Ask Dr. Zoe – How Can I Connect More With My Teen Stepdaughter?

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‘Jan’ Asked:

How do I even begin to connect with my teen stepdaughter? She is 15-years-old and disrespectful to her mom and me… Having already raised five of my own, I don’t have much patience for her entitlement and laziness. She is involved in many activities like show choir and cheerleading but truly her attitude is horrid… I understand life is not easy and she wants to fit in… The only time she is nice is when she wants me to buy her something.

Her mom doesn’t know what to do with her and often gives in because she doesn’t want to fight. My husband has severe health issues and is firm, but quiet… So then she just stays in her room. I want her to interact with us a bit and get off the phone! I want her to be able to function as an adult but have no idea how to reach her…. any suggestions?

Dr. Zoe Answered:

Having raised five children, you clearly have a handle on child rearing, but it’s a whole different world when you are raising someone else’s child.

Teens can drive you crazy, especially when you are just stepping into a parent role. In fact, the hardest time for a blended family to form is when there are teenagers in the mix. So I feel for you—both of you. This is no cake walk for her either.

The benefit of having a child from birth is that your little ones are just so darn adorable and cute. It’s all a big scheme so that you will get addicted to them and want to connect with them. It works because you have years to store up love for the drought of their teenage years when they turn into monsters.

They feel our love from day one and they know they belong to us. That speaks volumes when you are correcting them and applying discipline. Plus, they are steeped in the culture of the family we created. Even if they get on our last nerve, we still kind of get them. None of this is the case with your teen stepdaughter.

Unfortunately, you’re on your back foot when becoming a step-parent.

You don’t get that benefit when you jump in during monster season—and neither does she. Please know that this is just as tough for her as it is for you. And it’s not her job to make it easier. It is your job to figure this out. You’re asking the question, so you’re doing your job.

5 Ways My Blended Family Learned to Adapt

It is always 100% the parent’s responsibility to maintain and grow a healthy relationship with your child. The child is at best a passive learner in this show. Often we feel that our children should be reciprocal in this process and we get our feelings hurt when they are not.

Don’t worry, once your child is an adult (and that age is debatable and different for each child), the relationship should become 50/50. If you have modeled relationship building pretty well, this transition happens organically and your child takes on that role.

Additionally, because you are human, I know that you are projecting things onto her that don’t belong and she is projecting traits and attributes onto you that don’t apply. Welcome to blended family drama.

And by the way, you chose this party (although I know you didn’t know what kind of party it would be). She just got drug along, as all kids do, and she has no choice but to stay.

Connecting with a teen is hard, but worth the effort, mama.

So, if she stays in her room all the time, my suggestion is to make a regular habit of going in there. You go to her, don’t expect her to come to you. Find something silly about show choir or cheerleading on the internet and show it to her. Show up to as many of her activities and games as possible. Ask her for clothing or makeup advice (who cares if you don’t like her style), connect with her on her level about stuff she’s interested in. Make the times you show up in her room times she can look forward to—never about criticism.

And make it very clear that you are an adult in her life who wants to connect with her. Let her know that you know that you aren’t her mother and don’t want that role or title, but you do want to be a trusted adult.

The hardest emotional part about trying to connect with a teenager is that there is no progress bar. Much of what is going on is underground, and they may not be giving you any indication that they are warming up. It’s easy to give up on them. So, you have to keep trudging in the desert, believing that if you keep on walking, you will get to your destination.

When you notice she is warming up to your presence, suggest taking her shopping, getting coffee, or getting her nails done. I know she’s entitled, but you have to meet people where they are. Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care, and you have to put in a lot of care first. You will find that as you continue to reach out, she will too—eventually.

Change your expectations to connecting instead of correcting. She’s 15. She’s been raised to be entitled and lazy. Don’t expect her to be any different than she is. Try to look very hard for her redeeming qualities (yes, they’re there) and remember that you teach as much through your modeling and presence as you do through words. She’ll pay attention to what you model more when she feels that you care about her and accept her.

It’s a tough road being a stepmom. Having raised five kids, you already know that this is a season and a journey that has an end. Because you have the care and interest in connecting with her, you will. It will just take some time and might not look as pretty as you imagined.

You’ve got this. It just takes a little grit and grace!

For more encouragement on blended families, check out this podcast episode from This Grit and Grace Life: A Therapist’s Practical Advice for Blended Families with Dr. Zoe Shaw – 050

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