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Stepdaughter Unhappy?

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Hi All,

I’m with a wonderful man who is a fantastic father to his 4 year old daughter, I have 2 DS on my own, aged 7 and 5. We have my boys 75% of the time and his daughter 50% of the time. The rest of the time she spends with Mum and is an only child.

My partner and ex split when daughter was 11 months old, he fought hard to get 50% custody of her and she has always spent 50% of her life with him. We now live together, she used to stay the nights at partner’s Mum’s as that’s where he was.

Life at home is good, they all have their moments but, for the most part, they all get on. We do a lot together.

Daughter seems to really miss her Mum when she’s with us, she cries for her most evenings though actually often doesn’t even have any real tears. She says she doesn’t do this about partner when with Mum. She’s even said she wants to stay with Mum which just about broke partner’s heart, he lives in constant fear that she will stop coming.

At Mum’s all the attention is on her and Mum is very reluctant to allow daughter to grow up (we’ve only just got rid on a dummy at night and she still has a potty in her room at Mum’s and a ‘blankie’). We’ve supported daughter to start clearing her own plates etc up and tidying toys but it was a struggle at times. Daughter can be quite anxious about things not being ‘the way she is used to’ and can repeat things such as ‘ I don’t like crusts’ etc every time she is given a sandwich.

We were wondering whether she is made to feel guilty by her Mum for coming or enjoying herself or just that she’s a creature of habit and it gets to ‘crying for Mummy time’ every night, partner is beside himself as he really tries everything he can to make daughter happy. She’s been living this arrangement for 4.5 years….there hasn’t been a recent change other than us moving but she genuinely didn’t seem to have a problem with that.

She’ll also go through phases of differing levels of fethe eling towards partner, for a few weeks she’ll love him utterly then it’ll be very much about Mummy. (From the UK)

Stepdaughter Unhappy?

Answered by on -


While there are many unknown variables that make this difficult to sort through, I admire the support, love, and thoughtfulness you and your partner are putting into trying to do the right thing for his daughter. The two of you working together to figure this out and be there together for her will mean more than any particular strategy for coping with this situation. That said, I think there are constant transitions a 4-year-old goes through with many steep learning curves. She is likely getting ready for preschool and learning more, and rather than fight the crying for mummy or dealing with “I don’t like crusts,” I’d redirect her. This is a method of acknowledging what she is saying as you help her get oriented to being with you.

“I know you miss mummy and I think she would want you to have a good time while you are here—so lets do this….” Is a sample of this style of intervention.

Alternately, “I don’t like crusts,” can be responded to with something like: “I’m glad you know what you like and what you don’t and are telling me. Let me show you how you can take the crusts off.” These strategies help her to acknowledge her feelings, while redirecting her to the loving and helpful situation you and your partner have for her.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

Stepdaughter Unhappy?

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

Dan Tomasulo Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP teaches Positive Psychology in the graduate program of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Teachers College and works with Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Director of the New York Certification in Positive Psychology for the Open Center in New York City and on faculty at New Jersey City University. Sharecare has honored him as one of the top 10 online influencers on the topic of depression. For more information go to: He also writes for Psych Central's Ask the Therapist column and the Proof Positive blog.

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2018). Stepdaughter Unhappy?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 25 Oct 2018 (Originally: 25 Oct 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 25 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.