Entitled Brat

19 Jun

Dear LetterBalm: My husband has a fifteen-year-old daughter from his first marriage. For the most part, he and I are happy, except on the days when she visits us. She’s spoiled, rude and sarcastic. Her dad goes to great lengths to make her happy, but she never says thanks. She doesn’t lift a finger to help, even to taking her dish to the sink after dinner or putting her used towels in the laundry basket. We pick up after her like servants. My husband just told me that her mother wants her to stay with us all summer. I haven’t said anything – I have a feeling her mother is a big reason for her daughter’s attitude – but I must speak up. My husband and I work all day, and the teenager can’t be home alone, doing nothing and maybe getting into trouble. How can I approach him?

–Teenage Wasteland

Ms. L.B. says it’s not an exaggeration that one of the biggest challenges of divorce is a teenage daughter. You haven’t said whether she was badly behaved before her dad and mom ended their marriage. If her mom is driving her resentment, you and your husband have your hands full with a very unhappy girl. It’s good that you’ve held your tongue thus far – when you do talk with your husband, your words will resonate. You need to think carefully what you will say and pick the optimum moment when your husband is not distracted and most apt to take your words to heart. Stick to the topic of the girl’s best interest. The sooner she gets on the behavioral straight-and-narrow, the happier she’ll be. Perhaps something non-confrontational along these lines when the two of you are relaxed and alone:

Stan, I’ve never given my opinion about Kylie, and I know you appreciate that. She’s your daughter and you’re her dad, but now I have to say something. Maybe because I’m not directly involved, I can offer a few insights you might not have considered. Will you take a minute to listen? Darling, Kylie is a very unhappy girl. She’s at a crossroads – a teenager who has seen her parents divorce and her dad remarry. She’s angry and full of accusations, and nothing you do will please her. Some of this may be from Ivy, your ex, who may be fueling her resentment. If I may make two suggestions: First, Kylie and you need to go to family counseling right away to get to the root of her unhappiness. Second, Kylie cannot stay here all summer. We work all day and she can’t be home alone doing nothing and maybe getting into trouble. You should make it clear to Ivy that there has to be a plan for Kylie this summer. If Kylie does stay here part of the time, she has to be responsible for chores and, perhaps, school-related reading or other projects. She needs to be held accountable with no more coddling from her dad. This will make her even more angry at first, so the therapist needs to be made aware of the situation. By setting boundaries, you’ll be helping your daughter. I love you and want to be a good friend to your daughter, but you have to break the old patterns to help her.

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