Family Relations/Abusing Step Daughter


I raised my Step Daughter since she was 7. She is now 18. She and my Wife lived alone and her Daughter was getting all the attention until we met.
I took her under my wings, and had a great relationship, I wanted to adopt her, and totally committed to raise her as my own. All was brilliant until we had two daughters who obviously required a lot of attention. This did not go well at all with my step Daughter, since her teenage years, (13, 14) she has turned against me in a scary mean way. It has truly become untenable, my Wife cannot or refuse to see through her manipulating ways to continuously try and turn her (my wife) against me. It has really affected our marriage, and unfortunately/sadly our young Daughters (5 and 8 years old). Now I am getting bullied inside my own house, totally disrespected, cursed at, and provoked. Tonight again, as I was doing homework with my Daughter, she barged in called me several profanities I believe I cannot list here, and asked me to come on and come kick her butt so she could call the police and have me put away. Once again, I had to just ignore her and instead try to defuse the situation for my little ones sake.
I absolutely adore Children, I have worked and am currently working with Children for a living for the past 25 years. But now I feel powerless in my own home as I have never spent a day away from my Daughters, as they mean everything to me. But I cannot continue to live this way with this constant abuse, what resources do I have?
Leaving my Daughters behind cannot be an option, as they totally depend on me (as I do). My Wife is getting totally manipulated, and even though she is well aware that her Daughter is going down the wrong path, (lying, arguing, smoking marijuana, etc..)She has become an expert at manipulating her Mom and there are never any consequences to any of her actions.

I am ready for a divorce, and leave this nightmare but again, cannot consider losing my little ones.

I am really desperate, any advice would help.

Thank you

Hi, Alex, thanks for your question.

Please consider seeking counseling to help you with this problem.

IMO, one of the biggest mistakes parents make is that they think children know and mean what they are saying. Children's speech is closer to the barking of dogs than it is to adult speech. What I mean by that is that you should treat it as meaningless in content as that. Instead of trying to respond to what they say, respond to their behavior instead. Children do not experience themselves as in control of their actions. They don't have a long term plan like we do. They just react to the things that happen to them - even if that reaction isn't helpful.

If you are going to have her around then you have to find different ways to respond to what she says/does.

Think / plan ahead about some alternative ways you can respond. It's going to take some effort / creativity. It's not easy, because you and your mother have developed this habitual way of treating each other. You have to 'go outside the box' in order to get out.

Some possible options:
- use humor, get each of you to laugh at each other. It can be seen as funny, how the both of you have trapped yourselves into this small way of relating. Find the humor in it!

- use distraction, like you would a little kid. Get her to talk about something else

- she's obviously not responding on an adult level ... see if you can think of her as being a child, and see if you can figure out what age she is being

- mimic her. do the same things she is doing. exaggerate the heck out of it. If she says something mean, call all your friends, tell the neighbors, put an ad in the paper, announce it to the world "I'M XXXXXXX!!!!!" It will be obvious that she "didn't mean it like THAT"

- say or do something that it totally unexpected / unrelated to what she does. Instead of 'trying to ignore it' (that's what everyone does), see if you can respond in surprising ways, totally out of context - makes it hard for her to continue down that path...

There proobably lots of other options, but perhaps you get the drift - YOU have to find alternative ways of responding, in order to break the pattern. You are part of the pattern, you just don't see it. As they say "it takes 2 to argue". So, if you are no longer doing the things you always do, it's hard for the other person to continue

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Bruce Borkosky, Psy.D.


questions framed similarly to 'what are some ways to respond when someone does/says X' are best. Questions posed in the form of 'why does my father do/say Y', or 'how would you diagnose my mother when she does/says Z' are difficult, if not impossible, to answer. I will probably reframe your question to fit the first question (what do I do). Nay question regarding any family member is fair game. Some of the most difficult are in the area of step-parenting and divorcing families.


I've been a licensed psychologist in Florida since 1994. I've evaluated and/or treated thousands of patients.

American Psychological Association Florida Psychological association National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology


Psy.D., Miami Institute of Psychology, 1993 M.CS., U. of Dayton, 1984 B.A., Ohio Wesleyan U., 1978

Awards and Honors
Award for Years of Dedicated Service, Palm Beach County Legal Aid Society, 1999

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