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BF's Daughter Driving Stepmom Crazy

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Dr. Laura,
Things last night got pretty rough again between BF's daughter and myself. I can't take the disrespect that I get: the constant mouth, the general attitude. I really feel as though she is going to push BF and I apart. He supports my decisions with regard to discipline or anything of that nature, but she is constantly trying to push me. I just don't know what to do anymore. I am at the end of my rope. I think that sometimes it would just be easier if it were just the baby and I. I love BF so much... but I can't keep living like this.

No punishment makes a difference. We have tried grounding, removal of items of interest, physical training (boot camp style, lol), reasoning (yeah that totally didn't work), etc. I just don't know what to do. I hate going home in the evenings because I dread the way the night is going to go. It inevitably ends with some sort of argument/additional punishment between either myself and K or BF and K.

She is disrespectful, tells lies (about stupid things.... did you eat the last poptart. Response, no... as she is hiding it under her arm.), steals (she was caught stealing a really large stuffed animal from a resort we were at last week). There are just so many other things. She brought home a 13/20 spelling test the other day and thought that was good! WTH? My mom would have beat my butt for that. She is in constant trouble at school, barely passing her classes, but yet never seems to have homework when you ask her about it.

And the answer to the question... can't she go back to her moms? Her mom has told BF that she doesn't want her back.


My heart broke when I read your letter. I saw what a difficult situation you are in, with a child who is so impossible that you feel you can't keep living with her dad, as much as you love him.

And I saw a child whose mother doesn't want her, whose father is apparently so clueless that his childraising involves daily punishment, and a stepmom who has given up on her. No wonder she acts so unlovable. She certainly feels unloved, and with good reason.

Children do what we say because of who we are to them, meaning because they love us and want to retain our love. When they won't take our loving guidance, it means there isn't a strong enough relationship there to support our direction. Unfortunately, most parents respond to that situation by imposing stricter punishment, which just further erodes the relationship and makes it less likely that the child will behave. They may pretend to behave, but they have no real interest in doing so, just in getting away with things to avoid further punishment, which leads to lying and deception.

All this misbehavior is a cry for help. If we as parents respond to it by imposing more punishment or by giving up, we are reneging on the responsibility we took on as parents, which is to really love our children and offer them empathy and adoration along with limits (which is what every child needs to flourish.)

As they get older, these kids -- because they don't have the mooring of a good enough relationship with an adult -- generally do badly in school and get into all kinds of trouble. They are destined to make a mess of their lives.

Your stepdaughter is on a slippery slope. You are asking me how to manage her. The only way I know is to develop a loving relationship with her, and it will take a lot of effort from both you and BF. The universe has put her into your home, but it can't force her into your arms. Committing yourself to loving your stepdaughter is a choice you would have to make consciously. I agree with you, though, that continuing the situation as it is can only be bad for everyone involved, so you do have a choice to make.

Every child deserves at least one adult who believes in and is committed to him or her 110%. BF may be able to do that for his daughter, if he understands how dire the situation is. But if you choose to stick around, you will have to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

So my question to you is, Can you find it in your heart to really love your stepdaughter? That won't change her, immediately, because she is deeply wounded. But it will change you, so that you stop taking things personally and reacting to her provocations, and begin seeing things from her point of view. That will eventually transform the dynamic between you, and she will be very different within six months.

I realize she isn't your daughter, and you didn't choose her. You could think of this as a gift to the man you love. But I would see it as earning your angel wings.
--Dr. Laura

After I heard from you the other day, my stepdaughter and I had another disagreement. We ended up actually talking through it once we were both calmed down. I realized that she believes that everyone dislikes her and her own mother has told her that she hates her. I told her that I don't hate her, that I love her and that sometimes I get frustrated, but that doesn't change that. I told her I was sorry that her mother had told her such an awful thing and no mother should ever say that their child.

It is funny, because after our discussion, yesterday when I was going to meet a friend for a drink, my stepdaughter came up and was giving me hugs. I can't remember a time that she has done that. I know that this is all a learning process, for both of us. While I might get frustrated and discouraged, I know she needs me. Thanks for your help.


Wow. You really are earning your angel wings.
And you can see what a difference your attitude makes to your stepdaughter's behavior. That doesn't mean that she'll automatically be perfect now. But it does mean you're building a relationship and you will now have influence with her. There will be hard times ahead, but anytime you get frustrated or discouraged, please reach out for support. We'll all line up to encourage you. 

I wish you and your family every blessing.
Dr. Laura

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