Hey, look! Here's the end of my rope! (very long)

I had one of those nights last night. I was tired. My eyes were barely able to stay open, yet my mind was as wide awake as it has ever been. Earlier in the evening, an incident between me and my stepdaughter had escalated into a situation in which I let the F-word fly out of my mouth in a moment of uncontrollable anger and frustration.

Let me describe the incident, then I’ll tell you all about why I am really upset…

Heather (not her real name) had changed the baby’s diaper of her own accord, but had neglected to snap his outfit back together. He was crawling around with the unsnapped flaps of his bodysuit just hanging there. I asked Heather to finish the job of changing his diaper by snapping his outfit together. As soon as I finished saying those words–not as I was saying it, but after I had already made the request–she picked up the TV remote and sat down on the couch without a word. From there, it went a little like this:

Me: [calmly because maybe she didn’t hear me] Heather?
Her: Whaaaaat?
Me: [still calm, but with a little more emphasis here and there] Could you do it now, like when I say it?
Her: ::silence::
Me: [getting a little pissed] Heather!!
Her: Whaaaaaat?
Me: [with incredulity] Now!?
Her: I’ll do it in a minute ::sigh::
Me: [beginning to lose control of my anger] Why can’t you just do it now?

At this point, without taking her eyes off the TV, she leans forward and asks the one-year-old to “come here.”

Me: [seconds away from throttling her] I think we both know that’s not going to work. Just.get.up.and.get.him.and.snap.his.outfit.back.together.
Her: ::silence::
Me: Now, please!!!

At this point, her dad finally walks through the room to find me glaring at the back of the still-seated-comfortably Heather. He has either been in our bedroom or outside doing yard stuff. Either way, he hasn’t heard anything that has gone on between Heather and me. He walks casually around the couch that Heather has planted her stubborn ass on and heads toward the front door. He pauses before heading out to survey the situation, which has now gotten me to the boiling point.

Him: What’s goin’ on?
Me: [to him]I asked her to do one simple fucking thing for me, and she sits there like she’s on a throne ignoring me. [to her]Why can’t you just do one thing for me?

Then I head to the kitchen to throw away some trash that I’d been holding the entire time. While in the kitchen, I let a few more colorful words and phrases out to play.

Her: I’m not your [eight-year-old] son!
Me: No, you aren’t. He would’ve gotten his ass in gear about 45 seconds ago.

While I was in the kitchen, she finally got up, snapped the outfit together in a characteristically half-assed way leaving one of three snaps untouched, and went to her room.

And now, the real reason I am so upset…

The incident I described is just one of many, many similar incidents that have taken place over the five years I have been an active part of Heather’s life. Each time I have complained about her total lack of respect, I am brushed aside by my husband, who tells me that he doesn’t know how much longer he can live in a house with two warring women. I’ve told him that, first of all, she is not a woman (at least not to the extent that I am), and second, it isn’t warring. It’s her lack of respect for my place in the household.

I am responsible for keeping the house clean. I don’t mind that. What I mind is when Heather will glide through the house pointing out areas that need to be addressed with the vacuum cleaner or furniture that needs to be dusted. Of course, her dad never sees any of that, so it’s hard to convince him that it even goes on. I am treated like a maid by my stepdaughter and like a lunatic by her father. I get no support from him.

As a matter of fact, in regards to what happened yesterday, he dismisses my problems with her based solely on the fact that I said “fuck” and he thinks we are teaching our kids to cuss. Because that word came out of my mouth (never mind that it was because I literally couldn’t take it anymore…that doesn’t seem to matter), he has decided that none of my concerns has any merit. Every time I try to discuss this issue with him, he goes right back to scolding me for cussing. I told him he’s putting too much effort into trying to protect a sixteen-year-old high school student from a word she probably utters between every normal word she says all.day.long. He shrugs.

I know that he is using it as an excuse to keep from dealing with what he sees as nothing more than my inability to deal with a teenager. He preaches that parents should choose their battles. I told him that I have chosen to battle for respect from her. That is my battle. I have never wanted anything more from her than politeness, respect, and compassion for others. I am not the one who harps on her about her grades. That’s her dad. I am not the one who demands that she keeps her room clean. That’s her dad. I am not the one who forces her to keep in touch while she’s out with friends. That’s her dad. I don’t ask her to do a damn thing except be nice.

Here are the reasons I feel I deserve respect from her. She could pick one reason from the list and I would be fine.

  1. I am a human being.
  2. I am her dad’s wife.
  3. I am someone else’s mother, sister, aunt, granddaughter, daughter, cousin, and friend.
  4. I am the mother of the baby brother she loves so much.
  5. I am an adult who has gone through serious turmoil and tragedy on my way to where I am today.

The divorce rate is high among those who bring their own children into a new marriage. I don’t want to be a statistic. I love my husband more than I ever thought I could love another man after I got divorced the first time. He is affectionate and kind. He is a great daddy to our baby. He hasn’t been a great role model for his daughter. He neglected so many aspects of her upbringing. It never occurred to him (or any of the rest of his family) that this girl needed to learn how and why one should be polite to other people and why it’s a good thing to show compassion and why people need other people to lean on for support.

I can’t help but be a compassionate person. I care a little too much at times about others–almost to the point of shortchanging myself. This is what has happened over time with Heather. I can’t bring myself to be rude to her. I can’t even fake it to teach her a lesson. I am so mad at her. Her mother lives in the same town, and when she spends days at a time over there, I am a much happier person. I hate to say something like that because I feel like I am going against my own nature to say or even think something so ugly. At the same time, I continue to help her with certain things. I am eager to try to help her with her homework. I don’t mind showing her how to do things. I don’t expect gratitude, but maybe that’s a symptom of my obsessive-compulsive do-gooder disorder. I am taken for granted.

All I know is that when I was growing up as a stepchild in a well-run household, my dad made it crystal-clear to me that I was to show my stepmother the utmost respect. I was told that she had as much to say about how I was raised as my dad did, and there were no exceptions. He only had to tell me once.

I would love for my husband to put his foot down and tell Heather that she is subject to the three-strikes rule. Let her make the choice to leave this house so the blood isn’t on my hands. Tell her what the new rules are. Tell her that she either follows those rules or not. If she chooses not to follow the new rules, she chooses not to live here. She has to clear out her room. She has to surrender her house key. She must then make arrangements with us to stay here when she wants to see us. I know that sounds really harsh, but after five years of constant friction, eighteen is just too far away for me. I have run out of patience.

Good luck. I didn’t marry a man I loved very much because of his son. I could see those issues looming on the horizion and knew I would not deal well with “You can’t tell me what to do - you’re not my mom.”

Any way you and your husband can get counseling together? You’re his wife. He should listen to you, and he should damn well back you up with the kid. Sounds like she knows he doesn’t take you seriously when you complain about her, and uses that leverage.

Keep us posted on any developments. Good luck.

As someone who has been there and still is although much better now, put your foot down and DON’T EVER BACK DOWN. If he doesn’t support you, accidentally leave the newspaper around with some apartments circled on it. See what happens. He is not taking this seriously and you don’t deserve it. it’s that simple.

Children respond to being treated with respect just as adults do.
I do understand that you are the adult. You have stressors that she doesn’t, however, she does have stressors that may not seem important to you, but to her are gigantic.

In your narrative, she spontanously did a responsible thing, by changing the baby’s diaper. Could you not have said something like, “Thank you for changing your brother, that was a big help. Could you snap up his outfit too? When it drags like that, its much harder to clean. Its such a cute little outfit, and he’ll only fit into it for a short time, it would be a shame for it to be ruined without getting its full use.”
Its possible that by showing her respect, and praising her spontanous effort, she’ll be more willing to do as you ask.

I know we do all have a breaking point. If you normally treat her with respect, and she still fights you, then, it sounds like some councilling may be in order. Even though you have been an intregal part of her life, she has lost (in her mind) a parent. Even if he mother and father have been apart for most of her life, she is still effected by it.
Unless you find a way to bring her over to your side , you may remain the “Step-Monster.” That would be a shame.

My son hated his step-mom his whole life, even after he was an adult. The only thing I could ever figure out that she had done to deserve his ire was (besides trying to feed him Hambuger Helper) was to not listen to him, not recognize his pain or give him the respect he needed and deserved.

I may be way off base, and if I am, I apologize.

Wow, I’m impressed that you got her to change a diaper! I agree that your husband should back you up on this, but your exchange with your stepdaughter sounds like conversations I have with my kids every. single. day. No matter what, they feel that it is their duty to get out of every possible kind of work that might be requested of them. “I forgot.” “Wait til the commercial.” “It’s not my turn.” “I’ll do it in a second.” “I have a headache.” No matter what, they have an excuse. I just have to keep on them until they do what they’re supposed to do. I’ve been known to crack under the pressure, too.

It doesn’t sound like she’s reacting any differently than any other teenager, you just need to get your husband’s support in dealing with her. Maybe Lissla’s counseling suggestion is a good idea.

This is why I probably shouldn’t have kids. I would’ve smacked her on the back of her head.

FWIW (and that might not be very much…), here is what crossed my mind. You are her stepmother, yes. But, you are not her friend. Have you tried taking her out of the house on neutral ground and “befriending” her? Like a girls’ day out - girls’ night out/whatever? No father around, no one to stand up for her (no “audience” for her?) - just you two.

Take her to the mall, clothes shopping, movies or whatever it is that girls her age like to do. You and she both know you’ll never replace her mother, but in addition to being her stepmother, you can become her “friend”. Not a friend that she can bend and conform to her needs, but someone she can relate to. Someone she finds she might “enjoy” being around. This might lead to some respect on her part.

Deal with her on her level, doing things she likes to do, showing an interest while you’re shopping with her (or whatever). Find something you both enjoy doing and try to do it together. Show her that you are indeed a human and that might perhaps change her thoughts.

Its obvious that there’s a lot of tension in your house. If your DH wont help or acknowledge the problem, you can try to solve the problem in a way that pleases both you and his daughter. This has the potential to break the ice between you two - and hubby probably wont even realize what you did.

I’ve often heard of step-parents having no say with the stepkids - and it sounds like absolute torture to me. You love her dad, he loves his daughter - you all need to get along. Counting on her leaving at 18 is not guaranteed. She may be around a few more years beyond that. Your sanity is just as important as everyone elses!

I sympathize with your position, and your husband does sound a bit weeniesque re his daughter, but one thing you seem to be leaving out of the equation is the step-daughter’s perspective on all this. First you need to get over the notion that she’s a member of your household, she’s not, she’s an occasional guest that comes and goes. Trying to engage her as part of your nuclear household is not in the cards. She is not particularly emotionally invested, nor on a practical level would one expect her to be, in being an occasional guest in your nuclear family scenario, so the expectations you have for her as a household member are mostly likely not shared by her.

As on site wife and mother, you want full mother respect cred from her, but given the split household scenario, it’s unlikely she’s going to give it to you, and it sounds like your husband is not willing to fully engage her on the issue because he has ambivalent feelings about the level of sincere respect he can command from her before his relationship with her is on the rocks as well. You are in an an extraordinarily difficult situation. Making him effectively choose (even if he is a weenie) between his daughter and you is a strategy that is likely to come to grief. You need to understand that emotionally (whether you actually did or not is irrelevant) you’re the woman who took her dad away.

In your described dialog with her there is a strong undercurrent of seething anger from you. These situations tend to escalate until you have a rubbed raw, hair trigger temper for her casual treatment of you, and she thinks you’re an angry, volatile bitch. Unless you can be realistic about the practical limits of her emotional investment in your household and control your temper on these issues, you are likely headed for a divorce.

You’ve gotten a lot of good suggestions here about winning your daughter’s respect (not that I think you should have to ingratiate yourself, but sometimes you go with what works.)

I’d suggest another possible avenue, to be combined with other suggestions as you see fit.

As the woman of the house, you DO wield power. Do you make dinner? Do you do laundry? Do you buy the batteries for the TV remote control?

Start excercising your power where you have it, and show that there are plenty of reasons for you to get proper deference in the household.

Yes dear, I only made enough dinner for me, my son, and our infant. When you start to take my problems seriously, perhaps I’ll think about making dinners for everyone again.

Yes dear, I cleaned my clothes but yours are still in a stinky pile in the laundry room. If you’d like clean clothes, you can do them yourself or you can start treating me with the respect I deserve as a human being and an authority figure in this household.

No, sorry, no TV until you perform the tasks assigned to you. This si the part of your rant that confuses me the most. I’d be standing in front of the television, or pulling out the plug, so she isn’t watching ANYTHING until she completes what’s been asked of her.

In short, make her realize that life can get much harder than it is, and that you intend to head down that road if it’s what it takes to get respect.

But then, what do I know, I have a 2 year old, so making her do anything is a pretty good challenge.

You’re assuming that she would care. She doesn’t change his diapers to be of assistance to me. She changes his diapers so she can wrap herself up in a hug and congratulate herself for being “such a good person.” I assure you that she does nothing for the benefit of anyone other than herself. I have observed her for quite a long time.

Believe me, I was tempted.

I can’t even get her to acknowledge my existence. She has no interest in spending any alone time with me. She doesn’t even directly address me. She asks her dad to ask me questions.

During the school year, her father tightens the reins a bit. She lives with us full time. Occasionally, on weekends, she will stay a night or two with friends or at her mom’s. This is no different than any other family that includes mobile teenagers. She is very much a part of this family. She is here every night for dinner. We watch movies together. We play games together. Just because she has the option to spend time with her mother doesn’t mean she shouldn’t consider herself to be part of a “nuclear” family.

I am not immature or manipulative enough to pull that off. I have sat quietly, dealing with her shit for the past five years.

There has been no improvement. I have tried to “be her friend, not her parent.” Hasn’t changed a thing. I have tried to “disengage” from her, leaving her dad responsible for all things related to his daughter. Doesn’t work because I can’t leave my husband in the lurch when it comes to doing something for him that is actually something for her.

So, never mind that I calmly tried to get her to do a simple task for me. Never mind that when I did say the “f-word” I was actually talking to her dad. Never mind that she has shown consistently over the past five years no sign of “getting it.” Never mind that for those five years, her dad has been done exactly nothing to help me in this situation. It all boils down to: If I don’t learn to control a temper that erupted as a result of blatant rudeness on her part, I am headed for a divorce.

It sounds like she is a nasty, self-entitled little brat. My parents got divorced when I was eight and I suddenly found myself living with a step-dad who could be an incredibly unreasonable dickhead so I can see things from her perspective and I still think she is being a shit. That said, you and you alone are going to have to let it go. It is unreasonable to expect Dad to not put his daughter first and that means before you. It shouldn’t be surprising that step-daughter is going to act differently when Dad is not around either.

Some of the advice that you are getting to pull passive/aggressive behavior, like from crazy joe, is horrible. This isn’t a sitcom and I guarantee that it will make things much, much worse. If anything, you may want to try family therapy with Dad and step-daughter. This may or may not work if everyone is willing to try. Maybe a weekend alone at a spa would do you some good.

Anyway, the last thing that you want to do is get a divorce and put the younger kids in the same situation. Let it go, for your own mental health.

That’s why I see this as a problem between you and your husband more than you and your stepdaughter. She’s acting like a typical teenager - just seeing how much she can get away with and how far she can push. Without support from your husband, she’s never going to listen. You and he need to work this out between you, and counseling might be what it takes.

That’s what a lot of teenagers are like. It has nothing to do with stepparents- I was pretty much like that to my mom as a teenager. I did stuff she asked me to do to prevent having to deal with a fight, not because I wanted to help her.

I would recommend telling her, calmly, and at a time when neither of you is upset, that it upsets you when she sits down on the couch with the TV remote and doesn’t acknowledge the request you made. You might have to settle for her saying, “I’ll do it in a minute”, but then you should make sure she actually does do it when she said she would do it.

I had a huge control issue with my mom, so I almost never did what she told me to do when she told me to do it. Waiting a few minutes was my way of asserting what control I could over the situation. You really can’t expect to have total control over these situations- that would mean she has no control at all, and she couldn’t help resenting that.

She may also feel that, no matter what she does, you’ll find something she missed or something to criticize about it. I’d focus on the positive- she did change the diaper, and did a good job of it. I had this problem with my mother as well- no matter what I did, I felt like she didn’t think it was good enough. That was really a huge demotivator for doing anything for her. Nobody likes to do things for someone who’s just going to complain about how they did them, or about the other things they didn’t do.

Are you saying that I am an incredibly unreasonable dickhead for asking her to finish the job she started on her own? :confused:

I knew it wouldn’t take long for someone to tell me that she’s “just a teenager.” That’s what I get from her dad all the time. To this, I reply, “Yeah, but who’s gonna teach her about being an adult? You think it happens magically the very second she blows out all eighteen candles? As if she will just be filled with all worthwhile knowledge and be granted a gift for compassion and politeness.”

Those traits and habits must be taught by someone and learned by someone else. It sickens me that my husband allowed her to sink as far as she has into the rude and selfish behavior and tendencies that she exhibits so often.

I was a stepchild of a stepmother who I thought of as a “stepmonster.” Who better to “understand her point of view?” I have her perspective tucked neatly into my memory. However, I am not given any credibility for that, either. She is just sure that my experiences bear absolutely no resemblance to anything she is "going through."

I can no longer attempt to “help” her with any of this. I’m tired of being subject to her abuse. That’s what she really is: abusive. At the same time, her dad’s non-involvement is another kind of abuse, really. He has thrown me to the wolves and left me there with nothing to defend myself with.

NO NO NO. I am sorry if you got that impression. My step-dad who outweighed my by 150 lbs tossed me against the wall a few times when because I bested him in a debate. Shit like that. You are not being unreasonable at all.

Good! For a minute there, I thought I was gonna have to say the “f-word”… :wink:

As a teenager, I’m going to throw in my two cents. I’m not saying that what I’m describing is the same as your situation; I don’t know, since I don’t live with you. However, this can’t hurt.

The reason I’ve always been so reluctant to do what my parents asked is that it seemed like whenever I did one thing, there was always something else they wanted me to do. It felt like there was no point in doing any of it, if there would always be something else.

Seconded. I would also say that your step daughter is very good at the divide and conquer thing. She needs to know that you and her father are of the same mind about this. Sit down and talk to your husband (again, calmly), and ask him to be in on the discussion. Tell him that it’s important that your daughter sees the two of you as united in what you expect of her. She sees you as trying to take over her territory, and is trying to establish herself as the one in control. Yes, it’s childish and stupid. But that’s what’s happening. After having done it to several of my father’s gf’s when I was younger (no, I’m not proud of it) I can tell you in no uncertain terms; this is what’s happening. Make sure your husband contributes to the discussion, so that your step daughter knows this is what he wants, too. Respect works both ways, you’re going to have to tell her you know it’s a difficult situation for her, too. Maybe she’ll thaw a bit if she knows you are trying to see her perspective as well. Good luck. Being a step parent is a pain in the ass.

No, it’s a reasonable request. I’m just saying you might get better results if you asked in a different way. She changes the diaper, you don’t acknowledge it or thank her for doing it, you just criticize her. Instead of saying “You did a half-assed job of changing his diaper because you didn’t snap up his suit. Snap up his suit right now”, you could have said, “Thank you for changing his diaper. Now could you please snap up his suit?” Or you could say, “When you change his diaper, could you please snap up his suit as well?” Respect has to be a two-way street. She won’t respect you if she doesn’t feel that you respect her.

It did happen pretty much that way for me , though not instantly on my 18th birthday (well, not the “all worthwhile knowledge” bit- that happens at 35, right? ;)). Eventually, I realized that I did like my parents, and I did want to help them out. It helped that I moved out of the house, so the control issues weren’t there anymore.