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

 



Dear Amy
At An Impass
Dear Amy,

My parents have been divorced for almost 10 years and my dad remarried about seven years ago. My mom is still single. My dad never asked us if we liked his girlfriend, and didn't tell us about the engagement until weeks after. None of my siblings (3 brothers and now 1 stepbrother) liked it. We didn't have a part in the wedding, or wedding pictures. Well, we started off okay at the beginning of the marriage, but after two or three years it got bad. Now we haven't talked in nine months and I live with them every other week. My counsellor has told me its normal, but it's not. What can we do? I'm told to get over it and be the bigger person and talk to her, but she will just tell me that I am disgusting and not worth her time. Its killing me. What do I do?

Confused
Dear Confused,

I'm so sorry you're in this situation. I know how hard it can be to navigate stepfamily issues, especially when you're moving back and forth between houses. It's hard enough being a teenager, but add in stepparents and having to uproot your life every week and it can be extremely overwhelming. It can also feel really isolating, and that's hard. Please know that you're not alone, and that the problems you're having are not your fault.

I moved back and forth between my parents houses for eight years, and it was exhausting. I also didn't really like being at my dad's because I didn't like my stepmom. As I got older, it just became harder, and I pretty much shut down when I was at their house. I am sorry that you're having a similar experience, it's an awful thing to go through.

First, I imagine that part of why you don't have a good relationship with your stepmom is because you weren't given the opportunity to get to know her early on. Relationships take time, and your dad didn't really give you that. I think it would be really good to talk with your dad and let him know how you feel. Have you spoken with him about any of this? I'm assuming you talk to your dad, just not your stepmom, but if you don't, this is equally as important. Try and make a date with him while you're at his house to do something together, just the two of you. Do it away from the house so you won't be interrupted. Let him know that it was really hard not feeling involved in his wedding – I imagine it made you feel unimportant, and that's not okay. You are a very important part of your dad's life, and he should have made that a priority. Talk to him about why you and your stepmom don't talk, and about why you don't want to make the first move.

You don't mention specifics, but I gather that your stepmom hasn't treated you well. How much is your dad aware of? It's important that he knows what is going on, and that you're honest with him. Whether he always acts like it or not, he loves and cares about you, and deserves to know how unhappy you are. Just remember to try and stay calm and respectful when talking about your stepmom, even if you don't feel like it. Remember that she is important to your dad, and if you come at him angrily about her, he's not going to be very receptive. Also try and remember that your dad is probably feeling stuck in the middle between you two, and even if he's not handling it well, he most likely doesn't want to rock the boat – he wants you both to be happy, and doesn't know how to go about it. That being said, since he's not taking the steps to improve things, this is why it's important that you talk with him. I didn't have an honest conversation with my dad until years after I moved away from home, and I only wish I'd done it sooner. As hard as it can be to be honest with someone you love about difficult things, it always feels better after. Talking with my dad opened up a lot of old wounds, but in doing so it allowed me to move forward. I know things can't change overnight, but I hope that in talking with your dad, it allows for you to start to do the same.

Is there a particular reason why you and your stepmom stopped speaking? If there is, I think it would be important to revisit that, and spend some time reflecting on it. People can change a lot, and I imagine that you've changed a bit over the last nine months. Maybe after some exploring, you'll feel differently about what happened than you did before. But maybe not, and that's okay too. What's important is that you really know how you feel, and understand why. This will help you to be able to think about ways to move forward.

Part of me feels that as an the parent, your stepmom should be the one to initiate fixing this gap between the two of you. However, since she hasn't, it might need to be you. And that might not seem fair, but it might be what needs to happen. You don't have to start by trying to have a deep conversation with her – in fact, that's not the way to go. And you don't have to make time to catch her alone – in fact, taking the first step around the rest of your family will help you feel supported. Think about asking her something simple over the dinner table like how her day was. And I certainly don't blame you for not wanting to do this – I'm incredibly stubborn, and didn't want to give in to the standstill between my stepmom and I either. But once I did, I felt just the teensiest bit better. I didn't forgive her overnight, but it was actually a relief to not be silent and mad all the time. You will both have to work at this, because the last nine months aren't just going to disappear. But they'll fade. And because I want to help you, I'll be honest with you. Things might not change. Your stepmom still might not want to have a talkative relationship with you, and knowing that possibility is hard. But I think it's important to understand, because then you'll go into this knowing the possible outcomes. You'll be able to say that you tried, that you took the first step, and you did what you could. And knowing that will give you a sense of relief, that you didn't just hold out. I wondered for years what it would be like if I just gave in and tried with my stepmom, and I wish I'd done it sooner. The wondering is harder than the knowing.

You said that you see a counsellor, which I think it great. I've been in therapy most of my life, since my parents sent me to one at age seven when they got divorced. And it's helped me a lot, more than I can say. But, I do think that your counsellor is wrong in telling you that what you're experiencing is normal. Yes, you're not the only one to go through something like this, but by saying it's normal, it makes it seem like it's okay and nothing to worry about, and that's not true. It's a big deal to you, and your counsellor should realize that. Have you talked to her/him about how much it bothers you? It seems like you have, but I think it's worth talking about some more. The more specific you can be, the more helpful they can be. Don't just tell them that it bothers you, but tell them why you want to change it. Ask them for help in coming up with ideas on how to start talking with your stepmom, or ways that could help ease your discomfort while at their house. Also, I have to mention, that if you feel like your counsellor isn't working for you, think about finding a new one. There are a lot of counsellors out there, and sometimes it can take some looking before finding one that you really like.

I also want to touch on your siblings. Are you guys close? If you are, I think it's really important that you use one another for support. You mentioned that they aren't happy with your stepmom either, so it could be good to talk things out with them. My older sister and I weren't close growing up...in fact, we were the opposite of close. I would have loved to have a sibling to talk to about family stuff, and I think it's great that you do. Just try not to turn it into bashing your stepmom constantly. There's nothing wrong with having a complaining session, but try to keep the dialogue about more constructive things. Use them for support, and lend them yours. Think about coming up with some ideas together about ways to ease the tension at home.

Lastly, don't forget to focus on yourself. Your happiness is the priority, and that means that you need to think about what makes you feel good. I do think that taking steps to bridge the gap between you and your stepmom is important in your happiness at home, but don't forget to do other things that you enjoy. Spend some time each week getting lost in books at the library, take a long walk through the park or trails, sit at a cafe and people watch, make a weekly date with friends for a movie/hangout night. Doing things you enjoy will take your energy and focus away from the conflict at home, and that's what you need.

I hope at least some of this is helpful to you. Please don't hesitate to write again if you need, and remember that you're not alone. I'm rooting for you.

I'm always here,

Amy
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