Poor Communication Is Not The Best Strategy For Dealing With In-Laws

by admin on February 12, 2018

I would like to know what readers think about my story and I need advice! Over a decade ago my father remarried after being a widower for 17 years. He doesn’t want to spend his twilight years alone; and 15 years ago married “Janet.” I have been trying, and failing, to like Janet and the last few years have been unbearable. The Dalai Lama preaches compassion, but I just do not have it in me anymore.

Janet is jealous of my dad’s relationship with his four daughters; and, is insecure to the point of faking illness to gain his sympathy. I’m a little concerned that she might one day decide to use Munchausen’s by proxy, she needs to be the center of attention so badly. She lies (and I have witnesses), saying that we (mostly I) have said something nasty to her or picked on her and will put on her “poor little me” act, which leads to my father dressing us down like we are toddlers. We are generally mystified when that happens; having no idea what we did. He has called me a liar to my face, and believes her over us every time. We do not share what she does, because we know he will not believe us. She is the queen of the backhanded comment. She has picked on my niece for being left-handed to the point that she was really wondering if there was something wrong with her. Janet also picks on her hair and clothes. When your 11-year-old says, “Grandmom was mean,” something is not right. My sister and brother-in-law, after the latest incident, have decided that my niece will not go to her grandparents’ home without one of them present; something that makes my niece very happy. This was not shared with our dad. Some violations are small, down-home etiquette folkways, such as feeding my father, but making it clear we are not welcome at her table. She always finds a way to intrude on our conversations with our dad; and, I never call him at home. He will not talk if she is present, so I always call him at work. She hates the fact that our dad gives us a monthly check (X-mas present) and he always goes into another room to discretely give it to us. When our long-time neighbor, who Janet does not like due to her chatty ways, moved in to a care home due to Alzheimer’s, she was gleeful. Bouncy and happy as I learned the news for the first time, saying, “Did you hear the good news?” I was heartbroken for my neighbor, and especially her daughter and granddaughter, and horrified at her happiness. Who does that? By far the most disgusting thing Janet has done, was leaving the bedroom door open when she knew my sister and her 8-year-old daughter were on their way to the house to stay during a bad storm with tornado warnings (my sister’s house does not have a basement and they live 5 minutes away). Knowing that they would stay in the spare room right next to the master suite, she left the door open and proceeded to seduce my dad. My sister is scarred for life. My niece, luckily, did not see.

The thing I am really having a problem with happened over Christmas. My dad asked me to stay over Christmas Eve. I love my dad, so I agreed. My oldest sister and her family were due to come down a couple days later; and I thought I would stay over when she did so I could spend some more time with her. She and her family live 6 hours away and I only see her three times a year. I packed enough for a few days, but had to return on boxing day to my home due to a prior engagement. I left my things in the room I used on Christmas Eve, even leaving my pajamas folded on top of the bed. I returned on the evening my sister was due to arrive. When they arrived, I went up to the guest rooms to make sure I had cleared the other half of the counter space from the shared bathroom, only to find my bag gone from the guest room. I rushed into the bathroom to find all of my toiletries, makeup and jewelry missing. I even checked the other guest room, just in case. I felt like I had been punched in the gut. When I inquired about my things, Janet, smiling broadly, chirpily informed me that they were in the hallway. She had packed up my bag and dumped my toiletries and makeup in a box and set them in the hallway. I picked up my things and made my way to my car. My dad followed me and proceeded to berate me. He didn’t ask why, he didn’t tell me about the air mattress that he had specially bought (my sister told me about that later), he just brought up the past and I could so clearly see her fingerprints all over the litany of complaints. And, no, I do not think I am being paranoid. I was tossed out of my childhood home! And, boy did that hurt. Never mind that I have not felt welcome there for several years, now. I was in a haze for days. I have the distinct feeling that my dad did not know. But, then, he never does do anything; and does not seem to notice Janet hammering away at the wedge she is trying her best to insert between my father and his children.

I think she crossed a line. She has been ramping it up continuously for years and I have had it. My dad will not tell her to cut it out. I do not want to hurt my dad; but I cannot see her. I will go to his place of work to spend time with him (he is the boss, so can do that), but I will not go to that house if she will be there. I will not open my door to him if she is with him. I am aware that I have probably made her very happy, but I will not subject myself to her little Machiavellian power plays just to prove a point. Am I overreacting? Am I being unreasonable? It was the worst Christmas I have ever had. 0209-18

You wrote, “We do not share what she does, because we know he will not believe us.” How can there possibly be any understanding, comprehension, or reconciliation is there is no communication?   Regardless of whether your father believes you or not, he is DEFINITELY believing his wife who presents him with the only side of the story he’s hearing.   This strategy of four siblings not communicating the offense to their father is not to your advantage at all.   You have the distinct feeling your dad did not know?  How could he if you and your siblings never talk to him about the issues?

After rereading the Christmas Eve section,  it seems to me that you may have jumped to a conclusion that may not be reasonable.  You stayed the night Christmas Eve and then left for a day or so to go back home.   Given how poor the communication is in this family, your step mom may not have known you were returning and packing up your toiletries and clothes into a neat box/bag was her way of getting the guest ready for your sister and her family.   You then stormed out of the house not saying a word to your father…more poor communication. Did you expect him to be a mind reader as to why you were leaving in a huff?  Dad asks no questions and assumes the worst…more bad communication.  At minimum I would have asked Step Mom, “Were you not aware that I was spending the night tonight in order to visit with sister and her family?”  “I’m confused as to why my belongings are in the hallway? Can you help me understand this?”

But let’s assume your step mom is truly evil and placing your clothes and toiletries in the hallway was her sneaky way of telling you you are not wanted…get out of the house.  Develop your polite but ornery spine which means you just as chirpily reply to Step Mom,”Oh, thank you for collecting everything together for me!  I’ll just put it back where I can get to it later tonight.” And then you trot off to the guest room and bathroom with your things and you put them back where they were while smiling sweetly.   Geez Louise!  If you know someone is being manipulative to get you to react in a specific way,  stop playing the puppet and begin controlling the strings!  Marching out of the house with your suitcase played right into her hand.   You handed her the reaction she wanted on a silver platter.   Play the game better than she does!   Outflank her!  Think!

Do not give your Dad or step mom any substantive reason to find offense with you. In other words, be the best house guest you can be. Keep the bed made and bathroom tidy, ask if step mom would like the sheets stripped from the bed before you leave,  help with the dishes.

And here’s a hard one for you…let go of your ownership of the “house I grew up in”.   I watched my sister-in-law and step mother-in-law grapple over this after my father-in-law remarried.  Sister-in-law, despite  living half a country away and not lived in the family house in decades, referred to it as “my house”and “my kitchen” while attempting to assert control of the kitchen during holidays. My stepmother-in-law was already uncomfortable moving into a house with furnishings and a history that was not hers and being reminded of this created friction.   My step-mother-in-law should not have had been made to feel unwelcome in a home she now shared with her new husband.

{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

staceyizme February 12, 2018 at 10:14 am

This happens a lot, sadly. Each party feels that they have a morally superior claim and indulge in all kinds of specious internal narratives to explain their own conduct and actions. Your relationship with your dad isn’t going to improve if you continue involving his new wife in how you feel. This is your childhood home, but it’s her current home. I don’t pretend that she is “correct” or “right” about all of the past incidents. And you definitely don’t have to see her (or your dad). But you DO have to decide what outcome you really want? Do you want to present your views about the past without her interfering? Do you want to have a peaceful and predictable dynamic of interaction with your dad? Most of these things are within your power. Troublemakers get their satisfaction from reactions and from being the center of attention. You’ve handed her these reactions on a silver salver for years. Deal in facts, refuse to react, communicate with your dad with clarity, hard facts and without judging his partner. That way, at least you will have the satisfaction of circumventing her dynamic. Finally, don’t get into a dynamic where you expect him to “choose you”. Whether it’s who is staying at the house or who is “in the wrong”, forcing him to see things your way isn’t going to negate the fact that he’s married to her, owes her his first loyalty and sleeps with her. Dealing with that fact firmly and finally, settling in your own mind that the two relationships are not “of a kind” and so are not in competition (unless you participate in placing them there), will empower you to manage better. Finally, invite your dad for coffee or find ways where you can connect that satisfy you but don’t overtly undermine her. You’ll be happier that you settled it. She’s just “one of those” people that you have to deal with, and you are far, far too upset over that reality and over the past to think strategically. A critical, but not irremediable, error.

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jessiebird February 12, 2018 at 10:43 am

I think Admin makes fair points, especially about playing the game better (although it’s awful to have to play any game at all).

On the other hand, I know exactly what the OP is talking about. The stepmother sounds like a certain kind of person, one who often ends up marrying another certain kind of person (like the father) and the combination creates a maddening dynamic for people around.

I used to believe the magazine articles that would advise,”Just talk to the person, say,’it hurt me when you did such and such. I need this and that…'” According to these articles on “good communication,” that is all it takes to heal relationships and come to understanding. I tried it out with my difficult people. It backfired so badly. (Because my difficult people don’t care how I feel or if they hurt me. If I’m hurt, it’s my own oversensitivity/overreactiveness/stupidity/selfishness/fill in the blank.) (However, this advice does work beautifully with emotionally healthy people who love me. So in that way, the articles are useful, though emotionally healthy people tend to raise emotionally healthy people who don’t need magazine articles to figure out how to get along with people. But they don’t work on toxic dysfunction.) So I dislike that advice without the caveat that you have to be dealing with emotionally healthy people who truly want the best for you and to have a good relationship, versus people wanting power, control, image management, narcissistic supply and so on.

However, I agree with Admin that for the sake of your own emotional health and growth, you have to do what is right and respectful, no matter what the other people do. Otherwise you are either a pawn in their game or an enabler. You have to work very hard not be reactive to crazymaking, to not try to mind read their games…if they are doing power plays, just take what they say at face value instead of trying to read between the lines, as if they mean everything they say. There is a lot of “playing dumb” to their strategies.

I also, unfortunately, keep a paper trail. At the same time, I never put things in writing that I would not stand behind if it were shared or taken out of context. Yes, this is with my mother and sister, alas. All arrangments are made in writing. (So if you’d had your plans written down, you could at least invoke that when your step-mother moved your stuff around. Although in that case I think I would have played dumb and said something like,”Oh, do you want me to sleep somewhere else now that Sister is coming? Shall I go in the basement?” It feels awful but once you let go of the idea that the dynamics are healthy, you can act accordingly and from a healthier place for yourself at least.)

I suggest dropping the rope on trying to mind read, even if everyone is a horrible communicator. The horrible communication is often a deliberate ruse to maintain control by one deranged member of the family. In my unfortunate experience.

I’m sorry about your Dad. It feels terrible when one’s father doesn’t have your back.

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kgg February 12, 2018 at 11:39 am

If your stepmother is nasty to a child, then I’ve got a good idea of what she’s like as a person. I think the person wounding you, however, is your father.

Maybe you and your sisters should consider dropping contact completely – at least for a while. It’s a sad idea, and maybe if your father hasn’t been clued in after 15 years, he never will get it, but it might be what’s best for you and your family.

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Dee February 12, 2018 at 12:13 pm

There seems to be an unhealthy dynamic with the way the family members treat each other. Not speaking to the father about what’s happening is maybe the biggest part of it. Treating him like a child is unnecessary and belittling.

OP, you and your sisters need to tell your father what’s going on. Immediately. And then give him your boundaries. If things don’t improve between you and your stepmother, as in, if she won’t respect you, then you can’t be in the house or around her at all. Then it’s up to your father to decide how much he wants a relationship with you. And he may very well choose his wife over you, but that choice has never been yours to make anyway. Delaying putting those cards out on the table just delays the inevitable, and makes the present unnecessarily painful. Do what you have to do and leave your father’s decisions up to him.

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lakey February 12, 2018 at 12:49 pm

The problem with these submissions is that we hear one side. In my experience there is some fault on both sides. Some of the stepmother’s behavior may be a reaction to her husband’s children’s dislike of her.
The Christmas visit issue may have a lot to do with OP’s assumption that she can stay in her father’s and stepmother’s home at her discretion. I purchased my parents’ home after they passed away. My siblings don’t make any assumptions about staying here. They are either invited or they ask. And they are my blood relatives, not step relatives.

I don’t know how wealthy the father is, but the fact that he gives his adult children monthly checks is interesting. If this money is a Christmas present, why not just give it as one check at Christmas? The monthly checks could be sending a message that the adult children aren’t able to care for themselves without help. Even though it’s the same amount of money, the one big check at Christmas may seem more like a gift. Little things like this can make a different in perception.

It’s sometimes hard for parents to view their grown up children as adults who are entitled to make their own life decisions and even mistakes. At the same time, it can be difficult for adult children to see their parent as an individual entitled to make his own choices. The fact is Dad has made a choice to marry someone OP doesn’t like. Stepmother has some behaviors that bother OP, but cutting the stepmother out of her life is only going to hurt her father, and makes OP part of the power play.
Administrator’s advice is excellent.

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Lisa February 12, 2018 at 1:35 pm

Yes, the communication here is terrible but I don’t think we should be giving Dad a free pass here.

“Knowing that they would stay in the spare room right next to the master suite, she left the door open and proceeded to seduce my dad.”

Are we supposed to believe he had no idea that his daughter and granddaughter were in the next room while he had sex? Come on. It takes two here.

As for the other incidents, he seems to at the very least be guilty of being willfully ignorant to what’s going on around him.

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lakey February 12, 2018 at 6:03 pm

Yeah, that’s creepier than everything else. It would not have been out of line for the child’s mother to walk over and close Gramp’s door.

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Michelle February 13, 2018 at 10:37 am

I agree with Lisa that he is being willfully ignorant to what’s going on around. I think that stems from “not wanting to spend his twilight years alone”. He probably, at the least, has an inkling how his wife is behaving and he chooses to overlook it, afraid if he speaks up or demands she at least behave politely she will leave.

The thing that really gets my hackles up- the picking on a child for being left-handed. If he sits by and listens/watches while his wife picks on his 11 year old granddaughter and doesn’t speak up, then that would be the end of visits completely. That is completely hateful and bullying behavior.

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deddeddie February 13, 2018 at 1:40 pm

Unless I misread, the story here is that sis & niece walked into the house while dad/stepmom were getting it on. Maybe they expected a knock or more time before their arrival. But nothing in the story says why it is suspected that she seduced him!

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Michelle February 13, 2018 at 3:16 pm

The OP states that the wife knew the sister & granddaughter were coming over and that wife intentionally chose that moment to be intimate.
“By far the most disgusting thing Janet has done, was leaving the bedroom door open when she knew my sister and her 8-year-old daughter were on their way to the house to stay during a bad storm with tornado warnings (my sister’s house does not have a basement and they live 5 minutes away). Knowing that they would stay in the spare room right next to the master suite, she left the door open and proceeded to seduce my dad. My sister is scarred for life. My niece, luckily, did not see.”

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Marie February 12, 2018 at 1:38 pm

I can say a lot about this post, but will only say this: Munchausen is a mental disorder, not something someone decides to “use”.

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Skaramouche February 12, 2018 at 5:57 pm

Stepmom might already be manifesting signs of Munchhausen if she’s faking illness to get attention. If OP is right about the faked illness, the question is, is she just a drama queen who pretends to be ill or is she disordered enough to start causing symptoms in herself in order to get attention? If it’s the latter, I’d definitely be worried about Munchhausen by proxy and how it would affect my dad.

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EchoGirl February 17, 2018 at 2:23 am

You’re both correct. Janet is already showing signs of Munchausen’s, that could turn into MSBP so the family should be wary. But Marie is right to point out that a mental disorder like Munchausen’s isn’t a tool that someone can choose to pick up and discard at will…it’s a lot more serious for both perpetrator and victim.

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admin February 17, 2018 at 5:55 am

It’s really not a good idea to diagnose mental illness based on an online story that is presented as one side of a more complicated story. I have an issue with professional psychologists and psychiatrists doing because it is unethical and unprofessional but more so for lay people who simply do not have the credentials to do so.

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Vermin8 February 12, 2018 at 1:54 pm

I think this is more an interpersonal issue than an etiquette issue.
I will agree with Admin about the Christmas Eve incident. Did stepmom actually tell OP to leave or was that OP’s interpretation upon finding her belongings in a box by the hallway. I agree with admin – proceed as if stepmom’s intentions were pure (even if you are 100% convinced that is not the truth) and act accordingly. If she has nefarious intent, you let HER say it clearly.
Also, if OP wants to talk to dad about stepmom, drop the loaded language and get away from the concept of blame.
Don’t say “we hate her, she’s evil and manipulative!” Say: “we don’t like the tension between family members and would like to figure out how to alleviate.”
Don’t say “she’s disgusting and awful and is purposely trying to drive a wedge between us.” Quote specific incidents and say “this hurt me” or “I was confused by this; this wasn’t what I/we wanted to do.”

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admin February 12, 2018 at 5:09 pm

Where is the “like” button when needed?

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Vermin8 February 13, 2018 at 6:57 am

🙂 thank you admin!

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Multi-Facets February 13, 2018 at 2:15 pm

[LIKE] <– Right there. 🙂

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Kirsten February 12, 2018 at 2:46 pm

I’m pretty sure if my dad knew his child and grandchild were due to arrive any minute, he wouldn’t jump into bed with his wife, but if he did, he’d make sure the bedroom door was shut. And if not, s!urely the sister could have pulled the door shut quietly?

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Hannah February 12, 2018 at 2:52 pm

Yeesh. What a mess. My best advise OP, (and frankly, I cannot relate to your situation, so it may not be the best advise) is for you and your sisters to plan an intervention. Just between you guys and your dad. Tell him Janet cannot come along. Be open and honest with you dad, be sure to tell him how you are all feeling. But you can’t be surprised if it doesn’t go well and nothing changes– after all, you all held your tongues for 15 years. It might feel like a surprise attack to him. When you’ve finished, set clear guidelines. If x doesn’t happen, neither will y. You say over and over you don’t want to hurt your dad, but by keeping him in the dark, you’ve hurt other family members and strained your relationship with him. Do you really not see how ridiculous it is that you can’t call your dad at home without the looming threat of Janet in the background? Ask yourself if you think you’ve really left him unscathed through all of this, because I don’t think you have. Every year this mess continues is another pang for both of you– even if it’s not obvious.

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JD February 12, 2018 at 3:47 pm

As Admin says, communication is very lacking here. OP’s dad asked her to stay over on Christmas Eve — did OP tell him that she (she?) was intending to stay until Sister’s arrival but go home for a while, too? I’m not blaming OP, I’m just wondering if there was confusion here.
I can’t imagine not saying something to my dad if his wife was playing all these games. She sounds unpleasant, so no way would I swallow all this in silence. If dad gets mad, is that any worse than the way it is, now? I particularly would be saying something if she was picking on my child (or niece)!
Perhaps a family conversation is in order here.
I also agree that so far, Dad’s kids seem to be playing into step-mom’s hands and letting her call all the shots. What a shame.
I know three step-moms in my family who were/are just great — one married into the family when she and the man, a widower, were in their seventies and both had grown kids; another sweet woman married a widower who had a young adult only child; and the third married a man whose first wife had abandoned him and and their infant son– that second wife gave him four more kids, showing zero partiality amongst the five kids. Her step-son adored her. It’s sad to see step-family stories with such terrible relationships.

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Calli Arcale February 12, 2018 at 7:12 pm

I think he must have known she was coming back, since he went and got an air mattress that apparently went unused because she left. But it all sounds rather odd; why wouldn’t the second arriving guest get the air mattress? Somewhere along the way, communciations definitely got dropped somewhere in here, so I think you’re right about the confusion.

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Linda February 12, 2018 at 4:46 pm

As for your father not believing you perhaps you and your three sisters could sit down with your father, without your step-mother, and all four of you could gently let him know how she treats the four of you. Not accusatory, not whining, just letting him know know your side rather than continuing to have him call you a liar to your faces and berating you.

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Agania February 13, 2018 at 6:10 pm

Yeah, good luck trying to get your dad to meet up with the four of you without evil step mother in attendance. I’d love to be a fly on the wall when that conversation goes down.

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Livvy17 February 12, 2018 at 4:58 pm

Good advice, Ms. Jeanne. Of course OP is getting berated if the dad only hears one side of the story.

It sounds like OP has equated saying nothing to “being polite,” but being polite doesn’t mean taking punches over and over again. OP should be direct and honest with her dad. If he still doesn’t see / address the situation, she can always fall back to only seeing him alone. But opting out without reason makes the step-mom seem like the reasonable one who is “trying” to maintain the relationship, and the kids as “brats” who won’t even let her in their homes.

OP also mentions she’s fearful that the stepmom might even hurt dad to get attention. If she’s really afraid of that, all the more reason to be open about stepmom’s lies and games, and at least put her father on his guard for the future.

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Vicki February 12, 2018 at 5:41 pm

It’s not clear from what the letter writer says whether (a) she has never tried talking to her father, in which case I second Jeanne’s advice, or (b) she tried a few times and then stopped, after being called a liar for saying unkind things about his wife.

If the LW has already tried something like Jeanne’s advice, I’d suggest reducing contact further. In particular, either “Dad, every time we talk about Stepmom we get into a fight, so I’m not going to talk about her. Let’s talk about the kids, or other things you’ve been doing, or Local Sports team. Would you like to hear about Alex’s school play?” You may need to walk out, or hang up the phone, if he mentions her more than briefly, or starts yelling at you. Don’t yell back, either just say goodbye, or “I told you I’m not talking about that. You have a good week, Dad. Goodbye.”

Now I’m going to step back and address the “who does that?” about the neighbor moving into a care home: it’s not clear how intrusive that neighbor was. (“chatty” covers a wide range), Difficult as the decision to move someone into a care home can be, it can also take a huge burden off family members who were acting as unpaid caregivers for someone who may no longer have really appreciated them, or perhaps even recognized them. “Gleeful” sounds bad, but “Did you hear the good news? Neighbor is someplace where they have the capacity to take care of her” or “Did you hear the good news? Neighbor has moved into a home, and her daughter got a few hours to herself for the first time in years” is rather different.

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KarenK February 13, 2018 at 3:04 pm

This is so true. My brothers and I were not the only ones thrilled when my dad went into long-term care. His neighbors probably heaved a great collective sigh of relief

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Bea February 12, 2018 at 7:14 pm

If it is so bad your sister will not let your niece visit without a guardian, it’s the point you speak to your father about how bad your take on things are.

My actual paternal grandmother was a piece of work. My mom knew it and didn’t want to “punish” me by keeping me away when the reality was the toxic nasty woman still got her digs in. I would go home and have night terrors afterwards and grind my baby teeth to stubs. My mom put two and two together where the stress came from but “family” was too important it fogged her reasoning.

Talk to your dad. Try to save your relationship. Find a way to remove what hurts you or move forward without them if necessary. But don’t harbor unspoken resentment and play a tug of war with him like it sounds like is happening.

It was your childhood home but it’s your step mothers current home. You have to let go of that.

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NostalgicGal February 12, 2018 at 11:54 pm

One that floats to the surface… is there any money involved? Money is the root of many evils and driving a wedge sometimes is so the later family addition can rake in what’s there. It does sound like there’s a layer of this in all this mess.

Isolating someone, it seems like this woman has been working on doing so for fifteen years and is close to succeeding. Intervention may be far far far too late as it seems he refuses to listen to anyone but her, even if you have plain evidence from several sources.

This is just bad dynamics all over the place and how to fix it, even if there are several well founded chapters on the other side, may be impossible by now. This is just plain sad.

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Rebecca February 13, 2018 at 1:40 am

Sounds a lot like the woman that came into my dad’s life. Thankfully she didn’t get as far as marrying him. This wasn’t just a matter of me not liking her. This woman was a manipulative female dog, and she had my dad so much under her thumb that she didn’t even live with him and every time I called him he had to check with her before he could agree to a visit. She gained his sympathy through sob stories that I knew to be untrue, and let’s just say this: she was simply after his money and trying to drive a wedge between him and us. I know what our relationship with our father was like before, so I can’t even really describe how it all changed. I am not a psychiatrist but I believe her to be a sociopath. All of a sudden he believed we were concerned about her inheritance. And she was overheard in the community talking about our inheritance, and also in an email to him that was somehow forwarded to me, she mentioned something about how I might manage my inheritance. All in six months of knowing him. And I’m thinking, “Dearie, the only person who has EVER mentioned our inheritance is you!!” I feel for you, OP, that in your case she actually married your dad. I recognize a lot of this: the wedge, the need to interfere in your relationship with your father, your father believing everything she says, and that she can do no wrong.

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Ginny February 13, 2018 at 2:56 am

Seems to me like OP is a bit entitled here – as noted by others, we’re only hearing one side — and that stuff about “my childhood home” and “monthly checks from Dad” (for Christmas?- comes once a year – not once a month, as far as I recall) seems a bit weird.. she also notes that she calls and visits her father at his office because “he’s the boss – so that’s allowed” (Daddy’s a bigshot and she therefore gets special time and privileges?)– and all that leaving in a huff because her belongings were moved out of the guest room… ?? I agree that this family needs to TALK to each other, but still, seems as if the OP might never accept that she (and her siblings) may no longer be Pop’s first priority — give the man some peace, already! — you all seem to be adults with your own families… he deserves a break…

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Aleko February 13, 2018 at 3:33 am

Like Lakey, I also find the monthly cheque thing very odd. That’s not a Christmas present, even if he calls it that. I agree with you that if he gave the same amount inside a card *at* Christmas, that would be quite different – ‘Happy Christmas, my dears, here’s something so you can buy yourselves a lovely holiday or a new set of living-room furniture!’ But the arrangement OP describes is simply a subsidy. That, coupled with OP’s (apparent) assumption that she can decide for herself how long she stays over at “my childhood home”, including taking herself off for a day, and her own admission that the father dresses down his daughters “like we were toddlers” makes me wonder if Janet’s “jealousy” of her husband’s relationship with them is down to a not-wholly unjustified perception that these four grown-up women (the youngest of them has to be in her mid-30s) even the ones with husbands and children of their own, haven’t really moved out, psychologically speaking.

I notice also OP’s rather snide remark that her dad married Janet because he “didn’t want to be alone in his twilight years”, thus by implication dismissing any notion that after long years alone he finally found another woman who he loved and wanted to be with. Also, the quite extraordinary presumption that if they had sex* it must self-evidently be she who “seduced” him into it. If that’s OP’s take on her father’s second marriage (which is belittling to him as well as her), it’s hardly surprising or unreasonable for Janet to react by trying to push these middle-aged and hostile fledglings out of what is now rightfully her own nest!

As for being happy when the neighbour had to go into a home: yes, that sounds awful but as Vicki said it’s impossible to know from that post exactly what she said and how she meant it – and Janet is obviously not the only person is this dynamic who puts the worst construction on people’s words and actions. OP’s phrase “our long-time neighbor” suggests that this was someone who had known the whole family, including the mother, since the children were small. Maybe this was yet another person who (in Janet’s perception at least) still saw the deceased mother as the “real” wife and Janet as the interloper? And if her “chatty ways” involved constant anecdotes and allusions about the time of he husband’s first marriage, I can see that being very hard to bear.

* Incidentally, this episode shows that when the daughters and their families show up at “their childhood home” they apparently just walk right in as a matter of course, without knocking at the door or ringing the bell. If they had done that, or even just stood in the hall hollering ‘Hi Dad and Janet, we’re here!’ instead of marching straight in and up to the spare room, they wouldn’t have seen anything they didn’t want to see, would they?

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Mrslove February 13, 2018 at 9:39 am

Hmmmm…..if you dislike being there so much, why would you go days before xmas eve, go home (living apparently close), then return? (Was that stepmoms way of saying, “long enough sister”?)

Why are you taking checks from your dad? Even if it’s a xmas gift, just why?

Shut the freaking door for Pete’s sake, or go to the kitchen for tea.

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Mames February 13, 2018 at 10:01 am

Maybe its just me, but I get a whole lot of passive aggressive behavior from the story writer.

Maybe Dad put the moves on stepmom. He didn’t shut the door either.
And a monthly check, for Christmas is odd.

PLEASE…. Somebody tell me what this means…..
“down-home etiquette folkways, such as feeding my father, but making it clear we are not welcome at her table.”

I don’t get the down home etiquette folkways.

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CPete February 13, 2018 at 6:47 pm

I could be wrong, but I took that to mean Stepmom brought food to Dad and didn’t offer some to anyone else, which would go against “good ol’ Southern hospitality.”

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Dana February 13, 2018 at 12:36 pm

IMHO, it sounds like a power struggle over the father. At some point, someone is going to have to humble themselves and give up the struggle. There’s no use putting the father in the middle of this power war; it sounds like he’s pretty much had enough. Since the OP recognizes this is a problem, she should swallow her pride and just let things go for her father’s sake and for the sake of her family.

We had a nice quiet family, very close with few squabbles. Until my brother married his wife. She came into the family thinking she was going to take over. She tried to pit our brother against us and for a while it looked like she would. I think he finally came to the realization as to what she was doing and he ended up putting his foot down on a lot of things. It’s not easy, but sometimes you have to be the bigger person and let your hurt go just to keep things sane.

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Agania February 13, 2018 at 6:30 pm

Same with us. My SIL drove a wedge between our family and my brother for 25 years. We passively allowed it as he now had new priorities (ie wife and children). But by heavens Mum was not going to stand for that. Therefore (unbeknownst to my SIL) she would call him once a week, on his work mobile phone, during work hours to chat and catch up with what the grandkids were up to. We still saw them on special occasions always at their house, they never came to us. After the last kid finished high school my brother decided enough was enough and left. It was nice to get my brother back after 25 years.

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ALM February 13, 2018 at 5:57 pm

What a lot of people never seem to understand is that a person’s new significant other is their new intimate partner, the person giving them new ‘intimate benefits,’ in the bedroom and in other aspects of their life.

It would be nice if remarried parents could still maintain a relationship with their own children, but many of them simply will not. The partner is going to be the person they have to go home to at the end of the day. If they want that person more than they want a relationship with you, there isn’t a darn thing you can do to change that.

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Billia February 14, 2018 at 3:24 pm

Sorry OP but you completely lost me by complaining that your stepmother seduced your dad with the door open. This incident was just as much his fault and choice. He could have easily closed the door. You seem unwilling to put any of the blame on your dad and claim it’s all evil stepmother but they sound as bad as one another.

Another red flag is getting a monthly allowance but claiming it’s a Christmas present.. it’s none of stepmoms business but it definitely flags to me that there might be some entitled behaviour!

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