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I have been with my wife for about six years. She has a daughter, currently age 11, from her first marriage who has lived with us during almost all of that time (sometimes stays with her father, but usually only on weekends, although recently she lived with him exclusively for about three months). My wife and I also have a daughter, who is four.

My stepdaughter is, and has always been, disinclined to help around the house or anything else that adults might tell her to do. I have always felt that it would be beneficial to set her up with a routine of basic chores, but my wife resisted this, and as she's the one in the home most of the day, any parenting plan that she isn't fully behind won't work.

On a daily basis, my wife and stepdaughter have interactions that look something like this:

  • Wife: Go take a shower and get ready so we can go out.
  • Stepdaughter: (pouts, stomps foot, doesn't go shower)
  • Wife: Go take a shower right now.
  • Stepdaughter: (either ignores her, or repeats previous behavior)

This might repeat itself a few more times, after which my wife starts yelling and may strike my stepdaughter. Stepdaughter is rather sensitive and will often start crying the moment my wife begins yelling at her. My wife becomes more upset at the crying, which exacerbates the yelling, and eventually one of them will storm out of the room.

When I'm present, I attempt to defuse things, both by trying to calm my wife, and reminding my stepdaughter to respect her mother and do the things she's supposed to do. This is only partially successful, and doesn't help them develop a functional relationship either.

My stepdaughter is definitely not showing the proper respect to my wife (or to me, although I don't directly ask her to do things all that much). She also fights with her sister regularly; that's not unusual, I'm sure, but the fact that she behaves like she's also four is a bit concerning. My wife is lacking in patience and doesn't want to establish the kind of structure that I think is needed here. How can I help our family build a better relationship so that my stepdaughter can do what she's told without excessive drama, and my wife can respond to issues in a more reasoned manner?

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    I strongly think that the focus should be on changing your wife's behaviour. If she yells and hits her daughter, your daughter is entirely correct to not respect her as this is not behaviour deserving of respect. At 11, she is old enough to understand that and act it out. – Erik Jul 17 '15 at 11:15
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With an issue like this, I will always recommend professional counseling. Unlike other communication problems, the problems you're experiencing have a direct effect on the emotional and mental health of your children.

A family therapist could help you learn to communicate with your wife about these manners, and how to handle her outbursts.

Right now, your daughter's behavior is really the side-issue. While your wife remains physically and verbally abusive, you're not likely to see any positive results in your daughter. Your daughters, both of them, are also learning that screaming, hitting, and throwing tantrums are ways to get what they want, which is not a positive lesson you want them to learn.

Your wife and daughter should also receive their own counseling. This will help your wife manage her anger and give her methods for properly handling her frustration. Your daughter can get help to make sure she realizes that she doesn't deserve the types of responses she's getting from her mother, and that it's not her fault her mother acts that way.

Counseling can also help your entire family unit learn how to communicate your desires and emotions with each other in a constructive manner.

I would love to recommend some immediate action, but your specific situation involves more details than we can or should be privy to. You need to come up with a way to communicate to your wife that you're absolutely not okay with the yelling or hitting, and a way to prevent or end those episodes (possibly by physically removing your daughter, if necessary). However, a trained professional may know a better way to do these things based on your unique family situation and history.

  • I agree completely on the need for counseling. Financially, it's not an option for us right now, unfortunately. Hopefully we'll be able to give it a try in future. – gp782 Jul 18 '15 at 10:36
  • @gn782 Many areas in the US have income-based or low cost counseling services. I hope something works out for you! – user11394 Jul 18 '15 at 15:11
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Step 1 is talking to your wife about her behavior towards your stepdaughter, but in the light of how you can help. If you set out to give your wife a lecture, she won't listen. If you seek her out to offer your support, then you'll get somewhere.

For example, with the shower situation, I see a conversation going something like this.

You - "Hey, I was thinking about that shower situation the other day. I'm wondering if there's something I can do to help prevent a situation like that in the future."

Wife - "No, that's just the way she is."

Y - "Yeah, maybe. But there's got to be something we can do. That's not the best situation, and there's got to be a way of doing something."

W - "If she would just listen, this wouldn't be a problem."

Y - "Maybe if we try something different, it will be more effective. Could I try something the next time we need her to take care of something?"

W - "Sure, but she won't listen."

Etc.

The idea is to get your wife to buy in to your participation in the parenting relationship with your stepdaughter. Once she buys in to you being involved, you'll have much greater leeway to affect change.

Once you get your wife's OK to be more involved with your step-daughter, now you can have a sit-down with the SD to talk about her behavior and expectations. Make sure she feels like she has a voice, and get to the root of her objections.


To avoid cluttering may main answer, I wanted to raise this objection separately: it seriously concerns me that your wife is striking her 11y/o daughter. That behavior at that age indicates a significant lack of communication between your wife and your daughter that is manifesting itself as an emotional outburst, rather than constrained authority.

However, raising that point directly with your wife at this point may undo any chance you have of becoming more involved in raising your SD. My strategy would be to focus on opening lines of communication, hopefully circumventing this problem without having to directly address it.

  • That hypothetical conversation bears a strong resemblance to the one we actually had. The trouble is us agreeing on a strategy that both of us will employ, since I have a great deal more patience to work with. You and I are of the same mind about the hitting as well, but previous efforts to address that have been unsuccessful. Maybe creating less situations that lend themselves to that reaction is possible. – gp782 Jul 18 '15 at 10:43

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