Q. I need to get this email out of the way, so I’m writing it hurriedly before someone comes upstairs to ask me what’s wrong.
Here’s my problem: I’m 14 years old. I live with my mother, my stepfather and their two kids, and my mom is like one of those stories that I read about online, except worse. She isn’t just mean, she’s a living nightmare. It’s not, “Oh, you’re a teenager; you’ll grow out of it.” It’s, “Oh, you’re a teenager, so why should we see your point of view?”
My stepfather used to be sweet and caring and was the most perfect guy in the whole world. He was always there to hold my mother back when she wanted to hit me. But now he’s just like her, and I don’t know why. It’s like he woke up one day and decided to take my mother’s side.
Everything is always my fault. He yells at me if I don’t do something right, and I know he wants to hit me (and hit me hard). He talks about me secretly with my mother and taunts me about my weight. He even called me the maid of the house because I wash dishes and do everything. He also called me demonic and threw a cup of water on me, but then he denied the whole thing. My sweater was black, so you couldn’t tell that it was wet, but I felt it. I felt the water drip through my sweater, and I felt his smile on my back. He was happy.
I’ve read all those internet sites that say, “Let it go. Go live with your dad,” but something is holding me back. Why do I keep staying here and feeling their abuse? Should I leave them and go live with my dad? He is in Texas and is the most perfect man alive.
A. The answer to your problem depends on who you really are, what kind of standards you have set for yourself and what your character is like.
Are you the kind of person who runs away when times get tough? Or do you grit your teeth and stagger through them? The choices you make now will decide on the life you’re going to live, but you are the only one who can make them.
You might find it easier to stay with your dad — at least at first — than to handle this difficult passage. If you can live with your mom and your stepfather however, you’ll be able to handle your next problem better — whatever it is — and the more problems you handle, the easier it will be to endure a boring teacher and a nitpicking boss one day. It can even help you fix a marriage that gets tiresome, which happens when couples let their jobs or their children’s soccer games and music lessons become more important than their relationship.
Since empathy is a big part of a person’s character, you also need to ask yourself if you forgive your own mistakes more quickly or completely than you forgive the mistakes that other people make. This would be another kind of error because no one is perfect. As you’ll probably discover one day, even your dad says the wrong thing or acts the wrong way sometimes for which you should say, “Thank goodness!” If other people were perfect, then you would have to be perfect, too.
Although you can’t expect perfection in others, your mother and stepfather will treat you better if you realize that the feelings that go into your relationship with them always amounts to 100 percent, neither more nor less. If you can change the way you act, they will have to change the way that they act so their feelings will fill the vacuum. And when that happens, you may decide it’s easier to stay with them, rather than move to Texas, find new friends and try to fit into a new school.
If your mom and your stepfather don’t change enough, however, then look ahead. Although three more years at home seems like forever right now, they are just a fraction of your future.
You may even be able to enjoy this time if you choose more positive friends and ignore the sad stories that appear on the internet. They will only feed your misery.
You also should refuse to assume anything that you don’t see or hear yourself. Your stepfather may have wanted to hit you but you didn’t see him try, and he may have been happy when he threw that cup of water on you, but you didn’t see him smile. He deserves the benefit of the doubt as much as you do.
Questions? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.