Parenting Stepchildren/Step Daughters


I need some help. I have 2 step daughters 14 & 10. Their mother lost custody of them due to drug problems 2 years ago and my husband was given custody. When they moved in with us we were both virtual strangers and clearly they had no trust in either of us. Since they moved in with my husband and I it has been an up and down roller coaster. Some background information, my husband was in prison for 6 years and saw his daughters 1 time per month during visits which I know had to be traumatic, they lived with their mother who had a drug addiction and a huge chip on her shoulder about being left to care for them alone she subsequently got into a severely dysfunctional relationship where she was beaten in front of her kids, she continues in that relationship to this day, though she is in drug rehab through county jail and has been for 3 months. My step daughters were told their whole life by their mother and her family how horrible my husband is, their admission not mine. While going through the children services case the girls were allowed to visit their mother supervised if she was not testing positive for drugs, but once children services was no longer involved their mother no longer saw them because she was still using drugs and wouldn't ask, her family didn't ask either. Things seemed to be going well when they were in therapy and not spending as much time with their mother or her family, we were building relationships and they were more active in our family and seemed to be in the process of healing, but their mother was put in jail then rehab and her family then started asking to see the girls. My husband allowed them to spend every weekend with their mothers sister, then once their mother was in rehab their grandmother also asked to see them every weekend, mind you none of those people asked my husband, they call the girls and ask them, they have asked their mothers family to call their Dad I have heard them, when directed to call my husband they tell the girls they are too scared of him. He had never in the past or since done anything to warrant anyone being scared of him, his time in prison was for a crime that he committed and had nothing to do with his kids, their mother or her family. The mothers family continue to disrespect my husband and seem to encourage the girls to not listen to either of us, even after talking to them and telling them we all need to be on the same page and to call me if they don't want to talk to my husband they disregard what we have agreed on, at Christmas time I talked to them about what the girls wanted, I reached out to them, let them pick what they wanted to purchase and they bought that stuff and all the stuff we were suppose to give them. They make claims to be afraid of my husband and yet if they need something like their car worked on they have no problem talking to him. It is a ruse to keep the girls on their side, when there shouldn't be a side to be on and to make sure they don't like either my husband or myself. After this contact started the girls quit participating in therapy and we were told if they don't participate we needed to take them out and try to find a new therapist, but if they don't participate it is unlikely we will be able to get them help. They literally just started sitting there and not talking. Everyone in their lives including my husbands family over indulges them, they never have to do anything the least bit difficult or earn anything. Every weekend they come home with bags of stuff, new clothes, food, candy , snacks and toys. They are fed horrible food mostly take out taken on extravagant outings. They like being at those places on the weekend because they can eat what they want, drink what they want, sit in front of the TV or computer watching completely inappropriate things and don't have to clean up after themselves, I would love that if I was their age too. They are 300 and 150lbs respectively and no one except me seems to care, I don't restrict food but I don't buy pop or fatty snacks, just don't I have never said it was because of them, I have never made them not eat something or exercises or anything. I just only offer healthy snacks to everyone so they do not feel alienanted. I should also mention that their mother is bulemic and Bipolar and often would not let them eat at all saying they were too fat, she only had the food she ate and included them in her binges, also from their mouths. It has got to the point that they are only nice to my husband and I now if we are giving them something or taking them out, otherwise they stay in their room. They don't even ask us before making plans or joining activities the majority of the time but expect us to run them all over town to do things. I am the parent of a 15 year old boy and though he is not perfect he has never disrespected my husband they love each other and spend time together and we do as a family when the girls are not there, but we don't talk about it or say anything again we don't want them to feel alienated or think we like him better. They continually take things that aren't theirs, steal money, lie and manipulate to get what they want even if they are told no, such as asking other family, their friends and friends family and Church. I am at my wits end. My husband seems clueless on what is going on and has no idea or want to discipline them. I feel I was put in their life for a reason but the more time goes on the worse it gets, I seem to be the only person interested in ending the cycle that they have been placed into. They hate me, glare at me, don't listen or follow my direction and do mean things on purpose to ME, but seem to not have any hatred towards anyone else including their Dad though they really don't acknowledge him at all. Their parents were not together when my husband and I met so I cannot imagine that has anything to do with it and I have talked to my husband advising he needs to spend more time with them, just in case that is the issue he tries but unless he takes them somewhere or buys them something they are not interested and go to their room as soon as I am gone. They are not interested in anything with the family, again unless we are spending money on them or going out to dinner. I have even tried just girls activities but they don't want that either. I am at the point where I want to give up it seems no matter what I do they are destined to follow the same path as their mother.

Hi Anna - Im very familiar with your situation. You all are faced with several simuklyaneous problems:

1] the biomom and probably you and your husband have inherited some significant psychological wounds from your ancestors:

2] you co-parents probably lack some basic stepfamily info:

3] you adults probably arent aware of how to problem-solve effectively as teammates:

Overall, I encourage all you adults to patiently study and discuss this free online course:

This is a LOT to absorb, Anna, so take your time. If any of you havd questions, please ask!

Compassionate;y, Pete

Parenting Stepchildren

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Peter Gerlach, MSW


I can answer questions about remarriage preparation, stepparenting, stepchild discipline, child visitation, grieving, stepfamily norms and myths, mission statements, stepparent job (role)descriptions, communication skills, loyalty and values conflicts, stepfamily identity problems, common pitfalls, ex mate and relative problems, stepfamily merger and adjustment tasks, name confusions, choosing an effective counselor, resolving money disputes, co-parenting support groups, and the family effects of court (legal) battles. I can`t answer questions about medicine, family law, legal stepchild adoption, or financial planning.


I have studied and worked with stepfamilies clinically since 1979, and I have been a "step everything" personally. I was invited to be on the board of the Stepfamily Association of America (SAA) by it's founders, Drs. John and Emily Visher; and later was re-invited by president Margory Engle, PhD. For more detail, see this.

Former Board member, Stepfamily Association of America (SAA)
National Stepfamily Resource Center (NSRC)Experts Council

Hundreds of Web articles on ; I've uploaded over 150 self-improvement videos on YouTube; and have self-published 6 books. My ad-free Web site offers a unique, practical 7-lesson self-improvement course.

Stanford University BSME (1958) George Williams College MSW (1981) Hundreds of post-graduate seminars on a wide variety of "mental health" subjects

Awards and Honors
Hundreds of appreciative emails and comments on my Web site and videos from people all over the world.

Past/Present Clients
I have worked clinically with over 1,000 midwestern divorced and remarried family members, and have had over 800 stepfamily students in various seminars and courses since 1981

©2016 All rights reserved.