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Ask The Expert: Should We Give Up Custody of My Stepdaughter?

Dear Your Teen,

My husband and I have been married for a few years and he has custody of his 15-year-old daughter. She barely graduated middle school this summer. When she was in 7th grade and 8th grade, we were always getting calls from the school about her cutting classes and she would try to lie about it. Then we found out she was being sexually active.

We told her that she has to live with her mom, but since she has been “complying” with rules of the home, my husband seems to be overlooking how I feel about her behavior for the past two years she’s been with us. My marriage almost fell apart because of her.

My stepdaughter’s mother isn’t very stable. She also just moved to very bad neighborhood with her two other children. My husband feels his daughter should continue to live with us, but I just don’t want her living with us anymore. She spent time with her mom this summer and told us she has changed, but then she outright disrespected all of our rules.

She doesn’t have a close relationship with her father and I don’t know how to tell my husband she just has to go. I’m really unhappy with her behavior and how she treated her father and me. I just don’t think 2 months of good behavior should dictate if she should still be with us. My husband and I have our own baby, I have an 11-year-old child, and I also have lupus. It’s a lot to deal with. Should I tell him she has to go?

EXPERT | Dr. Barbara Greenberg

Dear Mother,

I am delighted that you reached out. You sure do have a lot on your plate. I am very impressed with all of your good intentions. I can tell how much you want to do the right thing for everyone. Everything, however, seems to be falling on your shoulders at this point and I am concerned about how this may be impacting your physical and mental health.

You state that your husband has custody of his daughter but that he and his daughter are not close. That concerns me. In addition, the child’s mother is unstable so their relationship is probably problematic as well. As you are probably already aware, your stepdaughter is very lucky to have you in her life.

When kids act out, they are trying to communicate to the adults in their lives.

The message is that they need help because they don’t have the skills to make good and safe choices on their own. Does this make sense to you? I think that it would be wonderful if your stepdaughter begins to talk about what is troubling her.

Craving Consistency

I do not think that sending her to her mother’s home is the answer. An unstable situation in an unsafe environment is not the answer.

I would love to see you and your husband work together and set up a list of rules and expectations for your stepdaughter. She should be involved in setting up the expectations and the consequences. Kids are more likely to follow guidelines if they have a hand in creating them. I don’t think it is a good idea for one of the consequences to be sending her to her mother’s home.

This child is clearly craving consistency as all children do. If it is too difficult to set up rules and expectations with your husband and stepdaughter, then I would love for you to consider going to see a family therapist who specializes in working with adolescent and parenting issues. I think that this would be so helpful.

Please make sure that you take care of yourself. Make some time for yourself if possible. I know that that is easier said than done but it is crucial for you to remain healthy. Good luck and please share your continued experiences. We are all rooting for you and your family.

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. She writes and consults for several publications and frequently appears on TV. You can find her work on her website

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