Your Questions Answered: Stepdaughter Questions Stepmom’s Authority

12 05 2010

Dear Jacque,

What do I do and how should I feel when my stepdaughter tells someone when they ask her who she listens to more, “I listen to my dad because he’s my dad but because stepmom hasn’t been in the picture that long I don’t listen to her”? I have known her and her brother for 7 years and married 5. How should I feel and what should I do?

Dear Stepmom,

I’m so sorry that after all this time you have to deal with rejection from your stepdaughter–yet again! I’m guessing that you’ve worked hard the past seven years and this feels like a slap in the face. I would imagine that you’re hurt and angry. Talk about feeling like an outsider! Before I offer you any thoughts I want to point out that I think you’re amazing! You’re working your tail off and I am so humbled by your generosity of spirit, your kindness, and your big open heart. Women who say “Yes!” to becoming stepmothers are the most lovely giving women in the world.  Now, here are a few things I would offer you:

Don’t second-guess your feelings. It’s so easy to be confused about how we “should” feel as stepmothers. The fact that you asked me what you should be feeling really struck a chord. There are so many “shoulds” around stepmotherhood. We “should” feel more maternal toward our stepchildren. We “should” love our stepchildren. We “should” help create a big, happy family. We “shouldn’t” feel hurt when a kid says something hurtful to us since they’re just kids. There are so many pressures coming from society and from our own expectations that it’s enough to make us crazy and doubt our own gut instincts. But your feelings are your feelings. Acknowledge them and please don’t torture yourself about them. For goodness sakes, you are a human being, and you deserve to be treated with respect–especially from yourself.

Thank your stepdaughter. Wait. Huh? Bear with me. Your stepdaughter is telling you, or this person she told, the truth about how she feels. This is really valuable information you can use to improve your situation at home. The more honest we are with each other about what stepfamily life is like for each of us, the more we are able to bond in the long run. This is really challenging but the only way to begin making changes in our lives is to be able to identify what needs to be changed.

Rally your husband. My guess is this child has not received a strong message from her father that you are an authority figure in her home. Dad’s support is what gives stepmothers authority of any kind. Sit down with your spouse and have a discussion about what each of you thinks a stepmother’s role should be. Typically it works best if Dad is the primary disciplinarian but stepmom needs to feel a sense of control, too. Explain to him that if he says to your stepdaughter, “Honey, you have to listen to your stepmother. When I’m not here, what she says goes,” and upholds that in the heat of the moment, it will help make your life and your marriage SO MUCH BETTER. Oh, and by the way, it will help your relationship with his kids, too.  (I’ve got a lot of information about creating household rules together in my book in case your partner needs some convincing.)

Reconsider what you think you need to do. Sometimes adolescent stepchildren flare up against us even if they’ve known us for a long time. But one of the beautiful things about stepparenting is that the kids already have at least one biological parent around. Leave the parenting to the parent and back off. They are his kids. Let him deal with it. I know that sounds extremely harsh, but sometimes disengaging a bit is the best thing you can to do for the long-term health of all of your relationships. Settle into more of a coach, teacher, or friend role with your stepdaughter and she might accept more guidance from you that way.

The truth is that no matter how long you’ve been in a stepfamily you’re always the outsider. Even stepmothers who have been married for twenty or more years are referred to as the “new” wife. Even when a stepmom has been around decades longer than the first marriage lasted! You will never be related to your stepchildren by blood and in their eyes that means you’re always a bit removed (nevermind that you’ve helped with homework, cooked 1,000 meals, cleaned up vomit, helped pay for college, etc. etc.). This is a fact we need to accept as stepmothers. Once we do, we can open our hearts to the many different kinds of relationships we can develop with our stepkids.



One response

27 01 2012

I’m a stepmother for almost 5 years now to two step-daughters, now 21 and 24 (24 year old moved out with her boyfriend). After reading the comments from this site, and many many other sites, is that I am definately not alone.
I do have to say that things are better with the younger one, which I was told, and was the case, that would be the most difficult one.
She is extremely hot tempered and will explode on any occasion.
She is not only disrepectful to me, but to her dad. She has a comfort level with him that I wasn’t used to, because I wasn’t brought up that way.
My now fiancee’ tells me it’s different times, and that being a tough and stern father doesn’t always work these days.
The problem is that he has treated their relationship as a friendship
and not as a father daughter one. He clung to his daughters as his marriage was falling apart, and so he holds on to that.
She does however act as the world owes her, and gives nothing in return. He tells me that it’s the age.. which I respond that we weren’t like that.
She gets up late on her days off, and weekends and does nothing to contribute. He approached her about participating at least half an hour of her week to the household, and she barked saying she doesn’t have time! She is not only sploppy but extremely dirty, which is irritating… in addition she has a dog (that sheds LIKE CRAZY!), and she never dusts or vaccums after it. We basically take care of it because she is hardly ever home. He has had screaming matches with her, and does agree with what I say, but then afterwards says that he doesn’t like being that way and that it doesn’t solve anything. The way I look at it, she won’t listen either way.
She was in college for a year, which she struggled with, and then took a year off. She’s going back next school year.
I told him that once she’s finished school we are buying 1 bdrm condo, and that is that. I’m tired of being a slave and disrespected!
She’s not a child anymore, and needs to take some responsability.
The situation puts a constant strain on my relationship with my fiancee’ and he feels it.
He’s a good man, and is constantly trying to put out fires, and I feel bad, but she is impossible to live with.
There have been times when I wanted to through in the towel, and maybe live apart until we at least get married, but I don’t want to do that. He tells me that I knew he had kids, but I say that’s not a fair call because you don’t really know what you are getting yourself into, until you’re in it.
Signed… can’t wait till she moves out!

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