How Do I Deal With a Rebellious Step-Daughter?

My husband and I got married almost two years ago. His previous wife walked out and left him with two daughters now aged 19 and 16. The younger one has had a change of attitude towards me and I do not know if it is jealousy for her dads attention or another reason I do not know about. The fact is that she hates being asked to clean up her dishes which she constantly leaves on the sink for her dad or me to clean up. A helping hand in the house is not on the agenda. I have spoken to her dad who has approached her to clean up behind herself, I have tried as well. It seems to me she is doing it just to annoy me. I have asked her to put the soap on the soap dish in the bathroom to avoid it melting on the wet hand basin, which she also chooses to ignore. I am at my wits end and it is causing tension in the home. There are many other things that she does to irritate me and I feel like one day I am going to explode and say something I will regret. I asked her dad to tell her that if she does not clean her mess that she will be called back in from her friends and told to stay in for the evening, until she learns to obey what is asked of her. I feel he is too soft and to avoid conflict washes her dishes himself. He cleans her bedroom too, I feel she should take part in doing chores in the house as mine did. What can I do? Please could you advise me on this sensitive issue?


The challenges with your step daughter are very common in second marriages.  It’s the merge of two different families with two different perspectives.  I am always reminded of the apostle Paul.  He was continually working to merge converted Jews and the converted Gentiles into one family of God.  There always seemed to be a wall between them even though they were both Christians.  In the book of Ephesians, his goal is to get both sides to focus on Christ who will break down that wall or partition that is separating the two sides.  This applies directly to family relationships.  If different family members are growing in their relationship with Christ and are finding their individual identities in him, the walls will dissolve or at least come into a more reasonable perspective.  I understand that you cannot force your step daughter to focus on Christ, but if you take the time to meditate on Scripture and find fulfillment in a relationship with Christ, you will have grace to deal with the problems without getting as stressed.  This will also keep the challenges with your daughter from distorting your perspective with your husband and other family members.  As she notices the new joy and peace in you, the door will be more open for her to listen to you.

I challenge you to read these scriptures several times and see if you note the similarities.

For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; 15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; 16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: 17 And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. 18 For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. 19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; 20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; 21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: 22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.   Ephesians 2:14-22

It is very reasonable and important to train a son or daughter to clean up after herself and to help with chores.  In order to find fulfillment in life, they must become responsible adults and helping out with chores is learning responsibility.  You must be very aware of your attitude and make sure that you are not being hateful as you request this.   This issue is not about you; it is about doing what is best for your step daughter.  It is best for her that she learn to be respectful and helpful. It is critical that your husband be on the same page with you.  Because you are the alien in this family, your husband may have to step in and handle more of the training than you. I strongly recommend that both you and your husband read the book, Age of Opportunity by Tripp.  It is a relatable, informative book on parenting teens.  I keep it in by bathroom and read it over and over because I want the principles to become my mindset.

I also suggest that you go out of your way to do some nice things for your daughter that she is not expecting.  For example leave surprises on her bed, —- a cute “thinking of you” card with a Starbucks or I-tunes gift card inside, or a small bag of goodies like gum or tic tacs with a note from you, a picture frame or a new pair of socks.  Do not expect a loving response, but sporadically have fun doing some little things. Find joy in the fact that you are reaching out even if she is not letting you in.  You want your step daughter to get the message that you are on her side no matter what—whether you are training her or attending her school activities or preparing her meals. You want her to have a great, fulfilling life.

Pray very fervently for her.  I suggest the prayers that Paul prays in Ephesians 1:16-19 and Ephesians 3:14-21.  Make the words of these passages your own and pray them specifically for her.

Purposefully make sure that you and your husband consistently do some very enjoyable activities together where you are not even thinking about this challenge.  I suggest that you read our book, What is Marriage?  Work at your marriage.  Enjoy each other.  Do not let anything harm your relationship.  View these challenges as a way to grow stronger together.  If the tension continues, schedule an appointment with a minister so that you can get an outside perspective and make adjustments in your relationship if necessary.  Nothing is worth damaging your marriage.

I guess you’ve noted that I have responded to this from a Christian perspective.  I was not certain from your email if you have a relationship with Christ.  He is a relational loving heavenly Father and a relationship with Him gives understanding to earthly relationships.  If you have questions about this aspect, just email me again.

I challenge you personally to read and reread and meditate on the book of Ephesians.  It will help you to think like Christ regarding challenging relationships.  The books I mentioned are available on our online store.

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