Advice-on-Step-parenting, Parenting Advice from the Archives of ASK DR. J
#1 - DORIS
Dear Dr. J.
I have a 4 yr old daughter who, I hate to say it but is out of control. For the past 2 yrs I have tried every suggested approach to disciplining and nothing works. Time outs, spanking, taking away privileges etc. have no effect on good behavior. She is a very loving, caring girl but she thinks she can do whatever and whenever she wants. I've even spoken to my husband to watch my other 2 children for a couple of hours on the weekends so I could take her and spend some one on one time as a special treat for behaving well and that hasn't seemed to work either.
When I try to talk to other family members for suggestions on what to do, they think I'm crazy because she is very well behaved when other people are around. They think I'm too hard on her as well as too soft. I love my daughter and I want us to maintain a friendship as well as the mother daughter relationship it should be. I don't like fighting with her as it winds up being in the end because she destroys my house as well as occasionally hitting her siblings. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated so my 3 yr old doesn't pick up on her bad behavior.
Your four year old is out of control because you are not consistent with your discipline. Hopefully, your daughter will have many friends in her life .....you are her mother, not her friend.
Your job is to be her parent which means you are to provide for her and guide her toward becoming the best person she can be. Young children need a lot of structure and consistency. The worst thing you can do is punish her one time and then give in to her demands the next.
The only discipline that you mentioned that doesn’t work is spanking. The others are
behavioral techniques that have proved effective time and time again if used
appropriately and consistently. It’s not the techniques that are the problem here, it’s you.
You need to figure out why it’s so important to you that your child like you and why
you can’t step up and give her the structure she needs. You are harming your child by
allowing her to run the show with bad behavior. You and your husband should be
working together on this, and if you need professional help, please get it.
#2 - JANETTE
Dear Dr. J.
You say that you just want “everything to be normal all the time”. If you mean
you would like things to be the same when dad is home as when he is away,
that is not a realistic expectation. The kids haven’t seen dad and he hasn’t
seen them, it’s the weekend, and hopefully they want to enjoy some fun time
together. If you mean you would like it if your husband had a more normal
work schedule, that is something that you two could sit down and discuss.
Sometimes it just takes careful planning and some sacrifices for a difficult
work situation to change. Work is important, but so is the family.
If every weekend you feel like you are “going crazy”, think about what it is
that is really bothering you. Are to trying to control everything and having
difficulty being flexible on the weekends? Are you resenting the fact that
you’re always the “bad guy” and are the one who has most of
the responsibility of the kids? In other words, are you resenting the situation
that you are in with this work arrangement? Are you getting enough fun time
with the kids or is it all about the “routine”?
Once you have figured out exactly what is creating your frustration, you might
be able to make some changes within yourself to make things easier. After you have done some of your own internal work, sit down with your husband and tell him how
you feel. Don’t come across as blaming (In fact, use the Conflict Resolution
Model on the website). Find out what each of your priorities are for the weekend
and see if you can reach a compromise. You have been with the kids all week,
perhaps you could take a couple of hours away for yourself and let your husband
have alone time with the kids.
You should agree on the basic rules and consequences
for the kids (See Parenting on the website), but you each may have a different style
of parenting the kids, so it is okay to allow for these differences. It is very hard on a relationship to be away from one another so much. I know family time is precious on the weekends, but be sure to go out on a date together every other weekend to maintain your relationship. The marriage is the center of the family and it is very important to
have good communication with this difficult work schedule.
#3 - JULIE
Dear Dr. J
You acknowledged that your son and grandchildren may be suffering because of this, but my
guess is that it is very painful for the entire family. I'm not sure if you are seeing
your grandchildren or not....or if it is just that they cannot visit at your home. In any
case, it is inexcusable for your son and daughter-in-law to take this kind of stand. It
is never right to use children in a power struggle between adults.
Now, whatever you've been trying up to now hasn't worked, and I don't know what you've tried.
Right away, I assume you tried to reach some kind of compromise about the cat and the
granddaughter's allergies. And with this compromise, I hope you focused on what you have
control over....your cat. I'm assuming attempts at this level failed. Your daughter-in-law may be dead
wrong in what she's doing, but focusing on what she should be doing differently has
Here's the thing, grandma. You have to do whatever it takes to resolve this conflict with
your daughter-in-law. For the sake of the children, you have to take the high road and drop
your end of the rope in this tug of war. If there is a grandpa, I suggest the two of you
meet with your son and daughter-in-law as soon as possible. You don't want another holiday to go by
with this thorn in your family's side.
The bottom line is you can only control yourself and your actions and reactions. Make sure
you and your husband talk together before you meet with them and make sure you are clear on
your joint strategy...."We'll do anything to make this better". I've had couples in therapy who
completely cut the grandparents out of their lives because the grandparents made some small
transgression. The power struggle began and it excalated to a point where two children
were deprived of their grandparents, and a mother and father lost their son (or daughter).
You've already experienced enough pain with this, don't let it go on any longer if you can
#4 - RENEE
Now, you don't say what kind of relationship you have with her or how the family system
works with her living with her mother. But, you do say that you don't see that much of her
now. Obviously to me, you care about her or you would not be writing for advice. But,
I wonder what kind of relationship she has with her dad. Teenagers don't listen to people
who haven't invested their time, attention, and caring in the relationship. And sometimes,
even then, they don't listen. Adolescents are tough on parents who they
believe "don't care" about them. Because of the developmental stage they are in,
adolescents are hypervigilent about perceived hypocracy and inadequacy from those in
authority. It's part of their job to find fault with, question, and separate from the adults
their life. That's why noncustodial parents, especially, need to go
past the half-way point to stay connected to their children. By the time children are
teenagers, they will be suspicious and challenge you. I comment on her father's relationship
with her because you cannot make up for that, nor can you make a better relationship happen between
This 17-year-old is lucky because she has adults who care about her. So, let's concentrate
on what influence you can have with her. Depending on how she feels about her dad which
could influence how she feels about you, your best last chance on this school situation is
to sit down with her as a friend and see what's going on with her. But, you have to have a
relationship with her in order to have any influence. It would be a mistake
to wait until she gets into trouble to try and connect. If, by chance, you do not have
a relationship with her, I really doubt that you can provide any motivation at all regarding
this school thing. What you could do, is use this as a wakeup call to try to reconnect
with her as a friend.
If you do have a relationship with her, great! First you have to let go of your own
expectations about what you think she should do. When you meet with her, listen a lot.
Of course, be sure to tell her all the good things you like about her and how
much you care. Ask her what you can do to help her achieve her goals (whatever she
says they are). Offer to be a support person, but don't try to take the lead. If
she does ask your opinion, that's your cue to give it! If you think she should finish
high school, say so. But, as you can see, you need to lay the ground work before you
jump in with advice. With a teenager, you just don't have the power to impact her life
right now unless she invites you to. Stay direct and honest, don't talk about her
relationships with any of the other players, namely, her mom and dad. As the step mother,
you probably do not have the direct authority to make decisions regarding your step daughter.
Actually,at 17, her parents can't MAKE HER do anything either. On the positive side, you
can be an important adult in her life...as a friend. If you two can strengthen a friendship,
you can give her guidance through that relationship. If she is unwilling to reach out to you
at this point, keep trying. But don't take this on as a parental responsibility. This
responsibility belongs to her mother and father. I'd like to see her invest in a positive
relationship with you because she can really benefit from it, but it's really up to her.
I am a 22 year old college student, and my boyfriend is 28. We’ve been together for about a year and a half. He has a 6 year old daughter from a previous relationship. I’ll refer to her as “H”. She lives with her mother, and we have her every other weekend as well as once a week. His daughter and I have a wonderful relationship, and “H” has a wonderful relationship with her father, and my boyfriend and I have a healthy relationship as well.
However, I have several concerns about his daughter’s emotional well-being due to the stressful tensions between my boyfriend and her mother. Her mother is manipulative and tries to alienate her from my boyfriend and I. After we’ve had our visitation with “H” and it’s time to go home to “Mommy’s”, “H” starts crying and gets very upset. It’s very difficult for everyone because we hate to see her go, there never seems to be enough time to spend together. Her mother will go as far as to throw away “H’s” homework that she and I have done together and then make “H” do it over because “Mommy doesn’t like me” or “I’m not supposed to sign the homework.” I know that the most I can probably do to help the situation is to just ensure that “H” has a good time when she’s with us, and make the best of it.
Is there anything that my boyfriend can do to try and hinder her mother’s behavior? I feel like the situation is out of control and out of our hands because it all occurs when she is at her mother’s house. I feel like her mother doesn’t see the big picture and that her anger and resentment towards my boyfriend is hurting “H” and only making the whole situation more stressful and harder on everyone involved. I think it would help for them to see a counselor or a mediator, but I’m afraid it is highly unlikely that all parties would participate.
My parents divorced when I was 12, and it kills me to see “H” going through a similar situation. Where should I stand when it comes to these issues. I certainly have my own opinions about it, but I know that it’s not my responsibility to resolve the issues at hand. My boyfriend doesn’t want to deal with “H’s” mother at all because it doesn’t get anywhere, and I’ve never met her in person or spoken to her. She puts “H” directly in the middle of her and my boyfriend. What is the best way to handle this situation? And is there any advice you cold offer in terms of how my boyfriends should deal with her mother? Any advice would be much appreciated! Thank you,
You have good insight....there is nothing you can do about this situation except to maintain a good relationship with your boyfriend’s daughter. Don’t underestimate the power of this relationship. You can provide love and care while she’s with you and your boyfriend. Of course, he should be the primary parent because only he can provide her with a father’s love. What you can do is try to take a look at your old issues around your parents divorce so you do not project your unresolved feeling and issues onto “H”
We know that the single most important factor in a child’s adjustment to a divorce is the ability of the divorcing parents to get along and put the child’s needs first. It always breaks my heart to hear of a selfish, immature, parent who doesn’t have a clue about how to focus on the needs of the child. There could be two sides to this story, but from what you’ve told me, H’s mother is not emotionally stable.
Now remember, you can’t get your boyfriend to do anything regarding this, but I hope you two have good communication where you could share your feelings and concerns with him. This doesn’t mean that you should constantly make comments about how he is handling the situation. You should sit down when H is not there and have discussions that result in understanding and a plan of how to handle the situation that you can both agree to. If you can’t do this, you need to work on your relationship with him.
It sounds like your boyfriend has a traditional custody arrangement for his daughter. Perhaps it would be possible for him to spend more time with his daughter by petitioning the court for joint custody or more visitation time. If the mother really is as unstable (enraged) as she sounds, he could also try to see what he can do to get her (and him too) into parenting classes through the court or a community agency. When a child’s wellbeing is at stake, it should not be a choice for mediation or counseling, it can be mandated by the court.
I’m a bit worried about your boyfriend’s response to your concerns. He does have a daughter and if it requires “dealing with” the mother, then that’s what he needs to do. It’s interesting that he’s not the one asking for advice here, you are. So, be sure you don’t enable him to be a passive participant in his daughter’s abuse. He needs to step up because he’s contributing to the problem. Oh, and don’t sign the child’s homework, have her father sign it. Why add fuel to the fire with somebody who is angry and resentful?