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Step-Parenting Teens

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Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Teens, Preteens, & Young Adults > Step-Parenting Teens


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Husband's 14-year-old son is coming to live with us

April 2010

My husband's 14 year old son will be moving in with us this summer. He currently lives in Germany and this will be the first time he'll be staying with us ''long-term''. He's a great kid, we all get along really well but we haven't had 14 years to learn how to do this together...we're excited but nervous! On top of all of the figuring out schools, etc, this is the first time that we'll be ''parenting'' and we're trying to figure out where to start. Any and all advice is welcome. Thank you!!!


I think the best thing you can do when you are unsure, is to be transparent with your son about your inexperience and your desire to do the right thing and to find a mutually acceptable way. If you are sincere, I think this will go a long way. Kids in general can be quite helpful when their input is solicited, and when you are honest with them about what's going on. Good luck! parent of 3

Wonderful but lazy and self-centered teen step-son

March 2013

I am a stepmother to a teen and I also have a two year old child. The older child is a wonderful child (kind, well adjusted, polite), however he is lazy and has an inflated sense of himself. I see a lot of posts on this board with parents noting that the laziness and egocentrism is normal for teens. I've read the neurological and biological reasons explaining why teens are lazy. However, I know that several of you are raising teens who are self motivated and helpful. I've seen them out there. I want to know how you did it. I am guessing that instilling work ethic and holding them accountable is a large part of the equation. I feel doomed that I won't be able to instill these traits when I am co-parenting with someone who coddles the kids. Please give me ideas as to how to raise a child like yours. Am I doomed to be the butler?


Well, I have one of each, and I really don't think it is something I did differently with #2. I think it is mostly temperament (and partly that she saw what we went through with #1, whose problems went way beyond being lazy and self-centered). So I would get more advice from those with lazy and self-centered teens! Cause they're the experts in what works (clear limits, consequences without blowing your top or making it a power struggle). Also, it might help you to think about the specific behavior you want to address (not doing chores?) rather than perceived character traits (lazy and self-centered). And finally, most likely it is going to get better with age. My son is now a young adult and pretty much unrecognizable from the person he was a few years ago. best wishes
I have a teen who is motivated, courteous and hard-working. I also have a teen who has a harder time getting motivated and seeing that hard work pays off. They are both my biological children and were raised the same way. If I had only one child, the motivated one, I might think that I'm a brilliant parent and give you all kinds of advice, which would not be worth much. The fact is that he is wired that way, and there is little I have done to foster his motivation. We get the kids we get, and we do the best we can to model good behavior, reward hard work and steer them in the right direction. It's easier with some kids than it is with others.

It's also important to recognize the good qualities in all of our kids and try to understand the underlying reasons for their shortcomings. My ''more typical'' teen who has trouble with motivation is an optimistic extrovert who likes to read. His grades are only okay, but I think that he hasn't had enough experience with success to work as hard as he could because he's not sure it will pay off. We are not coddling parents, but our strict expectation setting has only taken us so far. However, I think that our clear expectations have helped him.

Your stepson sounds like he had many good qualities. Do what you can to set high expectations, but don't think that there is a secret formula for raising motivated kids. Anon


I have a reasonably helpful and very kind teen (most of the time with us, and we are frequently complimented on her kindness by other people). Over the years, I've only added one chore at a time to her life, and they mostly involve pet care, and taking care of her own clothing. At times she'll help with other tasks, mostly when asked, but sometimes spontaneously. We do have systems in place for tasks like clearing the table and putting some things away.

When you have a two year old, a teen seems very grown up. However, they are still children, too. ''Executive Functioning'' is still developing in teens, and many of them can't plan in advance. Their main task is to do well in school both in terms of classes and activities.

You give the impression of seeing your stepson as a difficult roommate. I think you need to work on building a relationship with him, and helping him have a good connection with his brother. Any discipline, rules, limit-setting should come from his father. You risk a disruption in his relationship with his father and step-brother by fussing over chores and tasks. If you feel overwhelmed by the extra work, I would ask your husband to do his fair share of household labor. He's the adult in the situation. You might also consider having someone come in to clean once a week, to take some of the pressure off the whole family. Help your stepson feel cared for and welcome, and he'll be a positive person in your life, and in the life of his little brother. anon


I don't envy you - a teen and a 2 year old at home! Yikes, no wonder you are writing in for support - you are in the middle of a lot of transitions based around growing independence and identity. I am the parent to a tween quickly transitioning to a teen. He still has plenty of moments of sweetness, but I can see that things will start to get challenging as he delves deeper and deeper into being a teenager. In addition to being a parent, I have worked with many teens over the years in my career. I always say, ''If they are tough to deal with, then they are doing their jobs as teens.'' Teenhood is an important time to discover an identity separate from your parents/family. It's a time to try out different interests, challenges ideas, and explore relationships and how they work. It's tough work, both for the child and the parents. But, it's an important stage in becoming an adult. I know it's tough to deal with challenging behaviors, including selfishness, self-centeredness and even laziness. But, try and re-frame it as a success - the teen in your life is doing what they need to to mature from childhood to adulthood! I like to think that I was a motivated and hard working teen. While I did have some unpleasant moments, overall, I made my parent's life very easy. But, I did eventually go through a selfish/challenging phase in my twenties. Which, in retrospect was much harder for me than had it happened when I was in my teens living at home with my family. I've also heard it said that teens are difficult so that it makes it easier for the family when they move out as adults. If they stayed sweet forever, it would be much harder to see them leave home! Hang in there - parenting, especially step-parenting, a teen is hard work. But, it's temporary and a sign that they are normal and growing up. Good luck!
I am a mother of a 13-year-old daughter. She is responsible and demonstrates it by choosing classes and assignments that are challenging rather than an easy A, on time to school, practices and lessons and is responsible with money, time and resources. She is kind and generous, saving allowance to give gifts and to charity, plans expenses and lives within her monthly lunch allowance and has money left over at the end of the month to make sure that she has money available in case need or opportunity arises. My daughter develops and nurtures relationships with friends, teachers, parents of friends, older people with whom she volunteers, and with young children with whom she volunteers. She is an all around great kid. Sometimes she is moody or sensitive (particularly two or three days before menstruation). We feel incredibly lucky as parents.

However, it all started, literally from birth on. I remember the same parents who are now trying to gain understanding, develop discipline and teach financial literacy to their sons and daughters often remarked that as parents we were too hard on our daughter at a young age. I don't believe it's true. We had high expectations of appropriate behavior in restaurants, in the car, with family and with teachers. We expected our daughter to develop relationships with the people she interacted with daily, whether it was childcare providers, godparents or the neighborhood children. We expected that each person in our home would contribute equally, to his or her ability, the work in the house that needed to be done, and so on. This responsible behavior takes years of practice. I have read many times that you need 10,000 hours of practice to be great at anything. I believe that if you want a child to be successful, or even better, great at responsibility they need 10,000 hours. It's easier to get the 10,000 hours in earlier in life rather than later.

Our daughter is bright, articulate and is often invited to other families' homes to share in their parties, vacations and holidays. She is a great addition to any event and understands her responsibility to be a great guest. Is she perfect? No. Are any of us perfect? No. However, I can honestly say that I cannot believe how great being a parent to my daughter is for me. Each year gets better and better. It is just six short years until she is off to college. I have confidence that she will be ready for adulthood when it is time for her to move to the next phases of her life. I look forward to watching her continue to make small missteps and take responsiblity for them as she grows from a teen to an adult. Lucky Mom - Happy Family


I would count myself lucky to be the stepmom to such a great kid. You may be able to get him to do more, the the consequence may be a sullen, reclusive teenager who gets bad grades. Personally, I would rather be the butler and just let less important stuff slide.

However, if you are determined to do something about his lazy ways, here are some ideas. First, compliment him regularly and specifically. Not, ''you are so nice.'' But instead, ''It was so sweet when when you played peekaboo with the two year old.''

Next, do what you can to reduce the workload. For instance, don't allow food and drink outside the kitchen. If all the dishes stay in the kitchen, no one has the round up the dishes and no moldy bowls will be hiding in the bedroom.

Then try doing chores together. Change the sheets. Wash the car. You wash the dishes, he dries. Chores are so much easier if you don't feel like you are all alone.

Next, maybe a list of possible jobs around the house that you are willing to pay him to do. Mow the lawn twice a week. Vacuum the living room once a week. Take out the trash every day. You set the price, he chooses what to do. He really needs to feel like he has some kind of power. An adult forcing the teenager is just going to result in bad feelings and withdrawal. Good Luck! Anon


Your post made me think how challenging new siblings and stepparents can be for adolescents. Having raised several very different young adults, I am struck at what a humbling experience raising teenagers can be as one looses that sense of control that we have with our younger malleable children. Modeling love, acceptance and compassion is one way to raise caring adults. How lucky for your younger child that you get to practice acceptance with your teenage stepson! I wish you and your family well. anonomom
Not sure how we did it with our 16-year old daughter. Probably a combination of factors: 1. We care about her needs and separate them from wants. 2. We have little money and she has to go out and earn her own (which she does regularly) 3. We live as a household together, not as parents with a kid. 4. When she was little we used to clean up her room together to instill the habit of deserving a clean room. Now she wants a clean room before she goes to bed. 5. When she works hard/late on homework, I will pitch in and clean up her room and she understands that as special support and thanks me for it. 6. She doesn't have any chores other than to give her best at school. If I really do need help with my stuff, such as bringing a bunch of grocery bags into the house, I expect her to help out willingly and spontaneously - and she does. 7. My husband and I model the behavior we want to see in her. It's not strategic, it's just the way we are with each other. 8. We have lots of communication going on, as we are a cell phone free family who talks in real time and both adults limit their computer usage to an absolute minimum. So my daughter gets straight feedback for over the top comments whenever displaying selfishness, etc. 9. My daughter shares everything about school on a daily basis she finds worth mentioning. I am in tune with her life, her music, her interests, her work just as I am with my husband's. There is mutual respect and clear boundaries of what is okay and what is not. I think it all can be summarized to: mutual love, respect and interest. The other day my husand spotted a father and son at Peet's on 4th street, both of them silent on their respective electronic devices, ignorant of spring life, people, and street music. After ten minutes the dad said:'' Isn't that great that we have this time together?'' My husband was shocked and told us both. Another story that brought us closer together in our family values. Anonymous
First, parents need to teach survival skills. No children should leave home without knowing how to wash their own clothes and dishes, change their bed, scrub a bathroom and kitchen, and cook a meal from scratch (including buying the ingredients).

We had a system of expecting household chores in exchange for allowance. My three year old put the clean silverware away in exchange for a quarter (but put away his own toys because ''you have to clean up your own mess''). The five-to-ten year-old set the table, swept floors, and took out trash. Each year chores were reviewed and a more advanced one substituted, up until high school, when only cooking one meal a month (and getting good grades and fulfilling extracurricular commitments) was required (''That's your job''). Teens had to manage a clothing allowance, and buy and wash their own clothes. We started critiquing mess and lack of communication as ''bad roommate behavior,'' not a parent/child thing. Cell phones, car rides, driving, and overnights were privileges earned by civil, responsible behavior. I'm sure we were the meanest parents in town, or maybe ever.

Any human being will take advantage of a system that allows them to be indolent, and temperamentally some of us only respond to deadlines or necessity. It's the rare child who will work a little bit every day on a project due after vacation. But if you feel like changing your boundaries, and calling out uncivil or noncontributing behavior as unacceptable, as the adult in the house you're entitled. If you're not willing to enable certain behaviors, by all means withdraw the Xbox, the cell phone, the car keys, or the spending money. It's easier to train younger kids to do what parents reasonably demand, but it's still worth trying to set out your expectations for teens. If they're overwhelmed or disorganized, you can teach them to break projects down and make lists. And as long as they're in the house, you're entitled to promote your values. They may seep in. All the best.


As a mother of three boys, one who is 15, I had to smile at your post. I am sure that you have seen someone like my son out in the world - amazing musician, great student, charming and helpful with people of all ages.

Of course, at home he is totally lazy and would spend his whole day and night playing video games and watching YouTube, if we let him. But out in world he is amazing. And with insistence, he can rise to the occasion at home and be helpful... somewhat. There are days when I am happy he just takes a shower. Frankly, I think this is a classic ''pick your battles'' scenario. Reward and support the great things your teen is doing. Keep them close and keep communication open. I want to be the first person my child comes to when they are having a problem.

I also want to share with you some advice my pediatrician gave to my husband, as the step-parent of my oldest, ''be his friend first, that is best and most positive influence you can provide.'' Her advice was based on 30+ years of practice in Berkeley with all kinds of families. Being a step-parent does not give you instant parent-status, especially in the mind of a teen. Trying to enforce discipline over and above that of a loving, and maybe permissive parent, will just lead to turning your house into a battleground.

With that said, we do have a weekly schedule for all activities, sit down for family dinner pretty much every night, and know all the kids who our children spend time with one on one. Good luck! East Bay Mom


I need to add to my prior post, which tried to give a picture of what we did at home to teach young children competence, regardless of temperament. That may work as you raise your two-year-old, if you and your spouse can present a united front. At the least, the spouse who doesn't care as much should not undermine the spouse who cares.

You have a more complicated situation with a teen stepchild. You and your spouse must talk this through and try to agree on the expectations in your house (curfew, chores, etc). You may have little or no authority as a stepparent, and the situation may be complicated by the other parent's actions. But you are still an adult inhabitant of your house, and you are as entitled as your stepson to consideration. As a stepparent, you're in a position to develop a relationship as a loved counselor and mentor. I'd recommend approaching the teen as a ''roommate,'' not a parent. All the best.


I'd just like to offer my deep gratitude to those parents who responded to this posting last week by saying that they had done their diligent best as parents to raise industrious, generous children and that sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't (most evident in families where there was one child who was that way and another who wasn't). I would bet I didn't do anything much different in raising my daughter than the ''lucky mom'' of the delightful 13-year old girl who posted. But there are no magic formulas to parenting, and my teen (now 17) isn't demonstrating a lot of the values I know I taught her. The guilt and even grief I've felt over that is enormous, so it's comforting to read similar things from other parents. As one poster noted, sometimes a backlash comes later. I know it did for me: I was my parents' delightful, helpful, compliant teenager, and I moved 3,000 miles west in my 20s -- and I'm still here 35 years later. Just doing the best I can
I didn't answer before, because you said you wanted to hear about teens who are NOT lazy and self-centered, and I didn't have any of those. I had teens who did the absolute minimum all through high school (with shockingly low GPAs!), had to be constantly prodded to do chores, never thanked or complimented their parents, never offered a helping hand, and complained bitterly if asked to do anything other than play video games or watch football on TV. And these are just the bad behaviors that I'm willing to share - there were worse!

Fast forward 10 years and they are now hard-working, responsible young adults who express appreciation and love toward their parents, offer help and assistance without prompting, and are generally fun to be around and gratifying to have in my life.

I don't think I did anything special - they just matured. In fact I did things you're not supposed to do - I nagged a LOT, played the guilt card, and was fairly negligent about tracking their academic progress. My conclusion: It's normal for teens to be lazy and selfish. They usually grow out of it.

I think the one thing I did that DID pay off was that I tried really hard to keep seeing their strengths underneath the teen cruft, and I tried to respectfully support their passions even though their passions often seemed stupid to me.

By the way, since you were writing about your step-son, I'll just add this: their step mother thought they were WAY lazier than I thought they were, which is saying a lot since I thought they were really, really lazy. She regularly expressed to them her dissatisfaction, including remarks about my own poor parenting skills. She wasn't entirely wrong, but still. So I was secretly smiling inside when one of them made a very mean (but hilarious) video with his little nerd friends, in which the role of the step mother was played by the nerdiest boy dressed in a witch costume. He was lying in bed, eating bonbons and screaming non-stop for 15 minutes. In my defense, I told them only that the video was mean-spirited but had good production values. But 10 years later they get along very well with their step-mother, and they are very kind to her too. There is hope! It gets better


Disconnect between 16-y-o son and step-father

Feb 2010

I have a 16 year old son who is the step-son of my husband, with whom I have two younger daughters. For approximately the past two years I have felt to be in the middle of the disconnect that has occurred between my husband and my son. There have been tensions and blow-ups with my husband apologizing for his actions, yet my son appears to hold a lot of anger and has not been receptive to making amends. My belief is that much of his anger is toward his dad is getting redirected to my husband, but trying to get him to any sense of understanding of his part has not happened.

It has now come to a point where I have felt tremendous inner turmoil over the situation, to the point that my marriage is in serious jeopardy and headed for divorce, my son not being the only problem, but a large one that I am allowing to come between us. As a mother I am in a current state of anxiety of what to do. My husband? My son? How do I find a comfortable zone in this situation.

I should note that I come from a household where my mother choose to stay with my abusive step-father, and though my husband has not been abusive to my son, I am hyper sensitive to what it feels like having a parent stay in a situation that is stressful to the child. Advice, suggestion, .... dazed and confused


I can really feel for you in your dilemma. I have a wonderful partner who is very kind to my son, but nevertheless things come up in which it seems that I have to pick one relationship over the other, and in my case, I naturally gravitate toward protecting my relationship with my son. Some of that has to do with the guilt feelings surrounding divorce. But I'll make a suggestion that is far from original; I think you need to get in a situation in which all three of you can talk about the things that are bugging you, preferably with a non-involved party present who can guide the conversation, i.e. a therapist or other counselor. When you bring up the abuse issue from your past, I can see that your feelings would be oriented a bit like mine: that your son needs to be shielded. But raising teenagers is rough whether the family is blended or not, tempers will rise and break whether the family is blended or not. You don't have to pick between your child and your husband, but both have to feel loved and heard. And they should also understand how hard it is for you to have tension between them. So I would recommend conversation, first on your own with the two of them if you can, and if you can't, with a therapist. also in the middle
Family therapy! This is your only solution. You need to bring the whole family in and work through the issues with a family therapist. It's a complex situation but the family therapists know how to approach it. Anonymous
I will say: RUN to the bookstore to get the book ''Yes, your Teen is Crazy'' by Michael Bradley. Past the provocative title, an excellent, excellent book, with a large section of blended families. stepparents etc. I think reading this book has helped my family more then any other. HB

13-year-old and step-father can't stand each other

Aug 2009

Hi, Anyone in a blended family with a teenage daughter out there? I have a 13-year-old girl whom my current husband can't stand. Her dad is very much in the picture, so my husband feels like he cannot take his place. He also feels that my ex and I have done a terrible job raising her and reminds me EVERYDAY, that it is our fault she is lazy, manipulative and cold. He will not make any attempt to get closer to her and states that he does not like who she is and it is very hard for him to get closer to a cold child, and, anyway, he doesn't have time for her. We also have a 5-year-old girl and he barely has time for her either. I am really lost. I feel like it's a lost battle and they will never have any relationship. Needless to say, this has caused a lot of friction between us and we are talking about divorce now. I have to say that she, along with having to deal with my ex (who is a tough person to deal with)are the main issues in our lives. Any advice? Caught in the Middle


First of all, I feel for you. I am in the process of blending a family with a new partner and a thirteen-year-old son, and it is not always easy. The thing that makes it a bit easier is that the new partner, though he does not always agree 100% with my parenting methods, respects my authority as my son's parent and knows that my son has to come first, because he's the kid and my partner's the grown-up. This type of insight seems sadly lacking in your husband. My suggestion is not very original, but it is sincere: get him to a therapist along with you and your daughter. Maybe first just him, or just the two of you, but in any case, some understanding and sympathy for your daughter (she is ''cold''? come on! she's a kid) needs to be developed in your husband somehow, as well as some better communication methods for everybody. The younger child is a child you have together? It does sound as if your husband might be overwhelmed, so perhaps in therapy you could express some sympathy about that, even though you yourself might feel as if you are carrying more of a burden. It is difficult to be the person in the middle, I know, because you want everyone to be happy together and you feel it's your responsibility. That's why I think getting a therapist in there to distribute the responsibility and create understanding would be key. another mom in the middle
I might not win any popularity contests by stating my opionion. However, I believe that this teenaged girl needs to know that MOM and DAD (bio) are 100% behind her. Mom's remarriage to a man who does not seem to understand teenagers must have felt like a big slap in the face to daughter. Daughter already has divorced parents and knows that her mom thinks her dad (bio) is weird. Now she has to deal with step dad who is not nice to her and does not 'get' her nor does he care to try. Has anyone thought about the fact that this teenager is reacting to the divorce, remarriage, unpleasant and unsupportive step dad, not to mention sibling rivalry with the 'new' baby who surely gets treated better than she does? Hello??? This family needs intervention STAT. Family therapy to start. However, I say to this mom---your teenaged daughter came before your new husband---she should be your priority......and the statistics on remarriage when both parties have children are horrid. I have been there/ done that/ would not do it again anon
That sounds like an awful situation. Children should feel love and trust the adults who are supposed to care for them. Your husband sounds selfish and immature. I think it would be much better to be a single, responsible parent than raise children in a situation where they are subjected to an adult who is so selfish. -- happily divorced mom
1. Get family counseling immediately, and if your current husband won't go, go without him.

2. If you are unwilling to seek couseling or it does not help, get a good divorce attorney. At least anonymously explore your options, pay cash for the initial visit, though many attorneys have free initial meetings. Not sure how things got to this place or if they were like this from the beginning, but it will tear up your children and it is not a way to live. Sounds like you have a boarder not a husband and a father.

3. Get counseling before you marry again or get back together with either of these husbands. You could use some help setting boundaries. I have the same issue. supportive but definite


New wife is angry about 13-year-old's behavior

Dec 2006

I recently re-married after 9 years of raising my daughter as a single father. Her mother was always very much in the picture, but when my daughter was with me I was on my own entirely. It's been great to have the feeling of ''being a family'' again with my new wife, but there are some very difficult integration issues.

My daughter is now 13. She goes to school in Palo Alto where her mom lives, and is with us every Wednesday night and every other weekend. She was 11-1/2 when my new wife and I started dating and 12-1/2 when we married. Over the past year, as she's gone from 12 to 13, I've noticed the tell-tale signs of adolescence increasing in her: sullen mood, interest only in her friends, lack of enthusiasm for anything that doesn't involve friends or internet chatting, extreme ''laziness'' that requires strong cajoling in order to get things done, etc. She has many moments when she ''snaps out of it'' and still laughs or is conversational with us, but there can be whole days when I just want to return her for a refund. In other words, from what other parents have told me, she seems to be developing into a pretty normal teenage girl. I've been told that I can expect 6 or 7 more years of this personality and that I should just fasten my seat belt and keep my arms and legs in the car at all times.

The problem is that my new wife gets extremely angry about my daughter's sullen, disinterested, and what she terms ''disrespectful'' and ''spoiled'' behavior. She doesn't get angry directly at my daughter, but instead she waits until after my daughter's gone to bed to regale me with how I'm raising a spoiled, lazy, brat. She feels that my daughter is purposefully ignoring her and says that she ''doesn't want to be treated this way''. She feels very hurt and rejected and she wants me to do something to improve my daughter's attitude when she's with us. This is really hard on me because while I can understand my wife's viewpoint, to me my daughter's moods and behaviors are upleasant, but they don't feel disrespectful or purpose-driven - she just seems like a confused and sensitive young girl trying to deal with a new mom and a new house in a ''distant'' city that she doesn't feel comfortable in. My wife's request that I ''do something'' to change my daughter's behavior sound to me like someone asking me to solve world hunger or build an aircraft carrier in our driveway.

In talking it over, it seems that one of the factors in step-parent reactions to their new step-teens is that they never saw the kid as a cute little toddler or an excited and grateful 3rd grader. All they know is this sullen, boring/bored young man or woman who is like a bad guest at a party - you just want to ask them to leave. But to the parent, there's a decade of history that tells a much different story. I'd like to believe that my wife can make the adjustments necessary to handle my daughter's moodiness because I don't hold out a lot of hope that adolescence is going to suddenly turn into a happy time in life, but she's clearly having difficulty and it's EXTREMELY hard to be caught in the middle of this. Any advice would be appreciated Frustrated in Oakland


I sympathize. My husband was in your shoes a few years ago; we got married right before my son turned 13. Fortunately for my husband, my son turned all of his teenage sarcasm and anger to me (lucky me). However, maybe I have some useful advice. One reason it's so hard, I think, for your wife to accept the stage your daughter is going through is that she wasn't like this at this age (or so she remembers). It could be helpful if the two of you together could take a class (or maybe even an evening or afternoon workshop) on what to expect when parenting an adolescent.

The two things your wife needs to grasp is 1) adolescents are mostly like this at this age; and 2) there is a great deal of variation from person to person. The 2) is why I recommend a class or workshop with other parents. You can get a sense of the 1) from reading a book, but hearing other parents share stories of their difficult teenagers may put things in perspective better for your wife and make her realize that, really, her new step-daughter is a pretty good kid.

Hope this helps. Good luck Dianna


Hello Frustrated in Oakland:

Some of the key words I heard in your post about your new wife were that she feels hurt and rejected...I can relate entirely as a step parent to a girl who is now 15.5 yrs old. The difference for me is that I have been in her life for 14.5 of those years, so she doesn't know life without me.

I can tell you for sure that what your daughter is going through IS typical of a teenager....only wanting to be with friends, etc. etc. and I can also tell you that, as a step-parent, it's very hard to not take it personally because of that added subconscious question of whether or not it has to do with me (the step-parent). Your new wife obviously cannot be a fly on the wall in your ex-wife's house to see that your daughter probably has the exact same behavior at home with her (well maybe, she -the ex- gets more grief, because she's the safer parent?) Anyway, it also sounds like your new wife doesn't have any previous experience (her own kids) with teenage girls to realize that this really has nothing to do with you or her or anyone else but the daughter, and she's obviously forgotten what it's like to be a teenager herself. This happened to me. To my utter shock, my brother informed me a few months ago when we were having similar problems with my step-daughter, that I too as a teenager wanted no association with my parents or other family. FRIENDS only. Silly, but I don't remember it at all.

Anyway, having said all that. It's EXTREMELY difficult for a child to get over the ''grief'' of losing their family that becomes ever so much more a reality when the parents remarry. IMHO, it's much more difficult than the actual divorce, because the POSSIBILITY of reconciliation is now gone....even in my case, where I've known my step-daughter since forever, when her dad and I married when she was 8, she still didn't understand why her mom and dad couldn't marry and why I and her step-father could marry instead!

So with that, the advice I would give is first to kindly and gently tell your wife that there is nothing you can do to change your daughter's behavior, that it's NORMAL, and her asking you to even try is unreasonable, and simply unrealistic (hopefully you can show her these responses?) You are right, she doesn't have the benefit of knowing what your girl was like in all these years previous and that's a real disadvantage for all concerned. On the flip side, having known that part of my step-daughter's life sometimes makes it harder!

Anyway, secondly, YOU need to recognize that being a step-parent is one of the hardest jobs to do, harder than the real (for lack of better wording) parenting in some ways (again, IMHO) The step-parent is expected to stand by and watch, participate when needed and support (emotional and financially) but god forbid they might have an opinion that's worth hearing about it.

I guess my point is you are in a tough spot! Your wife IS taking this too personally and not recognizing that if your daughter was a product of the both of you and not just you, you'd be faced with the same sullen teen. But your wife is also in a very difficult spot. It's extremely hard to stand by and watch and not be able to control, or much less do anything about it (but b---ching about it isn't going to help either) But don't forget there might be some legitimacy to your daughter's sullen behaviour....she may still be ''grieving'' over the loss of her family unit with you and her mom, regardless of how she feels about her step-mother. That's really all the insight I have to offer, I hope it helps. YOu can ask the moderator for my email if you wish to discuss further.. step parent with sullen teen too


Hi: I think your wife is expecting too much. When I was your daughter's age I was sullen, too. First, because that's the way girls are from time to time at that age and second, because my mother was dating. It seems only natural that your daughter would resent another permanent fixture in your life. I think your wife should just be polite and open to a relationship with your daughter, but should not push it. Your daughter is not spoiled because she doesn't warm up to your new wife--why should she? Your wife will have to earn your daughter's trust and affection. In the meantime, you should do some activities with just your daughter--not always with your wife along. Your daughter needs to see that she is important enough to spend time alone with you. I think your wife has unrealistic expectations for your daughter. I hope she does not try to put a wedge between you and your daughter Signed, your daughter comes first.
Your letter really hit the nail on the head. I have 3 (now adult) children. The middle one is my step-daughter. The sentiments your wife is expressing very closely match what I felt during long, difficult, years in our family. But, I think I also understand where you're coming from.

The bottom line for me is that all people (adults, children, ''sullen teenagers'') need to work all the time on treating each other respectfully. I think you, and your wife, need to hash out between you what you each feel is respectful treatment/behavior. And then, I think it falls on YOU to be the main enforcer with your daughter. Step-parents can NOT be put in the role of the main disciplinarian. It wrecks havoc on the step-parent/step-child relationship as well as the husband/wife relationship.

You are grappling with really difficult issues. I think if it's at all feasible for you that you and your wife see a counselor who specializes in dealing with step-parenting issues. The challenges your facing can bring your family closer, or it can tear it apart.

I think it's a really positive sign that you wrote to your letter for advice. Wishing you the best! Lori


A really helpful book is The Primal Teen (What the New Discoveries about the Teenage Brain Tell Us about Our Kids)

by Barbara Strauch. This would help your wife to understand that your daughter is just about helpless in the grip of adolescence and that it will pass with time. I'm not a patient person; this book helped me enormously to find patience for my adolescent children. They really can't help it, and the nice people you remember really are still in there somewhere! Best of luck.

PS: Can I give you one small piece of advice? As a stepchild, something that really bothered me was my stepmother's changes to our family routine. It wasn't that I couldn't accept them, it was that there was never any discussion about it. Acknowledging the change helps everyone feel that they matter, and that their past gets some respect, too Berkeley Mom and Stepdaughter


I think you are getting put in the middle by your new wife. That is not a great thing;asking for advice is a good step on your part.

Have you thought about contacting a family counselor or psychologist who has had success with issues surrounding teens, divorce and new step parents? If you or your wife have health insurance usually at least a number of visits are covered. Often these can be extended if the situation requires it or you can come back for another round of visits after a time period has elapsed.

If you have never been to a counselor this may sound like an extreme move. But counselors/psychologists often have the best success when called in to help a family before the situation goes critical. Whatever will happen your family life would be a lot better if people were enjoying each others company at least part of the time.

Also please ask your wife to hold her comments til your daughter is not at your home. I would never assume that your daughter does not hear all or part of your ''private'' conversations. What will she think of the new step mom if she hears these conversations directly? I also think that she would have to be made of stone not to know what your new wife thinks of her.

You need to be considerate of your new wife, but at some point she needs to know she married a man who is a dad, and all that goes with that. She needs professional help, and so do you and your daughter. Good luck and make an appointment today.

If the counselor is not the right one you can request a change just like a doctor. Please give it a try as soon as possible Concerned


Dear Frustrated in Oakland, I've faced the same thing and it's tough. You want to defend your child (even when they're being a pill) and you want to nurture your new relationship as well. I found it hard to do both without investing some time in couples counseling with someone who understands step-parent dynamics. I'm about half-way through the teenage years now and it has gotten better, but only due to a lot of hard work as a couple. I'd be happy to talk off-line if you post your contact information anonymous
I feel your pain. I have a 17 year old son and have been in a relationship with a wonderful man for over 2 1/2 years. He has raised two kids himself but they are long grown and on their own. I have to tell you that my son sounds just like your daughter: seemingly sullen, has to be nagged to do homework, pick up, help out, communicate beyond a grunt! But I also have to tell you that the problem doesn't sound like it is with your daughter. My son and my partner get along because he doesn't want to be his father (he has one!) or his mentor or even his friend and my son likes it that way. They are friendly but more like ships passing in the night! My partner recognizes that I am the parent, will give me advice if I ask for it but is very supportive of me and how I am attempting to raise this child. He basically steps back. It is, after all, about the child. Didn't your current wife understand what she was getting into when she married you? My advice would be counseling and as soon as possible. For your wife and for you. Your daughter is typical, believe me. If you want to save this marriage, please do it Mom of a teenager
My advise would be for you and your wife to read any book by Michael Riera (such as Field Guide to the American Teenager) or, better yet, go and hear him speak. Your daughter's moods and reactions are purely developmental. It is astounding to hear him describe your child EXACTLY and helpful to know that things are normal. I really don't abide by ''back-talk'' or ''sassiness'' but listening to Dr. Riera, I know that this moodiness is completely normal and much of it your child is unable to control. I am better able to take it in stride. Best of luck to you, believe it or not, this too shall pass. :-) Mom of 2 teenagers
To ''Frustrated in Oakland'' and your Unhappy Wife/Stepmom,

As the stepmom of a teen girl, my heart goes out to you -- how wrenching for everyone! From my own experience and observations of the last decade, some offerings (sorry -- this has become long-winded!)

* What is your Ex-Wife's attitude to your new marriage? Is she hostile? neutral? supportive? Do not underestimate the impact of Mom's attitude. If Mom projects an accepting attitude, Daughter stands the best chance of mellowing over time. If Mom communicates dismissiveness or contempt, you'll all suffer deeply, I'm afraid.

If your relationship with Ex-Wife permits, you might ask/encourage her to give Daughter ''permission'' to accept and engage with this new household, for the sake of Daughter's own well-being. If Daughter feels she must protect/reflect Mom's feelings by ''disapproving'' of Stepmom, Daughter will suffer constant emotional conflict, overtly expressed or repressed. Unfortunately, this crucial variable is the one over which you have least control. If Mom wants to punish Dad and/or Stepmom, this is her surest way to express vindictiveness (even though it hurts Daughter's own psychologial development). If you can do nothing else, at least you and Stepmom can try to understand this and make allowances for it in Daughter.

* Are you maintaining your own relationship with Daughter, with regular one-on-one time, doing activities you've traditionally enjoyed and/or exploring new interests together -- without the constant presence of Stepmom? Yes, this might feel hard for you, caught up in the excitement of your new marriage and wanting to include Stepmom as much as possible. And Stepmom might feel very hurt at seeming to be excluded/neglected. But special Dad-and-Daughter time is essential to reassuring Daughter, especially at this very vulnerable, confusing stage of early adolescence. She needs to feel she's still Dad's #1 Girl -- and Stepmom needs to be secure enough in her adulthood to allow room for this.

* Is Stepmom able/willing to spend some time one-on-one with Daughter, pursuing activities they (might) find fun together? Again, all of you may feel that this is difficult to pull off -- but it's worth trying, even if for an hour or two, once or twice a month. The important thing is for Stepmom to show openness and interest, with consistency over time -- and to shrug off rejections with an ''oh well, maybe another time'' rueful smile that doesn't project blame or take on a sense of personal inadequacy. Easy? Hell, no -- painful -- but the effort must be made.

* Have you set basic household rules of respect and responsibility for Daughter? Do you have reliable routines and expectations? Hopefully, this has been the case throughout your years of single-parenting -- if not, start now. Involve Stepmom and Daughter in discussing (separately at first, then all together) possible adjustments that might help your new household work more smoothly. And find a good opportunity to talk alone with Daughter to lovingly but firmly state your expectations about politeness/rudeness, ways of communicating feelings/needs, basic courtesies, etc.

Have you set limits on phone calling, internet use, TV watching, etc? Is Daughter expected to clean up after herself, keep her room neat, help with dinner dishes, etc.? Are you ensuring that homework gets done during your timeshare? Pre-teens and teens crave structure and limits (even, or maybe especially, if they're rebelling) -- which can also be seen as opportunities for them to feel they are meeting expectations, earning approval, contributing to the common good. Both consistency and flexibility need to be juggled.

* OK, back to the main point of your post: Stepmom feels angry, hurt, rejected -- and demanding that you ''do something''. She sounds just like how I was, for a (too) long time!

Bottom line: If you (Stepmom) want to make your marriage last, you will have to learn how to cope, how to let go, how to help effect the changes that are possible and accept what isn't possible to change, and how to keep your sanity, self-esteem, values, sense of humor, and love and respect for your husband intact along the way.

How? Read, reach out, and TALK TO PEOPLE WHO CAN RELATE in some way. Regrettably, there were few (East Bay) stepmom or stepfamily support groups when I last looked -- and, you'll find that in any given step-group, family situations will vary so widely and wildly that they may seem inapplicable to helping you. In my case, Stepdaughter is about as wonderful as could be hoped for -- yet your and my experiences ''feel'' analogous to me because Mom made ''integration'' as difficult, and therefore as limited, as she could. But persevere -- just knowing that others understand and share your pain and frustration CAN help.

Dad, if either you or Stepmom would like to chat off-line wih me or my spouse, please write me -- and best wishes! Oakland Stepmom


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