Adapted from a recent online discussion.
I’m in college now, but I have two sisters who are still living at home with my father and stepmother. My mom died a few years ago after a long, drawn-out battle with cancer. This was extremely hard on my sisters, who were only 7 years old at the time.
What made it more difficult is that my dad was married again within six months of the funeral. My stepmother had a conversation with us when she first moved in and told us that she was not our mom and would not be raising us. She told me, as she thought of me as an adult at the time, that she doesn’t like kids and wanted nothing to do with me or my sisters.
I told my dad about this, and he shrugged it off and said she’d come around.
It’s been a few years and nothing has changed. My sisters tell me that she won’t even acknowledge their presence when in the same room. I’ve tried to talk with my dad about this and he says it’s between him and his wife. Is there anything I can do for my sisters?
Wow — at the same time I want to cry and kick somebody. This is awful.
My first thought is, do you have any other relatives who would open their hearts and homes to your sisters? Or is there another responsible adult in their lives you can approach?
Whenever I get a question like this, I always put myself in the position of a potential guardian, and I think yes, I’d accept the responsibility (or else I couldn’t in good conscience advise it). I have to think many, if not most, people would feel the same.
The second thought is much harder and riskier, since it involves your becoming their guardian — and essentially giving up your young adulthood.
You’d obviously have to weigh the benefit of the home you could provide, which would be immature and financially unstable but loving, against the benefit of their current environment, which is stable but loveless. However, there would be no harm in your just exploring that option, if you’re willing, to see if it’s even realistic to try — financially, legally, emotionally.
You likely have access to counseling services through your college. Please make an appointment either way and talk to someone about what’s going on. Also, try placing a call to the Childhelp hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD (422-4453). This is a great source for a reality check on whether your sisters are better off staying put, and how you can help them.
Obviously both of these ideas rest on the assumption that your father would surrender custody, but that doesn’t seem like a stretch. He’s allowing his kids to be emotionally abused before his eyes; I don’t see him fighting to keep them at home, unless you spur an epiphany.
It says good things about you that you care enough about your sisters to talk to your dad on their behalf. It also might be their best chance: Even if there’s no practical way to give them a more welcoming home, your loving, consistent presence in their lives can be the bread-crumb trail that leads them out of the woods.