Q. Our daughter is 43 and has been divorced for five years. Since that time, she has had three boyfriends. Each one has been more undesirable and socially embarrassing than the one before. We are ready to cut our ties with her. Is there anything we can do?
A. There is little you can do to change your daughter’s taste in men. Forcing her to choose between her parents and the man she loves will invariably cause you to be on the losing end.
According to the website PsychCentral, there are several ways to manage your relationship with your daughter even if you disapprove of her romantic choice. The site offers the following tips:
• Tell her of your concerns once in a non-accusing manner. Do not dwell on her partner’s shortcomings.
• Do not use an ultimatum. Remember you are up against the powerful reinforcers of love and sex.
• Maybe you are wrong. Since she has had several undesirable men in the past, you may be assuming that she has made the wrong choice again. Get to know him. You could be surprised.
• Find at least one thing you like about him. Does he treat your daughter with respect? Is he responsible? Does he make your daughter happy?
• Even if tempted to begin an argument about something he has done, keep your mouth shut.
Possibly the best advice comes from the Guardian newspaper in Britain. The columnist advises parents to stop criticizing their daughter’s choice of romantic partners. She states that if a man is that bad, her girlfriends will be a more powerful force than you will ever be for giving him his walking papers. As a psychologist, I can attest to the accuracy of this statement.
Q. I remarried six months ago. I love my husband, but I don’t like my 13-year-old stepdaughter. I have tried everything to befriend her, but she gets nastier by the day and doesn’t do anything I ask her. I am so frustrated. What can I do?
A. If your stepdaughter is treating you disrespectfully, your husband, as her father, should be disciplining his daughter. Remember you are not her parent, and you are new to the family unit. Remind your husband that the problems with your stepdaughter may not be serious to him, but they are to you.
Possibly there are some changes you could make that would improve your relationship with her. First, be patient. Remember, in her mind, you have likely replaced her mother. Since you have recently become a blended family, your stepdaughter may need time to adjust to you, and you may need time to adjust to her.
Second, encourage your husband to speak to his daughter about her attitude toward you. She must understand that she has to obey the rules that you and your husband have established. She may not like this, but always remember that she is the child and you are the adult.
Third, remember you are not her friend. Stepmothers often attempt to over-compensate so that the child will like them. Many children are aware of this, and will use manipulative techniques. Don’t fall for that.
Fourth, it is important that you and your husband model an environment of respect toward your stepdaughter and each other. Additionally, at no time should either of you bad-mouth her mother or comment on her mother’s parenting methods.
I would suggest that you read “Becoming a Stepfamily: Patterns of Development in Remarried Families” by Patricia Papernow. The book covers the early, middle and late stages of being a step-parent. Since you are now in the early stages, you will find the book helpful in navigating the years to come.
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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City. She teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. E-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or send them to Dr. Ryburn, SEARK, 1900Hazel Street, Pine Bluff, AR 71603. The questions could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all correspondence remains confidential.