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.