Teen Talk: Problem with overly critical stepsisters burdens girl

02/12/2013 12:00 AM

02/11/2013 11:18 PM

DEAR KELLY: My parents are divorced and my dad recently remarried.

I have two new stepsisters who are close to my age who I have to share a room with when I go there for visitations. They resent having to share their room with me and make things as difficult as possible.

I'm overweight and they tease me and make fun of how my body looks when I am undressed. It's very humiliating, so I started changing in the bathroom. Then they started putting me down for being so stupid as to change in the bathroom when "we're all girls and all the same."

I can't win, whatever I do. They also go out of their way to be naked in front of me because they know their bodies are much more attractive than mine, and because they know it makes me uncomfortable. If I say anything, I get the "we're all the same" stuff again.

I don't want to go to my dad about this since it's an embarrassing thing to talk about, and it would just make things worse if I got them in trouble.

It looks like I'm going to be sharing a room with them for at least two more years until I go to college. I just want them to accept me and treat me decently.

What can I do?

– M.H.

DEAR M.H.: Two years is a long time to live miserably without speaking up. You need to say something, not with the intent of getting them in trouble, but with the hopes that everyone can talk about what is going on and learn to live together more respectfully.

Don't be embarrassed to talk to your dad. You have done nothing wrong. He needs to know what is happening so he can decide what is the best course of action the family.

Maybe he will want to start with a family meeting at which family rules are established about how everyone gets treated and how negative comments about others are not allowed.

Perhaps he will go to your stepmother and share with her what is going on so she can be more aware of how her daughters are treating you. She also needs to tell her daughters to become more respectful of your need for privacy and to stop harassing you for choosing to undress in the bathroom. They need to hear from their mom that their behavior is being monitored, and that cruel comments will not be tolerated.

Other possibilities include figuring out another place in the home for you to sleep when you visit, so you don't have to share a room with them.

Another idea your parents might realize is that the entire family needs counseling to learn how to work together and blend two families. A professional counselor can help give everyone a safe place to voice their feelings, talk about the changes everyone has had to experience, and offer suggestions on how to develop a more open communication system within the family.

On a separate note, you are admitting you are overweight, so I am wondering what is happening emotionally with you. Has food become a comfort for you through the divorce? Do you eat when you are stressed? Are you inactive because you are depressed? Is the weight a way to guard yourself from others?

There are so many different issues you are having to work through that it must all feel overwhelming. Sometimes there is so much stress and discomfort with so many issues that we can become paralyzed and unable to move forward. Feelings of being stuck and unhappy can create depression.

Tell your parents that you need to talk with a professional counselor. If they can't or won't help, go talk with your school counselor. If your parents can't hear your pain, perhaps they need to hear it from another adult.

The clear message of this entire response to your letter is that you need to speak up. Communication is the key to change, but also the key to let go of carrying extra baggage of unresolved feelings.


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