I am in a relationship with a man who has three children and we have had two ourselves – we have been together for 10 years. Our concern at the moment is his 14-year-old daughter. She is becoming more and more distant from her father (and our two children) but of more concern is the lack of respect and consideration for her father. He is a wonderful dad who takes an interest in everything that his kids do. If she is not with us for the weekend he always calls her and asks how her rowing training was and about the party she might be going to. Often if he leaves a message she will not return the call. She has also taken to organising sleepovers and making arrangements on the weekends she is due to spend with us without any consultation with her Dad. He is reluctant to pull her up on this as he’s worried it will drive her further away. He works hard to provide for her, she attends an elite private girls school and she doesn’t involve him at all – her mother and her mother’s boyfriend seem to be front and centre. I realise that teenagers need their own space but can you please offer any advice on how he can become more engaged in her world and help her to realise how much he loves and supports her?
This type of behavior – although difficult to manage – is extremely common for teenagers to go through when managing dual relationships with separated or divorced parents. The innocence of being a child of separated or divorced parents suddenly changes to a more in-depth understanding of issues about relationships, wrongdoings that may have occurred previously and a feeling of needing to support one or both parents. It sounds like part of what is going on is normal teenager ‘testing’ behavior and another part is a ‘pull’ that your step-daughter feels between her two parents. I’d suggest a few things.
Directly discuss this issue – not in a confronting way, but just saying that you understand how difficult it must be to ‘juggle’ two families and ask if there is anything you can do to help. It would also be helpful to discuss this with your stepdaughter’s mother. She will be able to address it when your stepdaughter is at her home – the best way to help is to have a united front from all parental figures.
Don’t be afraid to tell your stepdaughter how you feel – It can be hard not to make your teen feel guilty, but the aim is rather to let her know how much you value time with her and that you do get upset when you miss out on these times.
Schedule one-on-one time – I’m sure that you would prefer to spend time as a whole family, however it can be extremely beneficial for your teenager if she has one-one-one time with her dad doing something she enjoys. Eventually this will grow into time that you can all spend together as a family, but for the moment she needs to feel special rather than pulled between the two families.
Overall it sounds like you’re both doing a really great job by staying positive and inclusive. The above suggestions are just ‘tweaks’ that you may find help your family.
Stefanie Schwartz, Child and Adolescent Clinical Psychologist, www.groupworx.com.au
Our Ask an Expert Week panelists are all qualified professionals in their field. However, advice given on The Kids Are All Right website is not a substitute for direct, personal, professional counselling or psychological care, medical care and diagnosis.
12 Australian teen experts in one place, for one week,
answering parents’ questions, FREE
Ask an Expert Week, 25-29 November 2013