Relationship Connection: I can’t keep parenting my stepdaughter

Question

I have a stepdaughter whose biological mom left her (we have no idea who her biological father is). My husband married her mom and later adopted her. After her mom left them, this stepdaughter ended up with my husband. We do not know where her real mother is. She tells us that her mother was abusive to her.

My stepdaughter is now becoming a teen and has been very difficult to live with. She struggles to get along with her stepbrothers and she is constantly giving me attitude and butting heads with me. I have a really hard time trying to love her and connect with her. What can I do?

I have tried spending time with her, talking to her, showing an interest in what she likes and she seems to still focus on everything she does not have. I know she has been through so much in her life and I don’t understand what to do to help her.

It has gotten so bad that I have contemplated whom she could live with because I am stressed to the limit. I don’t want to send her away, but sometimes I feel it is my only option just to keep my sanity. I feel I spend so much time trying to deal with her that I neglect the other kids who do behave well. Please help!

Answer

Even though this stepdaughter isn’t biologically connected to either one of you, your husband adopted her before his divorce, so she belongs to him, and, therefore, to both of you. I realize that you understand this, as you’ve worked hard to connect with her and help her adjust. However, I recognize that when things get hard, it’s easy to become resentful toward her and her biological family who you wish would step in and take responsibility.

Since that isn’t going to be an option in the foreseeable future, it is up to you and your husband to teach her how to live in a family. She clearly struggles to know how to live with others. She most likely doesn’t trust anyone to take care of her, so she stirs up trouble and chaos, as that’s more familiar and safe to her than the security of a loving family.

You didn’t mention much about your husband’s involvement with her. Your husband’s role is critical as he’s the only consistent person she’s had in her life. I hope he’s not delegating her care to you. If that’s the reality, then it’s important for you to get him involved as soon as possible. He can do so much to help stabilize this situation with his interest and attention.

You might even ask him to lead out with parenting decisions that involve her. In most blended families, the biological parent often takes the lead with discipline involving their own biological children. While that can balance out over time to involve both parents, early on it’s the most natural order to which the children respond. Granted, he’s not the biological father, but he’s the closest option she has.

I commend your efforts to connect with her. You should keep doing that, recognizing with a compassionate heart that this is a terrified little girl who has no real sense of security. Like an orphan, she has no enduring ties to her biological family. That loss of connection is difficult to measure, but you can probably imagine how unsettling it might be for her.

You don’t have to fix her situation. You have an entire family to worry about. Do your best to be gentle with yourself and recognize how challenging this situation is. As your husband takes the lead on spending time with her, counseling with her, and working to help her adjust, you will be freed up to tend to your other children.

Also, please don’t forget your marriage. If you neglect spending alone time with your husband outside of the stress of this difficult situation, neither of you will have the strength and support from each other to be there for these children.

Stay connected!

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Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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12 Comments

  • Harmony lee January 14, 2015 at 9:43 am

    I know this is going to sound judgemental.. Perhaps the 1st step is stop thinking of sending her away as an option at all. get her counseling to deal with the abandonment she must feel. Teens are difficult . It doesn’t matter if they are your biological children or not. She may not be your husbands biological child, but she is his daughter. By marrying him she became your daughter. In dealing with her perhaps ask yourself, would I deal with any of the other kids this way? Would you be looking for a place for your biological children to live if you were having the same struggles?I know it isnt easy I come from a”blended” family situation and live in one my self. This is your family. regardless of bloodline. You have to take time to work it out. I only hope that she never knows you considered these things or that you said it is difficult to love her. How heartbreaking. Good luck with this situation . I hope for all of your sake you can work through it. Just remember, being a teen is already hard naturally, being abandoned by your mother can leave major scars. she probably isnt ready to open up to the possibility of it happening again.

  • U know January 14, 2015 at 9:54 am

    This young girl doesn’t have a sense of belonging in this household. She has a void because of her biological mother and she does not know her biolo father. Someone needs to get to the bottom of it to help her find her biolo father,to help her find a closing to this big gap in her soul.

  • arts and letters January 14, 2015 at 10:08 am

    Good answer.
    This child has already been through more chaos than many people experience in a lifetime. But she’s not an orphan, she’s an adopted child who may not have a biological father but she does have a father – your husband. If she were his biological child, would you consider sending her away? The teen years are hard in the best of cases, so don’t be surprised that things are becoming difficult. Having raised both my own kids and stepkids, I can only suggest that you follow the advice to get your husband involved as much as possible but not as an ally against you. She needs to understand that she’s safe and secure in this new family with both parents, and she needs to know that your husband’s love for you doesn’t mean he’s abandoning her in any way. How about an outing or two where you and your husband take her for a special treat without the boys now and then. And the two of you could do girl things together while the guys in the family do their things. If she turns you down, keep asking. One day it will get through. You and your husband are the adults here and you have the well-being of all the kids in the family in your hands. Blessings and good luck to you all.

    • Evil Twins Mommy January 14, 2015 at 4:20 pm

      BRAVO.. ARTS and LETTERS for a great comment and yes this is going to take some serious work to help her out and the sooner this can be done for her the better.. I wish them the best of luck also and hope they work it out

  • Radishrdhdmom January 14, 2015 at 12:39 pm

    My Dear Stepmom,
    Please take a moment and email me. radishrdhd@yahoo.com. I am going through and have been in very similar situations. I would love to share my stories with you and maybe they could help your situation before they reach my situation.

  • Stephanie Richards January 14, 2015 at 1:07 pm

    Having my step daughter come to live with us 2 years ago and going through similar she was thinking she could just run to the next house if it didn’t work at ours she did not know stability. She is pushing away those who love her most for fear of being hurt or rejected once again. Have you heard of borderline personality disorder or reactive attachment disorder? you need to get her into a behavioral type therapist not a regular one and get her some help. My step daughter started going to one and he has worked wonders. You need to stay strong, show her who is boss do not let her control you and your thoughts and emotions as hard as it gets I got to the point of you and decided she needed at least 2 people in her life that was going to show her that we loved her at her most unlovable spots and that is my husband and myself. Do not give up on her she needs you more than you can imagine when there is drama send her to her room or any kind of negativity I started doing that I told her that I choose to not be around it and choose to not let her take me there so she can go to her room and have drama and negativity with her self I took anything out of her room that she could do so she had to just sit there.. I took her door handle off so she didn’t lock the door just incase she did something out of control. Be there for her be stern but love able and pray for a softened heart towards her I had to LOTS and its starting too. She after 2 long miserable years has decided she wants to change I hope it continues for our sake but keep at it. It will be worth it do not give up on her

  • bw January 14, 2015 at 6:26 pm

    i think it is her husband to step in and deal with her he did adopt her and they don’t need the biologicle father tracked down he’s not in her life for a reason you should also learn to loveand get along with her as well as your own children

  • Hmmmmm January 14, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    This is Utah. If she’d 14 or older, marry her off.

  • A step daughter January 14, 2015 at 11:30 pm

    first, allowing the option to even think of “sending her to live with someone else” is more dangerous for her than trying to figure out how to manage your situation. Second, saying that you are have a difficult time “loving” her, is absurd. When you get up in the morning, you do so because why? When you’re put into an awkward or bad situation, you behave because why? Generally, because you chose to. Shipping her off isn’t going to solve anything. Have you been a step-child? Have you had abusive parents? Been abandoned? If you have or haven’t, think about life & self confidence & worth from that perspective. When one person doesn’t want anything to do with you, it’s difficult. When two people don’t want anything to do with you, it becomes unbearable. Now add another, three people, it becomes chaos. She can feel your tension, she can feel your lack of love & she knows that you are struggling internally. I guarantee that her biggest fear is being left behind & being forgotten about again. Imagine how you would feel, how you would react. If you haven’t been there, don’t assume you know exactly what you would do. Fear breeds hate, hate breeds anger & so on. Get her help, get her (for lack of better terms) father involved, if he is not. This girl is probably threatened by you & may be “butting heads” with you as a defense mechanism to protect herself from being hurt again. She also may feel as though you might hurt her dad, which is dangerous emotional territory to a young girl. I’ve been a step child my entire life & I have felt these same things, acted these same ways & have a brother who has done the same. Send her away, or threaten to & things will only get worse for her & in the long run, you also. Resentment is a horrid emotion.

  • ladybugavenger January 15, 2015 at 11:20 am

    Don’t send her away, she has enough abandonment issues, besides, no one else wants to parent her either, so get in the game and parent your daughter. She’s your daughter, don’t be like everyone else and abandon her!

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