DEAR KELLY: Last year my mom lost her job and things got pretty rough for us. My mom decided I should go live with my dad, who I’ve never lived with more than two weeks every summer.
I’m 14 and my mom used to be very trusting of me and let me do my own thing a lot. I haven’t seen her in more than four months, and it’s so hard. But since I moved in with my dad and his girlfriend, things are terrible. My dad is crazy strict, stalks me on every social media site, stalks my friends, takes away my phone anytime I get in trouble, tells me I’m wearing too much makeup or too short tops or shorts, makes me have tutors in school and threatens me all the time with “consequences” (his lame word) for speaking up about his ridiculous rules. My mom and I hardly ever fought, but I fight with my dad every day.
I called my mom and asked if I can come home. She said not until she finds another job and has a place for us to live since she’s living with a friend in a little apartment. I hate living with my dad and think that he’s so controlling and mean. My dad thinks that since he has money he can tell me what to do because I have to live with him. When I tell him my mom didn’t make me do all this stuff, he said that my mom was doing a terrible job raising me (not true!) and it’s up to him to make me become different than my mom. He points out all the time that my mom never went to college and neither did my grandma, and how I will go to college, so I don’t end up poor like them.
His girlfriend is OK but she lets him say whatever he wants and never sticks up for me. I don’t want to become like her and would be happy to be like my mom because everyone loves my mom and she has a ton of friends.
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I recently starting cutting myself because I get so frustrated with all his stupid rules and all the fighting. I told my mom and she freaked out and made me promise to not do it again and I don’t think I can do that. She said she wouldn’t tell my dad if I never did it again but I’m afraid if she finds out I’m still doing it she will tell my dad. Please help me.
DEAR JUSTINE: You’ve been through a big life transition and it sounds like there are some struggles that have come with it. Anytime you move somewhere different, change will happen and without good communication, the challenges that accompany the change will seem overwhelming and problematic.
First, I’m guessing you are missing your mom. It’s so normal to miss someone you were so close to and depended on for so many years. A change like that would rarely be easy, and feeling sad would be normal and expected. Your world turned upside down and having to learn new rules and expectations would be difficult and somewhat confusing.
Here is where a good neutral third party could be so helpful. You and your dad need a mediator – someone to help guide you through these beginning steps of learning to live together and how to navigate through all this change. Speaking with a professional counselor could be so beneficial not only to your ability to communicate but also to talk about your feelings and his fears.
If your dad has never parented a teenager before and suddenly he has a 14-year-old living with him, that’s a huge change for him as well. He doesn’t seem to be doing anything “unparentlike,” but because your mom took a more lenient approach, you aren’t used to this type of household. I’m sure you are doing your best considering all that has happened, but it sounds like he is doing his best as well to try and help you be successful and make good choices.
It doesn’t seem right that your mom is holding on to such an important secret about you cutting. Your dad deserves to know. Even though you promised to stop, you haven’t and you are finding comfort in cutting. This could start a painful cycle of behavior that could cause you a great deal of emotional pain if it is not dealt with soon. The longer this continues, the more difficult it will be to stop. Using cutting as a tool to deal with hurt or frustration can lead to potential physical and emotional problems that could be dangerous to your health and well-being.
Again, this is where a professional counselor could help. Talking to a therapist about your cutting and developing new coping tools for your emotions would be so helpful.
You are hurting. It’s obvious. And your reasons are understandable and valid. The changes you have been through are big and you need a safe place to process all that has happened. Tell your dad you need to see a counselor as soon as possible. Be honest with the counselor so they know all that you are feeling and how you have started to cut. Let them work with you and your dad on better communication and how to move forward in a way that works for both of you. Trust the process and know that while you may not have chosen this road, there are good things that can come from it.
Change is scary and almost always hard at first, but sometimes it is just what we need. The secret of change is to stop fighting the old and begin to build on the new. Don’t keep the secret about cutting to yourself – reach out and talk to a professional about this. You are too important to hurt this bad and feel like you have to keep it all to yourself. Start building a positive life that makes you feel good about yourself and the choices you make. You are worth it!