in the wrong way...it's up to him to put in work to fix this.

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A.D.

answers from Minneapolis on

I think at least for awhile, this child needs the little time she has with her father, to be just the two of them. When does she ever get that? Because her parents aren't together, her only time she gets with her dad is 2 weekends a month, and it sounds like it's never just the 2 of them. Why not? Why can't you let him take 2 weekends a month for her to just spend with him at his place? I'm not saying you should never see her but everyone does not have to be together all the time.

Although she expresses it inappropriately, clearly, this is what his daughter needs. And you're miserable with the current arrangement as well. Spend that time with your son, and/or with other family, friends, or important people in your life.

I also wonder if your boyfriend is too comfortable with you feeding and taking care of everyone to step up and fully take charge of his own weekend time for just her. Let THEM cook together, order pizzas, watch movies, or whatever.

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R..

answers from San Antonio on

The red flags in your post are screaming at me. She is a little girl who see her dad about four days a month you said. She is acting out in every way humanly possible to get his undivided attention. She sees every other woman around as a threat to her place in his life whether it is true or not. But she is 10 and still really just a baby about to hit those hard tween/teen years that can be really hard on a girl that doesn't have a strong male role model in her life.

Me personally I don't think there is only one other person out there that we are meant to be with...I think there are a lot of people out there relationship wise that we could be great fits with and go on to marry and have a long happy life together. For me having this dynamic hanging over our relationship forever because the little girl isn't going anywhere she will be his daughter forever would be a deal breaker for me.

It isn't you personally...I would have loved a stem-mom or step-mom-to-be to want to be in my life and really be like a second mom. But this little girl has been poisoned somewhere along the way and it isn't her fault and it isn't your fault. Her dad may never be able to see it if he is that un-observing of it. And really I'm not even sure it is his fault for not seeing it...men can be very unobservant in the female culture and ritual that we all dance around each other with and how we decide who is going to be close to us or not.

I would give some serious thought to whether or not this is the relationship you want for the next 40 to 50 years of your life. And if you ever plan of having a child together it might send this young girl off her rocker emotionally.

I was going to suggest letting the girl and her dad have those 4 days a month alone together without you. You seemed to indicate he wouldn't like that...I think that would be the best thing for her and him. Having those four days be all about her until she decided, if ever, that she wanted you and your son to be a part of it. If your boyfriend can't see that then maybe you should rethink your relationship.

Sometimes I suggest a session or two with a councilor but this maybe beyond the scope of that, it might be a long term counseling issue. Good luck and hugs!!

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