I find myself, for the first time, thinking of ending my relationship with my wife and her 14-year-old daughter.
I met my wife six years ago, when she was living as a single mom and struggling to raise her daughter alone with little income. Her ex, who had been abusive and left when the girl was a toddler, had only contacted them a few times over the years and now was in prison for a long sentence.
For me, all that angst was in the past. And I expected the resentment I got at first from the daughter, who had no memory of ever having to share her mother with anyone. I also wasn't especially troubled by how spoiled she was, due to the constant efforts by her mother and large extended family to overcompensate for her never having a dad in her life.
Now this girl is 14. She does no regular chores. Her mother buys her just about anything she wants and waits on her hand and foot. She walks away and leaves clothes, trash, dirty dishes and knows mom will clean up. She is frequently disrespectful (more to her mom than me) -- much more than my biological daughter was at that age, but not really worse than a lot of teenagers -- and when she gets out of line, it's up to me to be the disciplinarian, the bad cop. And I see the knowing looks between them that means, "Wait until later and I'll let you do it/get that for you. Humor him now."
I know teenagers are self-centered by nature, but this girl takes it to heights I never dreamed existed. She feels she's entitled to anything she wants -- clothes, gadgets, multiple (and expensive) school trips. Thank you's -- on the rare occasions when you get them -- are surly grunts delivered as she walks away. Christmas is a series of "I want that" and "You have to get me that." Until the last few days, when it's "You have to take me shopping (and pay) for me to get stuff for mom and my friends."
Her mother lets her eat tons of junk when she gets home from school and then veg out in front of the TV, watching soaps and vampire shows, until it's time for her to reject supper and criticize her mom for not fixing what she wanted. Homework is finally done, usually between 8 and 10 p.m., in front of the computer in another room, away from adult supervision. Mom is fine with this, confident that the few parental controls in place will protect her now curvaceous but still naive daughter from predators.
When guests, such as her grandparents or step-gradparents visit, she spends most of her time in her room and will not speak to them on the few occasions (after 1 p.m. on weekends) when she arises to use the bathroom or fix herself food -- which she takes back into her room.
I've insisted she help with yard work. But if I don't constantly stand over her, she will stop what she's doing and sit and listen to her iPod (Mom has secretly bought her the new model this Christmas, even thouugh I objected because she just got the current one last year) or vanish into the house for a 30-minute "bathroom break." The last time it happened, I told her that the next weekend, she got to do the parts of the yard I had done this time and I'd handle her little piece. Mom's reaction: "She tried. Don't be so hateful."
I have talked with my wife over and over and over about the need to set limits and boundaries, and the need to teach her the value of work and money. I'm not some kind of slave driver, and I work long hours and still do a lot around our home. But I have lost sympathy for my wife when she complains she hes too much to do but won't give a healthy teenager a few chores like emptying the dishwasher and washing a few loads of clothes.
As I fumed again over a couple of incidents last weekend, my wife asked, "What am I in trouble for now?" I had to leave the room and go outside for a while and think. Am I comparing her to my biological daughter and not remembering the times she got out of line? I don't think so. I honestly never find myself thinking, "My daughter would never have done that." I really do think of them as two completely different people and do not measure one against the other.
Do I hold the SD to an unfairly high standard? I don't think so (but I'm sure my wife disagrees). I praise and reward her good grades; I go to her events and activities; and I occasionally take her with me to run errands, to work, to events, to go shopping, and we usually get along fine. I even took both of them on a business trip this year (bad idea -- the SD was a complete nightmare almost the entire time. But the peaceful times never last very long.
I'm really concerned that this girl is someday going to go off to college for a few weeks and then come home because mom wasn't there to take care of her. And then it will be years before my wife and I have our lives to ourselves.
I'm even more scared by a thought that hit me like an electric shock last weekend: There are people in my life who have rubbed me the wrong way from the start, no matter how much I've wanted to like them. Is is possible that my SD is one of them? And if so, what can I do?