Q: "My stepdaughter will not accept me in her life and refuses to include me in any functions or events that she is involved with. She keeps telling my husband that she is not comfortable around me and that I am not her family and she just wants it to be her mother and father attending events. If my husband disagrees with her she then threatens to not be a part of his life. The thought of his daughter not visiting him makes him side with her and exclude me. She is 18 years old and has been doing this for 6 years and I really can't take it anymore."
A: In a stepfamily there are many factors that affect the overall happiness of the family. One of the most influential factors is the stepchild. This equation can become slightly more complicated when the stepchild turns 18 as we often see biological parents struggling with their child's new role as a young adult. In this case, it appears as though your stepdaughter is emotional blackmailing her father in an effort to alienate you. As an adult it may be harder for your husband to implement consequences for such behavior such as taking away privileges. Here, the stepdaughter has donned the hat of disciplinarian as she threatens to remove herself from her father's life if he does not act in accordance with her wishes.
This is definitely a tough situation. On one hand your husband does not want to jeopardize his relationship with his daughter; on the other, though, he is jeopardizing his marriage. Given that this has been going on for the past six years begs me to wonder whether appropriate boundaries were ever implemented clearly identifying the adult relationship from the father-daughter one. It is common for children to want their parents reunited and their stepparent ousted from the equation. To help combat this, the stepparent's role in the family needs to be communicated as one that is permanent. As another adult in the family, the stepchildren are to be taught that this person is to be respected just as we teach them to respect others. Respect does not equal compatibility; thus, it is okay for a stepchild to not like his or her stepparent, but respectful behavior towards this individual is a must. Not demanding such behavior places the child in an authority role within the family and displaces the stepparent.
The use of threats and emotional blackmail is unacceptable. Your husband has a tough decision to make; either he continues to place his marriage at risk or he stands up for his relationship with you and risks alienating himself from his daughter. In confronting his daughter he will need to communicate his continued love for her, in addition to the fact that you are his wife and with that comes a certain degree of respect. We are unable to control others' behaviors, so your husband will have to place faith in his own actions in doing what he feels is right and understand that his daughter's response is that of her own choosing and thus is not his responsibility.
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Christina Roach, MA, NCC, DCC, is a Stepfamily Coach, National Certified Counselor and Distance Credentialed Counselor. She has received advanced clinical training from The Stepfamily Foundation, the National Stepfamily Resource Center, the Alabama Community Healthy Marriage Initiative and the Florida Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. As President and Founder of Success for Steps, she specializes in working with individuals, couples and families make their transition into, and lives within, ‘step’ successful.