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Parenting Stepchildren/Step-parenting a 20-year old daughter


My 20 yo step-daughter lives with my husband (her dad) and I. She works full-time and pays $300 month rent. She went to school for the spring 2014 semester, but cannot return because she failed all of her classes and lost her financial aid. On 7/4, she met a man six years older than her. She lied to us and spent the weekend at his house the following weekend. After being caught, she admitted she lied because she knew we would not be happy with her choice to stay there. (Correct!) She has since spent a few other nights at his house, most of which has involved her leaving her dog at home for us to take care of. She has also shirked some of her other household responsibilities. My husband is not really wanting to discipline her because he is afraid of alienating her. I am at my wits end with her. Overall, she is a good person, but this 0 to 60 relationship is nuts! She swears she is not having sex with him, but I am not buying it. I think this relationship is heading down a slippery slope and do not think it is healthy, at all. Any advice?

Hi Lori - yes, I have advice. [1] agree with your husband  on specifically what your role as stepmom is:(what are you responsible for?)

2] Identify specifically what you need with/from your husband relative to his daughter: discuss this article on loyalty conflicts together:

3)  You mates get clear on your respective life priorities::

4) draft a personal Bill of Ri0gthts like this example:

Then use it to assert what you need from your husband and stepdaughter:

Your husband must demonstrate what comes first with him: his daughter, or your relationship.

5] Option - both f you study and discuss this free online "lesson" on avoiding and resolving stepfamily problems:

This is a LOT to integrate, so take your time. If you have further questions, 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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