Parenting Headaches: Nikki and Brittany

Parenting Headaches: Nikki and Brittany
Dr. Phil talks to parents whose 9-year-old cries about everything!
"I hate my stepdaughter," says Nikki of 9-year-old Brittany. "If you ask her to do something and she doesn't want to do it, she'll turn real ugly. She is nasty, defiant and rude."

Two months ago when Nikki married Brittany's father, Bruce, they noticed a change in her behavior. "Brittany does not want to be part of our family," she says. "I would think Brittany's mom is talking negatively about me."

Bruce backs his wife up. "I often wonder if things are being planted in Brittany's head by her mother," he says.

Cindy feels caught in the middle. "I have [Brittany] telling me she doesn't want to go. I have him telling me he doesn't want her unless she shapes up," she says.

Different parenting styles add to the tension. "At her mom's house, you name it, she can do it," Nikki says. "It makes our marriage real difficult when Brittany constantly wants to be with her mom. It's like she's not even giving our family a chance. I want to love her and make her part of our family, but she is such a brat."
To Nikki, Dr. Phil says, "It's shocking to me to hear an adult talking about a child — biological child, stepchild, a neighbor's child — whatever and say, 'I hate this child.' That to me, I'm sorry, that's not OK."

"I know it's not OK. I feel really bad about not liking her," Nikki admits. "I want to love her. I want her to be part of our family. I just find it's real difficult when she acts the way she does."

Dr. Phil says, "It's not about being difficult. It's about being responsible. You're the adult in this situation."

Pointing out that Brittany didn't choose for her parents to divorce and for her father to remarry, Dr. Phil says, "She just inherited it all because the adults in her life choreographed things that way. Then when she has a reaction to that ... all of a sudden, we label her behavior and decide that we hate her? Is that fair?"

Nikki explains, "I don't hate her. I just really hate the behaviors that she exhibits when she's over."

Dr. Phil interjects, "That isn't what you said, and that isn't how you act. I'm not saying that there aren't problems that need to be resolved, but we've got to come from the right place in doing this."
Turning to Cindy in the audience, Dr. Phil questions, "Are you sabotaging your daughter's relationship with her stepmother?"

"No. I want her to have a relationship," Cindy says adamantly. "I want her to go to her father's and her stepmother's every other weekend, spend time with them, be part of their family like she is with our family at home."

"Are you sabotaging her relationship with her father?"

"No, she needs her father."

Bruce has said that he's on the same page as his new wife when it comes to disciplining Brittany. Dr. Phil challenges him. "You said, 'Sometimes I just smile and say, "Yes dear," when Brittany and Nikki go at it,' because you just don't want to listen to the argument," he reveals.
Addressing Bruce, Dr. Phil says, "She's just said that she hates your daughter ... And you're on the same page with that? You think this is a reasonable approach to take in dealing with this child?"

Bruce replies, "I don't hate my daughter, no."

"Of course not. But do you endorse the fact that that's the reaction you're getting from the stepmother?"

"No, I don't endorse it. I want us to work this out so that we can have a complete family," Bruce answers.

Telling them that they can't change what they don't acknowledge, Dr. Phil says, "Is Brittany misbehaving? Apparently so. But it's the adults who have to solve this problem."

To Cindy, Dr. Phil asks, "What do you think is going on here?"

"I'm not sure. I'm not going to force my daughter to go somewhere where she's not comfortable," she responds.
Nikki sees it differently. "At our house we have structure. We have consistency with behavior and discipline ... I think at Cindy's house, there's a lot of leniency." Nikki acknowledges that she could be contributing to the problem. "Maybe I'm not being as fair as I could be to Brittany because I already have this pre-notion of how she has acted and maybe I'm not giving her a fair chance," she admits.

Dr. Phil advises Bruce and Cindy to see the situation through Brittany's eyes. "She's now seeing her family fractured. Mom and Dad are separated, and her base of operations has now been threatened. That's very scary to a child." To Nikki, Dr. Phil says, "One thing I know for absolute, drop-dead sure: You cannot be the disciplinarian in this child's life. It won't work."

Cindy and Bruce need to work together to discipline their daughter, and Nikki can give support. "For you to take this child and put her in time-out, ground her, take things away, send her out of the room, to the garage, whatever, your being the one that does this to her is unfair to you and it's unfair to her because you don't have that kind of relationship," he stresses to Nikki. "Now if she was 1 1/2 or 2, you could slowly build into that. It's too late. It's not going to happen. This is an independent young woman, and some random outsider is going to come in and start telling her what to do, how to do it and when to do it. It's absolutely flawed from the get-go."
Dr. Phil explains that children of divorce have special needs. "Need number one: They have to feel a sense of acceptance," he says. Pointing to Nikki, he tells Bruce, "This is the other woman in your daughter's life ... That's who you are to her, you are the other woman. And not only are you the intruder, the other woman, you're going to start telling her what to do? I don't think so."

Secondly, children of divorce need to have an assurance of safety. "She's afraid at your house. Why? Because she may feel like if she's over there playing house with you guys and laughing and talking, then she's betraying her mother," Dr. Phil explains to Nikki and Bruce. "She doesn't feel safe mentally, emotionally, physically. She's afraid of the dark over there. She doesn't have her space there. She's sleeping in the living room. You've got to have an accommodation where she has her own space and her own privacy."

Children also need to have freedom from guilt, and they'll blame themselves for anything and personalize even little things. They also need structure. "You've got to let kids be kids. Don't ask them to deal with adult issues," he advises. He reiterates that Nikki needs to step out of the disciplinarian role, and Bruce needs to step up and conduct the business of the family. "You can't be passive about this and recognize those needs," he tells Bruce.