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Parenting Stepchildren/help with parenting a step daugther


I have been married to my husband for 6 yrs. He had two children by two different mothers. I have a son and then we had a son together. I have pretty much raised his daugther since she was 3. She is now 9. For the last couple of years her behavior towards me has been horrible. We thought its because she finally wanted her mom but she uses that to get her way. She has nervous behavior sometimes. She will pick her face or arm til it bleeds or rub her nose by her eyes till its red. She wants her mom to be like me but she sees her mom 5 days a month (72 days a yr). She gets jealous of my realtionship with our four yr old and my husband. She wants me to treat her like the four yr old. I tell her that I love her just the same but she wants to be the only one. I tell her when she was 3, 4 and 5 I held her and cuddled with her just the same as I do Ryan. She does things to hurt me a lot. She absolutely hates it when anyone in the house gets any attention. Even if its there birthday.  Once she told me she has a boy voice in her head that tells her not to listen to me. Which was a lie. Im at my wit ends. She does things on purpose to get me into trouble with my husbands family. She lies constantly. My mother told me to look up Electra Complex. I know I need to get her into therapy again but can not find one that will see her since she is from a split home. I feel like I cant do anything to make her happy.  Please give me insight of what I can do. I am her step mom but ive been her mom since she was 3.2 yr old.

Hi Christine - you have a normal, complex stepfamily [vs. "stepdaughter"] problem. I notice you ask what you can do, vs. we [you and your husband] can do. If you're not getting enough empathy and support from him with your stepdaughter, you have a marital and coparenting problem.

Many adults in typical stepfamilies lack accurate information about this normal type of family. To form a foundation for deciding how to best handle this problem, read and discuss these with your mate - and ideally with your stepdaughter's biomom.

It's likely your stepdaughter resents - and may be confused by - having "two moms" - and that her biomom isn't her primary caregiver. She may also have an unrealistic dream of having her bioparents re-unite somehow. If so, she needs to hear clearly from each bioparents that that will not happen.

It may be that she resents feeing "caught" between you three adults - specially if there's tension among you all. Is there a chance her biomom is encouraging her to disrespect you? If so, you have a co-parent problem,not a stepdaughter problem.

It's also possible she is "testing" you adults to see how much power she has in your home and whether you will break up like her bioparents did. If so, the best thing you can do is by setting and consistently enforcing boundaries [with all your kids].

It might be useful if you compose and negotiate a stepmom "job description" to clarify what you are and aren't responsible for with your stepdaughter:

There are other possible reasons for her behavior with you. For all your sakes, I suggest you co-parents study and discuss this free online course:

I also suggest that you seek an experienced stepfamily [vs. an individual or child] therapist to help you adults manage your complex problems.

This is a lot to absorb, so take your time. If you have questions about any of the above, please ask! - Pete

Parenting Stepchildren

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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

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