Joyce writes:

I have a college graduating stepdaughter who has never wanted anything to do with me and is moving home for the summer. She has been disrespectful & insubordinate in the past. Her father does not see the problem. I am broken-hearted & fearful. Any suggestions on how to survive the summer?

Dr. Todd writes:

Thanks for the question. Being a stepmother can be a challenging thing. My first thought is for you to talk to your husband about your concerns. My assumption is that he wants his daughter to learn how to live and communicate with others in an intelligent and respectful way. This, of course, begins at home. It may be helpful for HIM to have a talk with his daughter to remind her of the basic “respect” expectations that apply to everyone in your family, including her.

If you sense any tension between you and your stepdaughter, I suggest taking her out to lunch to talk about it. Let her know that you are excited about her being home and hope that you all can have a fun summer together. Tell her that you don’t want to have any tension between the two of you and that if you have done anything to frustrate her, that you apologize. In starting this way, you are setting a great example of how to humbly approach a relationship issue. It might be a good idea to remind her that you are not trying to control her life, but are trying to learn how to be a good stepmom and friend.

Thirdly, it will help if you take time to do something fun with your stepdaughter periodically. Go to a movie or anything that you both enjoy. Talk about her college and future and have a fun time. Even if she says she is not interested, she will know that you asked. Keep at it and eventually she may say yes. Spending time this way goes a long way toward showing her that you are really interested in her life.

A final idea is to let dad be the one to ask his daughter to do things and also be the one to follow up if those things are not done. This allows you to step out of the “enforcer” role and to just work on developing your relationship. If she is continually disrespectful, you may even need to have a family meeting to talk about it; but even then, dad should take the lead in telling her what the consequences will be.

This situation can be challenging for everyone as your stepdaughter learns how to handle family situations in a mature way. As her time living with you all is in its final stages, you and your husband have a final chance to show her how a healthy family handles relationship issues. That is a lesson that can impact her forever.

Dr. Todd

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