I have 3 step daughters, 18, 16, and 11, whom I've known since they were 12, 10, and 5. Lucky for me I've had the "privilege" of being part of my older two's teen years...raising teenagers is something else, lol. My concern and heartache is with my 11 yr old. For the past 5 yrs we've had a great relationship, and I've fallen in love with an amazing little girl. She looked up to me, always wanted to do things with me, play games, bake, go shopping, etc. Now we are entering her pre- teen years, and the years of age where I feel she is more aware of feelings. I'm struggling because I feel I'm losing how to interact with her. As a pre-teen I see the hormones working, as she is now starting to have a different attitude. She answers back, is sarcastic, doesn't like to be corrected, can be rude, etc. Typical teenage attitude I guess. My struggle is dealing with it. With the older 2, I wasn't so involved because my husband and I were just starting to date, as they got older I had more of a passive role with them. With my 18 yr old I was more of a go to for advice person and vent to person for her; when I didn't agree with things she'd do I'd give her my input and shared my thoughts with my husband leaving it up to him on how to approach things with her. My 16 yr old is a little more hands on, I correct her when needed on her attitude, go to school meeting when needed, we talk about life after high school goals, etc. With her, I have a little more of a parenting role, but she is mostly in her moms care and is a mama's girl, that I don't need to have such an active role.
With my 11 yr old it's a little different. I've been a very active role in her life, and her in mine. I have a stronger bond with her since we have spent a lot more quality time together. Now that she is getting to her teen years, I'm worried about how it will affect our relationship. Do I correct her attitude, her sarcasm, her moodiness, her laziness? As a person that cares about her, and wants the best for her...of course I want to correct these things but I'm worried about it hurting our relationship. I also feel that she is now at an age where she is worried about liking me and hurting her moms feelings. In no means do I want to replace her mom. I think her mom is good mom to her and although it hurts me that I will never be equal to her mom, I would not even think of coming in between that mother-daughter bond.
I just want her to know that I care about her and love her and want the best for her. I want her to know that I don't have any intention of replacing her mom or trying to be her mom but as her step mom, I do care for her as if she were my own. I want her to know that if I think she is wrong or needs to be corrected I'm going to step in and when I do it doesn't mean I don't like her or I just want to be mean to her. The problem is I don't know how to communicate all this to her. I know it may sound simple, but I get nervous, especially telling her that I love her. I don't want her to feel confused or obligated to say it back. I don't want her to feel like she's hurting her mom to love me back. But I don't want her to dislike me either just because her mom doesn't like me. This little one struggles with talking about feelings as well. If anybody has any advice on how to approach these topics please help...thanks!
IMO, whether you're a kid's parent, step-parent, teacher, neighbor, their friend's parent, etc...you're not doing them any favors if you tolerate them being rude to you. Yes, it's awkward to correct them. Yes, you worry that they won't like you, or they'll think you don't like them. But in the long run, if you facilitate her growing into a person who behaves rudely to others - because she expects people to tolerate it from her, or she doesn't realize how offensive it seems; maybe she thinks it's cute, or makes her sound grown-up - then she will have pain and rejection in her relationships with people, which could have been prevented, if the adults in her life now had corrected her behavior early on. Also, if she sees you tolerate rudeness from her, it teaches her, "This is what I can expect to put up with from people, when I'm a grown woman." And would you want to hear someone else talk to her the way she sometimes talks to you, now?
Of course, you don't have to scream at her or anything. I find that the firm, but simple statement, "That's rude." along with stern eye contact makes an impression and often elicits an apology. (My step-son lives with us and he's also 11!)
As far as things like laziness, see how she responds. If she doesn't live primarily with you, it may be more appropriate for your husband to correct her about things like not doing her homework or chores. But if you're the one supervising these things half the time (or more), then you should tell her what you think.
Try to think of balancing your responsibilities: the more of a parenting role she and your husband have seen fit to let you play, the more you should act like a parent. And a parent shouldn't just be an 11-year-old's BFF. They need guidance. And they're not always happy or appreciative about receiving it. So a loving parent gives it and puts up with not always being treated like the kid's buddy. It sounds like you were put in more of a "friend" position, with the older two, so it was OK for you to just be their friend. That was easier. But, as you say, the benefit of the harder position you have with the 11-year-old is that you're closer to her. Closer doesn't mean you're always happy with each other. It means you're honest.
As far as saying you love her, do it. Just don't leave a big, pregnant silence afterward, waiting for her to say it back. And if she doesn't and it hurts your feelings, tell yourself it's out of loyalty toward her mother and not because she doesn't feel it. If you've known her since she was 5, I'm sure she loves you!
As far as not being sure how to tell her everything you told us...she's a girl! If she's not babbling on about her feelings all the time yet, wait a year or two! And babble back at her, about yours! Everything you wrote here, you can say to a girl, in just those words, too. Take her somewhere, just the two of you, where you have to drive in the car for a long time. That's the best way to have meaningful conversations with 'tweens and teens. They don't have to look at you and there's something about the motion of the car... Do this every few months. Tell her that it's hard on you to correct her when she's rude or lazy, because you'd rather just be her best friend and have her like you all the time, but you just love her so much and think she's so smart and has such potential that you want to make sure she doesn't grow up rude, or lazy. You want her life to be wonderful and for her never to miss out on something because she didn't know how to work for it. You never want other people to miss seeing what a great girl she is, because she acted rude and turned them off. That's why you correct her and you hope she understands it. I don't force conversations like this on my step-son every week, but we do have them and he always responds well. If I can do it with a boy, you can definitely pull it off with a girl! Good luck.
You might want to read or talk to people with girls this age. My friend has a daughter that age and recently picked up a book about this stage and felt immediate relief knowing they are both going through very 'normal' feelings and changes.
I found that puberty has really changed my dynamic with my own son and I've found that being closer helps us a lot. I've been really making the effort to be very present with him and when I do that, we have far less conflict and emotional outbursts.
Let your heart guide you in your role with her. She will need guidance and boundaries maybe more now than ever, but she will also need love and support.
Wishing you both well through this stage of parenting.....