Ask Mary: My husband's teenage children act up with me when they come to stay, especially the daughter

Mary O'Rourke

I'm very happily married to a lovely man and we have a three-year-old son. He was married before and has two children from his previous marriage, a boy (14) and a girl (15). This was never an issue until recently, but I find as his children get older, they seem to be acting up more.

I find it particularly hard to deal with my stepdaughter. I know the situation is challenging, but when she stays with us she behaves like a spoilt witch. She is very sarcastic to me, and saves the worst barbs for when my husband is out of earshot.

I feel I have to bite my lip as I'm not her mother.

Recently, though, she's started getting at my son and I feel I have to take some kind of action. The problem is that my step-daughter is the apple of her father's eye and I'm afraid to criticise her in any way. Louise

Mary replies:

Be quite clear: you are the mistress in your own home with your husband and she should know this at her age

Let's look at the situation from your stepdaughter's point of view. She loves her dad. I don't know at what age your present husband broke up with his previous wife, but, whenever it was, it clearly had an effect on his two children – especially if they can still remember the happy times they all had together.

So perhaps they are carrying their resentment over into his new relationship and taking it out on you, who they see as a usurper.

The girl is going through puberty, a time when all of her emotions are in a heap, so it is somehow natural that she will take it out on you when she comes to stay. Of course, she will not be nasty to you in her dad's presence because she still loves him.

I would be quite calm but firm with her. It is wrong that she is getting at your son – he is very young to be engaged in verbal combat with her.

Of course she is the apple of her father's eye and you would be wrong to criticise her to him. He feels guilty, I am sure, from time to time anyway and is doing all he can by having them to stay and thinking that everything is going swimmingly, when clearly it is not. But that is something you must resolve and work through.

If she continues in her nastiness, have a heart-to-heart with her. Explain that you love her dad and your three-year-old son, and that you love her dad's son and daughter, too, because they are part of him. In that way, you feel that you want them to be part of your life.

But be quite clear: you are the mistress in your own home with your husband and she should know this quite well at her age. She may act up and continue to be moody and sullen when this is explained to her, but make it clear that you are in charge.

Avoid hysterics and guilt-inducing words when you converse with her.

The silent treatment of ignoring her barbs may work, but then again, if she is bent on making mischief, it may not.

Has your husband's previous wife remarried and is she happy again? Or is she somehow passing on her jealousy and rejection to her daughter, who, in turn, is taking it out on you?

If a calm, non-confrontational approach doesn't work, sit down and work through all of the issues with your stepdaughter.

Remember, she will not stay 15 forever and, as she works through puberty and becomes an older teenager, she will soon have an interest in the opposite sex and all of the other teenage issues to occupy her.

My belief is that baiting her stepmother will not remain her main preoccupation.

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