DEAR KELLY: What do you do when you like your stepmom better than your own mom?
I live with my dad way more than my mom, and I really don’t like visiting my mom. She’s really weird sometimes and always says off-the-wall things that make no sense, like her political views or how she wants to move to a foreign country because then she can live a more free life without our American government. She has a lot of hippie friends who are just as weird and I hate being around them. My mom is always wanting me to read stupid books on her crazy views or telling me to watch these videos on how we make certain foods and how the government contaminates it all because she thinks all the hormones are bad for us, and I should know what I’m eating. She gets mad when I tell her that me and my friends love Taco Bell or Jack in the Box and I could care less about all her whacked-out thoughts on food.
My dad knows my mom is weird, but he still says I have to spend some time with her even though I’d prefer to never go over there. I’m 17 so soon enough I won’t have to go there at all, but for now I’m forced to spend time with her and her weirdo friends.
I really like my stepmom and find her much more normal than my own mom. I’m so much more comfortable around her and I have no problem bringing my friends to my dad’s house, but would never bring anyone to my mom’s. Do you have any advice?
DEAR MJH: Most things in life are our choice but a few things not. We can pick our friends but we can’t pick our family. You were given one mother and one father and, like it or not, that’s who you got.
Being in a family involves a lot of burdens, responsibilities and sometimes many rewards. Family life can be complex and create strong emotions because each person is different, as are their opinions and beliefs. Family members can frustrate us or confuse us as well as make us feel guilty for not wanting to spend time with them. It’s important to learn that while you may not share the same beliefs they do, it doesn’t mean you can’t love or accept them for who they are.
My guess is your mom won’t change, but you can definitely lay out some healthy boundaries so that when you are with her she knows what you’re comfortable with and what makes you not want to be around her. Your mom is different than you and you don’t share her same feelings on issues like food or politics. That doesn’t mean you can’t spend time together or enjoy each other’s company as long as rules are laid out and both parties work on communicating better with each other.
Sit your mom down and share how you feel. Try to not put her down for her beliefs or call her crazy for what she thinks. Remember, just as you are entitled to your feelings, so is she. Let her know that you no longer wish to hang out with her friends because they make you feel uncomfortable. If her friends are coming over, perhaps you can go hang out at a friend’s house or at your dad’s.
Lay out what you believe are the “hot topics” you should avoid talking about. Share that while you respect her views, you don’t feel the same and don’t want to get upset every time you are with her when she starts to push her beliefs onto you.
If she doesn’t think she can honor your feelings to not talk about things that make you uncomfortable or not have you be around her friends, then perhaps you stay more at your dad’s and just do small visits with your mom. If she starts on a hot topic, politely remind her that it is something you don’t want to talk about and you need to change the subject.
Hopefully she can respect your feelings and move on to talk about something you can both agree on.
Have you thought of asking her to go to counseling with you so you can talk openly about how she makes you feel and how to set boundaries so you can have a healthy relationship? Perhaps that would be a good start for you if both sides are willing. If she won’t go, is there a family member on her side you can talk to about her behavior and have them help navigate her to see how she is pushing you away? If neither is an option, accept that you won’t be able to change her. All you can do is set limits on the time that you do spend with her and the manner in how you communicate with each other.
The good news is that your stepmom is a great addition in your life. You feel comfortable with her and she has opened her life to you. Be careful that you don’t compare the two women. Enjoy the time you spend with your stepmom and be appreciative she is in your life.
All families have dysfunction. Your mom feels passionate about things you don’t, and you need to find some common ground on which to communicate.
Kelly Richardson, a Folsom therapist, works with adolescents.
Write to Kelly Richardson at Teen Talk, The Sacramento Bee, P.O. Box 15880, Sacramento, CA 95852, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.