Spoiled Children of Divorce

Dear Abby on Competing Stepsisters
April 17, 2010, 8:23 pm
Filed under: Abandonment, Birth Order, siblings, step-siblings, Stepfamilies, Uncategorized

As usual, the woman who now writes the Dear Abby column avoids talking about the trauma of divorce for children.

In today’s column there is a letter from a 16 year old girl whose stepsister, also age 16, stole her boyfriend.  The Dear Abby writer avoided the stepfamily discussion altogether and said that this is just how women treat each other.  She recommended focusing the hatred and anger that the young girl has for her ruthless, disrespectful stepsister on the boy.  Men are evil, after all.  What can a lady do?  If you never let a guy get under your skin, expect him to love you back, not deceive you, how will you ever be able to trust anyone enough to get married?

This thinking angers me out of my mind, of course.  It is out-of-date. It’s basically silly and stupid and is obviously written for divorced parents to read.  It’s the reason why people get married for the wrong reasons in the first place and have to get divorced in the second place.  And, it doesn’t address the child’s problems.

It is highly likely that a Child of Divorce is witnessing how awful Men are because she probably doesn’t live with her own Father and has feelings of abandonment.  She might see him once a week the way that many kids see an uncle.  He might not pay alimony on time.  He might always be late to pick her up.  He might cancel meetings in order to do “fun stuff” that he would rather do.

The letter doesn’t say which parent the girl lives with so I don’t have a clue what her parents are like other than that she lives in a mixed home.  It does say that she has to share her bedroom with the stepsister on the week ends when the stepsister visits.

There are all kinds of particulars that I’d be curious about before telling the girl anything.  I get it that the Abby lady doesn’t have time to go into all this.  I guess that newspaper columnists just forgot to ever mention anything having to do with Divorce because it takes up too much space.   Abby doesn’t need to fiddle with that, at any rate.  She doesn’t wonder what it feels like for a 16-year old girl to not only have her bedroom invaded every week-end by a stranger, but to have that stranger steal her boyfriend.  They are already competing for attention from their parents not only with each other but with the step-parent.  They have probably witnessed their parents acting this way.  Is this a way for the visiting stepsister to become the Alpha female in a household in which she doesn’t belong?

The two girls are even going to the same school and taking the same classes together so they are always in each other’s face!  For the one girl to betray the other one so disrespectfully there is really something bad going on here.  Women should not be expected to treat each other like this.  I certainly hope this doesn’t become a habit for the girl’s relationships with both men and women in the future.

The girl says that her step-sister is very beautiful.  A 16-year old girl who doesn’t feel beautiful is already needing some good advice. This is the superficial stuff, though.

It is good advice to tell a young woman to be strong and to brush it off.  Siblings have enough of a problem with this kind of competitive behavior.  With step-siblings there is an extra tension added in because deep down everyone knows this is a relationship that could fall apart at any time.

A kid from a divorced family who is already dealing with ten times the boundary issues that a kid from an intact family has.   He needs more advice.

I’ll retype the letter and response:

Dear Abby:

My stepsister stole my boyfriend and I am so mad I am going crazy.  She’s very attractive and has no problem finding boyfriends.  She did not have to do this.  I am sure she did it out of spite.

We’re both 16, go to the same school and have several classes together, so I can’t avoid her.  We also have to share a room every other weekend when she’s here.

I have so much hate and anger toward her.  I don’t know how to deal with it.

–Hates Her in New Mexico

Dear Hate Her:

I don’t think there is a single woman reading your letter who hasn’t felt the same way you do at one time or another in her life.  Short of slipping a man a knockout drug, he can’t be “kidnapped.”  He is responsible for making his own decisions.  Yes, your stepsister might not have discouraged him.  She may have even thrown herself at him.  But what happened was of his own free will.

2 Comments so far
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Hey toothless, I could write loads on this post, but I will try to be brief.

My immediate reaction to this is what on earth is a so-called agony aunt doing, showing an utter lack of ability to see things from the viewpoint of the person who has written to her to ask for help? Sort of goes against the job description.

I was really annoyed about the story of the radio presenter in one of your earlier posts, but this is worse – you could excuse the presenter for being ignorant, but someone who presents themselves as one to turn to for advice? There’s no excuse there!

I completely agree with you here that the poor girl is stuck in this situation where she cannot get away from her stepsister and (irrespective of what the complete picture is) she feels betrayed and let down. She has asked for help in how to deal with the situation and is obviously struggling with her anger but has been told, rather facetiously, that short of drugging the man she can’t do anything to get him to bend to her will!

“Dear Abby” should be writing something to help this poor girl but what she’s done is basically accuse her of unjustly feeling negative towards her stepsister, so as well as feeling let down and alone, she’s probably now feeling guilty. I imagine she is unable to talk to the adults in her life and Abby’s response, showing a complete lack of empathy, will give her self-worth a kick in the teeth as well and probably go some way to making sure she never wants to talk to any adult about it!

Although the letter is about a boyfriend, even the most stupid individual reading it would realise that the underlying problem is not to do with the boyfriend, but the family arrangements and the relationship with her stepsister.

I am amazed at “Dear Abby”‘s lack of perception. I have not heard of the “Dear Abby” column – is she as bad to all people who ask for advice, I wonder?

Going back to my point about the underlying reason, often people find it difficult to say what the real issue is when asking for help or trying to explain how they feel and people can often complain about something totally different to what is really making them unhappy. I was just wondering whether you thought this might be more relevant to children from a divorce? It’s still a bit of a tricky subject for kids and, as you’ve posted before, many adults expect the kids to just get on with it, so I wonder if this prevents a lot of kids from wanting to open up and say how they really feel, for fear of someone telling them not to be so silly, “after all it’s only a divorce”?

Comment by Sal

Hi Sal,

Yes, thanks for being angry about this right along with me. I sort of suspect that the “Agony Aunt” (love that term) made up the post. It was too well written to come from a 16 year old. The Dear Abby column has run in the newspapers for years. There were 2 twin sisters who both wrote successful advice columns and they have either since retired or have died and someone else has taken it over.

This is normal behavior among “counselors” of any type in California. Divorce is a big business for them. They all complain about how they had to watch their parents fight and there’s nothing in the world worse than having to watch that. There’s an article that I’ve been avoiding linking to written by a successful California psychologist in which she talks about how her children turned out great despite the divorce. She loves the fact that as Children of Divorce they are more empathetic as people. Then she goes on to describe in detail how she used to watch one of her kids, can’t remember if it’s the son or the daughter, struggle painfully with packing her little suitcase to go visit her Father. She apparently did nothing to help the kid, just watched him/her with a cold, painful fascination. It’s actually kind of sociopathic.

Comment by toothless

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