"They're like oil and vinegar."
We're all familiar with this expression and it couldn't be more accurate when it comes to the relationship between a stepmother and her teen stepdaughter.
"The research is clear. Stepfamily relationships are incredibly complex and the trickiest is between stepmother and stepdaughter," says William Doherty, professor of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota.
He goes on to say, "That's partly because most contemporary stepmothers must also deal with their husband's ex-wife. Even if the two women never cross paths, the biological mother's presence is almost always a constant in a stepmother's life."
Wednesday Martin, a New York stepmother, social researcher and author of "Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do" reports, "The loyalty conflict is the daughter's feeling that she betrays her mother if she loves, or likes, or maybe even looks at her stepmother. In some cases, the mother coaches her daughter to create conflict. Sometimes the mother is ambivalent or silent, and the girl draws her own conclusion, which is 'It will destroy my mother if I have any sort of a relationship with my stepmother."
The conflict can take a toll, creating tension in father-daughter relationships.The fathers don't make it any easier. The divorced fathers I've worked with for over 15 years tend to be more permissive parents post-divorce.
These men describe wanting to provide and protect their children and often feel as if they've failed because of their divorce. Shame and guilt are not pleasant emotions for anyone to feel. As these men readily admit, they try to over-compensate by disciplining their children less and indulging them more because "my kids have gone through enough already."
"Daddy's little girl syndrome" shows up when divorced fathers have daughters, especially only children that are daughters. Many fathers are terrified of hurting their daughter's feelings. They treat them like princesses and the end result is often a self-centered spoiled rude girl.
It may surprise you that there is a 62-74% divorce rate in remarriages with children. Because of the extraordinary stress placed on a stepcouple when there is a teenager involved, many therapists seasoned in the complexities of stepfamily life discourage couples to begin living together during this time.
Women who are dating, partnered with or married to men with teenage daughters often feel like the lone wolf, the outsider when father and daughter/s are together. Because they are non-biologically related, these women tend to be more objective in their observances of the lax rules and indulgences. Yet when they try to point out the lack of parental consequences, they're told they don't understand because either they don't have kids themselves or they just don't understand his kids.
"What's in it for me?" is an inevitable question for these women to pose when they feel dismissed and unheard time after time.
Take a look at the lyrics of the song, "Siamese Cat" written and sung by Edie Brickell and accompanied by Steve Martin. Although Brickell is not a stepmom, the song originated from watching women she knew who were trying to have relationships with men who had teenage daughters.
"I like your Siamese cat
I like your cowboy hat
But I don't like your daughter
She's just so spoilt and mean
A regular teenage queen
You gave her everything but time
I'm breaking up with you
I don't want nothing to do with this
I ain't no glutton for punishment
She got you hoppin' like a frog
We'll never have a minute of peace
She never gonna leave us be
I didn't sign up for abuse
You let her get away with murder
You say you're so afraid you'll hurt her
Well I can see it's just no use
I'm breaking up with you."
If you're a woman who's been with a man with a teenage girl, you might feel as if you wrote those lyrics yourself.
So what's the solution? The solution is with the fathers. The father needs to be supportive of his new partner without dissing his ex-wife. It's about teachings his daughter that in order to be loyal to him, she needs to be cordial to her stepmother.
Wednesday Martin says Dad's message needs to be clear. "He must say, 'She's here to stay. You don't have to love her or even like her. But you may not treat her like furniture."
This may be a tough sell for a teenager. They don't tend to like their parent's rules, logic or reasoning but it doesn't mean the effort shouldn't be made. It needs to be made. Time is a great teacher and teenagers become young adults who can often look back and appreciate the once unwelcome admonitions.
More importantly, the stepcouple doesn't need to be torn apart by the natural throes of loyalty to Mom and teenage angst.