The Kids Have Taken Me Hostage!

Dear Mamas,

My daughter is 17 and waving the “Im going to be 18 and then I’m outta here” flag. It’s stabbing at my heart. She knows I have abandonment issues and like a typical teenager who figures out how to get to people, uses it. She is disrespectful and calls me out on every mistake I make and tells me she has no respect for me anymore. My live-in boyfriend moved out because he couldn’t handle all the fighting. We lived together for three years. His daughter and I had a good relationship until I moved in. I tried to resolve the issues early on and it just made things worse.

He and I now live in two different homes. We both still love and care about each other and spend nights together when we can to just share a meal and a movie. Neither one of us want to end the relationship. Now his daughter does not spend much time with him (she’s 16) and mine hates him. He tells my daughter he doesn’t like how she treats me and she just says, “You’re not my dad, so it doesn’t matter what you think”.

I feel tugged in every direction because I love all parties involved. I also have an 11 yr old and an 8 year old to raise. It’s very important to me that I get these issues resolved so that my family is healthy and growing in a good way. It’s my job to make sure my children are the best people they can be to better this world. And teaching them how to cope is key for me. I need to know how to show them.

How can I get the older daughters to stop trying to control my (and my boyfriend’s) life?


Dear Confused,

Wow! It sounds like things are very chaotic at your house and that the kids are running the show. I hear that you want to make everyone happy but caving in to what the kids want, regardless of whether you feel it is right, is not the way to go. It actually makes children feel anxious and angry when they have too much power. It’s a very uncomfortable place for them to be. They know they can’t handle it, but will challenge and provoke you until you make it clear that you are the boss and the one calling the shots. And in order for them to settle down, they must believe that you know what you’re doing and that you mean what you say.

Children of all ages need limits, structure and consistency in their lives in order to grow strong and healthy. These things are as necessary for them as food and water. They need to know what is expected of them and that there will be consequences if they don’t follow through with the game plan. They need order and predictability and the knowledge that a loving, caring adult is on the job looking out for them. Above all they need to know that YOU, their mother, is in charge and making good, mature decisions for them that will keep them safe and on track.

At this point it seems like they are holding you hostage and controlling your life instead. I can imagine how frustrated and worried you must be.  It also sounds like there has been a lot of disappointment and hurt feelings for the grown-ups as well as the kids. Things have gotten way off track and I’m so glad that you are willing to take a good, hard look at what you can do to turn them around.

Frankly, I think you are going to need some help with this. You need to reclaim your role as C.E.O. of your family and you need new tools in order to do this. Good parenting is a skill that can be learned — in fact it has to be learned. None of us are born knowing how to do it.

So now it’s time for you to get the skills, techniques, support and understanding you need in order to do your best. You want to get a good start on this while your daughter is still young enough to be living under your roof. Once she is legally able to be on her own, your authority over her will be harder to enforce. She could end up in a lot of trouble and I know you don’t want that. Plus, your little ones are learning, through her example, exactly what it takes to make you crazy.

They need to see that the two of you can work things out. When they see you make the commitment to do whatever it takes to restore order at home, they will feel much more secure about themselves and their family and will be able to focus on developing their own skills and talents. Everyone will be able to heave a much needed sigh of relief.

The first step for you then, is to contact your pediatrician or school counselor to get the names of some family therapists in your area and the sooner, the better. I hear that you love your children and want to make life better for them and yourself. I’m sure that things can improve but it’s going to take some hard work and it won’t be easy, so get the help you need A.S.A.P. Don’t give up until you find the right person to help you. He or she is out there and you can do this!

Once things settle down at home, the chances will be much better for you and your boyfriend to create a happier, more stable life together, too. Good luck and let us know how it goes.

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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