Thursday, February 18, 2010

You Can Pick Your Friends, But...

DH and I don't fight often, but when we do, ten chances to one, it's about his daughters. Last night in the heat of an exchange, he said something to me that really stunned me. He said, in frustration, "You treat your friends better than you treat your family" (by family, meaning his daughters.)

Um. Well, yeah. Of course I do. My friends are my friends precisely because we're compatible. I like and respect my friends, otherwise they wouldn't be my friends.

As for family, the only member of my family I get to choose is my husband. Everyone else, from my brothers and sisters to aunts, step-daughters and in-laws, I inherit as part of the package deal. I don't subscribe to the notion that you have to like everyone in your family just because you have some genes or other tenuous connection in common. I believe that every individual needs to prove their worth... not necessarily their worth to me, but their worth as a person in general. They need to demonstrate traits that I find admirable before I like them; they need to do something worthy of my respect before I respect them. TANSTAAFL.

The fact that I hold each individual responsible for their own worth should be no surprise to my husband; for many years my adoptive brother and I have been distant; I disapproved of his lack of direction and purpose and his general fecklessness, though as of late we're getting a little closer as he matures and shows ambition and drive.

Likewise, my step-daughters have (thus far) failed to impress. There was a brief span where they seemed to shed the self-centeredness of childhood and a glimmer of the women they were to become gleamed through. I genuinely enjoyed their company for those few months, and looked forward to the relationship that I saw might be possible. However, then the hormonal tides began and it's been frankly awful since. They are sulky, deceptive, devious, conniving, thieving, vindictive, selfish, whiny, lazy and spoiled rotten... typical young teen girls. I see nothing worth liking or loving about them 90% of the time, and the 10% when they are sweet isn't enough to carry me through.

Perhaps it is asking too much to expect children of 13 and 14 years to be likable. I don't know. What I do know is that we're at a bit of an impasse; my husband expects that I love/like them just because we're "family" and I won't pretend to like them all the time in order to smooth things over.


XUP said...

That's a tough one. I think it's easier to dislike family and judge family because you're stuck with them. If you didn't like your friends one day, they would probably stop being your friends and that would be the end of it. Family, though -- you kind of have to forgive their character flaws and find a way to tolerate them...unless I guess they do something really horrible to you. Teenagers, as I know very well, can be infuriating, but life is tough for them too. They have a lot of pressures that we never had and have no idea about. Their own bodies are foreign to them. They want to be adults, but still have childish feelings and reactions. They look like grown women so we expect them to act like it, but they're not. They're really still kids who need to feel safe and loved and who need a lot of direction and attention and boundaries and help with all this strange new stuff that's happening to them. I know it must be really difficult for you because they're not really yours and yet still really yours. Don't give up on them when they need you the most. That's my 2 cents anyway

Anonymous said...

As an older sister of a teenage girl, I know what it's like from both sides. I have stopped speaking to my sister because she is now in that stage where just when I start to like her she hurts my feelings again. I have decided to wait until she is more mature and better able to value our relationship. So I do see your point there, but the thing is that you are in the situation where you are [probably semi-supposed to be] a parental figure. They need that. Of course they don't realize it, but a teenager is still a child in so many ways, and they need others to guide them along and be there for them. In my opinion you cannot take the 'vacation' from them like I am from my sister, because you chose to be with this man who you knew has two daughters, and one does not come without the others.

Anonymous said...

You might find the above link helpful.

Susan said...

XUP: I knew I would receive a solid, down-to-earth comment from you. Thanks for the pep-talk... it was needed.

Anonymous the First: Thank you for your comment and your perspective. I think you misunderstand me just a little, though... I am not taking a "vacation" from them, as you put it.
When I married my husband, I accepted shared responsibility for them, and I continue to do so. Food, shelter, guidance, rules etc I provide freely; it is my mission to turn those girls into "good" people.
However, no-where in the parental contract does it mention the actually *liking* your children. That's where my particular gap is, and that's not something I can fix. Only time and maturity... theirs, and possibly mine, might take care of it.

Anonymous the Second: Thanks for your response, as well. That's a very interesting article (and site; I shall check it out further), but I'm not sure how it applies to the given situation.
I am distressed over the behaviour of my step-daughters and my inability to find likable traits within them at this particular age and time, not feeling "smugly virtuous" about being better than them. They're kids, still learning the rules of the game; one can't possibly compare theirs to adult behaviour.

kate said...

I'm with Zup - don't give up on them just when they are at their worst. That's what everyone always does, and a large part of the reason that society's children are turning out the way they are; 'cause no wants to do the work it takes these days to raise them right. Oft said is it takes a community to raise a child - think of yourself as just another member of that community, and step up and show these kids the right way to do things. You may not realize that they are watching and learning from you every day even if you think they aren't paying attention to a single thing you say or do, so be aware of the greater meaning of the messages you are sending out. I know you care about their development as the next generation of women, but they don't see that you care and they are not sophisticated enough yet to see the meaning and truth behind your frustrations and expectations of them.

knitjo said...

If only they came with manuals--probably much thicker than your programming ones--I'm in the thick of this also and I just take it one day at a time and hope they come out the way we have conditioned them to since birth...

Anonymous said...

I think this is a very sad and childish approach. Have you thought perhaps that the reason they are acting the way they are acting is because they are trying to get your attention/approval/love?

How would you feel if your husband acted this way toward your own children?

Perhaps you should think about how you can give them opportunities to like you better; then maybe they would be more likable.