Please contact Evil Stepmom at ESM@evilstepmom.org with your questions or ideas about stepfamily living with 17-30 year olds.

 



Dear Evil Stepmom
Do I Have to Keep Trying with My Stepmom?

Dear Evil Stepmom,

I am a 20-year-old girl who lives with my father, stepmother, and two kids ages 8 and 10, who they have together. I did not move in with my father until I was 15, and before that I barley knew him. I had met my step mom a few times when I was about 9 years old.

At that age I clearly remember her making it clear that she did not want me around. My father had left me alone with her a few times so he could go to work, and she would make me stay in the spare room all day or she would lock me outside in the hot sun all day. My dad would tell her to put sunscreen on me, but she said it wasn't her job. After spending this short amount of time with her I was afraid to go back and see her.

My mom confronted my dad about the way his new wife treated me and she lied to him about what actually happened. My mom decided that since my dad was basically not willing to do anything about the situation that it would be best if I did not see him again.

For the next seven years I didn't see or talk to my father. It wasn't until I turned 15 that I took it upon myself to start a relationship with him. While visiting him I decided that I wanted to live with him. During this time my step mom was still very cold towards me and I noticed that she would avoid me.

My dad told me that she said she had tried all that she could to make a relationship with me, but that I wasn't keeping up my end of it. This was not at all true. I would try all the time to talk to her and show interest in things that she liked, I would even do more than my share around the house. No matter what I did she just didn't want me there.

My dad told me that she did not want me to move in, but that he did, so I moved in. During the next few years I continued to try and build a bond with her, but still nothing. It seemed like she had gotten fed up with my dad letting me live with them so she resorted to making up things about me.

One day she told my dad that she did not want me to be alone with the younger children. I was very hurt and confused by this because I had always had a good relationship with them. She told my dad that at my age it just made her uncomfortable to let me play with the kids. I still don’t understand this since I have done nothing that would make me a bad example to them.

At the time I was a straight A high school student who had already taken college courses and had never been in any kind of trouble.

She also made it clear that she did not want my dad spending money on me. When my dad took me and the other kids school shopping she flat out told him that he better not spend much money on me. During those first years she also made a habit of excluding me from family outings and vacations.

When I turned 16 she made my dad force me to get a job. This was a problem because I was a full time high school/college student with no time to spare. I ended up leaving at 5AM everyday and coming home at 12 in the morning after work.

All of these things began to weigh on me and by the time I turned 18 I moved out on my own. When I moved out my step mom made my dad cut all ties with me and she told him that I was not allowed to come back to the house or ever see the kids.

For a few months I was doing fine until my roommate skipped out on the rent. My mom ended up calling my dad and explaining the situation. My dad raced over to my place and took me back to his house. My step mom agreed to let me move back in, but nothing with her changed.

I am now turning 20 and she still refuses to respect me as a person and continues to make it known that she wants me out. Just the other day she told my dad that she thinks the few hours that I am at home are too much for her. My question is, should I continue to try and form a relationship with her? Is there a better way to make a connection with her? Or should I just continue to co-exist with her until I can move out?

Signed,

Confused Stepdaughter

Dear stepdaughter,

If a woman chooses to marry a man with children, it’s her responsibility to help him raise and launch his children in whatever ways she can. Your stepmother isn’t doing an important part of her job, which is to help her husband prepare his daughter for life as an independent adult. That’s unfortunate and unfair, but it’s the fact.

Your father’s wife may be behaving as she is toward you for lots of reasons, none of which you have any control over: You may remind her of your mom (the other woman your dad loved); your stepmother may resent the fact that your dad spends resources on you that she would rather see spent on her own children (mothers are always concerned about their biological offspring getting enough); she may not like that your dad and your mom still connect around their concerns for you; she may be jealous of how much your dad obviously loves you.

Whatever her reasons, it’s clear that she thinks her life would be easier without you in it.

The way I see it, you are not obligated to continue to work toward a relationship with someone who has so little interest in you and your well-being. You do, for your father’s sake, still need to be cordial and respectful. (By cordial I mean saying “hello,” and “good morning” to her, for example. By respectful I mean not coming home too late or violating established house rules, for example.)

One person cannot build a relationship alone. You need to spend your energy on launching your life, not chasing an impossible connection with your stepmother. What you need is a plan, and a partner (or two).

First, make a plan: You know that you can’t stay at your dad’s much longer—it’s a hostile and unhealthy environment for you. So you have to make a plan for how you’re going to save enough money to move out, or how you’re going to move someplace else that’s rent-free. (I assume that you mother’s home is out of the question or you would be living there already.)

Your plan will need to include answers to some basic questions, so take the time to think things through and write down your answers to the following:

1. Where would you like to be living and by when?

For example: “I would like to be living in an apartment with a roommate or two before the end of this year, or in a house with several roommates.”

2. How will you get the money to move out?

Make a list of the places you are working/looking for work/looking for more work

3. Doing what?

For example: “I’m looking at culinary schools that have part-time programs. I could work in a restaurant 20-30 hours per week while I go to school. I’ll save up and have first and last month’s rent put away by October or November.”

4. What will you do if your roommate pulls out on you again?

“I’ll get separate leases this time.”

5. Think of what help you'll need and who you might ask

For example, maybe mom can help you with buying school books or perhaps you have a friend you could live with a few days a week to ease the stress while you're at your dad's.
If you’re in school now, you may have to cut back on classes to be able to afford to move out, or you may decide to stay at your dad’s longer in order to finish school.

You get the idea. Think through the obstacles you know you’re going to face, and plan to address each one.

Next, talk to your partner: Your mom sounds like she's a big supporter, but your dad sounds like the best person to partner with on your living arrangements. Enlist his help by planning a meeting with him. Schedule the conversation with him ahead of time and plan to meet away from home, just the two of you (no stepmom or kids, etc.). Take it seriously and he will too.

Let your dad know that you’ve appreciated living with them and that you still do, but that you think it’s time to get out on your own. Let him know you want try to find a room to rent/get an apartment-mate/rent a small studio apartment, here’s how much you’re going to have to save to be able to do it, and here’s how much time you figure it will take you.

Tell your dad that you think you will need 3 months/6 months/1 year to get together enough resources to live in a safe place on your own, and that you’d like his help with your plan to save up and move out in an organized way.

Using your written notes from your planning process, talk him through your thinking, and be prepared for his questions.

Ask him to help you conserve your energy for all the work you're going to need to do in order to move out on your own. Let him know that you would like to create an agreement with him about the time between now and when you move out.


  • Will you pay rent or get to save all your money?

  • What will your household responsibilities be?

  • What are the “house rules”?

  • How can you be helpful to him and his wife?


Negotiate an agreement with your dad, and let him know that you understand that he’ll need to discuss it with his wife. Also let him know that you’ll need him to stand by it if you’re going to make a healthy transition to living on your own. He can’t, for example, agree that you can stay 6 months then have your stepmom making comments such as, “When are you leaving?” after 3 months.

Don’t get into it with your dad about your stepmom. You aren’t asking him to turn on her, but you will need his help with her. Your father should be making the decisions and agreements about you living in his home, in consultation with his wife. Your stepmom knows she can’t make independent decisions about you, so she tries to wear your dad down with her complaints about you. An agreement will help him block her complaints about you and help you be crystal clear about his expectations while you live with them.

As far as the negative things your stepmother says to your dad about you, ask your dad to please not repeat her complaints to you. He should let you know if you are in violation of your agreement, but you don’t need to hear her complaints and criticisms. Let him know that you understand that she wants you out, and that you are doing your best to find a new situation, but you need some peace, stability, and air cover from him for a bit.

Your stepmother sounds like an anxious, mouthy woman. She expresses her anxiety by controling, complaining and withholding. You just happen to be a convenient target.
Right now, she is able to manipulate the resources you receive, the access you have to your siblings, even your relationship with your dad. This is because she has more power than you. This will not always be the case.

You should keep an open mind; I believe that people can always change. But make your plan based on today's reality--the way she has treated you so far.

Until you get on your own two feet, her direct and indirect attacks will drain your energy and self-esteem if you don't take good care of yourself. You should consider talking through your situation and your plan with a professional counselor.

If you are in school, you probably have access to a counseling center where you could talk with a counselor about your situation. If you are on your mom’s or dad’s health insurance, you can call and find out if you are able to see a counselor as a benefit (many insurance providers give you three free visits a year with a counselor).

If you don't have access to a professional counselor, consider talking with an aunt or uncle, an older family friend, the parent of a friend, or someone with some life experience--someone you trust. People don't want to hear a sob story, but they're always glad to hear your plans and share any ideas they might have to help you achieve your goals.

With or without outside help, you’ll have to build a barrier around yourself so your stepmother's words and actions don’t hurt you so much over time. I know that this is much easier to say than to do, but it’s what you have to do for yourself.

You sound like a strong and mature young woman. I am sorry that you have a stepmom who makes things more challenging at a time when everything is already hard enough. But please don’t move out of your dad’s house if it means moving into a compromising situation. Hang in there, be polite, make your plan, and then make your move.

When parents are divorced, kids have to grow up quicker and take care of themselves sooner. You’ve learned that already. You just may find that going through this process helps you become more organized, independent, and courageous. I did.

Please write to me any time.

Stay strong ~ ESM
< Return to Dear Evil Stepmom