real life

PARENTING CONFESSION: 'I feel so guilty about my close relationship with my stepdaughter.'

This story includes depictions of verbal abuse.

As told to Ann DeGrey.

When I moved in with my partner Ryan*, two years after my divorce, I was a little nervous about inheriting a second teenage daughter. I was really struggling with my relationship with my own daughter Ivy* so the thought of having another 15-year-old was not exactly music to my ears.

But I was madly in love. I couldn’t believe I’d been given this second chance at love after leaving my abusive first marriage. It was a relationship horrendously tainted by coercive control and emotional abuse and I still carry the emotional scars to this day. So meeting Ryan was incredible.

I’d met Ryan’s daughter Ava* many times and always found her very sweet. She’s a classic introvert like her father. She didn’t say too much, but she was always kind and incredibly polite. I knew it would take time to get to know her, and I made it clear to her that, when I married her dad, I wasn’t trying to be her second mother. I said, "Just look at me as being your dad’s new partner and having another female in the house and let’s take it from there."

My daughter Ivy, on the other hand, is a complex character. I love her very much but she can be quite challenging. She has a very quick temper and has absolutely no filter, saying whatever is on her mind. Sometimes this is entertaining but, other times, her unhinged comments are not a good thing. It was cute when she was younger but as she’s getting older; she says some very inappropriate things, and much of it is directed towards me. Her father was just the same and I feel she has inherited more of his genes than mine.


Watch: A spoken word video starring Laura Bryne articulating the contradiction of pressures that mothers face in their daily lives. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

I don’t believe Ivy has forgiven me for leaving her father, but as she matures, she will understand my reasons for divorcing him. She blames me for the split – it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve told her that I had no choice and I had to leave for my own mental well-being. But Ivy refuses to listen to me.

I've told her that I was very unhappy being married to her father, and he was very unhappy with me. But now, with my new partner, I am finally happy again. But Ivy doesn’t see my point of view – at 14, she is too young to understand. And so she takes her anger over the divorce out on me and she often lashes out. 


She is only pleasant to me when she wants me to buy her something or when she needs money. Sadly, she often makes snide comments about my appearance, telling me I am "mutton dressed as lamb" if I wear a skirt above my knees or a full face of makeup. That awful saying has come directly from her father – it’s an expression he used against me multiple times. I feel sick to my stomach when Ivy says it to me all these years later. I know it is not her fault, she is just parroting her father, but it is still very triggering for me.

I’ve tried so hard with my daughter; I’ve taken her on holidays, I buy her everything she asks for; I tell her how much I love her and I’m also very affectionate with her - but we are just not close in the way I want us to be. I’m the first to admit that I spoil her, but I do this so that she will appreciate what I do for her.

I’ve taken Ivy to family therapy which helped for a while. The therapist explained to Ivy that adult relationships are very complex and that I tried to make them work for a very long time. I also told her that I had loved her father very much but things went downhill and we were both miserable.

But just a week after our final therapy session, Ivy spent a week with her father and came back to me treating me quite badly. She was scowling and told me she wanted me to start wearing nicer clothes, especially around her friends. She said she was often embarrassed by me and also mentioned she was upset that I treated her father badly – I tried telling her that it was the other way around but she wouldn’t listen.


It's difficult when my stepdaughter Ava is the opposite of Ivy, she’s so appreciative of everything I do. She tells me I look nice (even when I know I’m looking tired and frumpy), she always offers to help me with dinner or helps clean up - while Ivy just leaves the dinner table and retreats to her bedroom without a word. Ava and I have very similar personalities, we both love reading and talking about the books we’ve read. We also have a love of bushwalking which is something we enjoy doing together. I try to include Ivy but she has no interest in doing things with me.

One night the girls had a disagreement and things got a bit heated. They went off to their rooms, and I thought that was that—but Ava came to me and showed me her phone. It was a text message from Ivy calling her some dreadful names. Ivy had her phone confiscated, and we asked her to apologise to Ava, which she reluctantly did, but there’s little we can do to police her behaviour.

I feel as though my daughter is hurting which is why she has pushed me away. I’m not going to give up on her. I’m investigating new ways to help her adjust to this new life as part of a split family and hope that one day we can be close again.

If you or someone you know is at risk of violence, contact: 1800 RESPECT.

Feature image: Getty.