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

 



Dear Amy
Feeling Like a Target at Home

Dear Amy,

I have a very mean, vindictive, and rude stepmother. She's horrible to my sisters and I. It seems like every few months she has to start a fight with me about the dumbest things. She tries to make my life a living hell and she tries to make me scared of her.

The other night she started a fight with me again. My dad, brother, her and I were all at dinner and she started telling me that my little brother was not allowed to joke around with me because I'll just get mad. I've gotten mad at my little brother once because he poured soda down my back. When this happened she got mad at me for yelling at him, and my dad was pissed at her because she treats me horribly.

Well during this particular fight at dinner she told me she hated me and a lot of mean stuff, but for once I didn't take it. I told her that I was done with her making my life hell and that I wasn't going to let her win anymore or scare me. I want her to know that I'm not going to back down and let her treat me wrong anymore. How do I do this? I would hate to have to be a total b word but I feel like if I don't she won't ever understand that I'm serious. I don't want to be scared of her anymore either.

- Pissed Off

Dear Pissed Off,

I am very sorry you're having such a hard time with your stepmother. It seems as if you feel like a target in your own home, and that's an awful way to feel. It doesn't seem fair that you're the only one being given a hard time. It's never completely smooth sailing when a new addition gets added to a family, no matter the situation. From my own experiences as a stepdaughter, I have learned that there are a number of things that can help give you a better understanding of your situation.

How long has your stepmom been a part of your family? If it's fairly recent, meaning the last few years, she is probably still adjusting to her new situation. You don't mention step-siblings, but you do mention a brother – is he you're biological brother? Assuming she doesn't have children of her own, this is a big change for her. She married a man with children, is trying to build a lasting marriage, and there are kids in her house that she doesn't know where she stands with. Is she supposed to discipline them? Tell them to do chores? Ask them about school? Be a friend or a parent? These are all questions that she is asking herself, and she's most likely very overwhelmed. If the brother you mention is her son, she is still struggling with these questions, but she is also feeling protective of her child. The role of a stepmother is a challenging one, and as much as you might not want to, I urge you to try and see things from her perspective. I don't mean that everything she's doing is okay, but her anger towards you is probably the result of her feeling anxious, confused, and just plain in the dark.

When I got a stepmom at nine, my world got upturned. I didn't know what our relationship was supposed to be – was I supposed to call her Mom? Was I supposed to want to do things with her? Was I supposed to even like her? Although I was still young, these struggles continued into my teens, and continue still into my twenties. Over the years I learned something very helpful, which was to get to know my stepmom as a person. Did she work, and if so, doing what? What did she enjoy doing in her spare time? What were her favorite foods? There's a reason people created all those get-to-know-each-other games – because as silly as they may seem, they work. And finding commonalities, even in something as simple as a shared love of pudding, will help you and your stepmom both to see each other in new and different ways. It will break the barrier of the stepmom-step-daughter dynamic and connect you as individual people.

You sound to me like you have a very good head on your shoulders. You've already identified something you need by saying you're not going to 'lay down' anymore– boundaries. It's important to understand that there's a difference between standing up to someone and setting boundaries. Standing up to someone implies conflict, and while there is conflict going on in your situation, you want that to dissipate, and boundaries will give you a smoother go at that.

Where is your dad in this situation? You mentioned that he got mad at your stepmom for treating you this way, but does he always? I urge you to start by talking to your dad about how you feel. Don't bash your stepmom to him, but let him know how it makes you feel when she takes her anger out on you. Whether or not your dad says anything during a conflict, he's not blind. He probably feels stuck in the middle between you and your stepmom. He's trying to make a marriage work with his wife, and at the same time be a father to you. Even though he might not be right in staying quiet (if that's what he sometimes or always does), he may feel that his voice would only get him in trouble with one of you.

Make a plan for just you and your dad to go somewhere or do something where you can talk and won't be interrupted. Let him know you're going to set some boundaries for yourself. What those boundaries are depend on you and who you are, but one thing I think is important is that you set a boundary that you won't put yourself in a situation that leaves you open for your stepmother to find something to nitpick about. What I mean is, do what you can – if you're in the kitchen with your stepmom, do some dishes before she has a chance to ask you (or yell at you) to do them. Little things like that are easy for you to do, and can make a big difference in dissolving conflict.

Talk to your stepmom and let her know how it makes you feel when she yells at you. Don't do this angrily, it will only make her reactive to what you're saying. Stay calm, and simply tell her how you feel. Tell her you'd like to have a better relationship with her, and ask if you two could go shopping sometime (or to lunch, to the park – anything that gives you both time to talk, while not putting the pressure on talking every second). After telling her, listen to what she has to say. If she needs to think about it, let her. If she says she thinks it's a great idea – fantastic! You've laid some groundwork for you both to build on. But, if she doesn't respond kindly, leave it at that.

There will always be time to revisit trying to have a positive relationship with her, but for whatever reason, this isn't the time for her. If this is the case (and even if it's not), find some activities you can do outside your home. Time spent away from the house means less time for conflict, and that's what you need right now. What are your interests? Take some time and think about what you would enjoy doing. Going to the park, joining a sports team or a club at school, letting your imagination loose with books at the library – any of these would be great ways to get you out of the house, while focusing your mind and energy on something you genuinely enjoy.

One of the hardest things to remember is to be patient. It takes time for stepfamilies to feel comfortable with one another. It took years for my stepmother and I to have the great relationship that we do today, and that's not to say that we don't still have conflict sometimes. But what family doesn't? If you focus on yourself by keeping healthy and spending time doing the things you love, you will have less energy to spend on conflict at home. Remember that by putting yourself first, you are doing the right thing – and making it possible for you and your stepmom to have a good relationship in the future.

I'm always here if you want to write.

- Amy

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