Teen refuses to grow up
I have a 17-year-old step-daughter who's a high school senior and wants to stay a kid forever. She has a twin brother who, in all social respects, is making the transfer to adulthood quite easily. To make matters worse, she is my wife's "baby" (the last of four) which compounds the problem, as my wife is content to let her stay a child so that she can retain that last foothold of motherhood. I have four children of my own (all boys) and have always raised them with the philosophy that preparing them for life on their own was my parental duty.
Recently, my mother-in-law told us that during my step-daughter's recent visit with her grandmother, she expressed to her that she never wants to stop living with us. While that, in itself, is quite a compliment (especially given the blended family situation), I think it is quite a disservice not to prepare her for adulthood. My wife is more than happy to let her stay a kid and to allow her to grow by taking "baby steps". At this point, I think she should be taking "teen steps" and experiencing all - good and bad - that teens go through at this stage. Don't get me wrong, she does work as a supermarket cashier, but she also hates it. The only reason she works is because we make her pay for her own auto insurance.
During last summer's school break, she didn't want to work because she did not have the car at that time and did not need money for insurance. Meanwhile, her brother works two jobs while still in high school and has a girlfriend. He bought his own car (hers was bought by us), which he maintains, and pays his own insurance and repairs. He is preparing for culinary school after graduation and, even though he is her twin, is quite opposite in his approach to growing up. When we mentioned to her that the holiday season might be one for giving her gifts for her car, she complained and said that she didn't want it to be that way. She wanted fun stuff, and instead would prefer a Sony Playstation2.
Don't get me wrong, she's a great person; she has no major troubles and teachers love her. She does have some friends, but seems to be a little too comfortable with things staying just as they are. I think she needs to accept and start preparing for the course of adulthood. While my intent is always good, my delivery with these matters is not. My wife and I argue about it quite often.
What can I do to convince my wife that she needs to encourage growth and preparation for adulthood, when she just wants to continue the nurturing role? What can I do to encourage my stepdaughter to embrace and welcome adulthood, and to accept more responsibility for her future? How can I go about doing this without giving the impression that I don't like the great and fun person that she is?
There are two main jobs of parenting. The first is to love a person enough to be compassionate, caring, protective and nurturing. The second is to love them enough to be firm, to teach and encourage growth, and to know when to step back and let them do things on their own. Parents often are very good at one of these and have great problems with the other. It generally has to do with their temperaments and sometimes their own early upbringing. They will usually copy what was done to them by their parents or do very much the opposite. Parents often fight about which position is right and this usually causes the worst problems. The child becomes very confused, while the parent's marriage suffers. It is a rare couple that can perform both of these very necessary forms of love and learning in equal amounts. A child would be very lucky if he or she had the gift of these types of parents.
It sounds as though both you and your wife are very loving parents and care for your children greatly. It also sounds as though you are both caught in a power struggle, trying to do what each of you feels is right for your daughter. I would suggest that your statement about your delivery is part of the problem on your side. It would be more helpful though to try and find out why your wife is erring on the side of too much protection. If you know what motivates her and can bond with that understanding her resistance to your concerns might diminish.
People who feel understood, respected, and cared for have no need or desire to fight or defend themselves and their positions so strongly. They often become much more rational and objective about their positions in general. They also have a general tendency to move closer to the other persons' position even if they still feel very strongly about their own. Try to explain to your wife how much you want to be close and find common ground on any parenting issues. Focus on the love you both feel for yourselves and your children.
It is also quite possible that your daughter senses you and your wife's fighting and knows you are concerned for her. This might well send the wrong message and reinforce her feeling of not being ready for adulthood. If I think someone is acting childish the last thing I want to do is talk to them like a child. You might try to stress where you do see her acting maturely and responsibly. Anything that will change the dynamics of what has been going on will work better than trying to eliminate them.
I hope this has been helpful for you and wish you luck.
This question was answered by Jef Gazley M.S. Jef has practiced psychotherapy for twenty-five years, specializing in Love Addiction, Hypnotherapy, Relationship Management, Dysfunctional Families, Co-Dependency, Professional Coaching, and Trauma Issues. He is a trained counselor in EMDR, NET, TFT, and Applied Kinesiology. He is dedicated to guiding individuals to achieving a life long commitment to mental health and relationship mastery. His private practice locations are Scottsdale and Tempe, Arizona. You can also visit Jef at the internettherapist, the first audiovisual mental health online counseling center on the net.For more information visit: http://www.asktheinternettherapist.com/