Q: I have been a single mother until 5 years ago and I have 2 kids. My youngest is 10 and she is wonderful but my 13 yr old daughter can be sweet but when she has a tantrum it last for hours and leads into weeks. They both were mainly raised by my parents because I worked very hard for my girls and struggled to get my life straight. I have been with my fiance’ for 5 years now and the girls moved in 100% last year (my parents wishes, I agreed to not move the kids 20 miles away from my parents and disrupt their school until 1 year ago.) During this time they were not living with me full time, I had them for the whole summer and vacation time and visited my daughters Monday, Wednesday, and picked them up on Fridays to return them back to my parents on Sunday afternoon. I could not live back with my parents but my children were well taken care of at my parents home. My fiance’ is a good man. He is a loving step dad and provides for us and doesn’t have kids of his own and loves my daughters as his own. My 10 year old took to him well but my 13 yr old will love him one day and hate him the next. She treats me the same also and has outburst of anger and tantrums that last for hours. She will rant and scream repeatedly the same sentence for at least 15 minutes requesting to let her use the computer and then it turns into a full blown rage that wrecks her room and she starts hitting her sister. She beat on her bedroom door so hard that it has wholes on it. My fiance’ and her do homework together and they get along great. Thats a good day. When my eldest doesn’t get her way (use the phone longer than we agreed on or getting out of doing her chores) she starts her angry rage. She has yelled out to my fiance’ “YOU ARE NOT MY FATHER, don’t talk to me.” My kids father hasn’t seen them since they were 3 and 6.
We provide a loving home, go to church and my children do not go without. I am worried about my eldest because she just started saying in a polite voice to me, “Fine then, I’ll just kill myself.” This scares me to death and I am calling her doctor to get some advice.” I have tried taking privilages away, heart to heart talks with her, alone time with just me and my eldest to the store so that we can just hang out and talk about things and that time is wonderful. We do that 2x per week and vice versa with the youngest child. Is this normal for a 13 year old to be so angry? Please help.

A: No, it’s not normal for a 13 year old to get this angry and to threaten to kill herself. You are right to be concerned. You are absolutely right to be reaching for some help. I’m glad you called her doctor for some advice. Hopefully, you got a referral to an experienced adolescent and family therapist.

You’ve worked very, very hard to put your life on track so that you could all be together. That took courage and commitment and you have much to be proud of. The next step is to do some mopping up. Putting your life together has not been without cost to the kids. Your oldest is doing her best to let you know that there is still some serious work to be done. I have a few guesses about what may be underneathe the tantruming. See if any of these fit:

The girls may be suffering some confused feelings because they have “lost” being with their grandparents. They may then be feeling guilty that they aren’t just glad to be with you. They may not like having to share your time and attention with a step dad. But they may also like him and be glad that he is helping you. A family counselor could provide a safe place to talk about how there are at least two sides to everything and that dealing with all that has gone on hasn’t been simple for anyone.

Some kids are more adaptable than others. It’s possible that your oldest is more reactive and less able to manage her feelings. It may have something to do with the fact that she is three years older (and an adolescent). She may have helped buffer her younger sibling from some of the harder times while they were with your parents. Now she may be needing and demanding time for her. Counseling will help you know how to comfort and manage her.

And sometimes, one child becomes the “canary” of a family. When a young girl acts like this, I also have to wonder if she has a secret that she is afraid to share. As hard as it is to consider, is it possible that she has been hurt by your husband or some other male relative and is afraid to tell you? I certainly hope that isn’t true but it is only responsible to look into it. A counselor might be able to ask this question more easily than you can.

Reuniting and remaking a family is very, very complicated. It’s hard but certainly worth doing. I applaud your efforts and wish you well as you get through the next stage.
I wish you well.
Dr. Marie