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A Bit About Myself

I am in my late 20's, and I am a fairly-new-mom. I have been married to my daughter's father for about a year now, but I have been around kids my entire life. I have always had many children in my family, I'm a godparent and I'm involved in the lives of all my friends' kids. I began working with young-children when I was in my early teens (babysitting, tutoring, etc.) and still do so to this day; in fact, I've always been described as having a type of "Snow White-effect" - in reference to the mutual love I share with all children (and animals). However, I am just now realizing that all of the above means SQUAT when it comes to being a parent/mother! :-/

A little family history

My daughter's birth-mother had began using drugs approx. a year after she gave birth; which caused her and my husband to split. They were never married so there was only a custody battle, in which he won, and shortly after she left the state. Then, around the beginning of last year, she returned pregnant and sober. My husband had been allowing our daughter to remain in the lives of her mother's family, and because of how much they were helping while he was at work, he continued to do so knowing this now meant she would be in the picture. Unfortunately, soon after she gave birth to her second child, she sadly began using drugs again; so this time WE left the state!

The present issue(s)

It was only this past July that we moved, and so this has been a very big transition for my daughter; in addition to being in a new environment, home, just starting school/kindergarten and being away from the only people she knows, now she is missing her birth-mother! :(

The only time I work is some weekdays, after I drop my daughter at school and until I pick her up; so, minus that time my daughter and I spend almost all of our time together, and I feel as though I'm practically a stay-at-home-mother; since she doesn't go to aftercare. I felt this would be the most ideal situation so that I could work closely with her on school and implementing new structure, and an overall new lifestyle for my whole family.

However, just lately my daughter has become very defiant, distracted, and troubled! This is at both home and now school too, where she just doesn't seem to care about anything but other kids and doing every thing she knows she's not supposed to! I have read, researched and studied everything on everything [discipline, keys to successful and happy children, etc.] NO MATTER WHAT I try to do differently not the slightest bit of anything changes!

She talks about her mom as if they did everything together, and we know that they did not. Then admitted to me that she makes up a lot of things or refers them to her mother (such as "oh, I have that at my moms" or "my mom told me that"), but she still does it. She has even destroyed property (things that cannot be fixed - like walls - while using things that she knows very well cause irreversible damage) and then admitted to her grandmother that she did it because she misses her mom!

Obviously we knew this would be a tough adjustment for her and she could probably benefit greatly from counseling, but I still can't help thinking and feeling like there's something I'M doing wrong or that she's missing and we can't provide! Like, I can implement all of the best things that the best books and research could possibly teach, tons of love, in addition to all that I've already known from my history with children her age (plus the fact that I am a woman), but still nothing will help!

Is it the "child-mother" factor that she's missing that's causing all of her behavioral issues? Am I not giving her the same kind of love/feeling/enough love? Will this pass without causing her long-term irreversible-damage? I feel so helpless and so much pain for her!

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    I can't provide any help but I have friends going through a similar thing with their adopted child. All I can say is keep going -- you clearly have the right heart and you clearly love your daughter. – David Boshton Dec 17 '14 at 9:31
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    As above it sounds as though you are doing everything you can to help the situation. Although you know you did what's best by leaving, she may see it that you and your husband "took her away" from her mum. I think some counseling will definitely help her come to terms with everything. It's a lot to take in, new place, new school, her mum's drug problem, not seeing her extended family etc. Good luck and keeping reminding yourself that you're doing the best you can withing the circumstances. – LauraJ Dec 17 '14 at 11:52
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    Thank you both very much for your support! :) I definitely needed a little confidence boost with the way I've beaten myself up over all of this -and trust me, I know it's not my fault. I do just love her a lot and want to save her from any & all pain, but I know that being strong & positive myself will help her immensely! ...I'm sure if I stay on the right path -as you've gave me the reassurance that I am- than I will find the right balance of it all in time ;) Thanks Again & Happy Holidays! – StepMom87 Dec 17 '14 at 17:17
  • A few details would be helpful: 1) How long have you consistently been using your discipline techniques, and which techniques are you using? Some techniques take longer to see significant results, or we may be able to suggest alternatives. 2) When she admits she does something because she misses her mom, are adults asking her leading questions such as "Did you do it because you miss your mom?" I ask the second one, because if adults in her life ask/suggest the behavior is because of the separation, then she may be using that as an (apparently) accepted excuse. – user11394 Dec 18 '14 at 1:01
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While my circumstances differ from yours, when I saw the age, my first thought was "oh no, it's the dreaded (and widely unknown) Five-Year-Old Fever!" I had a question on here last year about what my daughter's teacher named the Five-Year-Old Fever: LOTS of defiance, lying, tantrums, the works.

It took a while, but the stage eventually passed. And it honestly seems that nothing we did, besides constantly letting her know that we love her and nothing can change that, made a hill of beans' difference.

That said, your circumstances are complicated by the missing parent. (And btw, good for y'all for making your daughter's physical and emotional well-being tops!) As LauraJ suggested, if you can get some counseling to help her complete this transition, that would be ideal. If you can get some for YOURSELF, to help you offload this undeserved guilt you're carrying around (based on what you've told us, you're not doing anything wrong), that might also help: a calmer, more centered parent certainly won't hurt things.

From my position, you're already doing the best thing you personally can: loving your daughter, being there for her and listening to her concerns. FWIW, my daughter (who is now past this stage, thank FSM), still repeats back to me what I'd tell her in the midst of her tantrums: no matter what she does, no matter what she says, nothing can make me not love her.

  • Thanks SO much for all of your input & reassurance! I too feel that being the best "ME" I can be is important! I know that includes being calm & positive, but it's so hard to stop myself from always thinking about every little instance that has occurred in her short-life that may have a negative effect on her entire future, and also how it could have been avoided! We are looking into family & individual counseling for us all and I've began a journal in the mean-time; I made one for my daughter as well, in hopes that pretending to write something that makes sense will help a bit. – StepMom87 Dec 17 '14 at 17:08
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    @StepMom87 - Consider this: how much do you actually remember from when you were 5? Very likely, only bits and pieces, if anything. She's likely to forget most things going on right now when she gets older, and what will be instilled will be the constants in her life -- you, her father, and the love you guys have for her. – Shauna Dec 18 '14 at 21:59
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Is it the "child-mother" factor that she's missing that's causing ALL of her behavioral issues?

No one knows the answer to this question. It seems reasonable to assume the separation from mom is a contributor -- but then again, many 5-year-olds have behavior issues, not just children of separated parents, suggesting there might be more to your stepdaughter's behavior than separation from her mom. Be wary of anyone who tells you with certainty that "she's acting out because of ____."

Am I not giving her the same kind of love/feeling/enough love??

It is unrealistic to expect yourself to provide the same kind of love or feeling as her mother. You can be a great stepmom (and it sounds like you are) but even a 100% perfect stepmom is still not mom. Perhaps the key word here is acceptance.

Will this pass without causing her long-term irreversible-damage???

This is unknowable, also. Even whether "long-term irreversible damage" is possible could be debated. But several studies suggest that children tend to live up to high expectations -- or down to low expectations. So you must stop looking at your stepdaughter as someone at risk of "long-term irreversible damage" or otherwise potentially flawed. Instead, adjust your perspective so you see her as a healthy child who will grow into a happy, well-adjusted human being. This might be difficult -- essentially, you might have to brainwash yourself -- but it will be worth it. Your expectations, along with the examples you set as you live your life day to day, are probably your two most impactful tools to help your stepdaughter.

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Mothering/parenting is difficult under the best of circumstances. This is not one of the better circumstances.

There is something I don't understand, and that is why you moved to get away from your stepdaughter's mother/mother's family. Was the mother a dangerous person/abusive toward her daughter once she went back on drugs? You stated that her mother's family was welcome in your lives because they were helpful. What changed once the mother relapsed? Why was it in your daughter's best interests to remove her from her familiar surroundings?

This isn't about you, it's about your step-daughter and her desire for her mother. You might be the best of step-moms, and she will still want her mother to love her. That's my guess as to why she pretends her mother is better to her than she really has been.

It does sound, from your description, that she's acting out (especially as she told her grandmother that she does things because she misses her mom). Maybe it would help her to try to enlarge her emotional vocabulary, and to let her express herself (appropriately) without fear of consequences (including hurting you). If you blame yourself for her valid feelings, she will not feel like she can be honest.

If you have indeed read, researched and studied everything on everything, and no matter what you try, not the slightest bit of anything changes, then it's time for a therapist, not more advice. She needs a therapist, someone who can explore her feelings objectively. safely, and professionally. I don't know how your husband is handling this, but it sounds like you can benefit from a therapist's ministrations as well. You are placing an unreasonable burden on yourself. It would help both of you to understand what you can and can't do for your daughter, and how to do what you can do to help. You have said it yourself: "I can implement all of the best things... but STILL nothing will help!" Time now for you to have the help of a professional opinion.

One last little bit of advice: walls are not irreparable. Many good parents before you have needed to learn how to repair dents and holes in walls, and many more to come will do so. It is so much easier than repairing dents and holes in children. I wish all it took to bring children back to near perfect condition was some mesh, spackle, sandpaper and paint. But it's not that easy.

Please get some professional help that can be tailored specifically to the problems your step-daughter is experiencing, and how you can reasonably help.

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It sounds like you're starting from a humble, loving, and open place with her. Everything you mention sounds like a solid approach, as long as you're comfortable with how you're implementing it and you stick with it. One big rule of parenting that I'll pass on to you is that NO parenting technique is "good" if it doesn't fit what you can be comfortable with. Parenting is, in large part, the careful application of emotional tools to confounding situations. In any project, you try to use the ideal tool for the situation, but you also have to consider your ability to wield it. You want to use a hammer on a nail, but you also have to choose one you can pick up that is heavy enough to put that nail into that wood, you know?

That said, then, of the techniques you've tried and read about, find the one you like best. You may have ones that you like when it's just the two of you, and those may be ones that you and your husband can employ together, or maybe when it's all three, you have a different dynamic. (Because he's also a big part of this, obviously.) He should approve of your techniques, because you guys are partners and ideally, neither of you parents in a way that is disturbing to the other. But he does not have to adopt your techniques, because you're developing your own relationship with her.

Now, really, just keep at it. Kids take a long time to change. They're doing so much development (especially from 3-6, there's huge cognitive and emotional development going on), and you have to remember that you're parenting to create a successful adult over time, which is often but not always going to be in line with what your kid does in each moment.

A couple last things I'll say, in no particular order:

  • Tons of kids are going around sleep-deprived, especially once they begin school. It never hurts to just check the recommended amount of sleep for her age and make sure she's getting to bed early enough, as much as you're able.
  • School is big, hard work for kids, so she's working all her cognitive "muscles" all day. She's exercising willpower and self-restraint in new ways, she's intensely observing children's and adults' emotional interactions, and she's thinking and playing hard. A lot more of the time you spend with her is going to be when she's pretty dang worn out, mentally and physically.
  • Don't discount how much you're seeing her "difficult" side. Healthy kids tend to use up all their social graces on people outside their circle of most trusted people. Even adults they trust very much, like a beloved teacher, is going to get more of their patience and willpower than their parents and other parental figures, because parents are (ideally) the "safest". The behavior is hard and you're on the right track, but I'd encourage you to notice that she's expressing herself at her weakest with you, which implies a deep reassurance that you're a solid, safe, dependable presence in her life. That's pretty awesome. I think she loves you and you love her and you guys are going to do great.
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I myself am a step-parent to a 5 year old who's gone through some similar problems with her father, who comes and goes when it suits him. He hadn't done one thing for her and her mum when she was born. When she was four she asked to see him, so I contacted them as they thought it was me stopping them when in fact it was themselves. It lasted 2 weeks and those 2 weeks I was the one who dropped her off to them, then he choose drugs and drink over seeing his own blood.

Myself and my partner decided that from now on only people who are in her life stably will be a part of our lives. Kids don't take well to change at all, as in their heads it's not fair.

Maybe just try explaining things to her and being honest about her birth mummy. She will understand in her own way. We thought keeping the truth from our wee one would help, but in fact the truth was better than lies. Never lie on the reasons either, as she will never know who to believe or turn to. Keep doing the things you are doing but remember she's grieving for her mum. As much as she calls you mum and loves you, she's lashing out in anger, confusion, and upset.

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