It is indeed a delicate situation you and your family are going
through, and I find very courageous and sensible of you to try all of
the resources at your hand in search for an appropriate solution
toward a happy family life. One thing I?d like to tell you from the
very beginning is that working sensibly on it, many people have been
able to overcome this kind of situation. There are no magic formulas,
and certainly no overnight solutions. It takes a deep commitment
involving love and mind to work such things out. And it takes time,
thus requires patience.
You are aware that neither this answer nor any other can be taken as a
substitute for professional advice of any kind, so the scope of the
help you can get from it is just an input to help you think of the
possible ways for a concrete solution in actual life. Even though the
thoughts I?ll share with you come from my training and experience at
work with families and children?as well as from my personal
life?they?re always other children, other families, other lives than
your personal case. On the other hand, professional advice would need
a concrete, direct rapport with the people involved, what is not
possible here. Conversely, the counseling you?re attending to does
have this direct contact, and you may be reassured of the decision
you?ve taken by asking for that kind of help.
Apart from that, I assume that your question is not a matter of web
searching, but of serious thinking to add to your own.
That said, I?ll try to do my best to be as helpful as can be within
the mentioned reasonable boundaries, to assist you in your search for
a comforting solution.
The first I could tell you is that?in the whole picture?
what is happening is not surprising. Given what your stepdaughter has
been through according to your tale, a so-called ?correct? behavior
would actually be surprising. This should not increase your worries
about the problem, but give you a different?and in a way
hopeful?perspective for the situation. There?s coherence for what is
happening, and understanding its dynamic may lead to a way out.
You?re probably in the right track when attributing the origin of your
stepdaughter?s behavior to the very difficult relationship you
described that she has with her mother and the traumatic divorce, as
much as the problems in the parent?s couple that led to that divorce.
Now, the questions are: Why are the troubles occurring in the present
situation, when everything seems ready for a happy family life? Why if
in the beginning everything seemed so pleasant between she and you and
your daughters, later things showed such an awkward aspect?
The accurate hypotheses for this particular case, the counselor you
are seeing is the one in the position to think of. However, may I
suggest a few that would fit a pattern for situations of the same
If your stepdaughter is acting aggressively and showing herself uneasy
as you describe, does not necessarily mean that she doesn?t love you
or her stepsisters, or that she doesn?t deeply wish?the same as you
do?to enjoy the new situation. The problem could be a comprehensible
ambivalence of her feelings. The current situation can be felt by her
as an opportunity to a present and a future more enjoyable than her
past, but at the same time may be the patent expression of the failure
of her original family. She may, for example, without even realizing,
long that her own mother had been as you are with your daughters and
even with her. If she happens to feel the desire that you had actually
had been her own mother instead of her biological one, the underlying
guilty feelings may very well lead to aggressive attitudes against
you, her father or the whole family group.
She is a kid, so a big part of her inner world is made of fantasy. As
a matter of fact, all human beings?adults included?have a big deal of
fantasy in the internal world. For kids, the line between fantasy and
the real is more diffused. If she says that ?she wants her life to go
back to being ?normal?", that ?normal? may be an idealization of her
past family life. Without actually ignoring how that life really was,
she may compose a landscape of good moments?even if those were few,
there probably were?leaving in the mist all the rest, and believe for
a moment that a family as-good-as-this-one-could-be was the one she
had with her mom and dad.
This could be why?even though the roots of her discomfort may probably
lie on her relationship with her biological mother and the frustration
for the traumatic failure of her original family?the relationships
within the new family group have their part. You sound truly
reasonable when you say that the conflicts are ?a symptom, but not the
cause?. Still, the scenario where they develop according to your tale
is the new family. Thus, this would be the ambiance in which the
necessary adaptations should take place. And if that is the case,
probably each member has a role, and each one may have to adapt. There
might be a risk of entering a circuit of mutual rejection?in which an
unreal situation of the type ?your stepdaughter vs. all the rest?
could unnecessarily be established?and she doesn?t seem to be the one
in the best position to cut it off. On the other hand, there might be
a hopeful opportunity: If every member of the family?according to the
possibilities of maturity for each, what means that the adults would
have the greater responsibility?assume their commitment and play their
part, you all could be of great help for your stepdaughter to heal her
ancient wounds. Certainly, she?d have to play her part too, although
she?ll probably be the most resistant, so a big deal of patience and
encouraging environment would be needed. Now, do not think that there
was no truth in the good disposition toward you and your daughters she
showed in the beginning. That is very probably still there, but in
that case it may also be a paradoxically painful feeling.
Nevertheless, you might count on it to work things out.
I actually can?t tell what the counselor your stepdaughter is
attending has in mind when she refers to ?the dynamics of the
stepfamily?, but what I said above may be related to it. I think
you?re probably right if you?re willing to accept her proposal to
attend the counseling as an entire family-I find it quite likely that
it would help.
The deep, enduring solutions, wouldn?t probably be a matter of
punishment but understanding. Of course, wrong attitudes, even though
being understandable, need reasonable limits, but within a frame of
Finally, take in account that the family you?re lovingly trying to
build is really very new. Only three or four months have passed so
far, for a project probably intended for a lifetime. On the other
hand, the conflicts underlying in your stepdaughter?s present behavior
have been taking shape probably for years. You all have a major
challenge to deal with, beyond your present stepdaughter situation,
which is just a part of it, the part occurring right now. The whole
challenge is building a family. You have been wise enough to deal with
a divorce in very amiable terms, which are?unfortunately?not so often.
That has had its result in the adaptability of your daughters to
changes. This kid, your stepdaughter, has obviously not been so lucky.
You can feel legitimately proud of the wisdom for living you had in
the past. And for what you?ve said in your question, you seem to be
applying it in the present problems. Your desperation is
understandable, just don?t let it overwhelm you. You?and your
husband?seem to be taking the right steps. Just keep on the track. I
wish you the best.
If you find the thoughts I?ve offered to your consideration worthy of
further thinking or actions, may I suggest that you talk of them with
your counselor; she will probably know better what steps walk next.
Please feel free to ask for clarifications.