Tips for Dating and Remarrying with Difficult Kids
Dear April Masini,
My 17-year-old step-daughter is creating absolute havoc in our family. She sees me as her "evil" step-mother and is constantly trying to create conflict between myself and my husband. Her mother is also remarried and she appears to be angry at both sets of parents (they have been divorced for five years)."
Today, she left a nasty message on my cell phone voicemail after my husband and I established curfew rules for the weekends she visits us. Apparently, her mother also got involved and called my husband to argue with him about the curfew. We feel that it's our house and our rules, and we'll set her curfew for any time that we're comfortable. Frankly, I am only in this to support her father; I'm not interested in getting into constant headaches and arguments with his daughter. If it were only up to me, I'd tell my husband to take her to dinner or something weekly but to eliminate her weekend visits. But I feel that this will cause a worse problem with my husband and I than I already have with my daughter.
My main goal is to have a civil, non-argumentative relationship with my step-daughter, and not to have my stomach in knots every time a weekend with her approaches. (She is sullen and impatient the whole week -- as I would imagine most 17-year-olds are with their parents anyways.) Can you give me any advice on how to get there?
Not Cinderella's Stepmother
April Masini's Advice :
Dear Not Cinderella's Stepmother,
OK, you’re a step-mom to a 17-year-old girl who has left a very ugly message (screaming and cursing) on your voicemail … this, after she triggered an argument between your husband and your husband’s ex wife. Your initial reaction is to ban her from your home until she apologizes, but now you’re not sure. What should you do?
There are two ways to handle this situation — but banning the girl from the house is not one of them. Being rude — which is what this child did — is not grounds for eviction.
Here’s what to do:
- Understand that the stepmom is the lightning rod for the step-daughter’s problems. Stepmothers are scape goats in many circumstances. Especially this one where the parents were having a fight and the child took out her anger on the stepmom.
- Hold onto your boundaries, but let the father do the disciplining. The dad should be the one to tell his daughter that she may not talk to her stepmother like that, and that an apology is necessary by — whatever day he picks. If the father does the disciplining, it takes the stepmother out of the middle— where the stepdaughter is trying to put her in order to not deal with the problems between her mom and dad.
- Explain to the stepdaughter that regardless of her feelings, expressing them by cursing is not okay. Teach her how to express her feelings in a normal, non-dramatic way. Listen. Don’t react. The stepdaughter is trying to bait you into reacting. She wants to create drama with the stepmother to take the heat off mom and dad fighting. The cooler the stepmom can stay, the less she will be part of this problem.
- While all this is going on, stepmom (that's you!) should do whatever she needs to take care of herself. You're going to need your resources. You've been singled out as a target by step-daughter — and probably by the biological mother, too. Get a manicure, exercise, take time to go shopping or to the movies — whatever makes you feel fortified and taken care of is important now.