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Step children woes(34 Posts)
First post - please forgive my lack of the usual acronyms etc!
I am a Dad of a 7yo D, split from my ex wife around 6 years ago and met my new wife a year later. She has a S who is 9yo who lives with us full time apart from visiting his Dad. My D visits us one weekend a fortnight (all I was able to negotiate after lengthy mediation sessions). The home situation is, on paper, nearly perfect - we live comfortably in a lovely house, the children don't really need for anything and we try and spend quality time as a family.
The issue we have is the relationship between my D and my new wife. My D over the last year or so has become more and more distant and will sometimes not interact with my new wife and clams up when she is in the room, is not herself at mealtimes and generally finds it difficult to relax. There isn't an obvious reason for this as we have always tried to create an open family relationship and my wife hasn't been the 'wicked' step mum at all! All the adults involved have tried to talk to D about this and understand what the underlying issue is and have had no luck - she constantly says she 'doesn't know'.
This issue has gotten extremely bad to the point where we dread the weekends we are all together and it is tearing us apart. My D will try and make an effort here and there but will revert to her usual silent, ignoring ways during the weekend and my wife is just waiting for this to happen. These weekends should be the fun times. Right now I don't see a way out from this - our marriage will fall apart, my D will decide she no longer wants to see me or I decide to remove myself from the situation.
I want to know whether other people have had issues, particularly with girls between 6 and 9. It feels like this is the age when they can make some decisions on their own about how to act but can't fully articulate how they are feeling. What issues did you face, did you ever get to the bottom of the reasons (perhaps when they were older and could explain) and what did you do to combat these?
I am at breaking point and am running out of places to turn. I am not educated enough or know enough about children to understand what is going on here.
Any help is gratefully received!
Have you looked at having family therapy?
Do you have one on one time with your d or are all weekends centred on spending time as a family of 4? Is the stuff you do a "compromise " of what both kids enjoy or does she sometimes get to do what she likes regardless of her stepbrother?
Is she able to express minor issues like not not liking the food at meal times? Over time my ex has lost sight of which meal my kids don't like and they only seem him once a fortnight so feel too awkward to say so. My kids find meal times with their dad very awkward. I'm not there so can't comment so not sure why.
Yes, my SD who is 6 won't speak to me unless her Dad is in the room to make her
Echoing the 1-2-1 time question. I'm glad your wife is not an evil step mother but your dd doesn't have to like her just because she's nice. Your daughter comes to see YOU, so please make time for you to be just the two of you.
At her age life is about to get extremely confusing, she likely won't know a reason for lots of things she thinks/says/does/wants/expects and all you can do is support how she's feeling, rather than asking for reasons why.
If your wife really wants to be a good wife and step mother, she'll encourage you to do what's best for your daughter. The time we have with out children is so short in the grand scheme of things, they have to come first.
Hi op - I've not much advice to offer. However, my dd's behaviour used change when at her dads. She's (a very mature, as in reasonable) 14 year old now but between the ages of about 7-10 she (if let) played up the daddy's little princess thing when at his. She would be fantastic for me, but according to her older brothers (my sons) would often really act up at her dads trying to dominate & always looking for attention in a way the boys never did. Again, no reason - her sm was & is lovely to her.
The only conclusion I could ever come to is that she was jealous. And mad as it sounds little girls can develop a competitive jealously around other women in their daddy's lives - there is often a very primal need to be female no 1. My dd did grow out of this behaviour but I'll be honest and say a lot of that was through my talking to her - her dad tended to push her & sm together which made dd feel like he was pawning her off.
Being silent is also an acting out btw & can be just as effective as bad behaviour as silence gets everyone fussing and worrying & is just as attention grabbing.
I think that as a dad you should be aiming to balance one on one time with your dd & family time. Maybe one day every time or every second time you have her should be just you & her. However you'll also need to insure that your dd does not get to dominate weekends or be rude to your wife - it's a very hard balancing act between acknowledging your daughter's distress and not letting it take hold . I really do think that the dad/daughter relationship can be a really tricky one to navigate.
How is your relationship with her dm?
Magda I too think it is likely competition thing with SM and being number 1, something that happens a bit less with their on Mum because of the bound.
How is the relationship with her mother? Any chance she can find out whats going on?
I have a 14 YO DSD - have been in her life for 6 years.
She hardly says a word to me. One word answers and is usually in another room to me (unless her dad is about).
Her dad spends lots of 1-2-1 time with her. She says don’t know’ when asked about her behaviour.
I’ve tried spending time with her but it’s just painful.
In my case - my DSD is conflicted. She feels she’s being conflicted that she’s being disloyal to her mum by liking or being nice to me.
She’s 14 now and TBH as much as her dad chats to her, along with teenage moods it’s getting worse rather than better.
Can you split the weekends? I.e one day you for just you and dd and one day all together?
Maybe your dd just needs some 1to1 with you...
Yes I have experience of this and all I will say is that if you allow his dynamic to break up your marriage then you’ve completely allowed your young DD to control of your life. Which as an adult is incomprehensible to me.
This is what I would suggest
1) Adult counselling for you and your wife. You both need to listen to one another and be able to be honest with one another. You should be the primary team and stating that your daughter could break up your marriage? Well, counselling should help you both with that. Children will test any marriage, those who survive are the ones who tackle it as a team. As someone who has been on the receiving end of this behaviour. Let me tell you that over time it becomes exceptionally wearing and stressful to put up with this behaviour in your own home EOW. Equally it has a huge impact on how you are able to your time with your daughter. So both you and your wife are struggling. Get to counselling and start implementing things to help the both of you.
2) The reasons for the child’s behaviour? Could be many. She is jealous of your wife (the Sd / SM dynamic is exceptionally tricky and needs handling very carefully especially as the SD becomes hormonal). She has a loyalty conflict between her mother and your wife. Maybe she doesn’t like or understand that daddy lives with this new woman and her child, but not with her.
There’s a lot of reasons and it is very unlikely that your wife will be able to fix it.
3) does your DD get any 121 time with you? That would be my second bit of advice. Let her get 121 time with you, without your wife and her child around.
4) if either of you have gone into over compensation mode and / or let her behaviour command a lot of attention, then there is a chance part of this is being done to get attention and control. Stop that happening.
Your DD is young and these behaviours can be gently tackled together. But only if you and your wife tackle this together.
Is your wife trying hard to interact with DD and then complain to you when DD is not interacting with her? Whatever the issue DD has, if she feels it, it would make her even worse and less wanting to make efforts. You don't state if this has always been like that (ex. is she very shy?)? Is her mother manipulating her in some way?
In any case, I think that it's better for your wife to concentrate on herself and her child to remove pressure from DD to have to interact with her. She might come around.
My SD stopped being affectionate or even nice with me (and my older son) at about 11, she must have had her reasons, her father didn't deal with it. I was hurt, but when I made peace with the situation and started concentrating on my older son and our baby, she must have calculated that being nice only with her dad was less interesting than being part of whatever I and my children had. After all, even if she was coming to see her father, there were other people in the house and the baby whom she adored was my son too. She's 13 now and things are much better.
My older son (12) is very shy and never particularly interacted with my DP. It's dissapointing for me as it's not anyone's idea of a united family, but I explained to my son that when we are in the same house, it's my nicer when people are at least polite, so he makes some efforts and I explained to my DP that he's the adult, so he shouldn't give up on him. From time to time, I send my son to ask my DP some question or solve some puzzle, this way they interact somehow and hopefully with age it will get better.
Thanks everyone for some very valuable comments.
There really is a theme in your responses here. The theme being that not having any/much one on one time with D may be part of the issue. We do try to spend time as a family and do fun things but these activities can become the problem if they don't go perfectly. My wife may see some one on one as rewarding bad behavior though but I will discuss with her.
My relationship with my ex-wife has improved of late and she is being as helpful as she can to try and get to the bottom of this. We had thought there might be a conflict/loyalty issue (and there still might be) but we have both tried to talk with D to understand this and reassure her otherwise but D insists this isn't the issue.
Some family therapy is really difficult. It is a route that I have explored (and even had some initial meetings) but as I only have D once a fortnight it would be difficult to get some continuity with any sessions and also my ex wife was insisting on being involved which I thought would undermine the process somewhat.
@sassbott it does sound like you have experienced similar issues to what we are going through. If I am correct perhaps you could let me know where your situation is now.
Why would your wife see having one on one time with your daughter as rewarding bad behaviour? I’m assuming your wife gets lots of one on one time with her child? If your daughter only sees you 4 days a month she probably really misses you.
Also, do you try to pack too much in on your weekends? And are you putting too much pressure on things going perfectly? Maybe your daughter just wants some down time with you. She might feel really uncomfortable around your wife and step son and not sure where she fits in.
Op - does your exw have a partner/other children/step children?
Also family therapy with your ex included might not be a bad idea. It might help keep everyone on the same page in how to help improve the situation. If your daughter sees all the adults working together it might help her feel better about your wife.
@Magda72 Yes she has a new husband who also has a 9yo D and they have had further children together. My D doesn't display the same behavior with her SD
I think family therapy where OP’s ex Wife is included could be hugely beneficial. This dd might feel nothing but relief seeing mum and dad cooperating, working together to get things more comfortable. It may really relieve the loyalty bind she feels between mum and step mum. I also wonder whether there is too much pressure to act like a nuclear family on these precious contact days. Perhaps more casual 1-2-1 time with just dad and daughter would help.
Reading your updates I'm now wondering if the problem could be an adjustment issue. Your dd lives with her dm, half siblings & step sibling most of the time. Then once a fortnight she has to leave this unit & go try slot into another unit.
She obviously doesn't remember you & your exw together but she's had a lot to cope with in her dm's life - new half siblings, a step sibling & a step dad - over the last few years.
She could be either very comfortable with this & then feels annoyed/displaced at being removed from it once a fortnight. You say that you more or less had to fight for access I think so she's not very likely to feel like yours is 'home'.
Or, reversely, she could be feeling a little displaced at your exw's (as there have been so many changes) but instead of acting out there she's projecting it into your home & onto your wife.
Sorry to sound like I'm coming up with all manner of convoluted theories but children's reactions to things are often not straightforward at all.
I think your wife should step back massively when you dd comes and do her own thing with her son. You spend time with your dd and get to the bottom of what the problem is. Speak to her and reassure her as much as she needs. It will also give your wife a probably much needed break from your dds issues.
The only thing you should ABSOLUTELY insist on is that your daughter is polite and respectful towards your wife when you are all together(but minimize that amount of time for now)
Your daughter is there a couple of days a month for contact with you , don’t make her do stuff as a ‘family of 4’, your new wife and her kid are not your daughters family, she shouldn’t have them forced into all her contact time, she’s already had huge, distressing upheaval with the breakdown of her parents marriage, new boyfriends and girlfriends of her parents being forced into her home, various kids of the new spouses, and new half siblings and being uprooted from her home every other weekend and sent to not have proper contact with her father. Seriously, your current wife needs to back right off, the child’s ‘bad behaviour’ is trauma, and she doesn’t owe your wife a relationship. Put the child first.
Where I am now (as the woman in your wives shoes) is that I have detached from contact as I am very clear that firstly and most importantly,
EOW contact is a priority for my DP and his Dc. Secondly, my weekend downtime with my own children (I work fulltime and am pretty much 50/50 with my exh) is equally important. I had gotten to the point where these issues were starting to impact how I felt, in my own home with my own children. Which was wholly unacceptable for me and my children. Finally, I completely disagreed with what I saw as my Dp’s refusal to manage the situation appropriately. So I removed myself from it all. The difference between my situation and yours is that I’m not married or living with my partner. And even though he has been keen to live together and ‘blend’ I have resolutely refused.
The result of this is my DP is free to fully enjoy his time with his DC. How he parents/ disciplines deals with his DC is his business. I also don’t have my weekends impacted by behaviours that I have no control over.
I also went into counselling to achieve the above level of detachment. And sadly to achieve the above it also involves detaching from the children to some extent.
Until anyone has been consistently on the receiving end of rejecting behaviours from a child/ children, it is difficult to comprehend how stressful it becomes. Anyone on the outside (including the parent of the child who is doing the rejecting behaviours) uses the rhetoric ‘you’re the adult, rise above it, they’re the child!’. Which is the most unhelpful (and unkind) thing to say to anyone in this situation.
My response to that is no one else would think it acceptable to tell me that someone could come into my home, repeatedly. Be rude to me. And get me to a point where I actively wanted to leave my own house/ hide myself away in my bedroom just to get away from this behaviour. The reality is that I would tear a strip off my children if they behaved this way in anyone’s house. As would my exh. And they would be told, in no uncertain terms that unless they found their manners, there would be further consequences. My children are also from a divorced family and they don’t behave this way.
Time and time again I see excuse after excuse being peddled out for poor behaviour from young children in divorced families. And a complete absence of boundaries/ discipline/ parenting, especially I am sorry to say when it is the NRP EOW contact.
My DP used to repeatedly say his weekends were to have ‘fun’ with his children. Well, I’d like to be able say that about my children. The reality is that my weekends at times (for both my exh and I) can be tough at times when (for example) no wifi is implemented as a time out for something the children have done. Parenting isn’t about fun IMO.
Listen I appreciate that it’s tough for the children in these situations. I do. Your DD sounds like she’s had a lot of change and the adults around her have all ‘blended’, leaving her wondering where she fits into all. I have no doubt she’s confused and struggling.
You are married and living with your wife. My number one piece of advice would be to get into counselling with her ASAP. If my partner had been able to recognise that there was a problem and work with me (as opposed to telling me that I needed to be the adult), we may be in a much situation. You need to be able to enjoy your time with your DD. Your wife needs to feel heard and respected.
The comment she has made re rewarding poor behaviour leads me to believe that she doesn’t believe you have managed the situation appropriately at all. As like me, she is probably of the view that she would never let her child behave this way in someone else’s home without consequences. You obviously don’t feel that way.
And that disjoint if you’re not careful, will implode your relationship. And I repeat, if as an adult you let a 9 year old have this much control in your life, then brace brace. Because when this kids hits their teens, you’ll really start to see the consequences of not nipping this in the bud now.
you hardly see your DC and instead of spending one to one time when you do you try and get her to join in with your 'new' family. Spend time with your DD on her own....feel sorry for the poor girl
I will add that my children also went to counselling (within their school environment) to help them process and manage their emotions post separation/ divorce. Neither parent was involved. Too many parents (again focused on what they want) insist on being involved in their child’s counselling. Why? Let the child voice their emotions in a safe space with someone completely neutral.
I’d get that put into motion ASAP too. And a telling sign for you will be of your EXW agrees to that starting. If she doesnt, then that would be a red flag for me and give me some indication (regardless of what she shows on the surface) as to whether any of these behaviours are coming (knowingly or unknowingly) as a result of what your EXW may be saying/ doing.
It doesn't sound as though your daughter is behaving badly, she just goes quiet. She can't help it! It's not unusual to feel awkward at that age. Why don't you just let her be herself, leave her to do her own thing? I agree with others that one on one time with her is important.
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