Your Questions Answered: Needy Stepdaughters, Part 2

5 05 2010

I received an email that I responded to last week here about needy stepdaughters. This stepmom was very uncomfortable with the physical closeness of her husband and stepdaughter. I’ve been thinking about that letter all week and want to add to my response from last week. Before you read on, I highly suggest you read my first post on this topic.

I want to add a few things. And before I do, here’s a big shout-out thank you to Margaret and Steve, my think-tank.

The email was in regards to a stepmom who was feeling uncomfortable with the physical intimacy between her husband and her 19-year-old stepdaughter. As I mentioned, stepmothers often send me notes with the same problem but typically I see the issue in two ways. First the stepmother is not comfortable because she feels like an outsider. And any physical or emotional closeness of a husband and his daughters will feel threatening to a stepmother who does not feel secure in her marriage or her stepfamily. It feels terrible to witness hugs and easy camaraderie when you aren’t a part of it.

Also, as I wrote last week, children of divorce are often needy and clingy due to the trauma they experienced as children. (Sometimes this shows up as whining sometimes as aggression.)

Here are some more things to consider (they’re mostly for your spouse, so please feel free to pass these along.)

Use common sense. There’s normal physical closeness and then there’s the uncomfortable kind. I certainly responded to the fact that this dad is spooning his 19-year-old daughter with discomfort. That does seem beyond the normal bounds of physical contact between a father and daughter. As girls get older, Dads do need to be careful of what kind of physical closeness they have with their daughters, especially at a time when the girls are developmentally working to break away from their family of origin and form their own relationships with men. Regardless of how your husband wants to love his child, he still has to be a father and parent his child in an appropriate manner.

Ask your husband to examine his level of attachment. Divorce or the death of a parent and then remarriage has a major impact on the development of a child. We know this. I’ve written about it a lot. But it also has an emotional impact on a biological parent. If your husband and his daughter lived together alone for many years, they likely developed a close bond that isn’t altogether healthy. When this happens, as it often does, stepdaughters can be very territorial of their fathers and vice-versa. This kind of unhealthy closeness means that daughters don’t switch their attention to the men in their own life because they are still so connected with their dads. (I am not talking about a sexual relationship here, ladies. Just emotional.) This is when daughters become the little women of the house and dads turn them into confidantes. (This happens to boys, too. And bio moms are also often guilty of this parentification of a child.) If this has happened, your husband is really doing his daughter a disservice by putting his own emotional needs above his daughter’s healthy development. Kids who are put in this situation have a much harder time as adults making healthy relationships. He needs to let her go and develop a new kind of relationship. One in which he lets his little girl grow up.

Work on becoming a team. Besides the spooning issue the most troubling part of your email was that you and your husband are clearly not on the same page. Regardless of how he wants to love his daughter, you are his wife and he needs to cherish your bond. And that means respecting how you feel. The famous marriage researcher John Gottman of the Gottman Institute has shown that in successful marriages, men are open to influence from their partners. They listen. They are willing to change something if it hurts their spouses. At the very least your husband needs to hear your feelings and you need to hear his. Then together as a team, come up with a solution that feels right to both of you. Perhaps he can sit next to his daughter on the couch and put an arm around her instead?

A big thank you to the stepmother who sent this question. It’s a tough one and I’m so glad that you reached out to me about it. I hope that I’ve given you something to work with! Also a big thank you to the ladies who have sent me comments about this topic.

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5 05 2010
Your Questions Answered: Modeling a Healthy Relationship « Becoming A Stepmom

[…] for a great question! Please see my second response to the needy stepdaughter here. Also, because your stepchildren’s mother is absent, read this […]

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