Dear Your Teen:
A few months ago, my 13-year-old stepdaughter decided she wanted to come live with my husband and me. She wasn’t getting along with her mom, so we agreed to move her and transfer schools. Everything was great until her mom came to visit for the weekend. While she was here, my stepdaughter told her mom how miserable she is here, something that we never heard from her.
Ever since then, she is disrespecting her father, has a horrible attitude toward him, and will barely even speak to him. Her mother refuses to work with us and refuses to see that her daughter has ever done any wrong. My stepdaughter will never apologize for any mistake or show any accountability. It’s always someone else’s fault and she can’t understand why we feel the way we do.
I had a heart-to-heart with my stepdaughter because we have a good relationship. She expressed to me that she doesn’t want to live here anymore because we parent very differently from her mother. She wanted to live here because she always had fun when her dad would visit. Now, it isn’t what she thought it would be and she just wants to leave. She says that if she stays here, it will completely destroy any relationship she could have with her father. If we let her go back, there are a lot of things we would need to do. I’m conflicted and not sure what to do. Can a child decide which parent to live with? Should she?
My heart goes out to you and to everyone involved because there is no perfect solution to this complicated problem. Your stepdaughter was very clear about what she had hoped for when she moved in with you and her father. She hoped things would be more fun at your home. Unfortunately, raising a teen is more than about creating fun. It is also about setting limits and expectations and keeping your teen safe.
It is a shame that things deteriorated rapidly after your stepdaughter’s biological mom came to visit. It is an even greater shame that her mother is unwilling to work as a team. It is my guess that your stepdaughter is dealing with loyalty issues. Perhaps she feels forced to choose between her mother and you and your husband. This is not uncommon.
Can A Child Decide Who To Live With? Listen, But Set Limits
I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that you allow your stepdaughter to return to her mother’s home. While you imply that that solution is fraught with difficulties, it seems that this is what your stepdaughter needs to do at this point. You should let the child choose which parent to live with. If this is what you and your husband decide, then please make it clear to the 13-year-old that she cannot play musical homes. When she becomes unhappy with the rules at one home, she can’t pack up and move to another home.
You sound very loving and I really admire that. Please let your stepdaughter know that you will not be angry with her if she moves out of your home. It is never a good idea to cut off a child. I am sure that you already know that. It would be wonderful if your stepdaughter continues to visit with you and your husband if and when she moves back to her mother’s house.
Good luck with this process and please don’t feel like a failure. You are very invested in this process and my hope is that things will become easier as your stepdaughter gets older and more mature. It will likely be a bumpy road, but please stay the course.
Dr. Barbara Greenberg is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of teens, children, and families. She is the co-author of Teenage As A Second Language.