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Parenting Stepchildren/Inappropriate boundaries between stepdaughter and husband

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Question
I'm not sure how to start this, but it is something that has been on my mind for quite a while now. There are 2 major issues that I have.

First, my 17 year old stepdaughter has inappropriate boundaries with her dad, my husband. For example, she does this thing where she comes up to him from behind, grabs his upper arms, presses her boobs on his back and  full on settles her lips on top of his shoulder while trying to read what he is reading over his shoulder, or just plain watches him do whatever he is doing at the time. This shoulder kiss + boobs pressing  goes on for minutes sometimes and in between she asks him stupid questions like what is he doing or offers her opinion on whatever he is reading or doing at the time. And all this talking happens with her lips still pressed to his shoulder. She just lifts her lips a little to talk and then settles them back on top of his shoulders.

And every once in a while she crawls in his bed when he is watching TV and cuddles with him with her head on his shoulder, arm across his waist and legs all over his. Sometimes when they are sitting together on the couch, she throws her leg over his and occasionally plops down in his lap. At other times, she grabs his arm and drapes it around her shoulders. They are also very playful with each other. He is always poking her in the sides or smacking her on the ass, to which she jumps and gives an ďooiiĒ every time. Sometimes they even play wrestle.

And how can I forget, they kiss smack on the lips for 1-3 seconds for good mornings, good byes and thank yous.

Also, mostly she acts like a little kid when she is with him. With other people she behaves like a mature and actually a serious person. But with him her whole demeanor changes, she talks in a baby voice, yanks his arm or clothes to get his attention like a 2 year old, follows him all around the house like a puppy literally, and I have even once seen her sitting with him on his bed talking while holding his pinky finger!

The 2nd issue, she conveniently switches over from English to French Sign Language or occasionally French (when her hands are preoccupied with something) with her dad at random whenever she wants to leave me out of a conversation. None of them have any disability but her mother was deaf and a French so thatís where this comes from. He is an American but they lived there for some time when she was younger, with her mom. I'm left feeling like an idiot asking what she said after these kind of episodes. Sometimes I donít even know that they are conversing until I hear a laugh and look at them or they shift to English mid conversation from FSL. I think awful things like maybe she is laughing at me or maybe sheís calling me names or something right in front of me. It makes me livid and she knows it. But she does it anyway. I have looked into learning FSL myself to get rid of this issue but there are no classes of it anywhere that I could find. Understandably enough, only American Sign Language is taught everywhere around here.

I have talked to my husband about it and how I feel disrespected by their coded conversations. He has said that he will not initiate a conversation in FSL, which he doesnít anyway, but argues that this is the one thing that she has left of her late mother and that itís an old habit of hers so it is almost impossible for him to ask her not to do. While I understand his point of view but it somehow makes me even bitterer thinking that that womanís obscure language is still used by him even when no one needs it anymore. I donít mean it in a negative way. I honestly have got nothing against her or any community at all, especially since she is no more, but I just donít like it. I hope I donít come across as a horrible person for this.

I havenít talked to him about their closeness issue yet because I am not sure how to address it.

I guess it wouldn't bother me so much, but she is a very pretty and fully developed young lady. Itís so disconcerting to see someone like her, no matter if she is his daughter, behaving this way with my husband. I almost feel jealous and cheated on. It doesnít help that I am not too fond of her either. Iím not proud of it but thatís how it is. And I also feel angry at her for playing a helpless little girl with her dad to manipulate him into doing what she wants. I don't believe they have something sick going on or anything like that, but it just bothers me. The only excuse, which too is flimsy, that I can find for her behavior is that she might have been raised with French morals and etiquettes due to her mother, which maybe very foreign for an American like me. But her behavior with him freaks me out so much sometimes that I leave the room if I'm there when she gets cozy with him. I think if any outsider was to see what I see, they would think that they were in a romantic relationship. But maybe because I never had a father around in my childhood so I donít know whatís normal for fathers and daughters. I don't know.

Is my disquietude unnecessary or do you feel there is any merit to it? What should I do? How do I deal with these issues?

Thanks for reading.

P.S: Biological mother died 6 years ago. Iím here since about 1.5 years.

Answer
Nicole

Are you justified in feeling what you do.  Perhaps and perhaps not... we will get into that in a bit. The most important point though is that you are experiencing these feelings.  These are YOUR feelings and it is important to pay attention to your feelings, because they reflect what you are thinking inside. These feelings also come out in what you say and do, and often you are not even conscious of the tone in your voice or the non-verbal language you use.  

All of this,your thoughts, your feelings and your actions, affects the results you are getting with your husband and step-daughter.  Essentially the results you get are based on your attitude. Attitude can be positive, negative or anywhere in between.  Attitude is a composite of your thoughts, feelings and actions.  We put these three into a circle and call it our "circle of responsibility".  Everything within this circle is our responsibility.  Every thought we think, every feeling we have, every action we take is our responsibility.  

When we blame other for our feelings...that is when we feel jealous, livid, angry or any other emotion we are allowing other to influence our feelings. We are letting them control us and are acting outside our circle of responsibility.  None of us are perfect.  We all act outside our circle on occasion.  It is what we do with these feelings that is most important.  

For you these feelings seem to be "festering" and dominating more of your thoughts.  Each time your see the behaviour you described above, it focuses you back to those negative feelings inside of you, and it is affecting the way you interact with both your husband and step daughter. Again... we all do this.  I can understand how you feel left out, how you can feel jealous of the closeness that they share.  It is hard coming into a established family, being the odd on e out, not being part of the memories, the pictorial history.  This is even more difficult when the bio parent has died, as they often become a "sacred" memory.

Now as to whether this behaviour is appropriate.  Both of them have gone through a devastating loss.  It is natural that they have bonded together to help each other with their grief.  Sometimes, a child can become the emotional surrogate for the surviving parent.  This creates a strong bond that when the parent remarries can be hard to break.  The new step parent can be seen by the child as replacing them as the love interested in their bio parent's live.  So the child tries get things back to the way they were before the step parent came on the scene.  Children do things to win back the parents love and displace the new wife.

This happened to some degree when I married my current wife.  Her oldest daughter became a surrogate parent when her dad left them. When I came into the picture she was thrust back into being just one of the children again. This created some distrust and some hostility.  

Is all of this closeness inappropriate?  Different cultures have different levels of comfort with closeness. So it depends on the situation.  Does your husband feel uncomfortable with this his daughter doing this?  Does he demonstrate husband/wife closeness with you?

In my opinion Dad needs to be establishing boundaries of behaviour so that his daughter learn how to display mature and responsible emotions. I feel that they may be hanging onto a codependent relationship caused by the death of the mother/wife.

What can you do.  Both my wife and I agree that you should show your email to him.  Let him know that this behaviour confuses you, and you have uncomfortable feelings about this situation, and don't know what to do about it.  Keep it a loving and caring conversation where you just need his love and support.  

Second you can change the results you are getting by changing your attitude.  Remember that attitude is not always negative it is just that composite of your thoughts , feelings and actions.  If you want to change your attitude the easiest way is to change your thoughts.  You can change your thought by looking at this situation for different perspectives.  look for the good things that are happening in this new family of your.  Focus on finding at least one good thing about your step daughter each day. See her as a child searching for appropriate ways of expressing herself.  See her as a person that is la work in progress, still learning how to behave in this complex and confusing world.

If you make small changes in your thoughts they influence how you are feeling and how your act and you will find the results you are getting become more positive.  

I hope this helps.  Being a step parent is not easy.  I took on 4 step daughter so we had 6 daughters in a blended family.  

Rick  

Parenting Stepchildren

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Rick Olson

Expertise

As a stepparent of 4 children and a family coach, I can answer questions about the issues that arise in step-parenting including discipline,blended families, boundaries and guidelines.

Experience

I have 18 years as a stepfather, and over three years as a family coach focusing on unifying, strengthening and empowering families.

Publications
My wife and I have written 2 books on Family FUSE Your Family - Family: Unify Strengthen Empower! and Raising Families

Education/Credentials
BA(Recreation Administration) Grad Studies in Urban and Regional Planning and Design Certified as a LifeSuccess Consultant/Coach

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