Daughter doesn't like new stepmom, dad at wits' end
by Mary Follin and Erika Guerrero
Read more ASK MOM in Fredericksburg Parent & Family
THE PROBLEM: I’m concerned about my 13 yo daughter and my new wife (not her mom). My daughter doesn’t like her stepmom at all, and it’s creating a lot of tension in our home. My wife is trying hard to engage with her, but my daughter won’t have any of it. I’ve been divorced from her mom ever since she was little, so it’s not like we’re disrupting her routine or anything. (Well, maybe a little, but we haven’t moved, she goes to the same school, and she still stays with her mom half time.) I’ve laid down the law about how my daughter is allowed to treat my wife (only with respect, even if she doesn’t feel like it), but that’s gone over like a lead balloon. My daughter is downright rude to her. Any ideas?
MARY SAYS: So here you are, caught in a triangulated relationship with the two people you love most in the world. And unfortunately, you’re the last person who can resolve the issue.
First of all, you’re a wonderful father to care so deeply about this. And because you care so much, you will be strong enough to do a really hard thing. In order for your new family to work, you will need to remove yourself from your wife and daughter’s relationship.
These two women are going to have to work this out on their own, but not without help. Please seek family counseling for all three of you. A counselor can guide you through the process of extricating yourself from the relationship, help your wife and daughter set boundaries with each other, and establish some common ground where the two can actually bond in a more natural way.
Right now, your daughter is most likely feeling double-teamed and is defending herself the only way she knows how—lashing out or sulking. (Plus, she’s 13! ‘Nuff said.) By seeking help as a family, she’ll begin to value her role in the tribe, and when she no longer feels threatened, she’ll feel more confident stepping into it.
Think big. What could this look like? Your wife and daughter planting a garden together? Taking trips, just the two of them? Offering each other support and advice when needed? Sharing what happened during the day? Never lose sight of the possibility for a loving, respectful relationship between the two of them to emerge.
Keep in mind, your daughter was there first. It’s perfectly natural for her to resist the idea of ‘sharing’ you with someone else. Working together as a family, she will begin to understand that love doesn’t get cut into smaller pieces when somebody new comes along. In fact, with patience, guidance, and a little more maturity, she’ll learn firsthand that the more the merrier, and each new addition is an opportunity for love to multiply many times over.
ERIKA SAYS: Blended families can be so challenging. I speak from personal experience, so hear me when I say I feel for you! Your home should be a place of peace; when it's full of tension, it’s tough on everybody.
Because it's been years since your divorce, there may be other things going on here, like your daughter turning thirteen. Honestly, there are probably many people she doesn’t like right now; your wife just happens to be one of them. Regardless, it’s important you insist she treat your wife with respect, because your wife is an extension of both you andyour daughter—you're all on the same team.
Tell your daughter that treating one another kindly is a family rule that protects everybody in the household, including her. Make it clear you won’t allow her to mistreat her stepmother, and that there will be consequences if she does.
Have you asked your daughter what prevents her from genuinely getting to know your wife? Perhaps she feels like she’s betraying her mother if she develops a relationship with her stepmom. Assure her that your wife will never take her mom’s place, and that it’s okay to allow herself to get to know her—at her own pace.
And do consider family therapy. Counseling could help smooth out this transition, blend your family, and ease the tension. It will bring you, her parents, greater insight as to how your daughter is feeling. Seeking professional help could give you all a better understanding of each other and bring you closer together.
Hang in there! I know it’s tough, but if you make some critical changes now, your daughter and wife will develop a relationship unique to them, the one they were meant to have. And who knows? It might even blossom into something beautiful.
ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising a small child (Erika). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in!
If you have a question for Mary and Erika, we’d love to hear from you! email@example.com
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ABOUT MARY FOLLIN
Mary is the author of TEACH YOUR CHILD TO READ and ETHYR, winner of the Moonbeam Children's Book Award and the Gertrude Warner Book Award. She is mom to two grown sons and enjoys sharing her more seasoned perspective with parents of younger children.
ABOUT Erika Guerrero
Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, single-mama to one amazing boy, and author of She’s Not Shaken, a blog offering hope and encouragement to women in all walks of life.
ABOUT Suzanne Johnson
Suzanne Johnson, mother of five children and grandmother of eight, is an illustrator, book cover designer, and author of the Realms of Edenocht series.
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