I've been with my other half for nearly 4 years and have been known to his now 8-year-old daughterfor a little longer than that. She has been aware of our relationship for around 3.5 years.

When we first moved in together, her behaviour was terrible (refusal to go to bed, to sleep in own bed, shouting and screaming at him all the time, very disrespectful, no manners and generally horrible to be around). He and her mother had been separated for around 2 years at that point, and her mother had been in another relationship with somebody the daughter gets on very well with for around 18 months. I read every book going and guided my other half through a lot of behavioural changes, to the point where her behaviour improved a lot. Things weren't perfect - not by any stretch - but generally I could cope with her and sometimes even enjoyed spending time with her.

However, her being nice is more of a brucy bonus than a regular thing and she's never loving towards her dad, which is hard to see, especially as he's such a lovely guy. The problem is, he doesn't know how to handle her and no amount of coaching or nagging or support from me has ever changed this. I've literally tried everything. I believe she's missing boundaries and / or consistency where he is concerned.

Recently she's been refusing to have baths, never washes her hands and wants to be as dirty and scruffy as she can. She's being a pain at bedtime again and is generally foul faced and rude when she's at our house - it's not enjoyable at all. I am 90% sure this isn't the case when she's at her mum's, but we don't have a good relationship with her and so there isn't any communication about behaviour between my other half and the ex.

We have a toddler of our own and another on the way, so I'm keen to get our household to be a harmonious one for all involved. I want my step daughter to enjoy her time with us and I want to enjoy spending time with her - I just dread her coming over and am constantly waiting for the fight to begin. I try to keep out of it when an argument starts, but I just can't help but jump in sometimes.

How do I provide my other half with the tools to handle her and how do I get my relationship with her to be a more positive one? Any suggestions or help will be gratefully received!

  • Have you pointed out to him that he is not being consistent? And have you told him that if her behavior is caused by his lack of consistency then the other kids are going to start behaving the same way? Besides that have you considered some couples counseling so you can get him to understand how unsupported you feel in parenting?
    – user7678
    Apr 5, 2016 at 14:46
  • Welcome to the site, and no, you haven't waffled at all. :) Apr 5, 2016 at 15:05
  • Yes I have talked to him until I'm blue in the face - his natural reaction just isn't the same as mine would be in heated situations. Haven't considered councelling - was hoping not to need that if possible! X
    – Just Me
    Apr 5, 2016 at 15:31
  • 1
    as a step parent myself, I have to say its the hardest possible thing to do. You don't say but is it (at least in part) because she feels insecure with your toddler and new arrival? My stepson went trough a very rocky patch when our "biological" child was born.I do agree he might need some reinforcement on boundaries, if he won't listen to you - its one thing that's really crucial.Kids have to know the limits adn that they will be enforced, or they turn into adults who won't accept boundaries. Feb 27, 2018 at 12:58

2 Answers 2


...we don't have a good relationship with her and so there isn't any communication about behaviour between my other half and the ex.

This is common enough, but not really in the best interests of the child.

Is there a possibility that she's picking up a bad attitude about her dad from her mother? If she is, then the choice is to either stick it out and try to improve things from your end (like you're doing now) or the two of them need to start talking - maybe even have a few sessions of therapy of some kind if necessary - to stop the harm being done to the relationship your step-daughter has with her dad.

Even if she's not picking up attitude from the mom, a discussion about the kind of boundaries that are being set at her mom's house and how they are enforced helps with consistency in her life; what works at home may work for you. It might help if she realizes that because the two are communicating, she can't expect to behave one way in one place and completely differently at another without some consequences.

Since her dad won't act on the guidance you've given him, maybe a third party - an expert - can be useful. This could mean books or, again, counseling. These services are much more common and available today than previously.

Setting boundaries can be very difficult for people who aren't used to them, either because they had no need to before, or it hasn't ever been modeled for them, but they are essential for healthy relationships throughout life. If your other half could read about boundaries, their importance, and how to set healthy ones, he might feel more confident in setting some with his daughter.

I presume you're already doing things when she visits that are interesting for her, so that she doesn't just see these visits as an interruption to her usually enjoyable routine. This doesn't mean bending over backwards or spending loads of money, but it does mean at time moving out of one's comfort zone to please her, even if she isn't immediately grateful. Otherwise she may feel if she raises enough of a fuss, she won't have to have these visits. Again, the parents working together on this - the mom reinforcing that no amount of bad behavior will get her out of the visits - helps.

Two final points.

It helps to pick your battles; handwashing is really rarely necessary except after going to the bathroom or before handling other people's food, etc. If she won't wash her hands to help you to make her favorite cookies, then let her know you won't make them alone. That's a reasonable consequence. Picking battles and respecting the feelings and decisions of a child when the consequences aren't grave kind of go hand in hand.

You can't change other people. It sounds like you've really tried to help your partner. If he really doesn't want to change, nothing you can say or do will make that happen. But you can set healthy boundaries for your relationship and yourself.

  • I would definitely agree with the concept of "consequences" rather than rewards / punishments. "You want to make cookies? Then you need to wash your hands." Engineer it so that it looks entirely logical and natural so that she isn't aware that she's being challenged. And don't relent - that shows that her obedience is optional, which is a Bad Thing.
    – Dave M
    Apr 6, 2016 at 11:36

You answered by yourself.

  1. Your husband (not “we”, as the relationship between him and his ex was THEIRS) doesn’t get along with his ex. So it’s likely that she talks trash about him and, of course, you with her daughter (ergo, she behaves like this because the’s taught to “hate” you).

  2. You have other children, she might feel ignored since one is younger and another one is about to arrive. And we all know how much attentions you have to give babies, but you have no idea how much attentions a child with separated parents needs.

  3. You are too concerned about this. I personally think you’d have to leave a little time her alone with her dad (I.e. tell him to take her for a walk, to a park or whatever). She has to feel loved by him in the first place. She has to feel important. She needs attentions. Not from you but from her dad. I understand you want her to be nice and you want a happy family but it’s not easy.

My advices:

  1. NEVER talk trash about her mom. EVER. I don’t care how much he (or you) hate her. Just don’t. It would be toxic both for you and your husband’s daughter. Even if her mother does, just don’t. If you’re talking about her when the girl is around say nice things so she’ll understand (maybe in a while) that you are good people. If you talk trash about her and she does as well you’ll never win, the girl lives with her, she’s more powerful. And of course, don’t ask the mother not to talk trash about you with her because she’d do it more and more just to have her hate you more.

  2. Instead of telling your husband, or whatever he is to you, how to behave with her, just tell him to spend time with her (as I mentioned before, going to the park is great but it could even be the grocery store or the movies or whatever but JUST THE TWO OF THEM). It’s very important she receives all the attentions and love she needs from her dad, maybe even make him spoil her sometimes, tell him to buy her a little present... just not always because, if so, she’ll only want things from him and everyone else surrounding her.

  3. If you want her to love you, or at least not to hate you, mind your own business. Don’t try to be her mom. Never try to replace her mom. She’ll hate you more and more, and eventually stop wanting to see her dad. Have your husband educate her, don’t try to do that in his place, remember you’re nobody to her. I know, I know, sometimes you’ll want to punch her or to scream at her but doing so will make her mad and if her father doesn’t defend her she’ll be mad at him as well.

I’ve been a little straightforward maybe, I know. I’m a broken home child as well and my dad has other children but loves me a lot so even if it was hard for everybody at first, now it’s nice. I love my parents (not really the step ones but we can’t have everything right?). (:

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