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

 



Dear Amy
Stepdaughter Feels Burdened

Dear Amy,

My dad married a woman 16 years ago and she has been nothing but awful to me. She put on a show to my dad’s entire family and once the knot was tied she began trying to make our lives miserable. I grew up with a stepfather that raised and loved me as his own and never treated me differently than my sister (his and my mother’s daughter). Then on the other side of the spectrum I had an insane, selfish, insecure woman trying to control my dad. My dad and her have two kids together and they both adore me, but I’m lucky if I see my siblings once a year or get to speak with them on their birthdays. My dad’s family really took the role of my dad in my life, especially my grandfather. Recently he passed away extremely unexpectedly, and he was my protector when it came to my stepmom or bad decisions that my dad would make.

I found out today that my dad has been cheating on his wife for about 8 months. My dad has never been a cheater, he didn't cheat on my mom during their marriage and I never thought he would in this marriage. He began to feel bad about it and ended it with the woman, so she sent my stepmom a letter about what was going on. My dad was planning on telling my grandfather before he passed away, but he has been speaking to his mother everyday since my grandfather’s passing and he hasn’t told her yet. I am about to be 24 and I understand why he cheated on her; she’s awful to him but he stays because she’s seriously insane and that’s near impossible to prove because she’s a functioning adult and they have children together (she also treats them pretty awful).

Now they are trying to make things work and I think it is ridiculous. Obviously the relationship is doomed. I am the first person in the family that he has told about his affair. I know my dad - he is a good person, can be selfish at times, but overall a good person. He said that he did it because he wanted to hurt her for all the pain she has caused him. She makes his life horrible if he sees his family, or takes their kids to see his family. She punishes the kids, 11 and 13, if they see or speak to me.

I don’t know what to do. I can tell he feels terrible about it, and now he is trying to make things work with her. He told her that she has to accept and be a part of his family's life, but I know that she’s never going to accept me or the rest of my dad’s family into her life or her “family." I want him to leave her, I want him with somebody who will make him happy and do the simple things of accepting his family. I don't know what to do, what to tell him, or who to confide in.

Signed,

Confused and Hurting

Dear Confused,

I am so sorry you're in this situation. Being caught in the middle of family drama is extremely hard, and painful.

Being the only person in your family to know about your father's affair is a heavy burden. While it seems like you have some understanding of the situation, your dad needs someone else to talk to. I don't mean that he shouldn't talk to you; he should, and I'm very glad he has you. But a person outside the family who isn't part of the situation would be helpful. I think it would greatly benefit your dad to find a therapist. This person can help him to understand his actions in a new way, and also get to the bottom of how he feels about his wife, his marriage, his indiscretions, his family, and himself. All of this will help him to make informed decisions about how he wants to move forward, and the best way to do it.

Depending on how your dad already thinks about therapy, this could be a hard talk to have with him. I would start by having an outing, just you and him. This way you won't be interrupted by anyone (especially your stepmom), and it will also show your dad that this is important to you, and that you care about him. Let him know you think therapy could help him, and list some specific ways that it could. Ultimately the decision will be up to him, but it will help if he knows that someone who he loves, supports, and confides in (you!) believes that it could be a positive experience for him.

My parents sent me to a counselor when they got divorced. We played games and she gave me juice boxes. I was too young to understand therapy, but I opened up to her and talked - something I wouldn't do with my family. Over the years, I came to really appreciate having someone who I could talk to about anything and everything, and who wouldn't judge me. She was there to talk with me, to give my guidance, and to help me understand my options and choices.

I understand that being caught in the middle is hard, and I hope that outside support can help you dad, and lessen the burden on you.

I think it would be good for your dad to get a lawyer. He is in a toxic situation with your stepmom, and it seems that the only reason he is staying in his marriage is because he is afraid of what his wife would do if he left. You said that they have children together, which makes it even harder. He is probably trying to make things work "for his family,” but it's actually putting the kids a in bad situation. With a lawyer, he will be able to understand what he can do to make the situation better, at least in terms of legal rights. Part of this, however, is your dad making the choice to leave your stepmom. Having the tools to help him make an informed decision is the first step, and by this I mean a therapist and a lawyer. From there, he can understand his options, and hopefully make a decision that will be good for him and his children.

Since you don't live with your dad and stepmom, I think staying away is a good thing. You don't need to put yourself in a bad situation. I'm glad that you want to be there for your dad – that shows how caring and loving you are. I think staying in touch with him is great, but do it without getting your stepmom involved. As for your siblings, I am very sorry that you're not able to see them as much as you'd like. I have a younger sister as well through my dad and stepmom, and can imagine how hard that must be for you. Since you say that your stepmom doesn't want you in their lives, I would talk to your dad about it. Let him know how important they are to you, and ask for his help in finding a way to stay connected with them. I'm not sure how old they are, but maybe your dad could get them set up with their own email account so you could write each other. If they're too young for that, ask your dad if he can facilitate a weekly or monthly phone conversation. Knowing how much you care will help motivate him to keep his kids connected.

I would urge you to try and see the situation with your dad and stepmom from an outsider perspective - not as dad and stepmom, but just as people. It's amazing how being part of a conflict or situation can influence how we think about it. This isn't wrong, but it's subjective. It's one of multiple ways of seeing things. Imagine you didn't know your dad or stepmom, that they were just two people in a tricky situation. How would you see your dad? How would you see your stepmom? I ask this because changing your way of thinking changes the way you react to things. I don't mean that your way of thinking is wrong or bad, but by opening up to a different way of thinking, it can help give you a different perspective. It doesn't have to be the "right" perspective, but it will help you to see the situation with your dad and stepmom in a more rounded and open way. You might realize things about your stepmom that you didn't notice before, because you were focused on her actions towards you. Maybe she's going through her own stuff at work, or personally, and that's amplifying her behavior towards you and her other children. This doesn't mean that she's justified in her actions - but it might be an underlying cause that is creating more tension for her, causing her anger to flare up more intensely.

One of the hardest things to do can be to see things from a new perspective. It's hard to let go of your anger long enough to wrap your head around seeing things in a new way. In dealings with my own stepmom in the past, it was really helpful to try this. Once I opened myself up to new ways of thinking, a lot of my anger and confusion faded. I hope that you're able to do this too.

You sound very strong and caring, and your dad is lucky to have you.

Feel free to write anytime.

-Amy

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