DEAR AMY: I’ve been with my fiance for almost three years. He has three children. His daughter, “Carrie,” 11, has always been more difficult than his sons. We were developing a close bond when I first met them years ago. We did “girly” things together. This was at a time when her mom was not very involved in her life. My fiance and his ex had a very bitter split. Carrie’s mother constantly undermines their father to the children. Now that her mother is fully in the picture, I find a lot of similarities between their personalities, and it is driving a wedge between Carrie and me. I understand the need for Carrie to bond with her mother, especially after a couple of years of absence after the breakup. Her personality is loud, critical and, at times, she’s a bully to her brothers and her father. Nothing is her fault, she gets special treatment and has no sense of responsibility. I know that when she is at her mother’s, she gets treated like a princess. Her brothers have told me, and I’ve seen the coddling firsthand. Amy, I’m an educator, and I’ve seen how bad things can get if she continues down this path. Carrie’s mom has refused therapy for her and is not open to discussing parenting. I’m scared that if we continue to set boundaries over at our house, when she gets older she will choose to live with her mother because she gets her way over there. My fiance and I don’t know what else to do that doesn’t require outside help. Any suggestions?
DEAR WORRIED: Don’t compare your stepdaughter’s negative traits to her mother’s, especially in her (or her brothers’) presence. Children in high-conflict divorces face extreme challenges. It is as if she is carrying water for her mother between households. Also, she’s 11 (a tough and tender age).
If her brothers complain about her when they are at their mother’s, listen without criticizing. Your job is to parent all of them when they are with you. Her father should take the lead.
There are aspects of being bold and bossy that will serve this girl well as she charges into the future, but you need to try to channel her energy in positive ways. Sports, drama and scouting would all be positive influences for her.
Therapy would help — she should have a safe space to talk about what’s going on in her life.
You must set boundaries in your household. Sibling scuffles are inevitable, but bullying is a nonnegotiable “no.”
Love her fiercely now, even when she is testing you, and do your very best to let her know that you are on her side, without letting her control you.
Read “Putting Children First: Proven Parenting Strategies for Helping Children Thrive Through Divorce,” by JoAnne Pedro-Carroll (2010, Avery).
DEAR AMY: I dated a girl a couple years ago, who I honestly thought was the one. She was always reluctant to be serious, and we broke up about five times over the year or so we dated. Our final breakup hit me really hard. It took me another year to get over her. I attempted to reconnect with her on Facebook before she began law school. I tried to show her that I had changed a lot. I gave her my number and told her to contact me if she needed help with school. About a month after that, she texted me, asking for help with an assignment. I gave her some cursory advice and asked her if she’d like to talk on the phone, but she never responded. Then I blocked her from Facebook. About eight months later I unblocked her and randomly, she added me. This was about four days ago. She liked a few of my older posts but hasn’t actually reached out for a conversation. What should I do?
DEAR ROMANTIC: Draw a chart of your relationship. Note the tempestuous, dramatic through line. And do nothing. She knows you’re eager to renew your relationship. At some point she will probably reach out and restore your hopes, only to yank out the relationship’s rug again.
DEAR AMY: “Worried” described concern over the condition of her husband’s 94-year-old grandmother, “Jenny.” While I agreed with your advice to try harder to be helpful, you left out one important component: Worried’s husband is this woman’s grandson. He should step up, too!
DEAR ALSO: Absolutely. Thank you.