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Should I forgive my stepdad?

My parents are divorcing and I know it’s hard for my stepdad… but after a falling-out, he still owes me an apology, right? Give yourself a little time, says our elder. But remember, it’s not your job to make him feel better.

Dear EWC

I am 16 years old and my parents are getting a divorce. I’m not angry that it’s happening. They both are very unhappy and I understand. My dad, even though unhappy, doesn’t want the divorce and is making the whole transition very difficult. While he definitely isn’t a bad parent, he has never really been great at it either. He is my step dad but he is the closest thing I have to an actual father. He often randomly snaps at me and my siblings, telling us to “Shut up” and he has called me and my older sister “bitches” on multiple occasions, specifically when he is mad. When we get into arguments, he often employs childish behaviors, like mocking or blatantly ignoring your side. He is very childish, but he is the only dad I have and I love him even though he is very hurtful to us. I don’t want you to think he is all bad, because he’s not. He works hard for the family and my mom never really acknowledged that when they were happily married.

All of my siblings have pretty much sided with my mom and I feel awful that he has nobody to turn to during this messy divorce. After an ugly argument, I’ve refused to talk to him. It’s been around three or four weeks now and he has sent me two messages, neither of them apologizing. I have barely seen him within the weeks because I’ve managed to switch my sleeping schedule to avoid him. I know he must miss me on some level, especially if he was willing to send me two messages without any replies, one of them saying, “I hope you feel better, kiddo,” when I was sick. I don’t want him to feel alone and hated during this divorce but I also don’t want to simply forgive him without an apology. I’m really confused and I miss my family. I don’t know what to do. Please help.

BES replies

As a lady who went through an ugly divorce with my former husband who was very bitter, I can tell you that I sort of know what you are going through. My ex became a very different person and it caused much confusion and bitterness with my children. I have learned from this and can tell you a few things:

It is not your job to make sure your father is OK. He is an adult and he is angry and hurt but it is not up to you to make him feel better.

If he bad mouths your mom, it is up to you to say, “Dad, you have a right to feel that way but I do not want to hear it because she is still my mother.” If he continues, leave the room.

You can/should tell your father that you love him very much as you stated above but when he calls you or others names, it causes you much distress. Let him know that it makes you very upset and that you feel like distancing yourself even more from him. Let him know you empathize with him and what he must be feeling right now. You could say something like, “I know this must be difficult on you and that you might feel like lashing out sometimes to let off steam but you will have to try and find another way to let out your feelings when you are not around us. Can we talk about this?”

Let him know that you will always be his ‘daughter’ and nothing will change that. He has a choice to make and you hope he makes a good one: to keep calm around you and tamper his name-calling and rants or lose the relationship he has with you.

Forgiveness and not holding a grudge is a wonderful feeling but it can be extremely difficult when one is angry or hurt. Please give yourself a little time and then let him know that you don’t want to hold a grudge against him and that you would like to re-establish the relationship you both had but do it gradually.

It may turn out that you can’t mend the relationship. It happens. If that is the case, then know in your heart that you gave it a try and that it is his problem and not yours.

I hope this helps.

Letter #: 459009
Category: Family

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