DH sets no Boundaries for SD20-what to do?
My husband is so scared to say anything “negative” to my 20 SD
I’m so happy that I found this website. After constantly complaining to my fellow friends who are in the same situation, I thought that we needed to find a support group. I’ve been married to my husband for over 13 years, together 18 years. My SD has always been a part of my life and I’ve been very supportive. We’ve been very lucky to have a good relationship with BM. However, SD has been living with us for the past 14 months since her mother got another divorce.
The goal was for her to save up some money to move out on her own while going to college. We got her the job that she currently works and she makes nice money. But all the money goes to running around with friends and gas. She works, but sleeps most of the day or watches TV. Never helps or offers to help around the house even when she knows I’m stressed. The only thing I ask is for her to keep the room clean which always looks like a bomb exploded. She has ruined my comforters and has dishes/food everywhere. I’m a very neat person and she knows it. I have asked my husband to push the issue. I feel it’s disrespect to both of us when she doesn't care. We pay for her car insurance and phone. BM pays for her car, so she has no expenses and pays nothing to live with us. School is starting soon and she’s not registered. SD says she has plans to move out of state, but has not moved forward on planning to get prepared.
My husband is frustrated with her but always waits to discuss things with her weeks later. He’s so afraid to say anything negative around her. I get frustrated because we have an 8 year old together and he’s a wonderful father and, as far as our son, we’re on the same page. He reacts to my son immediately when he does something wrong. But when it comes to SD he always changes his mind how he will handle the situation stating. He says, “I think she needs to live with us another year so she can be more responsible.”
I get awakened at all hours of the night when she comes home, some days I have strange people staying at the house. Currently, she pays for nothing, does nothing and comes and goes when/where and with whom she wants and we’re always putting a smile on our face like all is wonderful. I want her to move out, because we’re not doing her any favors in learning responsibility. She doesn't even speak to me on most occasions and will ignore me when he’s not around. I have addressed how hurt I am since she is living under my roof and I feed her. But he always makes excuses. I love my husband but this situation has added a lot of stress in my life and I hate how sick and negative I feel when she’s around. He knows how I feel and I would never ask him to choose between me or her. But I have no problem moving out and having some peace. She is an adult and needs to act like one. Please Help! Mari
Dear Mari, I can understand completely why your situation would upset you. It seems that she’s “getting away” with a lot of things that are annoying, ungrateful and upsetting. It must also be hard to watch the “double standard” of parenting that your DH uses with your son and his daughter. This is a tough situation.
There are many issues here. Since you’ve asked for some help, let me offer a few things to consider; some of them may not be too appealing at first, yet I hope you’ll give them some thought. From what you’ve said, it seems the first thing to do is to ask yourself, “What can I do about this situation?” What do I need to change in this situation?” and “What am I responsible for in this situation?” When we stop to ask those questions it starts to give us a new perspective and can often point out the challenges and opportunities for change more clearly.
Ideally, it seems that what you’d like your husband to do is to take a firm stand with his daughter, set boundaries, expect accountability, treat both kids the same way and be willing to endure her reactions in the name of teaching her the “real world rules” of responsibility. Ideally, she would rise to the occasion, after an initial gripe and begin to help out around the house, implement her school plans, begin to save and become a helpful, happy, responsible young woman who is a joy to be around. Wouldn’t that be amazing if that all happened? Wow!!!
Well, sadly, the chances of that happening, just because you want it to (and even if it’s the right thing) are very, very low. This reality can be hard to accept so most of us try to convince our DH’s to see the logic and reason of our requests. If this hasn’t worked after the first few attempts, we still keep trying, mostly because we don’t know what else to do. Again, sadly it usually creates more stress in the marriage and less action from the DH. Does any of this sound familiar? I know I’ve been here, done that and fumed over it while suffering a disconnection from my DH. So, how about a different plan?
Some things to think about:
1. Why do people change? This may be helpful to consider right now. People usually change for 1 of 2 reasons. They change to seek pleasure or to avoid pain or both. Therefore to have a better chance to encourage people to change their behaviors, it’s helpful to know this so you can create a situation that motivates them to CHOOSE to change. Choice is a key factor in your situation, in my opinion.
Right now, from what you’ve said, there’s really no reason for her to change her behavior. Can you see that? She’s not reading your minds. She’s not aware of any incentive to change or motivation to grow. There’s no pain in what’s she’s doing and right now, there’s no pleasure she’s seeking.
I understand that your DH wants to teach her something, yet if he were here, I’d ask him, “How is she supposed to learn anything with the situation as it is? Why and how do you expect more time to result in a change?” This tactic of waiting is usually an avoidance strategy because the person (your FH in this case) doesn’t know what else to do-given the situation as he sees it now. More than likely he feels trapped and when trapped people do 1 of 2 things, they withdrawal further or they thrash and and try more wildly. Make sense?
I’d also ask your DH, what can you do to give her motivation (pleasurable and painful) to change so she can choose responsibility? Being able to feel like they have a choice is very, very important to SD, teens, young adults because they feel like they have no choice in so many other things in their lives. What prize can he offer her for good behavior? What does she want, that she would effort for?
If you ask your DH this, maybe some things will come to mind. Things HE can implement in this situation. Example: if you’re going to live here rent free, then you’re going to have to do a few chores to help out. DO these chores and no rent payment. Choose to do no chores and there will be a $XXX/month payment due. (Perhaps the dollar amount can be the fee for a monthly cleaning service to come into your home and clean. Maybe you put the money away and give it to her when/if she moves out-DH’s often like this kind of thing.) Giving her choices (all of which need to be AOK with you both) gives her the ability to decide, to choose, to feel she has a say in what happens to her. I bet there are many, choices you could give her-would your husband be open to that?
2. Anthony Wolf’s book-Please read this book, maybe out loud with your DH. The sections about the girls and the ways they try to manipulate their parents and how to change that is really good. It’s the book called, “Get out of my life but first could you drive me and Cheryl to the Mall.” She’s 20 but it will still apply and in ways that we may not be aware of that will help your DH see things differently. He will begin to see he does have options beyond 1. Things the way they are and 2. Nightmare situation-whatever he fears. (This is what many Guilt-ridden Dad’s tell themselves.) We know you can create many, many more options and this could be a big relief for him to realize he also has options. Under pressure and stress we often feel trapped. Creative problem solving is one of the powerful gifts SMOMS can offer their DH’s.
3. “Drop Out Dad” Movie with Dick Van Dyke. Have you seen it? This is an old movie. Dick van Dyke plays a hard working guy with a wife, son and daughter. He’s a hard worker, they’re enjoying spending his money. For awhile, he tries to get their attention. He wants them to spend time together, to plan for a vacation together, to be more appreciative of his money and all that he provides and they all give him “lip service” (Yeah, Yeah Dad we hear you!) and continue their ways-unconcerned about his hurt, frustration and anger. One day he’s finally had it! He locks himself in his bedroom, with a bunch of food, the book “War and Peace” which he’s always wanted to read but has been working too hard to do so and he refuses to talk with his family, go to work or tell them what’s bothering him. And, oh yeah, he locks them out of the bank accounts. (just think what he could do nowadays-this was 30 years ago.)
At first, they went about their business judging him as nuts, then they got angry, as their money ran low, they tried to sweet talk him (manipulation only), then they begged him and finally, they saw the light and began to change their ways. This is how I remember it anyway. It was a process and Dick had to stick to his guns in order to make his point. He had to endure all kinds of verbal attempts to manipulate him...he was undaunted, he’d reach a point where he just laughed and went back to his book. Does this inspire any ideas for you or maybe for your DH to consider?
A possible strategy for YOU
You said you were willing to move out. I sure hope it doesn’t come to that, however if it does, we’ll be here to support you. If you are using that as a threat in hopes of manipulating(scaring) your DH into action, I’d recommend NOT doing that. He’s probably already feeling manipulated enough by his fears and guilt over his daughter. I’d like to help you help yourself and perhaps inspire him to be different. I’m not big on threats, control or manipulation as I feel it backfires, complicates the situation and most importantly, it’s not a loving way of being. That’s just me so you may want to get more ideas from others who feel differently about those tactics. Anyway, assuming you want to stay and feel more connected to your DH and feel happier in your own home, what can YOU do? What actions to you have control over? The following are some questions to generate ideas. You may want to write down things as you think of them. Writing and seeing your choices gives them more oomph somehow and tends to stimulate even more ideas. See if you can find 5-8 options for each one. While the first couple of ideas may be good, I’ve noticed that the real power and magic comes in ideas 4,5,6+.
As a result of your SD’s behavior and your DH’s choices to do nothing and accept things as they are, what are you willing to do differently? How can you use the energy of your upset-ness to set some new boundaries for your own behaviors? Wayne Dyer says, “We teach people how to treat us.” What have your past actions taught your SD? (our silence generally goes unnoticed by teens) What can your new actions teach her?
Personal note: I realized, looking back, that I taught my ss that it was OK to treat me badly, cause I complained yet continued to do all the nice things for him in my attempts to make him feel loved and welcome. I taught him it was OK to treat me like a servant. Yuck!!!! When I realized that, in a deep way, I changed, then he did too.
What if you make a list all the things you do for her and then look at it and make some of your own choices. What things can you stop doing? What things can you start doing? Where can you create some choices to offer her that feel balanced to you? (example: I’ll cook you dinner, if you’re willing to do the dishes? Deal? or would you rather just fix your own dinner and clean up for yourself? or just eat PB & J- very little clean up.) How many options can you come up with? Could your friends help with this?
I can understand why you would resent her. You didn’t use the word but that’s what I gathered. Resentment is usually a sign that we feel we’re giving more than we’re getting. Seems to apply here. Since we’re looking at what YOU can do differently, what are some of the things you can change so you bring the relationship exchange between you and your SD, back into “balance?” What things can you let go of because they do not directly impact you? How can you feel more powerful in this situation and less like a victim of her bad behavior?
This would be a good question to post on the BB; asking other SMOMS how they’ve changed and what they suggest for you in your situation. This is where creativity is really magically powerful. There may be many, many things, not just the big things, that you’re doing for her, that mean something to her that you can stop doing or do differently so she will place a value on it. There may also be things you’re doing, that she wouldn’t mind doing to even up the exchange. Posting this question on the general BB and the one about SMOMS with teen skids could generate some very valuable ideas. More choices, more power. Just an idea.
I realize this may not be the kind of thing you’re wanting to hear from me at this time. If you’re feeling a lot of hurt or rage, I can also understand that. Watching skids and our beloved husbands interact can bring up all kinds of issues we have from our own childhoods. If you feel this is more the case with you, let me know and we’ll have a part 2 for this letter.
Right now, it seems that your greatest impact and relief for you is to regain your sense of power in this situation. How can you let go of feeling like a victim, which is understandable, but powerless? Give yourself permission to be impacted by her actions, instead of forcing yourself to continue your kindnesses without her returning the favor. Teach her that she an count on your for honest feedback. Right now, she’s not getting the accurate message.
If your DH is suffering from “divorce guilt” turning your attention away from him doing something and towards yourself and what you’re going to do, will take the heat off of him, give him no reason to be defensive with you and will maybe even create the space for him to see what’s happening here. This, along with the book and listening to your process COULD even inspire him to take better care of himself and feel his own resentment and how hurtful it is to be manipulated.
As you’re getting creative with your choices, you can model a more powerful way of being. Maybe this will even lead to him asking for your support in a new strategy for him. That could happen! The good news is, that whether he comes around or not, you’re going to feel better as you take charge of finding ways to feel more powerful and more balanced in the relationship with your 20 year old SD. She’s a young woman now and even if she never tells you this, you’re new stance of taking care of yourself and acting honestly on your needs and you can control will be modeling a very healthy strategy. She could rise to occasion...like the kids on the Drop Out Dad movie. I know that may be too much of a stretch for now-but we can always hold out a little hope, right?!
Mari, I hope something here has been helpful to you in your situation. We can continue this “discussion” as you wish, just email me and I’ll post the next round between us. Thanks for your question. Glad to see you registered on the BB. I’ll let you tell the ladies who you are, if you wish to reference this letter...or not on the BB. My Best Wishes, Cathryn