Two years ago, I met my husband. We are both in our 30s. He’s been married before. I have not been. He has a teen daughter from a relationship he had in college. The mother of the girl abandoned the girl and him under rather still-confusing to me circumstances when the girl was 2. The girl has not seen or had her mother in her life since then.

He then fluctuated through a bevy of relationships until 2008, when he met his now-ex-wife. The ex-wife and her parents effectively adopted the girl (legally wasn’t possible for various inter-state laws). The new family had the means and interest to have the girl diagnosed with ADHD and RAD. My husband’s marriage with his ex-wife collapsed due to, predominantly, her infidelity. Once separated, the girl came to split time between her dad and her step-grandmother (and no, not her stepmother).

Fast-forward 3 years since his divorce — he meets me. I am a survivor of rather extreme abuse. Otherwise—well-adjusted, eccentric, children-loving educator. Almost one year into our relationship, I met his daughter. She seemed enchanting but I knew very well of her problems — deliberate urination (not caused by neuro or physical problems), refusal to comply with norms, and an aloof persona with most anyone. But she was enchanting with me when we met.

Approximately 6 months after we met, I moved in with them — him and his daughter. Very quickly, I discovered the relationship between them was toxic — constant fighting, yelling, arguing over simplest things (like getting her to pick up anything after herself). I established a rule of no yelling and yes to picking up and being civil.

Initially, the girl mixed compliance with horrific bouts of anger outbursts at me — she would snarl or yell or cry tempestously when asked to do basic things. Keep in mind, I never yelled or raised my voice with her. In between the tempests, she did improve dramatically and showed me quite a bit of affection — that is, in between the bouts of drama.

My husband, with my insistence, toned down his own proclivity for anger and a lot of surprising peace was established.

To get closer to my question — in all the time that I was doing what I did, I was not declared or recognized or defined as anything in the house beyond a “fiancée” and, later, “wife.” That is, no one — including the girl’s therapist — specified my role in the household. I never gave it much thought either but, in practice, behaved maternally.

About a month ago, the tempests from the girl resumed, and, during one, she told me she doesn’t want me to be her mother or to behave like one or to do any of the things I have done so far in the home, such as requesting chores of the girl and such.

I was stunned. Hurt. And I stopped. Since then, things between me and my husband’s daughter have rapidly deteriorated. She has become more rude and dismissive of me — almost as much as when I first moved in. Ironically, she hasn’t lapsed back into toxicity with her father.

What do I do?

Btw., for anyone curious, my husband’s ex-wife does not have any active role in the girl’s life. She does get referred by the girl as “mom.”

Does anyone have ideas on how to be a second maternal presence to a RAD teen?

  • Does she receive treatment for the RAD and the ADHD?
    – user20343
    Jun 11, 2018 at 21:27
  • She does for both w two mental health professionals.
    – Mata Hari
    Jun 22, 2018 at 17:04

1 Answer 1


It sounds like at some level, she still perceives you as an intruder. And that probably combines with the typical teenaged resentment of having someone else in control of any aspect of their life.

At 15, she's old enough to have a grown-up conversation about emotions, expectations and relationships.

So sit down with her, ideally in a relaxing atmosphere and when she's in a good mood. And talk. Talk with her, not to her (which means: listen to her as much as you talk). It's essential that she feels her concerns are taken seriously and her participation is not forced in any way. And together, try to answer some questions:

  • If she doesn't want you to be a mother to her (which is a feeling you have to respect - any change in that is something you'll have to earn), then what are you to her? Rival? Roommate? Friend? And why?
  • What are the rules of the household? She dislikes you making rules, so try to discuss and establish them as something all three of you can agree on because they benefit everyone.
  • What are your goals and hers? Where do they overlap or conflict? How can the conflicts be resolved?

I'm not sure whether it would be beneficial to include your husband in the discussion because it might maker her feel you're ganging up on her. Maybe separate the rules discussion from the rest, because that affects all three of you while the other topics are about the relationship between you and the girl.

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