“When Jack and I were dating I was crazy about his son, Andy,” said Beth, 38. “But ever since we got married, five years ago, and had two kids of our own, things have become increasingly tense with my stepson — and my marriage hasn’t been so great either. My husband and I are fighting all the time and Andy, who’s 12 now, is usually at the center of our battles.
“Jack’s divorce from his first wife was pretty bitter and he feels guilty about how it affected his son. But he’s trying to make up for it by completely spoiling Andy, buying him anything he wants and doting on him completely. Whenever Andy is with us — usually every Wednesday night and alternate weekends — Jack ignores me and our kids, Kate, 4, and Ben, 3. Jack and Andy spend the entire weekend watching action movies or playing video games. Not only do I miss having private time with my husband, but I also hate being excluded from their lives.
“I also can’t stand the way Andy treats me: He won’t look me in the eye when he speaks to me. Usually all I’ll get is a mumbled one-word answer. He never says ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ and doesn’t lift a finger to help around the house, whether to bring his plate to the sink after dinner or keep his bedroom neat. ‘I like it messy,’ he snaps when I tell him to pick up the dirty clothes strewn across his bed. As for Kate and Ben, Andy barely speaks to them, and they’re crazy about him.
“I try to talk to Jack about the situation but we always end up arguing. If I tell him he’s too lenient with Andy, he tells me I don’t appreciate how traumatic divorce is on a kid. If I say Andy’s disrespectful, he accuses me of not liking his son. It’s gotten so bad that we hardly ever have sex. I just don’t feel romantic with this much tension.
“It’s hard to believe that we were once so totally in love. I met Jack through a coworker and fell for him after our first date: He’s a partner at a big law firm and he’s really good-looking, supersmart, and fun to be around. He’d been separated for a couple of years when we began going out and was very open about his battles with his ex-wife over custody and money. He also talked a lot about how much he missed being involved in Andy’s life on a day-to-day basis. I liked that he was such a committed dad.
“Andy was a cuddly 5-year-old when I first met him and I adored him. And I know the feeling was mutual. But things started to go downhill shortly after I married his dad. The fact that I got pregnant right away — and had two babies within two years — didn’t help. But frankly, I think it was his ex who turned Andy against me. When he was with us she’d call several times a day and Andy would talk to her in a whisper. Once I overheard him say, ‘She’s not that bad, Mom.’ But she has clearly brainwashed him.
“I really wish we could all get along when Andy is here. Despite the children’s age gap I know there are family activities we could all do. But Jack hovers over his son like he’s a visiting dignitary. Worse yet, he wants me to dote on him, too. Well, I consider Andy to be a family member, not a guest, and I expect him to follow the same rules that Jack enforces for Kate and Ben.
“This past weekend was the last straw. Instead of coming home after picking Andy up, Jack took him out for pizza and a movie — and never called to tell me they’d be late. When I complained, he told me I have to respect his need for private time with his son.
“Believe me, I realize the situation is difficult for Andy and I also understand that his dad wants to have a good relationship with him. But I’m trying to create a family here. If things don’t improve fast, my husband will be twice-divorced before he hits 40.”