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Stepmom's stepdaughter runs away; reveals the dysfunction of their blended family. AITA? UPDATED 5X

Stepmom's stepdaughter runs away; reveals the dysfunction of their blended family. AITA? UPDATED 5X


When this stepmom is forced to confront the issues in her blended family household, she asks the internet:

"My stepdaughter ran away from home and the challenges of our blended family come to light. AITA?"

Acronyms: SD - Stepdaughter; DH - Dear Husband; BS - Bio Son; BD - Bio Daughter; SS - Twin Sons (in this sub, this acronym is sometimes used for 'stepson' but for the context of this post, it most likely means twin sons).

So my SD "ran away" yesterday. I put it in quotes because she told us where she was before we even knew that she was "missing". She is with family and safe.

Nonetheless both DH and I are beyond pissed off at this stunt. DH wants to drive up and bring her home immediately. While I am tempted to agree, I think we ought to take a beat and reflect on the email she sent before taking any action that will cause further damage. It's the summer vacation.

She doesn't have school. We have some room time wise here. Let's assess. I'd love to hear some outside voices on this because everyone in my life is automatically side with us which while comforting isn't necessarily productive. I want to make sure that we do the right things here.

DH and I have been married for just over a year. We were introduced by some friends at a grief support group because we had both lost our spouses. He has one child, SD15, and I have four (BS16, BD14, SS7/7).

We took our time in this whole venture, especially me because I didn't want to uproot my kids' lives for something that wouldn't last.

We dated for two years and didn't move in together until we were married because we knew that someone would have to change school districts. Because he owned a house in one of the best districts in our state, we decided that it made sense to move into his house.

Obviously it was an adjustment. His family suddenly tripled in size and my kids suddenly had a father figure again. The kids had gotten along before we got married so it wasn't like bringing warring factions together or anything like that.

SD did seem very quiet but DH said that she'd always been introverted and preferred reading to people. I had also noticed that when we got together for family outings while we still dating, she always participated but was on the quiet side so I also thought that that was her personality. We clearly missed some signs here.

My SD basically gave us a list of complaints that included:- She lacks privacy as she now has to share a room with my daughter while my son gets his own room * My kids are always touching her stuff and have zero respect for her space

* She can't think in this house because my kids are too extroverted and noisy * The lack of privacy and my daughter having her best friends there all the time are affecting her ability to (she is in advanced STEM classes and codes for fun)

* My kids are bullies * Her father doesn't spend time with her anymore * We keep forcing her to participate in things she doesn't want to because my kids want to do it * She doesn't have a voice in our home anymore.

There are viable points that we can work on like my husband has obviously not been stepping up as he should if she feels like he's been spending more time with my kids than her.

My kids have an upstanding father figure that they haven't had in so long and they love and respect him. I guess she feels that they've been muscling her out of the frame.

I will also need to get to the bottom of this bullying because I don't entirely know what's going on there. DH and I have noticed the usual sibling fighting but it's never been to the extent that we thought someone was threatened.

At the same time I feel like there are things that we can't change. Do we go into debt and sell this house so we can buy a bigger house when the kids start going off to college in two years?

My kids live here too, are they not supposed to run and play? Is my daughter not supposed to have friends over? I know that it's a huge adjustment for her but some things just can't be helped.

I also want to point out that I believe that she ran away to make a point, rather than with the intent to stay gone. SD could have gone to her maternal grandparents' house.

They're closer, and she knows that they would fight tooth and nail to keep her. Instead she went to DH's family. I believe this is an indication that she wants to come home, she just wants things fixed.

So I'm asking you dear readers (and bless you for reading all of this, I deeply appreciate your help here), do you have any advice on how we can make SD feel like she has a place that is safe for her here and she belongs in this family?

How should we treat with this. I know this isn't the typical issue for this sub but I hope that there are some thoughts out there.

Thank you again for your help. ETA: Sorry about the formatting mess up. First time posting a list. I hope that it's still readable.

Interesting comments from OP:

We have a couple of options but only one might really work. We have an office but my husband uses it to telework a couple of days a week so that might not be the best solution. The other choice is the basement.

We have a finished basement that currently serves as the laundry room/playroom. The thing is, I feel like making the playroom that the smaller kids use into a bedroom could breed resentment among the children and exacerbate the situation.

Is a playroom truly necessary? Your SD has had to give up A LOT to facilitate you and your children. Converting a playroom into a bedroom seems like it would solve quite a lot of problems.

OOP: You're right. A lot of people get by without it. It was just a way to keep the twins from tearing through the house and keep all their toys and such confined to one area.

I think DH and I were really working hard to make sure that no kid felt left out without realizing that she wanted to be left alone, while we wanted everyone to participate in things.

The problem is that I'm not trying to make her feel like I'm not hearing her concerns. Yes this happens in every big family but she didn't ask for this, so I'm trying to respect that.

There aren't any occupancy rules but to us it just made sense. It seemed like the common sense solution that in a house full of teenagers, a 16 year old boy would have his own room and the two teenage girls would share.

Second, it's a great idea for DH and SD to have a little time on their own each week. That way she knows she still can get his undivided attention. I agree that DH and I have been dropping the ball on that, and I'll encourage him to spend as much time with her as possible, constructively (because he's pretty angry right now).

As for giving her her own room, the playroom space would work better than the officer because it's bigger. If she was in the officer we could fit a twin bed and not much else.

The playroom would give her more space, and privacy really because the only other thing down there would be the laundry room. She would have a space all to herself. In terms of what voice she wants, I believe that she felt like she hasn't been asked about any of the major changes.

We just made those decisions that we felt were best and expected her to roll with it. My kids were used to siblings, noise, a big family, sharing everything. She wasn't, and we never took into consideration just how much of an adjustment it would be for her.

When she complained about things DH would tell her that she has to learn to get along, but we didn't see how in pain she was. We just thought that she was being a teenager. I see now that we were so very wrong on that note.

Before we give you OP's major updates and comments, let's read some of the top responses:

As an introvert I find extroverts exhausting and for over a year she has tolerated have her spaces invaded by one, I'm surprised it took this long for her to "run away".

As an adult I know she is acting out, but I remember when and why I ran away (FYI it took 4 years for me to feel safe to tell anyone why) and it was largely because my parents were not seeing the trauma (and I used that deliberately) I was enduring on a daily basis even though lots of it was "normal "sibling" behaviour" when adults were present.

I'm sure you know the easy things to fix, but you need to get her a safe space yesterday! Somewhere that she can close a door and univited people can not just come in.

mommabear7 writes:

As an introvert, this would be hard for me, too. I think she had legitimate problems and most of them can be addressed.

Is there a way she can have her own space? As an introvert, it's draining to always be around people and I had to have my alone time or I would've gone crazy.

How much one on one time does DH have with her? Can you have a time set apart every week or so to spend with her? Even if it's getting a coffee or something small.

Do you two ask what she'd like to do? Or do you guys always defer to what your children want? Maybe ask her and do some of those some times?

I would be wary of dismissing the bullying as "normal sibling behavior." Maybe it is, I have no idea what is going on. But I know a lot of parents that said this (including my own growing up) and it was not. I'm not close with my brother due to this.

Of course she will have to deal with more people being around and she shouldn't have run away. But it does seem like your kids run the house and that she's not getting enough consideration from DH.

And now, OP's first official update:

I wrote about SD's issues with our new normal here, and I did promise an update if there was one. I have some news on that front so I figured I'd update and get some advice while I'm at it.

After DH and I talked for a bit, we decided that we would renovate the basement to create a true additional bedroom. We haven't told the kids who will be in it or what we're doing; we plan to have a discussion with the girls and let them make a decision about who gets which room.

We want them to feel like they have a choice here. If they both pick SD's original bedroom though, DH and I have decided that SD will get to keep her room and BD can move to the basement. We think that this is a decision SD needs to win.

As for SD herself, after some discussion with his parents, DH decided to let SD spend the summer with her grandparents. It's not a reward for her behavior but an acknowledgment that she's hurting and needs some space.

He's gone up twice now to spend the weekend with her and see her, so they have the time to repair their relationship. There is an understanding that when she gets back she will likely be grounded for some time for "running away" the way she did, but we're working on the situation as a whole.

She's doing really well and apparently even started a job helping a professor friend of her grandparents do research, so she gets something shiny for her college applications too from the summer.

DH was a bit depressed when he came back from seeing her the first time because he felt like a neglectful parent. He said that he hadn't realized how sad and quiet she had gotten until he saw her at his parents' place.

It was like a light had been switched on and she was so happy. So it would seem that time apart from us is doing her good, which is kind of a blow. We want her to be happy and healthy at home too, like all the kids, but we didn't realize how overwhelmed she was with all of us here now.

DH and I are now talking about getting them (him and SD) into therapy in addition to just increased time together. She's missing her father and he needs to take care of his daughter.

The jury's still out on whether I will go with him at any point in the summer to see her. I don't want her to feel like once again, me and my kids are muscling in on her time with DH.

The kids know that she's at her grandparents and they have no idea that she went without permission. We've kept that from them because we really don't want them to think that running away is a solution to getting what you want. This is just a unique situation.

Thank you all for the advice, for the metaphorical shaking, and I appreciate all of your words.

Relevant comments from OOP: I'm so glad to read this update. It was a tricky situation and I really feel your SD. I do wonder what your reasoning is behind making her compete with her step sister for room choice, even if she is going to "win" in the end?

She left because she couldn't handle competing for resources, so to make her start competing for a room the moment she returns seems counter productive. If I were you, I'd give her the win up front. Ask her which room she wants, and then give it to her. Making her negotiate with her step sister for her own space could lead to some serious grudges.

OOP: We want her to feel like she has a choice not that it's just one more thing that we're making the decision for for her. Whether we talk to them together or separately, we still want her to feel like this is a proactive choice that she's making.

Of course every decision we make we'll run by the counselor first to make sure that we're on the right path. This is my husband's only child. We don't want to lose her.

3. This is a great update. I'm impressed that your DH is really making an effort and showing your SD that his relationship with her is important on its own. I don't think I've seen my dad for 20 years without also seeing my stepmom.

I would urge you to not punish SD when she returns. You and DH messed up and she called your attention to that. It doesn't make sense for her to be punished for acting responsibly.

OOP: We'll be discussing it with her therapist. We want her to feel empowered to come to us with issues and to be assertive with her needs. Not to run away when things get too much. So yeah, it's a work in progress and we want to make sure we're not making things worse for her.

OP's second update, a year later:

Hello all. You may remember me from my posts last summer when my SD wasn’t settling into our blended family as well as we anticipated and went to my DH’s parents until we could settle things. You can look at my post history for the full details.

We have made many changes to try to ameliorate the situation and allow for easier relations among the kids. I wish I could say that this has made everything wonderful but that would be too easy.

SD seems to be withdrawing from our family. She spends a lot of time in her room reading or writing or coding or doing some other solitary activity. She prefers to be left alone at least when it comes to us, which is creating a considerable gap in our family.

She doesn’t come to us. Getting her to talk to me is like pulling teeth and she doesn’t share with her father anymore because she says that he just repeats everything to me and if she wanted me to know she would tell me.

We know that she’s sharing things with her best friend’s mom because one time she asked us if an issue had been resolved and we had no idea what she was talking about. She’s locked us out of her life.

We have engaged a therapist for her and the therapist has said that she feels overwhelmed by the changes and to give it time but with this latest request it seems that giving it time is making SD feel like she just doesn’t want to be a part of our family.

Right now it feels like it’s me and my kids with DH on one side and SD on the other. Short of actively forcing her to spend time with us, which is fun for no one, I don’t know what to do.

She is currently completely resistant to spending any time with my kids. That’s the interesting part. She’ll spend time with me but if I bring up the kids? It’s like she shuts down completely.

She is as disengaged as a sibling could be. She doesn’t talk to the teens at all if she can help it and while she’ll entertain the twins for a bit, eventually she’ll plead a headache and leave them.

When she initially left she said that my kids were bullies. DH spoke to her about that and she told him that she felt like my kids controlled everything that we did and we’re pretty selfish about everything from deciding what we ate on family night to just taking anything of hers that they felt like.

I admit that as extroverts they tended to dominate the house, and I know that siblings touching one another’s stuff is a problem. We’ve worked hard at making her feel heard but it’s at the point where our teens seem like they can’t stand one another.

Lately SD had been making a case to attend boarding school. She has also asked to go live with her mother’s parents for the rest of high school.

Because of her apparent depression and the fact that her grades are sliding (this girl has never gotten a B in her life yet this past year she had three B+s and she’s freaking out that she won’t get into the college she wants to), my husband is considering it.

He and I disagree on this A LOT. I don’t think that the lesson we should be teaching her is that when things get hard, you run away. Which is something I said when she left the first time!!!

He believes that giving her space is what she needs at least until she finishes high school (she’s a junior now and would spend senior year wherever we eventually choose). Right now we’re at an impasse while SD spends every moment she can at her best friend’s house or holed up in her room.

So what do you guys think? I feel like letting her go is giving up on her and I never want to do that. I could really use some advice here.

More relevant comments from OP:

They do attend the same school. As for the root of the problem, the closest she ever came to saying anything was when she said they were loud and touch her stuff. We spoke to them about that.

They think she’s uptight. It’s a clash of personalities so as it is now, they give one another wide berth. Her mom’s alma mater is a different school to boarding school. If she moved.

To her grandparents she could (and likely would because she’s a legacy) go there. If we have to let her go I’m far more comfortable sending her to family than to boarding school.

She just has senior year left. She’s a junior now. Her dad wants her to go because he saw how happy she was when she spent the summer at his parents place. I pointed out in my last post how he said her demeanor had changed.

Even though we put her in back therapy when she got back so she could have an outlet, she’s still obviously not happy here so he prefers to let her leave. It’s just a matter of whether it’s boarding school or her maternal grandparents.

She’d rather not deal with us at all. We can force her to stay but I’m very aware that doing so may cause her to never return when she leaves. I’m staying out of it at this point and letting my DH do whatever he thinks best serves his daughter’s needs.

DH can afford boarding school and the school that her grandparents will likely send her to is her mom’s alma mater and basically an Ivy pipeline. It’s not a concern about losing her education.

You know how sometimes you give people what they want and it turns out that they were testing you? Silly as it is, I don’t want this to be that. I don’t want her to think that we let her go so easily.

I don’t think she hates me. I’m fairly positive that she hates my kids and it seems that the only way to fix that is to let her go to her grandparents. My SD is a full time resident at our home, just to be clear. Both my DH and I lost our spouses. So she lives here like my kids live here.

Readers continued to weigh in on OP's story:

imaginedrag writes:

This is exactly why blending families is so tricky, and those who do really need to be sure it’s the right thing for all involved. I often find with step/bonus parents their judgment is clouded by their blind optimism that, “everything will work out,” and are often met with shock shock, surprise surprise when one or several of the kids don’t adjust well to the new dynamic.

Her and her kids were so ready to be a family. She got a wonderful loving husband. Kids had a supportive and involved dad figure finally. If only stepdaughter would get on board the Bonus Family Train.

It’s sounds like the real ongoing issue is that they hear SD, but aren’t actually listening. These things don’t just happen. They don’t just come out of nowhere. SD likely struggled for a long time, but they were too busy being a happy little family to notice or even care, really.

I feel like this OOP left a lot out. I’m curious how much time dad and SD spent together prior to them moving in together, and how much that decreased once they did. Considering how many stories on Reddit I’ve read like this one, I already have a guess and a good feeling on that front.

snoowoord7 writes:

Wth is up with this woman. Sounds like she has no personal relationship with her SD, who is about to be a senior in HS, yet wants to be her parent. Yes you and your kids moved in and are dominating HER home.

This girl lost her mother and only has her father left. You came into her life and neglect to treat her with the respect she deserves. You can’t just throw it all up and be like yeah let’s all go out together and get to know each other and have fun as a family.

Her father can parent her and you learn to be her friend and just support her because she’s almost an adult and doesn’t need this new woman chiming in on her life like she’s a toddler.

Parent your own damn kids, and yes, she’s grown up enough and you’re a stranger enough that she doesn’t need you discussing how to rule over her with her dad. Respect boundaries and be her friend before you try to be her mother.

hfahev writes:

Human beings from different families don't become "siblings" just because two people fell in love and got married after their spouses died. That's wishful thinking on the part of the newly married couple.

A self-serving delusion that allows the married couple to go ahead with their plans falsely assured that everything will be OK because their respective children will see themselves as truly being siblings. There's a reason that the terms "step-brother" and "step-sister" exist, and it's because the distinction is real.

Expecting someone who previously shared a home with no on else other than her father to accommodate not only her father's new wife but also that wife's four children would be bad enough, but to require her to accept the loss of her individual bedroom, possible bullying, and so on, because she suddenly has "siblings" is deluded and cruel.

So many adults who are divorced, widowed, or otherwise separated from the people with whom they have children, let their new romantic relationships dictate the living arrangements of their pre-existing children, and are then surprised, even affronted, when those children react negatively.

The term "blended family" is often used less as an attempt to describe a situation of two families being compelled by a romantic couple to merge, and more as a self-serving justification for any harmful effects that this causes for their children ("You can't expect things to be the same as they were.

We're a blended family now", "You have to give up your bedroom, and share a room. We're a blended family now", "Of course I'm going to be spending time and money on your step-mother's kids. They're your "siblings". After all, we're a blended family now").

It's bizarre that the father couldn't have anticipated that moving five new people into the home that he shared with his daughter would be a bad idea.

Logistically, emotionally, financially (because every dollar spent by the father on his wife's four children is a dollar less that he has available to spend on his own daughter), it's a huge change for his daughter, and it's a change to which she has not consented.

What makes the situation even more glaring is that, unlike so many other situations of the kind, the daughter doesn't seem to have tried to sabotage her father's new marriage.

The wife/step-mother makes no mention of any act of spite committed by the daughter, no rudeness, no disrespect, no typical teenage rebellion aimed squarely at breaking up her father and his new wife.

On the contrary, the wife/step-mother essentially acknowledges that the daughter's actions came after a considerable period of suffering for the daughter caused by the decisions and actions of her father and his new wife...

and that the daughter seeking refuge in her grandparents home was essentially for her own self-preservation (and not an attempt at sabotaging the marriage).

Whatever remedial actions that the father takes now, it's likely that he has caused permanent damage to his daughter at a pivotal time in her life. Damage that will certainly affect his future relationship with her, but, of greater importance, will massively affect her own life long into the future.

That's why the "blended family" line rings so hollow. After his wife died, the father's fundamental obligation before anything else should have been his daughter's welfare and well-being.

That doesn't mean that he should have been denied opportunities to pursue happiness in his own personal life, but the manner in which he pursued those opportunities should not have been permitted to have detrimental consequences for his daughter.

The choices that he made and the decisions that he took (to which the daughter didn't consent) have harmed his daughter. That harm has been significant, and, importantly, should have been eminently foreseeable.

Wrapped up in their own self-justifying assertion of the "blended family", the father and the step-mother couldn't (or wouldn't) see the harm that they were doing to the daughter.

Even when she fled her home, they wanted to ground her. Long after this post has been forgotten, the damage caused to the daughter is likely to continue permeating aspects of her life.

What do YOU make of OP's story? Any advice for her?

Sources: Reddit
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