Dear Dr. G.,
I am a 16 year old teenage girl. My parents got divorced a year ago.
There has been a lot of he said, she said, between my parents. My mom claims my dad had an affair and my dad said the same about my mom. About a month after the divorce my dad moved out and into a new house with his girlfriend. When she and I first met, we were fine. Later in 2017 she moved into my mom’s house and my dad kicked my mom out. From that time onward my dad’s girlfriend has changed completely. One could say she’s become the typical “evil stepmother”.
I have always been fond of her, up until she started treating me badly and all I can dream of is either staying with my mom permanently which unfortunately cannot happen because she can’t afford it, or I dream often of my dad & his girlfriend breaking up for good.
Here is some of what my dad’s girlfriend does:
*I am not allowed to use the master bathroom, yet I’ve always used it when my parents were together.
*She hates it when I go shopping with them and loves it when I decide to stay home (I can see this because in the 2 situations there’s a change in her tone & attitude).
*I’m never allowed to have friends sleep over & I’m hardly ever allowed to go to my friends.
*She speaks on behalf of my dad and never allows him to answer for himself.
*Her answer to LITERALLY everything is NO.
*She badmouths my mother all the time.
*She doesn’t wash my laundry if I perceive a dark to be a light (we have to separate our washing according to color & we HAVE to fold it. If it’s not be folded properly she won’t wash it but if my dad does it wrong she’ll still wash his things.
*She doesn’t allow me to hug my dad.
*She never speaks to me nicely. She snaps at me & is short with me.
*My dad and I have always been close and his girlfriend is the cause of us drifting apart.
*My dad doesn’t know who I am anymore. He doesn’t know my likes or dislikes.
*He has said she’s jealous and threatened by me.
*And she has admitted to my dad that she wants him all to herself.
*If she and I get into a fight my dad will blame me for everything. But as soon as he and his girlfriend get into a fight, he’ll suddenly become my best friend and blame her for everything and tell me that I was never at fault.
*He is 2 different people to satisfy his girlfriend.
*I have spoken to my dad countless times about how I feel and how I think we can improve and he hears what I’m saying but like I said when his girlfriend and he are fighting he’ll say I don’t need to fix anything because she has issues but will say otherwise if they’re not fighting.
*His girlfriend has admitted she has issues but refuses to get help.
I’m slowly getting tired of this. I had depression not so long ago. It drove me toward suicide but I went to a psychologist to help me and he gave my dad advice for his girlfriend and all. My dad listened for a while, things got better and now have gone totally off the tracks yet again.
I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to live in this sort of environment.
I cannot ever do anything without his girlfriend getting upset, angry or jealous about it.
I’m forever isolating myself. Every time I speak to my mom she always knows that I’m sitting in my room because I’m either left out or shouted at.
A Distressed Teen
My heart breaks for you. During the past year, you have been dealing with so many transitions and your relationships with the adults in your life have clearly been distressing, painful and consistently unpredictable. I am so sorry. I am going to do my best to try to help you make sense out of what is happening and then we will try to figure out what steps you can take. I want to help you sort things out so that you don’t become depressed and start feeling increasingly helpless.
First, I suggest that when your parents tell you about who had an affair you respond by telling them that that is between the 2 of them. You do not need to hear about their accusations against each other. That does you no good and you do not need to be in the middle of their affairs both literally and figuratively.
Next, regarding the girlfriend who we will refer to as the stepmother because she is in that role, she is clearly having a number of issues of her own. This is impacting you, your relationship with your father and your feelings toward her. Clearly, she is insecure, jealous and unaware of how to navigate a potentially good relationship with her partner’s teen. This is a tragedy even if it is not uncommon. Nonetheless, she does not get a pass because she doesn’t know what to do. I would like you to remain aware of the fact that she has many issues of her own so that you don’t get involved in self-blame.
I am concerned about your father’s behavior and his passivity (lack of behavior). He is basically giving your stepmother permission to mistreat you by his lack of intervening. He makes excuses for her behavior. This is not helpful to anyone even if it may be what comes easiest to him. He behaves differently toward you based on whether or not he is fighting with her. This is also very problematic. He treats you better when they are fighting. That puts you in a terrible position.
It doesn’t seem like your mother is in a position to help you. You stated that she cannot afford to have you live with her. I wonder if you get to spend time with your mother where she is currently residing. Perhaps, that would be a nice break for you.
So, basically, you are in a situation where the adults are acting in both unhelpful and painful ways. No wonder you are so distressed. It would be surprising if you weren’t. Now, regarding a plan and the next steps:
1. I am wondering if you have any other relatives or family friends who can step in and help you. Is there anyone else who you can live with?
2. Please find a way to get back into therapy. You need to have someone to talk to. Do NOT wait until you get badly depressed before seeking help.
3. Do you have a go-to person who can give you emotional support? I am thinking that perhaps someone at school, a friend’s parent or even a trusted adult neighbor may be able to listen and talk to you. We all do better if we do not feel alone. Does your school have any sort of support group? If so, consider joining.
4. Sit down with your father when you are alone. Tell him how distressed you are and request that the family go to counseling together. It is clear that everyone in the house needs help.
5. Maybe you can try to soften the relationship with your stepmother. I am not sure that this will work but perhaps you can offer to help with laundry and other chores so that it is clear that you are trying to be cooperative and also trying to include her. This may or may not be helpful but it may be worth a try.
Please get back to me and let me know how things unfold. Navigating these relationships is clearly painful and my hope is that things will become kinder and gentler for you.