what would you do?

iVillage Member
Registered: 08-14-2002
what would you do?
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Mon, 11-03-2003 - 8:48am
I'm in a quandary about my step-daughter and what to do, hope you folks can offer your opinions and suggestions about the situation. Don't hold back - let me have it!

I'll call her Daphne. She's 25, single, college educated, and beautiful except for this huge boulder she carries on her shoulders and an uncontrollable temper. Daphne hates her father (my DH) because while she was a child and he a single father, his discipline was very strict - even borderline abusive - to her and her younger brother. She ran away from home at 14 to live with an aunt and uncle (mother's side), who convinced her that her father was a terrible father because he spanked, yelled, made them do chores, and didn't buy them the things they wanted. Oh yes, and he divorced their mother (uncle's sister) when Daphne was about 4yo. (Mom had/has a mental illness and cannot live independently. Her own family does nothing to help her - has even disowned her - but are angry with DH for giving them back the responsibility of her affairs.) (BTW - Mom's only only family contact these days is with DH and me, who drive her to doctors' appointments, pick up her meds, and help with shopping from time to time.)

Daphne put herself through college, but made poor choices (degree in very low-paying work but insisted on staying in campus housing and took 5 years to complete the 4-year degree = $60,000+ in student loan debt). At college graduation, she asked Dad for help with her car (then took our credit card and ran it over the limit), then refused to share tickets to the graduation. We stood outside. (He refused to help with college because she refused to listen to his advice about expenses.)

Daphne had little to do with her father since, except to ask him to bail her out of one financial crisis or another (which he has done whenever possible - more often than not). When she lost her apartment, she came to live with us for a couple of months - but that ended in a physical confrontation. Long story, but enough to say that she attacked him and he wrestled and pinned her to a chair until her temper calmed down. He never hit her - but he and I both emerged with scratches and bruises from her punching, clawing and kicking.

Since that time, about a year ago, she refuses all contact with us. She told DH's family that she wanted nothing more to do with any of them, because they were too "loud." But, true to form, she called Grandpa to take her to work because the transmission went out on her car. For two weeks, Grandpa has been driving her to/from work (30 miles round trip, twice a day). No matter that this girl lives ONE block from a bus line, and has a stop directly in front of her workplace - same bus, no connections. Route schedule fits with her work schedule. She won't say why she refuses to take the bus, and has not offered to help Grandpa (SS income and pension only) with gas money. She doesn't even talk to him while enroute to/from work.

Meanwhile, Daphne's brother, let's call him Frank, also spent years stewing in anger, ran away at 17 to the same aunt and uncle, and also put himself through the same college. He and Dad have mended the relationship and got on with their lives. Daphne refuses contact from Frank also, because he lectures her and she doesn't want to hear it. Frank is overseas for a year on a teaching contract, but is in regular contact with us. He gave his dad Durable power of attorney to handle his affairs while he's gone. We have his dog living with us. The relationship is warm and growing stronger every day.

So any ideas what to do about Daphne? Or should we do anything at all? I so much want to help DH mend his relationship with her and have her be a part of our family, but don't have a clue how to go about it, or even if we should. DH misses her and it hurts.

Advice, anyone?

Msfit




                  &nbs

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iVillage Member
Registered: 06-17-2003
Mon, 11-03-2003 - 12:59pm
I would like to respond because I am 26, I put myself through college, my father did the bare minimum, he refused to help me with college, and I feel bitterness towards him. I am somewhat in Daphne's shoes, except I do not carry around hatred for my father. (My sister does though). It sounds like a lot of miscommunication, in both directions. She is probably very very hurt about her childhood, and it might take some time for her to get over it. You cannot force her to do that. Lecturing her will push her away, as you have seen most likely.

Just imagine how you would feel if you have never felt safe your entire life, imagine what it's like to have everyone around you fail you at a very young age. To not know what it is like to be in a safe loving home withough worries. Her mother coudn't take care of her, her father was too strict, now her brother is lecturing her. She probably feels very lonely. She probably doesn't have many friends who are in the same situation as her, so she probably doesn't talk about it much. She is acting selfishly, which is a pain.

I suppose the one thing that my stepmother has done for me is to tell me how much she loves me every time she talks to me. This might sound cheesy, but just let Daphne know just how much she is loved and missed. Tell her what a great girl she is, and give some examples. Ask her to visit, make a point to vosit her, and try to get the message through that you and your DH (dear husband) will always love her no matter what.

If I am way off base, let me know.....

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-02-2003
Mon, 11-03-2003 - 1:18pm
That sounds like a toxic relationship with Daphane. Funny how she only contacts family when she needs something. If she is so independent, why doesnt she get herself out of her bind? That just sounds like she's manipulating everyone so it will work out for her. I like the old saying, "You can't get rid of a temper by losing it." Maybe she should get some counciling on how to handle her temper better; find some other kind of outlet for it instead of resorting to phyiscal violence. Get her a punching bag or something LOL! Exercise is a good stress reliever.

I wouldn't avoid her, but I wouldnt shouffer/cater to her needs. You can't help people that won't help themselves. Continue to develop the relationship with Frank, and maybe one day she will realize that she wants the same kind of closeness.
Avatar for leslie2353
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-25-2003
Mon, 11-03-2003 - 7:35pm
Send her to military camp.

Her father is strict. He gives and gives and gives, and in return she is being a brat!

True he is abusive only because he wants the best for his kids, and this was his way of disciplining them. He protects them, but she doesn't know how to repay him for all what he's done, whether it's good or bad. I don't see anything wrong about what he's done. My father and mother have done the same thing, but I turned out better than many children. I've managed to have a good family, nice home, kids who are educated, but, I will never treat my parents like she had done to her parents! Would she have been a better daughter today, if he was more lenient and less strict? What if he didn't give her any money, would that made her even worst? I don't think so. She's got problems, and if I was her father and I was treated that way, I would probably have turned the other way around and tell her: you want independent, then don't come to me when you need me. Grow up!

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-30-2003
Mon, 11-03-2003 - 10:20pm
I read this earlier today and didn't want to comment on this until I thought of an appropriate response. Please take this in the spirit in which it is given; to help and not to hurt.

Several things in your post hit (no pun intended) me. When you say that your husband was "borderline abusive", that means he probably was abusive. We hate to see the worst in those we love and for you to even have to qualify his "discipline" makes me think it was pretty harsh. She is probably a result of her upbringing; being brought up in a home with spanking and yelling is not a good thing and can have an impact. While you don't need to enable her with money etc., you probably should offer counseling for her and your hubby. Hopefully to get to a point where you all can interact.

You also say that there were problems with the son. When you have two children and they both have the same kinds of problems, it lends itself to one of two different conclusions: either it is a genetic disposition ot it was the upbringing. These problems don't really seem to be of the genetic kind...

It also bothers me the way you are putting her choices down. A degree in a "low paying work" is nothing to scoff at. I am a teacher and, let me tell you, in some areas my pay would qualify me for federal aid!!!! Does that make my career choice any less valid than my brother who is a doctor? Also, 5 years to complete a degree now is not so out of line. 5 years is becoming the norm. I don't under any circumstances think her stealing the credit card is good, and I think she should have been arrested for that, but it just seems like you are taking a very hard eye at everything she does. You need to give her credit where credit is due.

Like I said, counseling is probably the best option at this point. I would offer it to her with the understanding that you want to make your relationship better. If she doesn't accept, then there is nothing you can do but you at least made the effort.

Ejkdmom Come visit my store: www.leorra.com
iVillage Member
Registered: 08-14-2002
Mon, 11-03-2003 - 10:44pm
You're ON base on some things, and off on others - but I couldn't put everything in my post, or it would have been a novel.

I agree it might take her a long time to get over the pain of her childhood (been there, done that - I was 38 before I could deal with my own past). And I don't have to imagine what it's like to never feel safe in my own home, and have everyone fail me, because I've been there too, but much much much worse than Daphne describes. I do not dispute her pain, because it's very real to her and she does not have my childhood experiences as a frame of reference. Mine were incredibly painful to me too, but I also know there are thousands of other kids out there who went through far worse than I did.

Daphne's pain, as I understand it, comes from four sources: (a) feeling like her mother abandoned her and not accepting her mother's mental illness as real - more like Daphne believes her mother imagines illness and uses it as a crutch so she won't have to deal with responsibilities (like raising her two children); (b) her father's strict discipline and firecracker temper, which he lost control of several times while raising these kids - I am quite sure, though it's never been discussed with me, that their father hit them on places other than their padded bottoms; (c) their father is (still) very closed to discussing his problems with others whom it doesn't concern, therefore the kids grew up never knowing their Dad had financial troubles. They just thought he was stingy, selfish, and mean - a false belief reinforced by the aunt & uncle; and (d) Daphne has a misshapen pelvic bone, which causes her to walk lopsided (one hip higher than the other). She is absolutely gorgeous in every other way - but thinks she's ugly. She blames her dad for her disfigurement, because he never paid for her to have surgery to correct it.

Daphne refuses to let anyone in either family know where she lives (she waits for Grandpa on the street in front of an apartment complex, and won't tell him which one is hers). I do have her cell phone number, but she's changed numbers several times in the past couple of years, so can't count on that for long. Same problem with her job history. I'm afraid that if something isn't done soon, we will lose contact with her forever (or until the next money crisis, anyway).

But I like your suggestion and I will write her a letter tonight. I'm almost sure she will just tear it up and not read it (thinks I failed her also, because I didn't defend her the night she attacked her Dad - i.e. call the cops and have him arrested. What she didn't realize is that SHE would have been the one arrested, so I did not call.) But I will write the letter anyway, and ask Grandpa to deliver it to her. Doesn't hurt to try.

Thanks for your comments and ideas. Very helpful.

Msfit


Edited 11/3/2003 10:53:12 PM ET by msfit777

                  &nbs

iVillage Member
Registered: 08-14-2002
Mon, 11-03-2003 - 11:05pm
Independent, yes - but blames everyone else for it, as though she has been unfairly *forced* to be independent, instead seeing this as a good thing and taking credit herself. She won't get herself out of the bind - I don't know why. I suspect she's trying to make a martyr of herself, hoping the family will blame her Dad for the mess she's put herself into. Her dad told me she's always been this way - he had trouble teaching her to make good decisions and accept responsibility, even with chores. She did chores at home NOT because she saw this as contributing to the family, but because her father MADE her do them. She never saw the rewards for a job well done, and done by her own choice.

As for counseling, I think just about every member of her Dad's family, and some from Mom's family, has told her she needs this. She refuses and says "I don't need counseling - I'm fine. It's everyone else who's crazy." These are her exact words. I seem to remember a comment she made once, which made me believe she thinks mental illness is hereditary. So perhaps she's in denial that she has a problem? Like old folks who refuse to see a doctor for fear they'll find something wrong? She's ashamed and embarassed of her mother, because of her mother's illness, and doesn't see (or doesn't care about) the pain she's inflicting on her mother.

If I could make her get counseling, I would. She desperately needs it.

I really like your suggestion about developing the relationship with Frank, and will continue to do so, but for its own benefit - not to lure Daphne back into the family circle. I hope that it does have this effect on her, though.

Thanks.

Msfit

                  &nbs

iVillage Member
Registered: 08-14-2002
Mon, 11-03-2003 - 11:09pm
He did tell her that, the night she attacked him. She left and hasn't spoken to either of us since. No, instead she gets Grandpa (softhearted old mush that he is, bless his l'il heart) to bail her out of a mess.

Oh yeah, Grandpa told me this today: While picking her up this morning, he informed her he would not drive her to/from work after this week - she would have to ride the bus. She told him there were no bus lines in the area. He pointed at the bus, which just pulled up to the stop directly in front of the complex, and asked her, "what's that?"

ROFLMAO!

Msfit

                  &nbs

iVillage Member
Registered: 08-14-2002
Tue, 11-04-2003 - 12:05am
Thank you, and I take no offense at all from your response. You hit the nail(s) directly on the head. Yes, he was most likely abusive to the kids when they were little (spanking with a belt or shoe, belittling comments, etc.)

But to clarify: Daphne could not remember details when I asked her about this, but Frank told me their dad beat them both once and grounded them for a month. When I asked why, he had to think for a minute, then said it had something to do with being in the alley behind the house, but he couldn't remember what. They were 9 and 11 yo at the time. I asked Dad later, and he responded, yes, they were in the alleyway at 11:00 pm! In a dangerous neighborhood, and he and the rest of the family, and the cops, had been searching for these kids for hours. They hid in the alley because they didn't want to do their homework. Enter Aunt & Uncle (who hate the kids' Dad), who believe spanking a child, even in a life-threatening situation, is abuse. So during the time these kids lived with the aunt & uncle, they were convinced that every spanking was abuse and their father should have been arrested.

I say this because I also lived with an abusive stepmother, who had me convinced my mother was a whore, an alcoholic, and prostitute. I was young and impressionable, so believed her. I learned much later none of this was true. I believe Daphne's and Frank's father was abusive to them, but not to the extent their aunt and uncle believe he was.

You are also right about spanking and yelling can have an impact on a child. But it's also true that any dicipline style (not abuse mind you, but proper *discipline*) is effective as long as it's consistent. Spanking is just as effective as non-spanking, as long as the kids know the consequences for misbehavior are always consistent. Either style can produce healthy, well-balanced, happy kids.

However, it's also true that discipline must be formed to match the personality of the child - i.e. meek children probably should never be spanked, while for some stubborn head-strong children spanking may be the only form of discipline that is effective. Frank is more confident and head-strong. Daphne is very meek and mild. I've known kids that even a harsh LOOK can bring on tears, and others who choose the spanking or any other consequence, even juvenile hall, because it was worth all the fun of the misbehavior. Yep, I think in this department, their dad and my DH missed the mark of good parenting entirely. He was spanked as a child (yep, he was one of those head-strong, stubborn, devil-may-care kids), so used the same discipline on his own kids.

And I have to differ with you about my putting her choice of career "down." I did not intend to give that impression. I only meant to point out that she went into debt on student loans for far more than she could repay with her career of choice. She could have attained the same degree and attended a less expensive college, or worked part-time to pay some of her fees, or lived off-campus with a roommate in less expensive housing, or bought her own groceries part of the time instead of eating in the cafeteria for every meal, or any number of other *choices* to put herself through college and keep the student loan balance to a minimum. But she *chose* none of these options. And the extra year in college was to retake a number of classes which she failed the first time around, because of too much partying and not enough studying (Frank tattled about that). She also failed the skills tests required for a teaching degree, so had to change her degree plan to something similar, but didn't require the certification process and multiple professional tests. Is this making more sense, now?

I also have a teaching degree from a respected university, which I completed in three years, not five, and as a single mother, and a part-time job, and with a 3.89 gpa, and on less than $15,000. OK, so maybe I am being unfairly critical. She is not me and I must learn to see her on her own standards, not mine. This is something about my character and values that I'm learning to see as a fault, instead of a strength. I'm working on that.

So yes, I have a hard eye. This is one of my faults. I tend to look critically upon anyone who puts themselves into a bad situation, then wants others to bail them out. OK, bail them out once because they made a mistake, fine - I can do that without criticism. We all make mistakes. Bail them out because it was no fault of their own - in a heartbeat I would do that. But repeat the same mistakes and expect me to bail them out again and again? Don't think so.

To give her credit where credit is due, I'll try: She put herself through college with help from NOone at all, even her brother. She's determined and doesn't give up easily (evidenced by sticking it out in college in spite of the test problems and failing grades - she overcame all of that, or adapted, and she succeeded where many others would have dropped out.) You've got me thinking now, so I'll ponder that some more over the next few days...

And last, about the counseling. Yes, I think you have a wonderful suggestion there. My hubby underwent some intensive counseling for anger management a few years ago, after the kids moved out and before I met him, and his family says he is a changed man. I know he would willingly participate in family counseling too, if it would help his daughter. I only wish she would agree to go. Perhaps I can talk to a family counselor about it, and s/he will know of a way to convince her to participate with us. Heck, I'd even bribe her to go. Hmmm.... more food for thought.

Thank you for your honest words and thought-provoking response. Much appreciated.

Msfit

                  &nbs

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-30-2003
Tue, 11-04-2003 - 12:15am
I can't tell you how heartening it is to see your response. Many times a person will take the advice (myself also) the wrong way and go on the defensive. It is great to see you so openminded.

Good luck with the counseling, I hope she goes through with it. Remember though, she is an adult and at this point, you can only do so much. If you try and she doesn't respond, then tell her that you are family and that the offer is open for whenever she decides. Then, just let her go. Hopefully, she will see this as a way to get back with family.

Good luck!

Ejkdmom Come visit my store: www.leorra.com
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-27-2003
Tue, 11-04-2003 - 1:37pm
The world needs more caring people like you!

*I will pray for your family*

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