Garbage Wars | 16 Year Old in the House


Garbage Wars

Dear Micah,

I live on the corner of my street.  On Tuesdays the garbage trucks come vertically down the side street first then they run horizontally across the street in front of my house.  This is when they pick up my garbage.  A neighbor of mine on the side street almost always misses the garbage truck and will bring her trash cans to my yard and sit with my cans.  It then takes her a couple of days to retrieve them.  This is really pissing me off.   I want to say something to her but don’t know exactly what to say.

Martha

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Dear Martha,

Just ask her politely to remove her cans after the trash picks up.  If you don’t want to look like the bad guy then lie and tell her that other neighbors have mentioned to you how you seem to leave your cans out longer than necessary and they’re really referring to her cans.  Or if you want to avoid confrontation altogether, just take her cans over to her yard yourself.  Unless she’s a complete idiot, she should begin to collect her own cans after she sees you bringing them over.  Of course, there’s always the chance that she doesn’t mind being a nuisance to you.  Some people never clue in to how much they exploit others’ generosity.  Obviously she has memory and time management issues if she can’t even get her cans out to the street the night before.  So I’m not betting on how well she’ll improve her behaviors.  If none of this works, just start taking her cans off and disposing of them.  If she has to replace her can every time the garbage picks up, she’ll start keeping a closer eye on her cans.  Note that this shouldn’t be done if you live in an area where the city owns the can–that can isn’t yours to dispose of. But, if you live where you supply your own trash cans, just start throwing her empty can in your trunk after it sits there two days and throw it away at work or at the city dump.  After she’s spent a couple of hundred dollars on can replacement, she might start keeping up with her cans better.

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16 Year Old in the House

Dear Micah,

My 16 year is really difficult and she is angry all the time.  She changes the dynamic in our house and we all seem to be walking on egg shells.  She is miserable with her 13 and 4 year old brothers.  Never takes responsibility for her actions and is generally unpleasant and horrible to be around.

I split up with her father (who rarely sees her) when she was 5 and her grandmother died on her 12th birthday (they were best friends).  I try to be supportive, open and understanding with her, but she is always doing self absorbed things and she is extremely rude and mean to my current husband.  We share a child together and on top of parenting his own child he has been a wonderful caregiver and role model to both of the children from my previous marriage.

I get the fact that she is frustrated… I get that, but I really think she needs to cultivate relationships with her family instead of pushing us all away! Please help!

-Hostage in my own house

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Dear Hostage,

Well.  You are a little peeved right now.  Guess where she inherited the frustration?  But who can blame you?  A 16 year old can be trying on one’s nerves all on their own, but if they are also being toxic to the family dynamic as a whole, it can cause lots of chaos.  I think I understand what you’re saying.  Your daughter doesn’t get along with anyone in your family and is always unhappy.  She probably casts judgment and blame left and right but never allows any of it to fall on her shoulders, too.  It also sounds like she doesn’t have a real appreciation for her stepfather and that probably causes tensions between them—not to mention the tension it probably must cause between you and your husband.  Here’s the thing: at 16, her mind is pretty much wired to be the way it is.  If she is volatile and the type that won’t take responsibility for her part in problems, then things aren’t likely to change very much until she gets a few years of life experience under her belt.  The anger, however, which is the fuel that keeps the bad traits powered up, can be lessened a bit with time, understanding, and a set parameter of what you will and won’t put up with.

Let’s look at some things from her perspective first.  She lost her father when you split up, and she lost her grandmother that she was very close to.  Those are two big, life altering losses in a girl’s life.  Now Mom is remarried and has a child by the new husband.  You didn’t do anything wrong here—you fell in love again, and the man was willing to play father to a family that had begun without him.  However, in a teenage girl’s mind, you ditched your first family and started a new one.  Getting her to view Stepdad as the hero he is will be next to impossible at 16.  She’ll end up appreciating him in her late twenties after she’s seen a few men come and go through her life and has learned to recognize what an upstanding one looks like.  Right now her only impression of men is the dad that went away and the pretend-Dad that tries to tell her what to do without (in her mind) earning that right.  It’ll take some distance later in life to look back and be able to say “Oh, Dad was a piece of crap and Stepdad actually tried to be there for me.  I should start being nicer to him.  He actually raised me.”  Unfortunately, you have to be older to come to that conclusion.  At 16, she’s just got it in her mind that he’s the enemy and that isn’t likely to change.

It also sounds like your 14 year old son gets along well with your husband which can further ostracize your daughter.  Now everyone is a part of this new family but her.  What she has to realize–and you can try to help her with this, but you probably won’t have much luck–is that she is the one in control of whether or not she fits into this new family or not.  She has to learn that it’s not the fault of the new family that the old family fell apart.  Mom, Dad, Brother, Grandma—that doesn’t exist anymore.  That all disappeared.  There is a new family now with a new father and a new brother and she can either join it or stand on the sidelines resenting it and causing problems for it, but either way, she has to understand that you and your husband are in charge of this new family.

You and your new husband have a child together and undoubtedly, that child is your main focus, probably more so for your husband since it is his natural child.  This drives a lot of your daughter’s hostility.  Everything probably revolves around the 4 year old.  I know there has to be major resentment there.  A 16 year old is too young to understand that a little kid truly does require a lot more time and attention.  She doesn’t remember her time at that age when you had to give her the same amount of care.  All she sees is the full range of attention and affections given to this child that I’m sure she refers to as “Stepdad’s real child.”   Things are easier to define in her mind if she separates them into two camps of “stepchildren treatment” and “real children treatment.”  Sometimes there are valid truths to that, but even if there are, it isn’t inherently bad.  Your husband loves his kid more than his stepkids; that doesn’t make him evil, and that isn’t necessarily because his stepkids aren’t his “real” kids.  It boils down to the fact that he got his stepkids at an older age.  (I assume your 16 year old was at least 12 when you married if you have a 4 year old with the new guy).  At 12, your daughter was never going to be his daughter, not in her heart or his.  There was the chance to be friends.  There was the chance to develop a close relationship, but he wasn’t there for her first steps or first words or that time she flushed the TV remote down the toilet or threw up on the merry-go-round.

There is a lifetime of bonding that takes place from 0-12 and they missed that with each other.  As my grandfather would have said, “That ain’t gon’ happen now.”  It’s over.  They missed it.  The most either of them can expect from each other now is a close friendship.  She cannot judge him for loving his son (who he has been with since birth) more than he loves her.  Likewise, he cannot expect the love and respect a father should have when he hasn’t been with her through the years when those bonds are formed.  He does have the right to expect courtesy and politeness and friendliness because she should be giving that away to everybody, but I think she’s pretty unlikely to really respect him or care what he thinks about her until a few years from now when she’s a smarter woman looking at everything through hindsight.  With all that said, it has to be very difficult for your previous children to see all this bonding happening with the new kid.  After all, it isn’t their fault they didn’t get any of that.  I think you did the best you could on your own, but it couldn’t substitute for two parents working and loving and bonding together.

Your older son seems to be accepting Stepdad and allowing him to fill as much of that void in his heart that can be filled.  Your daughter is fighting it.  That’s her prerogative.  She’s missing out on some positive family memories by doing so, but she’s receiving some kind of payoff, otherwise she would stop.  Perhaps all the negative attention she is getting is better than the lack of attention she thought she got before.

This is where we come to what I said earlier about setting up some parameters of what you will and won’t put up with.  Do not stand and argue with her when she’s being toxic to your family.  Just stop talking to her.  Tell her that when she can discuss a subject like a reasonable person, you will continue the discussion, otherwise do not participate in shouting matches.  When people are shouting, no one is listening.  Also, choose your words carefully when discussing behavior problems with her.

Listen to these two sentences that virtually say the same thing: “You will give me respect because I pay the bills and am the parent. You live under my roof and will do what I tell you to do without the attitude.”  OR “All I think either of us wants is to be treated by each other with some kindness and understanding.  I have a lot of adult stresses that you can’t fully understand and you have a lot of teen stresses that I don’t understand, so let’s always try to remember that about each other as we talk.  That way we’ll know we’re always treating each other with the dignity the other deserves.”

Sentence Two is a little long winded, but doesn’t it kind of make you want to be nice to the other person?  It acknowledges BOTH people’s perspectives and also mentions nice words like dignity, kindness, and understanding.  Sentence One just attacks and uses the much OVER USED “Respect,” which always gets everyone riled up.  Set your parameters of how you will only respond to kindness and rational discussion.  This probably won’t help all that much, but try it.

Try forging a bond between Stepdad and daughter.  Do they share any of the same interests or have ability to develop any? For example, have Stepdad buy her a nice camera and teach her photography.  Think of the bonding that will happen when they come home with some really cool pictures to share with the family.  Think of the discussions they could have over how to shoot objects at different angles and perspectives.  Think of the secret lessons that can be worked in by using photography as the metaphor to explain different viewpoints and perspectives in the household.  Perhaps they both like fishing.  Or maybe they love science fiction movies—let them have a movie night every week that is just the two of them.  Bring them together in ways that promote interest, fun, and eventual bonding.

If none of this works, then just keep in mind that sometimes parents and children bond to each other as adults, and maybe that’s the case for your daughter.  She’s 16.  She’ll be out of the house soon and then all of her frustrations will be a memory.  That’s when she’ll just become the girl on the phone that you love to talk to and can’t wait to see.

If you have a question you’d like to ask Micah, please email it to MicahCargo@hotmail.com. Your question may be used in a future online or printed article in B-Metro.

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