Ask Dr. Zoe – My Step-Daughter Is Acting Out and I’m Ready to Give Up!
I’m a 39-year-old woman and my fiance is a 50-year-old man. I have four children from a previous relationship and he has one daughter (E).
It is uncommon (but becoming more common) that his daughter lives with us. She is 10 and her mom left after dropping her off for her first day of kinder. She was constantly unfaithful and had/has no desire to be a mother. She hardly ever calls and never comes to visit (she lives around 700 miles away).
I’ve been in E’s life for four years now and we are experiencing some growing pains recently. She has developed a lying habit and most recently, stealing from me. Now, don’t get me wrong, if she asked for what she is stealing, I would likely give it to her or let her borrow it to play with, but she simply takes it without asking (money, makeup, etc). Also, anything I cook, she all of the sudden doesn’t like. She has become whiney and disrespectful.
Also, for some reason we don’t understand, she baby talks……all the time. I’ve taken on the role of mom and I feel awful. I am miserable and feel like I’m not getting anything right. I didn’t experience these things with my other children and I need to know how to handle this the right way because right now I’m frustrated.
My fiance is very non-confrontational and doesn’t get involved because he is scared she will get angry with him and that is causing another issue. He is a good man. The best person I’ve ever met. He is kind without trying. Faithful to God without a second thought. But, in this, he has trouble. I tell myself all the time that I give up. I’m just going to let her do what she wants and have what she wants. But, I can’t bring myself to do it because I know it’s wrong and will let her go down the wrong path without guidance.
I am not a perfect person. I get angry. I like to be in control and my previous relationship with an abusive narcissist gave me a lot of anxiety. So there is definitely a need to work on myself as well.
Dr. Zoe Answered:
I can feel your frustration. You are doing what you can, but you need a partner in your parenting. This may sound odd because you are the step-parent, but it sounds like your co-parent has checked out.
Your step daughter’s regressing can be an attempt to self-soothe and receive attention. When children are not clear on their boundaries, they act out to force you to create some. You’re right: giving up would not be the best course of action, although I can certainly understand the exhaustion you must feel that drives those thoughts.
She didn’t sign up to be neglected by her biological parents and parented by the step-mom. Of course, in reality, she didn’t sign up for any of this. It’s easier for her to act out against the parent that is parenting her (you) because acting out with the checked-out parent (her dad) isn’t getting her very far. She’s rejecting you because she wants her biological parents to be healthy, present, loving disciplinarians in her life.
She may only be able to get half of this fantasy, but if you’re able to get him on board, she will have less of a drive to stonewall you. Your work is to continue to maintain healthy boundaries for her, even though she will complain, balk and be disrespectful. Your interventions need to be as much with him as they are with her. Your biggest task is to continue to have conversations with your husband, highlighting the importance of the engaged presence that he needs to be in his daughter’s life.
As nice as your husband is, he is taking the easy route and allowing you to burden way too much in this relationship. You alone can not fix this situation, he must participate. When children are parented out of guilt and fear, they don’t receive good parenting. He is worried that providing discipline to his daughter will make her dislike him. The opposite is true. She will not respect or like him if he does not provide her with boundaries.
I’m sure this must feel like a lot and I’m hoping that you have your own support system on which you can lean. If not, it’s time to create one. Step-parenting and blended family issues are not best left to isolation. Utilize your support system and honor when you need to take your own personal self-care time-outs.
And get him on board! You’ve got this.