Help! My Husband’s Teenage Daughter Says She Hates My Young Sons

I recently married a man I'd been dating for about a year. I brought two young boys (ages 3 and 5) into the marriage, while he brought a 13-year-old girl. The problem is that my boys and his daughter do not get along. At all, not even a little bit. They can't even seem to coexist, and the girl constantly uses abusive language when speaking to my sons. I'm concerned about the long-term mental health consequences of that. Goodness knows what she says when I'm not around. My husband is exasperated in his efforts to bring his daughter in line, but she's very defiant and won't listen to me at all (I'm usually the one at home dealing with it while he's at work). She says she hates me, and she definitely seems to hate my sons. Her mom, who lives four states away, doesn't want her living with her, so she's ours to manage. I do love her and want us to have a happy family, but I'm questioning whether that is even possible, and I'm running out of things to try. Any suggestions? Thank you! —One Big Unhappy Family
Dear One Big Unhappy Family,

Thanks for writing. The first thing I am going to strongly urge you to do is get your family in to work with a family therapist who specializes in blended families. Many of the issues you are experiencing are actually quite common in families in which members are trying to adjust to newly formed relationships. Of course, every family situation is unique, but the stresses you are experiencing and the questions you are asking are quite natural given your circumstances.

I don’t have a quick fix for you, but I do have some recommendations. First, it may help to shift the way you are interpreting the issues. It seems as if your stepdaughter is the identified “problem”—and that if she could just change (or go away), everything would be great. I guarantee that she feels that energy, and she will likely become increasingly angry, isolated, and resistant. If you can, instead, view the dynamics in your family as a family transition issue—as a set of concerns for everyone to be working through together while you learn how to be a family. That will go a long way to reduce anger and frustration all around.

Family transitions are hard and take time. All of this is relatively new, and you are all trying to find your way. Your stepdaughter may be harboring some hope that if it gets unpleasant enough, you will go away and things can go back to “normal.” Working on keeping her “in line” is not going to get at the heart of the issues. Finding a way to hear the fear, hurt, sadness, and loss that are underneath her behaviors is going to be important in finding a way forward.

I hear that you are frustrated and very concerned for your boys. I don’t want to diminish those feelings. In fact, I think you and your husband can work together with a professional on how to develop strategies and set some specific ground rules about acceptable behavior regarding your boys. Your stepdaughter may seem to hate your sons, but my hunch is that she hates what they represent—a change to her family and a threat to her relationship with her dad.

I would like to offer an additional perspective on what your stepdaughter may be experiencing. You mention that her mother does not want her to live with her. Therefore, assuming she is aware of this, she has already experienced a major parental rejection. I don’t know the circumstances behind it, but for a child to feel unwanted/rejected by a parent is devastating. You very likely represent a threat to her in ways she may not be able to express. One of her fears (hidden or not) may be that now that her dad has met and married you, he will reject her too. She may be intentionally, or even unintentionally, testing him to see if he will choose her over you. This is not a contest that anyone can win.

What you are trying to do is hard—taking two families and blending them into one is messy and complicated. If you get the support you need in working through these transitions, what ultimately emerges can be beautiful.

Best of luck!
Erika

Erika Myers
Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC is a licensed psychotherapist and former educator specializing in working with families in transition (often due to separation or divorce) as well as individuals seeking support with relationship issues, parenting, depression, anxiety, grief/loss/bereavement, and managing major life changes. Although her theoretical orientation is eclectic, she most frequently uses a person-centered, strengths-based approach and cognitive behavioral therapy in her practice.
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  • Claire

    Claire

    March 28th, 2014 at 2:50 PM

    I know that you have to be worried about the younger kids but I would be worried about this young girl as well. Think about when you were her age and how you would have felt if this would have been happening in your life. She is probably feeling unwanted and unloved and this is such a difficult period in her life anyway that I really do feel like she just needs a lot of love and attention and affection. That is not to say that you guys don’t need some family work too because I would not simply just ignore the words and the abusive behavior but at heart she is still just a kid with a lot of emotions that she probably has no idea how to handle and it is up to you and her dad to give her some ideas for how to handle some of that. I think that with the right guidance and some time she will get there.

  • Mark

    Mark

    March 28th, 2014 at 5:36 PM

    Tough love sounds like what might need to be in her future. Kids need boundaries, whether they know that this is what they need or not.

  • Deidre

    Deidre

    March 29th, 2014 at 5:13 AM

    Can I offer you a small bit of hope by saying that this was my own story at one point in my own life? I was this teenage daughter many years ago, and things will get better. I had a dad and a stepmom who believed in me (although I was so nasty at times that I am not sure how they didn’t send me off to reform school!). I always threatened to hurt the new siblings but it was all just a cry for help and they responded. They got us into family counseling together and after a few years of pretty intense work, and more than our share of screaming matches, we got it all worked out. We all made it out alive and are all very close now. I won’t say that the road ahead won’t be difficult, but if you can find a way to do the hard work and the family counseling it can get better.

  • Ryder

    Ryder

    March 30th, 2014 at 12:32 PM

    Well she is entitled to her opinions, yes? And you do understand that she is an adolescent with more than likely quite a bit of angst within her? Cut her a little slack, I can almost promise you that in time this too shall pass.

  • Abi

    Abi

    March 30th, 2014 at 4:34 PM

    Why does the real mom not want to live with the child?
    HOw could a mom turn her back on her kid?
    Knowing that her mom feels like this could be a huge part of why this young girl is acting out the way she is

  • travis

    travis

    March 31st, 2014 at 2:39 PM

    I am sorry but the world I live in has no teenage girl ever who has actually liked her younger brothers, so why should this one be any different especially given the circumstances? I am sure that in time things will continue to get a little better but I do think that you should give her some time to figure some things out on her own.

  • renn

    renn

    April 1st, 2014 at 3:54 AM

    I suppose that in this case, and in lots of others, hindsight is 20/20, but the truth is that you all probably should have engaged in some sort of family counseling together before blending this family together. The boys are fine because they are young and still pretty flexible. But this girl is at a very toght time in her life already and think about all the new things that are being thrown at her. New step mom, new brothers, new marriage, mom doesn’t want her, the list goes on and on. You have to see why she is having some problems? Surely you guys saw all of this before the wedding and chose to not do anything about it? Please decide to rethink that choice and decide to do something about it now.

  • Violet

    Violet

    April 2nd, 2014 at 9:58 AM

    I remember so clearly being this age and feeling like the whole world was against me. Do you think that part of what she is feeling could be something like this? Even if this isn’t true this could be how she feels and that is her world as she is experiencing it.

  • Gemma

    Gemma

    April 3rd, 2014 at 3:01 PM

    This is a cry for help if I have ever heard of one, that and some clear indication that this child needs some attention from you guys. She wants so badly to be noticed, and good attention or bad, it doesn’t matter, she is getting what she needs and she is getting that by being abusive toward the younger step siblings. Either you are going to feed into that and give her what she wants and she will keep up with that behavior or you have to find another way to give her what she wants but by not allowing her to get away with the yucky behavior to get it.

  • ben

    ben

    April 3rd, 2014 at 5:21 PM

    Advice needed! OK so I live with my girlfriend, we have been together 3 years. She has a 12 year old boy and 6 year old girl from previous relationships. We have a 6 month old together. The problem is our parenting is far different. I tend to be the striker one were she’s very passive. She will tell the kids over and over and over as a example baby was sleeping after having rough day crying because of teething, her youngest was screaming in the same room. She told her she needed to use a quiet voice, then she loudly would tap her feet with high heel play shoes on and was told to stop, this went back in fourth being told to stop but to no listen. I would have told her to stop myself and she would have listened but more then likely would have cried for my “tone” so then my other halfwould be mad at me. Example to her oldest is little last puberty stage so he’s cocky angry all that stuff. He gets away with calling me a jerk and not listening as well because again my partner dosent like my way so I have stopped buy she dosent stick up for me. He will say all I do is yell. He can’t open a tubetware container without help. The other day he was asked by his mom because of my input to take the garbage out to the end of the driveway. After he went back and fourth into and out if the garage debating how to take the garbage out I just watched. Then he attempted to take out the cardboard. A box blew in the wind and he came back inside. I in a angerly manner said just forget it itd not that hard, ill take it out. Am I wrong? Lost don’t know where to go from here, need advice please

  • Gage

    Gage

    April 4th, 2014 at 3:59 PM

    Oh ben you and your girlfriend have got to get on the same page about parenting dude or this is never gonna work. The kids are figuring out pretty quickly that they can divide and conquer the two of you and this is not going to be a good situation for any of you. I am telling you you have to get this resolved quickly man, or this issue is only gonna fester.

  • Garland

    Garland

    April 17th, 2014 at 4:58 PM

    How would you feel if you knew that your mom didn’t want you around and your whole world was changed and you had little to no say so in the whole situation? No one ever asks their opinion and may not even seem to care about the things going on in her life and possibly the only way that she knows she can get attention is to act out. I would suggest taking it slow and trying to meet her needs the best you can- you will probably see a very quick turn around with just a little compassion thrown her way.

  • Sally

    Sally

    June 19th, 2015 at 3:38 AM

    I feel for the 13 year old girl. What a horrid place to be. She’s had no choice in any of this. A dad who’s got a new wife, and is exasperated, two young children taking much needed attention away, and a step Mum who clearly cares for her two kids more than her. And to top it off a Mum who is not around (is it really true she doesn’t want he daughter or is something else going on?). This is a sad sad post. Poor little girl, no wonder she is acting up. Yes, see a family councilor and find some empathy for this isolated, miserable child.

  • Shelly

    Shelly

    November 6th, 2019 at 7:10 AM

    I completely disagree with most of these comments above. I support the new wife. I am in the same situation and I had to leave my husband. Your husband should always put you number 1. Even in the bible it says to put your wife first before the children. She needs discipline and both of you to tell her your not going anywhere and her behavior will stop. This entire problem is your husbands not yours or the daughters. He needs to sit her down and tell her he loves you and her behavior had better change. He is the parent and needs to act like one. If he loves you he will help you and her. If he doesn’t get a divorce and worry about your own boys. You don’t need to subject them to another families issues. My husband and I are back together now. His 14 your old daughter lives with her mom full time now. He pays her $800 a month and visits her every 2 weeks. We do not blend any family together now. In your situation if the mom doesn’t want her own daughter that is a big red flag right there. Either he sides with you and helps or you need to divorce because you will always be miserable with this girl. Blended families are hard they are not easy! Take my advice and be strong. You should be number 1 to your husband and the children 2nd!

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