Dear Dr. G.,
I hope that you can help me with this one. I am convinced that my stepdaughter of one year hates me. She is a lovely 17 year old girl, lovely to everyone but me, it seems. Her father and I got married one year ago after dating for three years. During the dating years I got along fine with her but after the marriage things seem to have gone down hill in a quick hurry. I have two kids from my first marriage who live with us. They are 6 and 11 and my stepdaughter gets along beautifully with them. My husband's daughter is an only child, lives with her mother, and spends every other weekend with us. This year she will be spending Thanksgiving and Christmas with us as her parents have arranged to alternate holidays each year.
What I would really like is to make the holidays happy for everyone. I am aware that it might take time for my stepdaughter to get used to me but I don't want this tension to destroy the holiday for all of us. Holidays are supposed to be a time of joy and celebration not tension and walking on eggshells.
Please help me make the holidays better for all of us. I'm sure that there are other stepmoms in this situation.
A Scared Stepmom
Dear Scared Stepmom,
You are right. You are in the good and plentiful company of thousands of other stepfamilies who are trying to negotiate the holidays as smoothly as possible. Unfortunately, there is no clear roadmap for blended families.
Being a parent of a teen is tricky enough. Add being a stepparent to that equation and you have an even trickier situation. During the holidays, teens are leaving homes and re-entering others. Parents too are trading kids, missing some, and re-uniting with others. So, the holidays are stressful for the biological parents, the kids, and the stepparents.
Nonetheless, stress and joy are not mutually exclusive. They can co-exist with some hard work. Here are my suggestions:
1. Set expectations for your teen daughter before her arrival and prior to departure.
2. Communicate calmly in all situations. Your patience will be far more appreciated than you may ever know.
3. You are in a very powerful position to be a positive role model for your stepdaughter. Exercise this powerful role.
4. Set up family traditions. Traditions help everyone relax and teens like everyone else thrive on consistency.
5. Resist the urge to talk negatively about the young woman's biological mom either in a subtle or overt manner.
And most importantly,
6. Be patient and respectful while riding the stepparent escalator. Your time and patience should yield great dividends.
Best of luck and happy holidays to all of you.