Dear LetterBalm: I’ve been with my boyfriend for four years, and during all that time his 13-year-old daughter has been a handful. She lives with her mom and visits us on selected weekends and holidays. She’s snappish and rude and sulks when she doesn’t get her way. It looks like she’s been spoiled by her grandparents, her mom and her dad – my boyfriend gives in immediately if she gets into one of her snits. He sets no boundaries and takes away no privileges when she disobeys. I’ve planned girls’ activities I think she’d like, but she remains unengaged and sarcastic and mocks me. It’s all I can do to remain civil and calm. I hate all this, and I’d really like to be a friend to her. I really need to reach my boyfriend and make him see he’s doing his daughter no favors by setting no expectations of good behavior. I don’t want to blackmail him, but his daughter could end our relationship.
In simple terms, unless things improve, Ms. L.B. sees little hope for this family. You’re right: your boyfriend is helping to mold a spoiled brat, well on her way to becoming an entitled diva. Is therapy for the teen a possibility? Or, would the mere suggestion cause mom and grandparents to clutch their collective pearls in horror? You can influence only your boyfriend, so talk with him in no uncertain terms when the two of you are alone and the little missy is safely cosseted with her adoring relatives:
Walt, there’s something that’s been on my mind for a long time. Please, just listen because this is the most serious talk we’ve ever had, maybe that we’ll ever have. Louisa is your beloved daughter, but you have a blind spot about her. Her behavior has gotten to the point where it’s affected everything. Louisa’s a beautiful, intelligent girl, but when she’s with us, she’s rude and disrespectful. This makes me sad because I like her and I sense she needs an older female friend. But you are doing her no favors when you don’t set boundaries and don’t discipline her for bad behavior — it will only be harder for her as she gets older. I understand that she may be angry about her life and that you and her mom and grandparents may not be capable of handling her. Louisa may need therapy, and you yourself might consider parenting classes, because, God knows, raising a kid is hard work. I don’t want Louisa’s attitude and lack of boundaries to alienate my relationship with you. I love you both, and I don’t want to lose either of you.