Ask Dr. Zoe — How Do I Connect With My Defensive Teenage Stepdaughter as a Stepdad?

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(Listen to the audio version of this article here.)

‘Love Life’ Asked:

On the web I see a lot of what it is like being a stepmother to a teenager girl but not a stepfather. I’ve been in her life since she was two. She is now 14 and things have been tough. A lot of her behavior has become secluded, self-serving, and projects a defensiveness towards me in most things.

It’s hard to strike up normal conversation. There is extreme bias to the mother, which is understandable in these situations but challenging. Her mother and I could say the same thing in the same tone and context but I’ll either get ignored or taken out of context negatively. There are dynamics that influence a lot but I’ll keep it simple. Just looking for basic advice.

Blended-familiesDr. Zoe Answered:

You are right. The advice on the internet is skewed towards stepmothering when it comes to blended families.

Actually, let’s be real: it’s skewed towards mothering in general way more than fathering.

I’m not sure what your teenage stepdaughter’s experience is with men (outside of you) in her life is, but if it is minimal, she may have no idea how to communicate with men or even worse, feels hurt by her relationship with her bio father and is acting in a self-preserving way and pushing you away. If she has a close relationship with her bio father, she may feel a need to distance herself from you as an expression of loyalty to him.

My best advice is to not take it personally. Unless you have personally mistreated her, her response has nothing to do with you. It’s not your job to fix her relationship issues, but it is important to recognize that her relationships issues are the hurdle that you must jump in order to have a healthy relationship with her.

Some of what you are experiencing is “normal” teenage behavior. Any excuse she has to distance herself from you will be used and it looks like she’s figured that out.

When it comes to parenting, adults are 100% responsible for creating and maintaining a relationship with their children. Expecting reciprocity or for her to show up to the table is just not reasonable or realistic at this stage in her life. She is not mature enough to know how to properly do relationships and she also does not have a deep understanding of how much she needs you in her life. That’s your job. You are teaching her through your actions and lack of. Your job is to stay consistent and present as she wavers, pushes away and does her thing.

Once she reaches adulthood—which is not 18 by the way (her brain will not be fully mature until 25—it becomes both of your jobs to maintain the relationship and put in the effort, which you have already demonstrated to her how to do. When you stop expecting her to reciprocate and respond in the way that you want, you will have more patience in the process of building trust.

Be consistent, curious, present, and reliable. If you are, she will come around. With teenagers, we have to remember that they won’t be this way forever. In a matter of years, this wonky stage will work itself out and there will be a healthy relationship that stands in its place as long as you do your work.

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

For more advice from Dr. Zoe, check out this podcast episode: How to Thrive as a Blended Family With Dr. Zoe Shaw – 131

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