September 27, 2010 in Features

Mr. Dad: Patience will help stepmom persevere

Armin Brott

Dear Mr. Dad: I recently married a man who has a 13-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. He and I met long after his divorce, so it’s not like I caused the breakup.

Still, the girl has never liked me and, whenever she visits, she is arrogant and rude. I’m trying hard to be pleasant and establish a good relationship with her, and my husband has tried to smooth the way, but to no avail.

What should I do?

A: Would it make you feel better to know that pre-teens and teens are insolent toward their biological parents as well? And that in some twisted way, your stepdaughter is giving you a complement by treating you just like a “real” parent ?

As painful as it is, what you’re describing is pretty much the standard in blended families. And while it’s entirely possible that you and your stepdaughter may never be best friends, there’s no reason why the two of you can’t at least get along.

Try to look at things from her point of view: Her parents divorced, which was undoubtedly a traumatic experience. Then her dad brings another person – you – into the equation.

Like many children of divorce, she was probably secretly hoping Mom and Dad would get back together. She might also be worried that you’ll try to undermine her relationship with her dad.

Stir in a few heaping spoonfuls of normal teenage surly rebelliousness and defiance, and the prospect of forging a relationship with the girl will seem less likely every day. If you can, try to remember that she’s most likely acting out because she’s feeling hurt and confused, not because she genuinely thinks you’re evil.

Other blended families have overcome these challenges and you will too. But you’ll need two things: plenty of patience and the ability to tread lightly on eggshells.

If you haven’t yet, now’s a good time to have a quiet talk with the girl. Next time she visits, find a time when the two of you can sit down over a batch of cookies and a soft drink and ask her whether you’ve done anything to upset or hurt her.

If she mouths off or refuses to answer your questions, just tell her you like her very much and that you’ll never keep her away from her dad or undermine her mom’s authority.

She may storm out of the room, but there’s a chance that what you’re saying will sink in.

Reinforce that message every time you see her – in words, and, more importantly, in actions. For example, buy her a CD of her favorite band, or invite her to go to the mall or to the movies.

But don’t fall into the trap of trying to be too cool – that’ll backfire.

Always remember important occasions such as her birthday. If you’re willing to put in the time, she’ll eventually upgrade you from evil stepmother to just plain stepmother.

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