Straight Talk Advice

Wicked stepmother or blameful stepchildren?

Apr 21, 2015

Stepmother seeks help for deep-freeze hostility

Dear Straight Talk: My stepchildren (16 and 17) are incredibly cold to me even though I had nothing to do with their parent’s divorce. I met their father a year later and eight months after that, we now live together. They hardly greet me or look at me. I handle it by being unobtrusive, preparing food they might like and scheduling myself elsewhere to give them space together. But it hurts. They won’t join him for holidays if my grown children are present, thus we spend holidays apart, me traveling to see my kids and he staying home to accommodate his. His kids have always gotten what they wanted and are entitled and narcissistic. What can I do? — Sad Stepmother

Karlee 17, Bentleyville, Pa. Ask me a question

I was extremely hostile towards my stepmother at first. But don’t live your life walking on eggshells. Step one is confronting your husband. He should be sticking up for you and setting rules for split holidays, respectful communication, etc. The kids are caught up thinking that if they like you, it's a betrayal of their mother. Explain that you will never replace her (over-mothering was my main beef toward my stepmother). Honestly, it takes time. Lots of time. But you won't get there by avoiding them or letting them walk on you. Let them know you’re there for them — and keep the food coming!

Justin 17, Brentwood, Calif. Ask me a question

I don't treat my stepdad poorly just because he's not my real dad. He's still human. Your partner needs to set basic household rules of respect.

Meghan 20, State College, Pa. Ask me a question

It was difficult being in the same room with my stepmom, but things are improving after a couple of years. Accept the rock-bottom scenario they may never come around and just be yourself. Giving them “dad time” is good, but pay attention to them, too, so you can give real compliments and thoughtful gifts without overdoing it. Remember, the kids are sad, too.

Molly 23, Oakland, Calif. Ask me a question

Be patient. Also, drop any resentment. I guarantee, it leaks through.

Brandon 23, Mapleton, Maine Ask me a question

They may pick up your judgment. Find positive traits about them and notice what you have in common. Remember, these kids feel betrayed and you’re an outsider. Don't try to win them both over at once. Concentrate on whoever seems most receptive and the other will follow. 

Brie 23, London, England Ask me a question

Honestly, I hated my step mom. Only after I moved away from home could I see how good she was for my dad and how selfish I had been. Now we get along, but I wouldn't say we’re close, nor am I close with her children. Continue being kind and give them time with their dad and they should come around.

Samantha 23, Toledo, Ohio Ask me a question

This is unacceptable. Your partner should say enough with the rudeness and refuse to separate your holidays. Keep killing them with kindness, but also stand up for yourself. Even if they never change, don’t feed into their negativity.

Dear Stepmother: I hope each panelist was helpful. What you're describing is abusive behavior and allowing it to continue is bad for every single person in this family. If hubby won't step up, schedule a family meeting yourself (along with another one for you and Mr. Spine). In a warm, solid voice, explain to the children that you are sorry for what they're going through — AND starting now, you will no longer be the scapegoat. Tell them you are not their mother but you are committed to the family and as female head of household you deserve basic courtesies and respect. (Notice I didn't say they have to be friends with you, which may never happen — although your genuine kindness, helpfulness, compliments and thoughtful gifts will increase that possibility over time.) This is step one. Don't analyze, label or assassinate anyone's character and avoid “or-else statements” which invite testing. Practice with a friend or counselor beforehand and stay above the fray, yet warm. Afterward, bring out your secret weapon, an irresistible meal, lovingly served.

Editor's Note: In 2008, when Straight Talk was still young, we did a column "Recipe for a Dynamite Stepmother." The panel rocked this and any stepmother or stepfather will find the information valuable, whether she is facing hostility or just the awkwardness of her new situation.

From the other side of the mirror, we also did a column just a few weeks ago on what is perhaps the fuel in today's fire called "Mom hates new Stepmom, wants kids to hate her, too." This is also very informative.

For stepfathers in particular, our column on "New stepdad asks for on-the-job tips" contains extremely useful, specific advice for stepfathers. 

My hats off to every member of a divorced family, kids, parents, steps and bios alike. Your job ain't easy. Each of you holds the cards of kindness and forgiveness, courtesy and respect, which can change the dynamic for the whole, even coming from one person.  —Lauren

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  1. By Shannon, age 16, from Carmichael, CA on 04/24/2015

    Our stepsister hates our mom for no explainable reason.  Our mom goes out of her way to be nice to her when she’s here, but gets nothing back but hostility.  As with Sad Stepmother, our mom had nothing to do with the break up of her parent’s marriage as they did not even meet until the divorce process was well under way.  I can’t say for sure, but I suspect that her mom poisoned her against our mom because she’s jealous of the fact that our stepdad is now happy in his new marriage while she’s still alone.  My sister and I have to share our room with her when she comes for visitations and she’s constantly making hateful comments about our mom.  At first we tried to argue with her and defend our mom, but it just made things worse to try to argue so now we just keep our mouths shut, but it’s not easy.  She also complains about how much she hates having to share a room with us when she has her own room at home and doesn’t like sharing.  Well, we don’t like sharing a room with her either, but we don’t complain.  And we share a room every day and it’s not a problem for us, but she complains about sharing a room every other weekend!  And even though we’re all girls, she’s so modest that she demands we leave the room when she undresses if you can believe that! We’re not the least bit interested in looking at her body, but we resent having to leave our own room over something so stupid.  We don’t demand that she leave the room when we undress since even though we don’t like her, we’re still all girls so we don’t care if she sees us naked.  But our mom says that we have to go along with this because she wants her to feel comfortable, and our mom goes out of her way for her in many ways, but she still hates our mom. 


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    1. By Cheri, age 17, from Santa Ana, California on 04/24/2015

      I actually wish my stepsister was much more modest.  Like with you and Sad Stepmother, she is very hateful to my mom even though she had nothing to do with the breakup of her parent’s marriage, and she’s also hateful to me who obviously had nothing to do it.  She totally takes her mom’s side against her dad and is also hostile to him!  She doesn’t even want to come to our house for visitations, but my stepdad demands his visitation rights even though all she does is make things very unpleasant for all of us when she’s here.

      I get it the worst because I have to share my room with her when she’s here.  She also likes to make me uncomfortable by stripping down to nothing but her thong saying she wants to be “comfortable.”  To make matters worse, she does it when I have friends over to make them uncomfortable and embarrassed and now they won’t come over when she’s here.  When I ask her to please put something on she says “don’t you know that girls are all the same?”  Of course I know this! My friends and I aren’t modest and aren’t shy about undressing in front of each other and seeing each other nude.  However, we don’t believe in exposing ourselves this way and don’t like having to constantly look at someone in just a thong with her big bare boobs right in your face.  It’s obvious that she’s doing this just to spite me, and I’m tired of it!  There are worse things than a stepsister being too modest.


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  2. By T.R., age 16, from Toledo, Ohio on 04/25/2015

    My stepdad did leave his former wife for my mom.  However, it was his choice and she did not “steal him away” like my stepsister says, and from what I’ve heard, the marriage was in serious trouble anyway.  Leaving was his choice, but my stepsister is still very warm and loving toward him but very hateful toward my mom and puts all the blame on her.  She’s also hostile toward my sister and me even though we’ve tried to be friends with her.

    When she stays with us, I have to give up my room for her and bunk with my sister and share her double bed.  My sister and I get along well and certainly don’t have a problem with things like undressing and nudity in front of each other, so I can handle sharing a room and bed with her every other weekend.  Even so, it is still a major inconvenience to not have my own room for a whole weekend.  It would be easier to accept if my stepsister at least showed some appreciation for the fact that I’m giving up my room for her, but she just acts like it’s her “entitlement” and I can also see that she goes through all my drawers which I really resent.  However, my mom says not to make an issue of it unless it looks like she damaged or taken something and that hasn’t happened.  Since it’s my own room, I didn’t see a need to knock before entering if I needed something, but one time she was in her bra and thong underwear and was furious when I came in.  I don’t see what the big deal is since we’re both girls, but I said I was sorry and now she demands that I knock and receive permission to enter my own room and my mom says I have to go along with it.

    Even though we’ve gone out of our way to accommodate her and she always gets her way, she still has nothing but hostility and resentment toward us.


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  3. By C.S., age 39, from Auburn, CA on 04/26/2015

    The issue with my 13 year old stepdaughter is actually the opposite and I want to be a good stepmother to her, but not intrude on her relationship with her own mother.  She says her mother is “very prudish” and she can’t talk to her about “female issues” so she comes to me because she feels comfortable with me.  She actually asked me to help show her how to properly use sanitary napkins when she first started menstruating because she couldn’t do something so private in front of her mother but could with me.  She also has come to me with other issues about her changing female body because again she is comfortable with my seeing her nude but is not comfortable with her own mother.  I do not mind helping her with these things and actually feel complemented that she feels so comfortable with me.  However, I fear that I am intruding on something that should be a mother-daughter matter as it was (and still is) with my own daughter who is now 16 and was between my mother and myself at her age, and think it sad that a girl is unable to be comfortable with her own mother about such matters.

    She also looks up to my daughter as like a “big sister” and wants to spend all of her time with her when she is here.  My daughter is good to her and shares her room (and even her double bed) with her without complaint.  However, she is not interested in spending all of her time with her and often goes off and does things with her friends.  When she does so, my stepdaughter sits around and pouts about being left alone.  However, I do not think it should be my daughter’s responsibility to entertain her the entire time she is here.


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    1. By Jan, age 16, from Santa Rosa, California on 04/26/2015

      I’m the opposite of your stepdaughter.  I’m totally comfortable with my mom about these things, but I am NOT comfortable with my stepmother.  But she’s constantly trying to talk about private mother/daughter things with me like my periods and using Kotexes, bras, underwear, etc. and it’s none of her business!  She also has no respect for my privacy.  I have to share a room with my stepsister when I’m there for visitations.  We get along OK and I’ve become comfortable undressing in front of her and her seeing me naked.  But my stepmother is used to just walking into her room without knocking and continues to do it when I’m there.  My stepsister doesn’t care even if she’s naked since it’s her mom, but I do care about being walking in on naked or in my thong.  When she saw me naked and noticed that I don’t wax like my stepsister does, she told me that it was time to start thinking about it which made me very uncomfortable and embarrassed.  What business is it of hers to check out my privates and tell me what to do with my pubic region?!

      I obviously have no idea if Sad Stepmother treats her stepdaughters this way, but if she does it could be the reason why they want nothing to do with her, and it is the reason why I do not have good feelings about my stepmother. 


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