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Preparing step-daughter for the real world

Dear Dave,

I’m getting married this summer and about become a stepfather, but my fiancee’s daughter from a previous marriage seems very irresponsible. She’s 20 and lives at home, has trouble holding a job, and she doesn’t really want to work. When she doesn’t have money to make her car payment, she seems to expect her mom to pay it for her. My fiancee and I both agree that she’s been too lenient with her in the past, but she doesn’t want to suddenly pull the rug out from under her. How do you think we should approach this situation?

Kendall


Dear Kendall,

Marriage counselors say you have a good chance of having a successful marriage if you’re in agreement on four things – religion, money, children and in-laws. So, first things first. I’d strongly suggest you and your fiancee go through pre-marital counseling to make sure you’re on the same page when it comes to handling this and other issues.

If you and her mom really want to show her you love her, you’ll make sure she starts learning some character and discipline. And it’s very important that both of you are on the same page and in agreement every step of the way. You might also want to read a book together by Dr. Henry Cloud called “Boundaries.” This is a great book, and it will give you both several ideas for creating a reasonable timeline aimed at teaching her more responsibility.

I would advise letting her mom present any changes to her initially. Neither of you wants to create a scenario where you’re viewed as the bad guy. Let her mom start the process by explaining that she made a few mistakes in terms of teaching her more about personal responsibility and self-reliance when she was younger. Then, she can begin to lay out the first few rules and expectations.

In my mind, there’s nothing wrong with requiring her to get a job within 30 days if she doesn’t already have one. If she needs to go job hunting, make sure she’s out of bed and on the road no later than 8 a.m. every morning. During this first phase, looking for work every day should be her job. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to start teaching her about budgeting, saving, and everything else that goes into handling money responsibly during this time, too.

Next, phase 2 might consist of requiring her to help around the house doing chores on her days off, or whenever mom needs a hand. Then, after a month or two of this, phase 3 might consist of her paying a small amount in rent.

Do you see what I’m doing? By stepping up the expectations gradually you’re building a foundation so she’ll have the tools and knowledge to where, in the sixth or seventh month, she’s moving out and taking care of her own responsibilities.

Like an adult!

Dave


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