Does child deserve a Disney vacation?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

In march I bought plane tickets to disneyland. I felt that my 9, almost 10 year old stepdaughter deserved to go somewhere fun. We kept it a secret until her birthday party we had early for her since she was going to be at her moms this year for her birthday. This was just 4 days ago. It is just she and I going for a girls trip, maybe some bonding time. I just want her to have time where all she thinks about is fun.

My Stepdaughter started living with us 2 years ago, a year after that we moved to a new state. I felt like shes had a lot of changes and it would be good for her to just relax. She is very disrespectful, unthoughtful, mean spirited to everyone she may come into contact with 40% of the time. We never let her get away with it. Depending on the severity of her actions we do time outs, sentences, remove priveliges. We took her to her mom’s this weekend to drop her off. Before we dropped her off she wanted to spend 2 days with my family. We took her to the local fair and met my best friend there. She wanted to go home with my best friend while I went and did a friend of mines hair. We said that was fine. We picked her up two hours later.

The next evening I spent time with my best friend. We got on the topic of how my step daughter was doing. My best friend told me that when the two of them spent time alone that she told her about a conversation I was having with her dad that morning about my best friend. I think she was stirring the pot. She also told my best friend that I’m mean to her all the time for no reason. Immediately my feelings were hurt.

I wanted to give this kid the trip of a lifetime and she says I’m mean to her, To my best friend. Well she’s done this sort of thing before to myself and others. The last 4 years we have had to consistently teach her repsect and social ettiquette. We’ve explained to her you don’t speak badly about your family that loves you, You don’t get yourself involved with adult conversations, etc etc etc. Would it hurt our relationship or teach her an important lesson if I decided not to take her to disneyland in a month.

A: I know this is really challenging. I understand that your feelings are hurt. But I don’t think canceling the trip will be helpful. Nothing she did during your recent trip is new information to you. She is the same not quite civilized child you’ve been dealing with for the last four years. Canceling the trip now sounds to me more like you’re getting even with her than working on change. All the good reasons you had for the trip when you bought the tickets are still true. I think you should stick with your plan.

I have a guess that this child is torn between loyalty to her mom and the feelings she has for you. One way for a kid her age to show her mom that she still loves her is to not do very well with her stepmom. Ideally, you and her mom should be working together to give her the consistent message that she can love you both in different ways and that you each expect her to behave when with the other adult woman in her life. Ideally all three of you, mom, dad and stepmom, would be on the same page about both how to reinforce positive behavior and how to make misbehavior unnecessary for her.

This little girl is hurting. The way she is managing her own feelings is to hurt others. She needs some help figuring out how to trust and love the people who care for her. It sounds like maybe you need some help figuring out how to help her.

I strongly suggest that you find a family therapist in your area. I searched the web for AAMFT therapists in your city and found many. (AAMFT is the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. AAMFT licenses therapists who specialize in relationship, child, and family issues.) A therapist can give you and your husband support and practical advice for helping you all have a happier family.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 4 Aug 2009

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2009). Does child deserve a Disney vacation?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/08/04/does-child-deserve-a-disney-vacation/

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