Need Some Help in Parenting a Pre-teen Step Daughter!

Updated on June 30, 2010
A.W. asks from Springfield, TN
8 answers

I'm wondering if you 'been there, done that' ladies can give me some direction in the way of books or websites that will assist me in how to parent a step child. I've been married to my husband for a little over a year now, and although things are moving along smoothly, there are flare ups every once in a while.

I particularly need help knowing how to handle certain situations. I don't know where I stand - Do I parent, or do I step aside? My step daughter is a handful. She is 10 and has shared custody with my hubby and her mom 50/50. She is the product of a guilty separation/divorce, where everyone has showered her with "things" to be the better parent - this includes grandparents. She was and is being raised with different guidelines, rules and values than our children together (a 3 year old who my husband adopted, and another due in August) are and will be raised. Sometimes I get so worked up over what she gets away with (no consequences for backtalk, not cleaning up her room, being terribly disrespectful, not eating during meals because she's being dramatic) that I have to withdraw because I seem to be the ONLY ONE who wants to teach her life lessons.

Its created problems sometimes in the past with my hubby with him saying that I don't understand everything she's been through (probably true) and that she needs a little more slack because of it. I probably am a little hard on her than I should be, but it's nothing any more different than how I would parent our own children. We’ve talked at length sometimes about my place within the discipline hierarchy, and he’s told me to leave the hairy, difficult stuff up to him – which I’m fine with. But when I remove myself, the problem festers and festers, and I’m terrified that I’m going to wake up one day and absolutely detest this child. I get particularly riled up when she disrespects her father and I see that it tears him up to be treated as such.

Now, I don’t want you to get this all wrong… My step daughter is not 100% bad. She does have sweet tendencies, loves her little half-brother and is anxiously awaiting the birth of our child together. I work really hard on involving her in our/my lives – playing board games, working on craft projects together, cooking in the kitchen, that kind of thing. So I don’t want you to get the idea that I truly am the wicked step mother.

I think I just need some practical, professional or even “been there done than” hope and experience from other moms who have experienced this. I’m sure there are many of you out there!!!

Thanks so much!

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answers from Raleigh on

My mom married my stepfather when I was 11 years old. I remember her telling me that he would not discipline me or have any part of my "raising". She did however expect me to respect him. I still feel the same way about things and I respect but do not love my stepfather. He is a good person but he will never be my parent. I hope this helps.

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answers from Phoenix on

You're doing a great job. Hang in there! I don't have that same situation but I was a step child. My biological father was killed and my mom remarried twice and her first husband, which I considered "dad" got remarried and she was my step mom. I just wanted to be loved and accepted. My siblings had their biological fathers living and I wanted to be loved by them. I would let her biological parents handle the big things and just love, accept and encourage her. My husband was a step child too as his parents divorced when he was one and both got remarried and had more kids. He was always treated like the "step" child and it was hard. I hope that helps! Congratulations on your new little one.

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answers from Chicago on

I got divorced when my son was 4. Now he is 10 and I just got remarried to a great man who is a wonderful husband and a very active stepfather. Although my son has a nice relationship with his dad and stepmom, we have primary custody and our house is 'home' which helps a lot.

Ten is a hard age in general now- I see my son still a kid in some ways, but always wanting to be a little older, so some of the back-talk, etc. may be from that. But- you are totally right to want to take care of it. if you let it go now, it will be much much harder when you have a teenager on your hands who does not respect you!

While you can't know 'what she has gone through' and divorce is always hard on kids- don't let that be an excuse to let her get away with things- it sounds like this is what the rest of the family has been doing. She probably realized a while ago that this 'guilt card' works really well on daddy and the grandparents and is playing it up for all its worth! Not because she is a BAD kid- but just because she IS a kid and that is what kids do.

You and your husband MUST get on the same page with this. If you do not present a united front at all times, she is just going to get around your rules and try and play you off of each other. Again, not because she is bad or mean- that is just what kids do until (hopefully) they become mature enough to stop it OR are taught that it won't work! You and your husband have to be the grown-ups and not let that happen.

As hard as it can be- you cannot leave the 'hairy difficult stuff' to your husband. You have to be a team- and more importantly, your stepdaughter must SEE that you are a team. Remember- you are the stepmom. I understand that you want her to like you and have fun with you and that is a great thing. But- mom is not always FUN. Mom's job ( the job you've taken on) is not always to be fun- it is to teach, to keep a child safe ( sometimes from themselves!) and to provide a healthy structure for their life. The fun will come- trust me!

But I would say, worry more about gaining respect, and not too much about the rest of it.

Have a serious talk with him about this. What she does and is allowed to do now, is setting her up for her high school years. Tell your husband that even if it SEEMS like all she wants is gifts, more freedom, etc. most divorced kids really DO want rules and structure. Especially if she is not getting much of it at her mom's house.

Right now, as hard as you have tried to create your family- it sounds to me like she is still a little uncertain of how she fits into it. I believe she is looking forward to the baby- but that is still a little scary for kids who have never been through a divorce. Keep that in mind- but that doesn't mean the solution is to just give in to her whims.

Make sure that your husband understands too that being Dad is also not always about making your child happy every single minute. Divorced dads- especially ones who don't have custody- sometimes tend to overdo it. He means well, I am sure, and doesn't want to waste the time he has with his little girl on a fight. None of us wants to spend our time arguing with kids- but it happens and you can't let it define your whole family.

Even kids much younger than 10 can understand that we have different rules for different places. Your house = your rules. Period. It doesn't matter what time mom lets her go to bed or grandma lets her do or watch on TV- your house goes by your rules and she needs to earn her privileges by helping around the house and having a GOOD ATTITUDE about it!

My son only gets his allowance if he does chores- but with a good attitude. If he sighs and drags his feet and is a grump about it- no $$, lol! At first he didn't like it, but we have had MANY long talks about willing and that sometimes HOW you act about doing something is as important as getting it done. Your stepdaughter is undoubtedly going to get frustrated with you and your husband and pitch a fit, etc. but you just have to be consistent about what you ask her to do and HOW you want her to do it. Over and over.

First talk with your husband and get him to write up a list of rules with you: what is acceptable and what is not as far as talking back, behavior, etc. Also what chores your daughter will be responsible for. Make sure you have that all set ahead of time.

then you both go and talk to her TOGETHER. Explain that you both want to do everything you can to make sure that your family is a happy one. No one is going to be happy every single minute, but you are ALL a family and even if you get mad at each other, you always apologize because you love each other. Always remind her of that- if you hurt someone's feelings, say you're sorry and try hard not to do it again!!

Then go over the rules with her. Tell her that neither of you want to argue about things. It is hard for her to know exactly what is expected of her, so you want to make it easier- with the list to follow, she has no excuse if she doesn't do a chore or talks back. Talk about what specific consequences will happen if she talks back or doesn't do what she is supposed to and STICK to them.

So far all the stuff she pulls gets her exactly what she wants: more gifts, attention, etc. If she can't have her old life back, that is the next best thing right? Since her bad behavior is constantly rewarded, why WOULD she stop doing it? You have to raise the stakes so that negative behavior only brings negative consequences- not attention and rewards!

When she is polite, give her a big hug and tell her how much you love her and appreciate her help. Reward her when she helps out around the house. But most of all, you and your husband need to BOTH do the same things and stick to your plan!

You are a good stepmother- not a WICKED one, lol!- or you would not be so concerned about this and bother to ask what to do! Ignore mean-spirited posters below who just want to harp on their personal issues about God or divorce or whatever. Their negativity is not helpful and I don't know why they bother to post ina forum like this.

This little girl is lucky to have you, even if she does not always realize it now. Just be consistent and insist on the same good manners and rules you would for anyone else in your house. You guys can do this! good luck!

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answers from San Francisco on

Haven't had a step-daughter, but I've mentored kids.

Your role as a step-parent shouldn't be as a disciplinarian, but as a person in that child's life, you DO have a right to tell her a thing or two.

One mom on this site once mentioned taking the role of the "cool aunt," and though you will be more than an aunt, I would try to take that approach. Keep up all the positives you are doing, but if she's way out of line you do have a right to comment on it. "People don't appreciate it when you do X," -- that type of thing. You should have limited involvement in punishments, however.

Give her as much love as you can muster, and don't expect a lot back, right away. You will have some good moments with her, and your love will go a long way, eventually.

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answers from Raleigh on

As a marriage and family therapist, I see this all the time. Please be aware that not matter much you care, or are bothered, you are not now, nor ever will be, her "parent" unless she lets you. Right now she has a mother. You may do what I call "adulting" and a previous responder called the "cool aunt". You can be an important adult in her life and do what any adult--teacher, neighbor, babysitter--would do in a given situation. Her father must be the one to parent her. That said, you do need to let him know how this situation is affecting your marriage and your home life. This is why second marriages fail at a greater rate than first ones. Real loving is teaching our children to be the responsible adults we want them to be. We cannot do that if we feel guilty. I recommend counseling for the two of you as well as checking Scream Free Parenting by Hal Runkel. Good luck.

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answers from Indianapolis on

Oh yea.......been there.......but we ended up with custody............My husband didn't want me to handle the "big things" either, but when he didn't, I was like, at first I tried talking to her, saying ,,,,do you realize how much you have hurt your father? I think that made it worse because she knew she was hurting him...........

I finally had a talk with him and I told him, when you are not here, I'm treating her like my children, and if she doesn't like it, I can't help it..........I told her I loved her and I was going to be more involved..........she wasn't happy.............but rules of the house, are rules of the house.........and since she is there alot and not just on occasions, then she must abide by the rules of the house...................

I don't want to hear about how much they have been through......that's ok for a month or so, but after that, life goes on.........I know that sounds cruel, but it's life....and it sucks a lot of times for kids and for adults, might as well, learn now, life isn't always going to go your way......or give you a break.......

I would talk to your husband, tell him you think that he is sending the wrong message to your kids and his daughter...........she is part of a family and sometimes, that is great and sometimes it's not......but either way, you will both learn to respect and love each other........he has you on the road to hating her.......and that's not fair to either you or her.....or him either.........

Talk to him, then talk to her............let her know that things are changing......and although she may not like it, it's the rules and there are always going to be rules, your house, moms house, college, jobs, first apartments, house, etc..........just the way life is.............

With all that said, my step daughter comes to me when she is in trouble.........she knows I have her back.......and if she needs help, I'll be in her corner or tell her she is nuts.......but either way, she knows that I am on her side........she doesn't go to her birth Mom or even though I literally wanted to put her up for adoption as a teenager, I wouldn't let her get the best of me......and boy did we fight at times........and so will you......those teenage years are awful..........but I held true to what I said and she learned that Dad wasn't going to step in my way, although she really tried to get him mad at me many times with lies...........
So hang in there, and get Dad on the right page, then start slowly working on your step daughter......continue to include her, but when she is wrong, let her know it.....and let her know why as well...........

I always threatened my step kids of becoming the wicked step mom, after awhile it became a you hang in there and you will be fine........just get ready for those teen years.......

Take care.

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answers from Austin on

I think you should step aside. You are not her parent. Her parents got divorced and her dad remarried you and created a new family. This poor child now gets to "visit" her father. This is why Dr. Laura says to wait to get remarried until all children are grown up and are out of the house. Very sound advice that more people should follow.




answers from Portland on

I remarried when my daughter was an adolescent, and we had some "interesting" times while she worked through her very complex feelings about her dad and her step-dad. Nothing will make all the problems magically transform, but they can get so much easier to deal with.

I'm a strong proponent of compassionate and empathetic parenting, because it gets results with kids of all ages, improves mutual understanding and respect, and reduces stress. You can find out more about it in How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Kids Will Talk. It coaches you along so you can immediately start incorporating the simple and sensible examples into your everyday situations.

I think you'll be really glad when you try this approach, because it will not only help you deal effectively with negativity, but your overall communication will improve – so terribly important as your step-daughter approaches puberty. This book teaches you how to listen to her in a way that will help HER identify her issues, and give her an opportunity to come up with her own appropriate solutions (yes, kids can do this, and will, when given the chance!). And it's not an excessively lenient approach – you can also learn how to present your own needs and limits in a way your step-daughter can hear better.

I'm happy to report that because of her step-dad's persistence and patience (well, mostly, anyway), my adult daughter and my husband are great friends.

My best to you.

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