My stepdaughter, who has lived with us for 11 years, returned home after flunking out of college in her first year. She found work quickly – two jobs in fact – then began thinking about moving out because she didn’t want to keep her room clean or do chores.
She decided to move in with her mother, who has a history of drug abuse (the reason my husband was awarded custody). Within three months, she leased a car she could not afford, got pregnant by a guy who already had a two-month-old child and became homeless because her mother used all the money smoking crack. For two weeks she slept on friends’ and relatives’ couches, barely keeping clean.
I am a God-fearing woman, with a deep relationship with Jesus. I extended a listening ear and prayer to my daughter. She said she needed that. She came over late that evening crying, at her wits’ end. I prayed with her and asked if she was staying the night. A night’s stay became a week. I said to her father he should talk to her because I had a hunch she was trying to move back home without asking. He told her she could stay until the baby was born. She apologised for being a disappointment to us and said she would make better decisions in future with our counsel. Everything was good. She cleaned up after herself and did what she could to contribute to the household.
The baby was born in April. She is overwhelmed with being a new mother. I help with watching the baby when she has appointments and relieve her when she’s ill or tired. When I try to give her advice about caring for her son, getting on a schedule and how to multi-task around the home, she disputes it. She holds him morning, noon and night. She seldom assists with chores.
I’m feeling unappreciated, taken advantage of and sick and tired, literally. I’ve been sick for a week and no one has lifted a finger to help me. I still cook and clean, and support them when they need it.
I never thought living in a house with adult children would be so complicated. There has to be a better way to handle this besides kicking her out or me leaving. I am longing for respect and appreciation.
I think if we turn this letter around to put the most important person first – not you, not your husband, not Jesus, not your stepdaughter – but the baby, it may give you greater clarity about the reasons you are doing this.
Of course it’s not your job to look after your grandchild, and what you have done so far is amazing. You don’t sound as if you are struggling financially, rather emotionally.
Your stepdaughter is still very new to this. You say yourself that she is overwhelmed. It doesn’t sound as if she had a great start in her own life, save for the 11 years she had with you. It also doesn’t sound as if she was parented very effectively by her biological mother. So she is probably feeling rather scared and confused. She may also be suffering from depression.
I think it’s great that you have let her stay with you. That said, there is a middle ground between you kicking her out or leaving, however tempted you are by these grand gestures. I know there’s no glory in the sensible decision but there is a series of small ones you could make now to get her back on her feet – she won’t be with you for ever.
Stop doing quite so much. Stop martyring yourself – I don’t mean this unkindly, but putting yourself last is pointless. You can help people by walking alongside them; they don’t have to tread all over you.
Buy or borrow a sling (something like an Ergo, which can be picked up reasonably, secondhand). This will enable your stepdaughter or you to carry the baby around while also doing other things. I’m a big fan of not putting the baby down for the first few months, but slings let you keep the baby close as you engage with the world.
Give support and help where and when you can and want to – maybe certain days a week or between certain hours. This will appease your conscience, is the Jesus-loving thing to do and it gives your stepdaughter support while helping her to build her independence – and without you becoming a slave to her, which won’t help either of you. Also where is your husband/her father in this situation?
If you are ill: stop. Rest and let them look after themselves. I know it’s not easy if you like to help, but doing things just for appreciation and respect leads to bitterness and regret.
And remember that the person who probably most appreciates the stability and hospitality you have offered is the one person who cannot express it yet – your grandchild.
This article first appeared in The Guardian Family on 9 October 2015.