My stepdaughter tells people I’m mean

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Q: I am the step mom of a 6yo girl. I have been in her life since she was 1 yo. I have been married to her dad for 4 years now. I am 19 weeeks pregnant with mine and her dads 2nd child together now. My step daughter has now been forced to give up her room and share with our 3yo girl so the baby boy can have his own room. They do have seperate beds, however, it is a trundle bed, so we can push it back into hiding so they can have play room. Her mom has been remarried to the same man since before I was around and has a 4yo daughter with him. Her mom tried to foster 2 other little girls about 6 months ago and still keep up with my step daughter and her 4yo daughter. However, her mom told me she noticed both of her childrens behaviors get worse the longer the troubled foster children were in the home, and so she had to give them back after only a few months. Her mother doesn’t work and stays home all day with the girls, except now my stepd. is is school during the day. We have visitation every other weekend.

Over the past 4 months my stepd. has been telling her mom that I am mean to her and that she doesn’t want to come to our house. Her mom has her in “Play Therapy” now and is trying to get to the bottom of this.

She told her mom and the counselor that I told her mean things. Here are a few:
“Mommy told me that if I don’t start acting better, I won’t be allowed to have anything to do with the new baby.”
and
“Mommy said -You don’t like me and I don’t like you, but we have to deal with it”

I didn’t say either of those things.

We were on speakerphone when her mom told us that and she said “Here I’ll prove it” and ask her daughter/my stepd. on speaker phone. She said “What did you tell MS. Laura (AKA counselor) that mommy said to you about the new baby?” She said “I told her what mommy said. She said that I can’t hold the new baby when I’m standing up. I have to sit down to hold the baby.” Which proved right there that she is lying to someone. Her mom was in shock that that was what she said. We did tell her that. Her mom said well I understand that, but I don’t know why she told us the wrong thing before.

She also tells her mom that I am mean to her and that I spank her. I am not mean to her and we don’t spank her ever, but she does have a problem with listening to me and her real mom. So I do have to repeat myself many times to get her to pick up toys, etc. After I repeat myself 2-3 times, I have to stern my voice up and let her know that her actions are not ok. Then if she still doesn’t do what she is told, she gets time out and is then made to go back and do what she was told.

Her mom said when we drop her off, that she cries for 3 days not wanting to go back to our house. But my step daughter told me “Mommy when you drop me off, I go to my room and cry because I miss you”. Her mom said when we pick her up, that she hides in the closet and under the bed saying “Tell them I’m not here” She does cry a little bit when we get home, but we just figured it was because she naturally missed her mother.

I don’t get it. I don’t know what to do. I hate looking like a bad person when in our household, I am her mother figure, and I love her. Why is she acting one way at our house and the completely opposite at her moms and telling pure lies about me?? PLEASE HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

A: It might help you manage your feelings if you understood that she isn’t telling people lies. Sometimes she is telling them her fears. Sometimes she is telling people what she thinks they want to hear so they will love her. She is only 6 and she is trying to figure out her place in two complicated families. She is the only child going back and forth. Her half siblings each get to stay with one set of parents. Foster kids came and then, mysteriously to her, went. Does that mean she can disappear too? Even her literal “place” in your home is going away. I suspect that underneath the crying and story telling is a very scared little girl. I hope her play therapist has all the facts about the family configuration and your stepdaughter’s place in it. Otherwise, she could easily misinterpret what’s going on here.

I think you and her mom need to sit down with this little girl together and talk with her about her special place as the oldest and as the one kid who gets to have two families. I would clarify for her that the foster kids needed a place to be for awhile but now are back where they belong. And I would make sure that she has a special place at each house that is just hers. (The baby doesn’t need his own room at first. Keep him in with you or put the crib in the hall but don’t displace this child for now. ) Then follow up by making sure that you give her positive attention for being a big girl and a helper. Involve her in getting ready for the baby. Work with her mom so that she doesn’t feel that she has to play the two of you off each other. She needs to know there is room in both households for her to have a valued place. Make sure that each of you (her mom and you) call her each day with family news when she is at the other house so that she doesn’t always feel like everyone knows what is going on except her. Once your stepdaughter is more secure, I’m reasonably sure you’ll see an end to the issues.

I wish you all well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 13 Sep 2008

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2008). My stepdaughter tells people I’m mean. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/09/13/my-stepdaughter-tells-people-im-mean/