Teen Talk

Teen Talk: Stepfather’s strict rules on chores rankle blended family

DEAR KELLY: My mom got remarried a few months ago to “Chuck,” and we moved into his house with his three kids. I get along great with the kids and everyone is cool, except Chuck. Chuck doesn’t understand teenagers and thinks that his way is the best and only way.

Every morning, our beds have to be made and we can’t have stuff on our bedroom floor. Lame. Chuck thinks that Saturday mornings are “family days,” where we all have to be up at 9 a.m. and do house chores until like 11 or 12. I have never had to get up early before and I can’t believe my mom is going along with that.

Kelly, teenagers like to sleep in on the weekend. When it was just me and my mom, my friends slept over all the time, but now no one will because no one wants to get up on Chuck’s time and do chores with me all morning. Even Chuck’s own kids think he is whacked because he wakes up so early and wants others to do the same. They complain about his stupid rules all the time, but they can’t do anything about it.

A few weeks ago I decided that I would just sleep at my friend’s house on Fridays, and that would solve the problem. When I got home Saturday, Chuck had this crazy long list of stupid things I needed to do before I could do anything else. He and I got into a heated argument and I left again. My mom called me later and said that she understood why I was angry, but that since we live in Chuck’s house we have to follow Chuck’s rules.

Isn’t it her house, too? Isn’t it my house too since I live there? I told my mom let’s just move out and then we won’t have to be Chuck’s slaves anymore and I can be a teenager again. She said that she loves Chuck and she knows how much he loves me, and we will be OK. I’m not sure I agree with her.

Normal Teenager

DEAR NORMAL: I get it. I understand that you are upset because you have lived your life one way for so long and now you are being forced to change, and change is rarely easy. I get that Chuck seems more strict than your mom and have certain expectations of being a family that you were not raised with before the new marriage. I hear your feelings of being frustrated and upset that Chuck expects people to help out around the house during a time when you wish you were sleeping.

I can tell you and Chuck are starting to be at war over his rules and the way he runs his home. I completely get it. But if you are asking for advice, that means you have to be open to looking at your part in this situation and being willing to admit where you need to work as well.

Before I offer suggestions, let’s point out a few positives. Chuck treats you exactly the same as his own kids. You aren’t being singled out and asked to do different things than he expects of his own kids. You get along well with Chuck’s kids. That’s a major bonus. Your mom loves Chuck and can tell he cares about you. Loving someone (like your mom) means being happy that they have found someone special to spend their life with. Sometimes we have to step back from situations we feel are so bad to see that there are good things below all that is upsetting us.

Finding the solution for your family disagreements begins with establishing better communication. A good old-fashioned family meeting would be a great start for your clan. Perhaps you suggest that you are willing to do family chores, but would like to ask Chuck to be a little flexible on the time. Maybe every other week the teenagers get to sleep in and chores don’t start until noon. Or perhaps Chuck can give you your chore lists on Fridays in case you want to work after school to get your duties done so you can sleep in on Saturday.

Think “compromise” as you navigate through trying to work things out. If Chuck wants to establish family time, see if you can come up with fun things to do together. Maybe you can start some new family traditions that aren’t just around all work and no play.

By having family meetings, people can share their opinions and feel like they were heard. If everyone keeps quiet about hating Chuck’s rules, anger and resentment will build up. Chuck might not change his rules, but at least you know he has heard your feelings. Set up some basic ground rules for the meeting: People don’t interrupt, everyone keeps an open mind, no name-calling or below-the-belt shots, act respectful to one another, people are entitled to their own opinions, and the goal isn’t to be right, it is to be heard.

If you and Chuck continue to butt heads and can’t seem to find resolution, perhaps your family would benefit from some family counseling. Sometimes just a few sessions can help.

Chuck is not the enemy. He simply does things differently from your mom. He is trying to teach responsibility and good habits.

Give Chuck a chance. Try to talk with him about your feelings and see if you can agree on something in the middle that works for both of you. If you are asking him to compromise, be willing to do the same. A new family involves new rules, new duties and new ways to do things.

Change can be good if you are open to it and allow it to help you grow into a better person.

Kelly Richardson, a Folsom therapist, works with adolescents.