Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Family can't blend when girls torment stepsister-to-be
Philadelphia: I am engaged to a single dad of two daughters, 11 and 13. My own daughter, "Lauren," is 9 with a very gentle, sensitive personality. Her would-be stepsisters TERRORIZE her to the point where she hates being around them. They are nice girls generally, but something about our situation brings out their ugly side. Lauren ends up in tears every time we have a family outing and clings to me, something she doesn't do ordinarily.
My fiance has agreed to family counseling for all of us before the wedding, but it's not a contingency thing. In other words, he wants to proceed with the wedding and with bringing all these kids into the same house regardless of whether we can work through the girls' issues.
I love him, but I wouldn't feel comfortable with forcing Lauren to live with her worst enemies. Fiance is suggesting we move in together before the wedding to get everyone better acclimated, but it seems to me that that could backfire even worse. What do you think?
Carolyn: I put myself in Lauren's shoes, and three things freak me out: (1) that it's possible she'll have her tormentors living in her home; (2) that her stepfather-to-be is not thinking of her at all, as far as I can tell; and (3) that her mother is on the fence between sticking up for her and caving to her groom-to-be.
Now, I realize things aren't always so simple. Your "gentle, sensitive" daughter could very well have gotten to this point by being coddled, or, worst case, by learning to manipulate you.
The other girls, too, could be trying to undermine their dad's relationship (i.e., preserve their family as they know it) in the only way they know how. Certainly they're at a difficult age socially, when it's common to target weaker peers as a means of elevating and protecting their own place in the world.
But even if we make the toughest case against Lauren and the most sympathetic one against her terrorist would-be stepsisters, you nevertheless have a massive, glaring, unresolved problem right in front of you, of which both you and your fiance are fully aware.
And his answer is to throw everyone together and hope it gets better? Wow.
You and your fiance are both on track to become co-parents of three adolescent girls. The most important thing you can do (THE most important) is figure out how to work together to be good to all three girls, and that means you solve this problem, together, before anyone moves anywhere.
Just from your brief letter, it looks as if your fiance is not treating that goal as a priority. He may have that luxury (I think not, but, whatever), but you don't — you're Lauren's mother. Her emotional needs are responsibly and fairly addressed, or you're not budging.
Translation: Family counseling is an excellent idea, but you need to be clear that it is a contingency. You can do that, you know. Neither you nor your fiance has final say over each other; each of you has final say over your own choices.
You can hold up this merger as long as it takes to make sure all the kids are okay. I strongly suggest you do.