Dear Dr. G.,
Hi. I'm a miserable 15 year old girl. My parents got divorced about five years ago. It was probably a good thing because there was so much fighting in the house when they were married. The problem is that I was always closer to my father than to my mom. When my father moved out he and I were still very close. We would talk a lot and I would spend weekends at my dad's house.
Fast forward, to the present. My father got married again about a year ago. He married a lady with two teenage daughters. As far as I can tell my father is really nice to these girls. I am a little jealous that these girls get to live with my father but they're really nice so that makes me happy. The problem is that my stepmother seems to hate me. She says mean things about my mother. I overheard her calling me a spoiled brat to my father. She complains that my father gives my mom too much money.
Lately, my father has been contacting me less. I feel like that my stepmother has put a wedge between me and my dad. I feel obnoxious saying this but I think my stepmother is jealous of me. I am a better student than her daughters and I look a lot like my mother who my step-mom doesn't like. My mother is really nice and pretty. Whenever my parents are on the phone about something related to me or my brother my stepmother gives my dad the silent treatment.
Dr.G. is this how most stepmothers act? Is there anything that I can do to improve my relationships with my dad and my stepmother?
A Sad Teen
Your situation is sad and seems very stressful. I must say that you seem both intelligent and well-intentioned. You ask if most step-mothers behave like this. I certainly hope that the majority of stepmothers do not behave like this. I would like to think that most adult women would be kinder to their husband's children. Nonetheless, I have worked with many teenage girls who have felt as though their stepmothers were in competition with them for the father's love. This is a shame because a father generally loves his wife and daughter in different ways. Sometimes a confusing dynamic develops where the stepmother begins to see the child from the earlier marriage as the "other woman." This is a painful and very difficult dynamic.
There have been many instances in my career where I have been called upon to clarify roles in step-families so that everyone assumes the proper role without worrying that there is not enough love, emotion and resources to go around. Just as it is not easy to be a step-child it's not always easy to be a step-mother. Nonetheless the burden is on your father and stepmother to step up to the plate and create a harmonious environment for you in their home.
I recommend strongly that you have a heart-to-heart talk with your father. Without verbally attacking or devaluing your stepmother, explain to your father how she makes you feel. While you're at it, tell your dad that you miss him and feel that you two are becoming less close. Perhaps your dad will then have a dialogue with your stepmother and things will improve. If things improve then that is fabulous. If they do not that is a shame. In that case, you will need to accept that your step-mom's behavior may not change but that you can change your reaction to her. Over time you may learn that it is possible to be less emotionally reactive to her insensitivity. I am sad that you may have to do this but I am simply looking out for you.
Good luck to you and let me know how things unfold.
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