Once upon a time, my youngest stepdaughter learned that her mother wasn't listening to her anymore. And it's not a fairy tale.
For years, I had listened to her without judging, teasing, mocking, belittling, or labeling. I may have made cardinal mistakes of interrupting when in the middle of 20 things, talking about my own experiences too soon, or questioning her- but I always tried to make it clear that I was coming back around to her. I would ask her later, if I had to interrupt for someone or something else, what the rest of her story was or about the friend she was talking about earlier (or even the other day).
I forget sometimes- to ask her about her friends or last week's drama- but I guess I remember just enough that she knows I am just forgetful. A couple of years ago, I realized she was purposefully setting up talk time. She would either find me in solitude, wait, or literally set-up me driving her- alone. She would then tell me all about her friends, her issues, her questions, or (now) "boyfriends."
I went through depressions, wondering if my stepdaughters would ever give a crap about me. I would try, and it would backfire. I would feel a closeness develop, and then they would throw me under the bus enough to hurt my husband's custody and rights.
Well, one does for sure. She's overt about it now, and she is far from her 20s or 30s when people told me "they will figure it out." (Which I will maintain to question in general, because it just doesn't always happen. Read the research in "Stepmonster.")
If your stepdaughter doesn't have a strong mom- emotionally, self-esteem, what have you- they will feel like they need to take care of her, but your stepdaughter will hopefully, maybe recognize that her needs aren't being met. One of my steps figured it out, the other has not. But the younger is already on a healing process, figuring out conscious, planned strategies to take care of herself as a young teen and "deal" with her mom. She now tells me directly that she has to talk to me, can only tell me the whole story, and I reiterate that I will not make fun of her. (A message I have told her for forever, but she finally understands.) She knows I am really interested- despite trying to cook, drive, or work while she talks- And although I have trouble following every detail of the book she's reading at the moment, I seem to catch enough that she hasn't given up on me understanding teen dystopian societies. (You totally got that, didn't you?)
We encourage her, a lot. Back in the day, our encouragement of her identity and independence was a threat to her mom and sister, and often battled by an entire-in-town-other-family. But this one has come out the other side, understanding more than we ever thought she would at this point. Then again, maybe I saw it coming. I guess we did see a lot of potential in her coming out of the fog earlier, but we didn't want to get our hopes up too high.
We have half custody of her now, but the only thing pissing me off now is that she should have been with us half time all along. She is so happy...And we're pretty sure she'll figure out that she should be with us full time one day, too. If she won't be able to follow through on that choice, we're finding out that she is literally saving all personal news, thoughts, questions, and stories for us. She has admitted to not talking about major parts of her life at her other home, due to fear of reactions, retribution, control, anger, or just being hurt by the misunderstanding or lack of listening. (Hell, if you don't believe me- At a rather young age she announced to me, very clearly and completely out of nowhere, "I think my other family doesn't like me." Does that not tell you a ton right there? Yes, I played it cool and gave excuses for them, but even as a kid she responded, without much emotion besides true thoughtfulness, "No, I'm pretty sure they just don't like me." In other words, she knew she didn't belong for fit in way back then.)
We're here. I was here. I made sure I listened. It wasn't too hard. You can do it, too, even though it hurts sometimes and you wonder what they will tell their mom about you tomorrow. And you don't have to be perfect. I wasn't perfect, and it still worked. I have thought of her as really my daughter before, and she really is. I've started claiming her traits already.
Ok, yeah, I'm not stupid- She will get pulled back into her Mom's world regularly, but she knows I really know her, and I know she really can depend on me. It's gotten past a line, and I know this isn't reversing. She's not a little kid, easily convinced of nonsense anymore- thank God! She's strong, independent, and she's decided no one will stop her now- and we're right behind her, making sure.