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Teen Asks: Is it Home or Prison?


Hey, Cherie!

I used to live in a happy home. Even if I had a really bad day, like if a cool girl made fun of my hair, or if I had a big fight with my best friend, or I didn't get a part in the school play (All of this actually happened to me), I got to come home, relax and just be myself. This is how our home used to be. It was just my dad, my big sister, who is 17, my big brother, who is 15, and I. I am a girl who is 12.

We always had fun with our dad. He was very easy going about stuff. We would order pizza and watch funny movies and just laugh and laugh. I got along well with my brother and sister. My big sister even taught my friends and me how to dance, and she told me to practice kissing my pillow so I am ready before I kiss a boy for the first time. Everything fun at home changed six months ago when our dad married this woman, Crystal. When Dad told us he was engaged, we had never even met her! He hasn't dated since our mom died four years ago. So when he told us, it was this big shock! Dad met Crystal at a business seminar that she attended after being in the Army for a long time.

When Crystal came in, all the fun went out. She acts like she is still in the army and wants everything in our house to be perfect. She went into my sister's drawers and the clothes weren't folded, so Crystal threw them all on the floor! My sister cussed her out and got in big trouble. When I got a C on a math test, Crystal said I was grounded for two weeks. We don't watch family movies anymore or eat pizza. Crystal says I'm fat (I wear a size 8), so I can't eat junk like pizza.

My sister never comes home anymore. My brother stays in his room. All I'm allowed to do is go to school, do homework, exercise and do chores. It feels like I am in prison. I tried to tell my dad, but he just defends Crystal. He says what a good job she's doing and how it's hard because she is only 25 years old, so we have to give her a chance. I would like to just run away.

—Unhappy Home


Hey, Unhappy!

Bummer. I don't know your dad, but here's my guess: He loves you, your sister and brother more than anything in the world, but he ... how can I put this ... royally messed up.

Hey, the best people in the world mess up sometimes, and this was your dad's time. He just did not know how to deal with bringing a stepmom into your lives. Let's give Crystal the benefit of the doubt and assume she'd like all of you to like her, but she's clueless about how to be a stepmom to you. There is power in sibling numbers, and you're fortunate because you're close to your brother and sister. I suggest the three of you have a talk, and then talk with your dad. It'll be tough for him to blow you off when all three of you present a united front.

Note to Dad: Yo! Time to step up here. You got a new squeeze, but your kids are miserable. Suggestion No. 1: Have a weekly family fun night. Let Crystal learn to become a part of your family, not make your family over. One other thing, do not let her dis your daughter about her weight. Do active family stuff together, encourage healthy behavior for the whole family and get Crystal out of her face. Thank you.

'K back to you, Unhappy. Once Dad steps up and Crystal learns to become a part of your family, my guess is that you guys will make the circle bigger to include her. Little by little, you'll grow into a different but happy family again.


Hey, Cherie!

This is so humiliating. I'm a girl, age 13. I have long, black, curly hair. Unfortunately, it's not on my head. That hair is brown and straight. From the waist down, I look like ape girl. My parents are from Libya and won't let me shave my legs. In Libya, they say only slutty girls shave. I wear pants every single day so that no boy can see my legs.

My cousin (my mother's sister's daughter) moved into a new house with a built-in pool. She's only six months older than me, but she's allowed to have her legs! She's going to have pool parties this summer. I will look like a woolly mammoth in a bathing suit. Help!

—Hair Everywhere


Hey, Hair!

Oh, tough one. Hirsute social suicide aka death by the poolside. You need adult intervention. Maybe your mom's sister — the one with the new pool — could speak privately with your mom. She lets her daughter shave her legs and her daughter is a girl with morals, right? That means you can shave the Chia Pets growing on your limbs and be a girl with morals, too. It takes a village and all that. Good luck.

Cherie Bennett is a best-selling author of books for teens and young adults. Visit her website at To find out more about Cherie Bennett and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



9 Comments | Post Comment
Lw1- The next time Crystal dictates, say just say "no I won't" and don't obey her. What's she going to do to you anyway? She can't hit you, because if she does you can charge her with assault. If you want to get revenge, take all her makeup items and throw them out. Put itching powder in her underwear. Ask her repeatedly if she's a lesbian. This woman is 25 years old, so I'd question her reasons for wanting a man who's obviously much older than her. Whatever you do, don't tolerate her yelling at you or putting her hands on you. If she says "you're grounded" say "who died and crowned you the emperor?" If she throws your clothes on the floor, say "fuck you asshole, I don't like you!"

Lw2-And what exactly keeps you from shaving your legs? Your parent have no power to stop you from going to the store, buying a razor, and shaving your legs. If your parents get mad, tell them to get lost. As for sluts shaving their legs, I bet your female teachers all shave their legs, so let's see if your father has the guts to march into the school and call the teachers sluts for shaving their legs. Or better yet, go onto a beach and see if he calls all the bare-legged women "sluts." I wager their husbands would teach your father some manners.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Ned
Fri Feb 17, 2012 9:42 AM
Ay yi yi, LW1, please don't listen to Ned because that gives Crystal more power and makes YOU look like the problem, not her.

Listen to Cherie, here, please.
Comment: #2
Posted by: hedgehog
Fri Feb 17, 2012 11:34 AM
LW1: I'm sorry your father is such an idiot. If this woman is such a problem practice saying no. Just because she's older than you doesn't mean she's better. This whole "respect your elders" thing was based on the crazy theory that older people had more knowledge. Turns out its a crock. I've never met an old person who was wise. Sadly, people tend just to get older and completely skip the wiser part. Base your treatment of others on how they treat you and others. My personal policy is, "Don't expect better than you give and don't give better than you get." Crystal has not earned your respect only your contempt and the fact that your father shoved this stranger into your lives makes him contemptible too. If you have other family - ask if you can live with them. If not, fight back. If she does something to you - have an equal reaction. And then when she lays hands on you have her arrested and get a restraining order against her. That way she can't live in your house any longer. Remember she can't actually force you to do anything. Don't expect your father to help. He's already shown what side he's on. Sorry.

LW2: In Libya they say only slutty girls shave their legs? LOL Why am I not surprised? Libyan culture is not pro-women. If your parents will kill you over shaving your legs than it's not worth it. Wait till you're of legal age and then run for your life. Heck, run for your sanity. Staying in a family that believes you have less value than a man is crazy. A human's value is based on character not a ball sack - anyone who thinks differently is a nutjob. Pun intended.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Diana
Fri Feb 17, 2012 12:54 PM
A possible letter from the other side:
Hey Cherie! A year ago I met the most amazing guy at a conference. We clicked right away with all we had in common and a shared military background, and I just knew i found my soul mate. I'm 25, and he is a 37 year old widower. He has three children 17, 15 and 12. He is a great dad, makes his kids a priority, and has been raising the kids on his own. We had a short engagement, and given that I don't have children, I was concerned they might not like me or hate me for thinking i was taking their mom's place. I asked my now husband the best way to get to know his children and meet them, if we should take it slow.... but he assured me that I was so wonderful and he was so happy his children would know that right away i was great just like he did. Well Cherie, he messed up big time by not doing this introduction differently. When I moved in, there were problems. What I discovered was out of 'too much love' and guilt about them not having a mom, my husband has set up some very poor habits for these kids, and has not taught them skills that they need to be successful adults. For example, they don't cook at home. Every night he lets them get whatever drive thru food they want. I'm especially concerned about the youngest daughter because she gets no exercise whatsoever, is already 15 pounds overweight, only eats pizza, and her only hobby is video games (she is also getting teased at school and is getting to an age where girls will be even more mean). Then when they eat on the sofa, where they just leave wrappers wherever and don't pick up after themselves. He doesn't require them to 'chip in' at all to home chores. they have no clue how to wash or fold laundry, vacuum, dust,dirty dishes sit in the sink indefinitely, and the trash is always overflowing. He doesn't make the kids clean their rooms or show respect for their things by putting them away or taking proper care of them. Basically, it is a free for all pig sty 24-7. I find this so unbelievable, because he is retired from the military, and he KNOWS what it is to clean and he claims that he doesn't like things messy or dirty. This, to me, conveys such a total lack of respect and basic common courtesy for everyone involved. On top of that, when I moved in, there was no place for me in the family. The kids had no interest in including/getting to know me, my culture or family traditions, and accused me of 'ruining' their family. If it's not something that is of family culture, they aren't interested in trying it. I tried to get everyone to go for Saturday morning bike rides together to forge some new family bonding activities, but the teenagers screamed at me and slammed their doors in my face. They hate me because I ask each of them to do one chore: clean their respective rooms and fold their own laundry. If they don't do this one chore and I try to impose a reasonable consequence, I am the bad guy. When I was a kid, I had to clean the whole house, mow the lawn, and do the laundry or i was spanked and grounded for a month. These kids get away with bad grades because they have a lazy work ethic and act like two weeks of grounding or no video games is a life sentence to Alcatraz. I get no support from my husband even though I thought we had a clear conversation about expectations when I moved in, and the type of rule enforcement for the home. The kids hate me. I'm the only trying to play by the 'rules' that were agreed to when i moved in. There is no reflection of me whatsoever in this home, they have made it clear they hate my taste in furnishing and my desire for a warm, clean, and healthy home. They continually make it clear this is not my home and i don't belong. I don't know if they hate me because I'm 25, a stepmom, or trying to teach them to be responsible healthy productive human beings, or all of the above. I realize that my limited experience has contributed to the problem, and that my poor reactions to some of these situations haven't helped.
I am so very sad because all I ever wanted was a family and now that I have one they treat me like the enemy.
I am at my wit's end. I love my husband *and* my step kids, but how much should I be expected to take??
I am also worried because I do love these kids in spite of how they treat me, and worry for their future-- -it's not hard to imagine any one of them developing a self destructive lifestyle in the few short years when they get out of the house and getting into trouble, setting my husband up for a cycle of enabling/abusive behavior because we failed to teach them how to be responsible, confident, self reliable, productive adults! Please help me.
Prisoner of War
Comment: #4
Posted by: Amy
Sat Feb 18, 2012 11:01 AM
Well said, Amy. ITA.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Eliza167
Sat Feb 18, 2012 1:31 PM
LW1-Your father is the problem, not Crystal. Here's why:

1. When you remarry, and you already have school-age kids, you need to introduce them to your bride/husbband to be BEFORE the marriage.
2. When you remarry, you move. You don't move your second wife into the same bed where your first wife lay. It's disrespectful to her.
3. If you're a stepparent of school-age kids, you must accept that the kids are his/her priority. Their mother/father MUST have time alone with the kids WITHOUT their stepparent.
4. The stepparent needs to respect the fact that these kids had a life before he/she came along. You don't walk into their lives and act like you're the new sheriff in town.
5. I wonder what a 25 year old woman wants with an older man who has three teenage kids?
Comment: #6
Posted by: Tony
Sun Feb 19, 2012 7:37 AM
Amy, where does LW1 say that her father was in the military? Unless I'm missing something, she says her father didn't even meet Crystal until she was OUT of the Army.

I hope Dr. Phil's producers contact Cherie and invite Unhappy's family on his program. He would tell Dad to quit being a wuss who abdicates all his parental responsibilities. And he'd tell Crystal to back off "because he chose you as his wife, but those kids didn't choose you to be their mother." It''s Dr. Phil's position that a stepparent should let the biological parent be the disciplinarian of his or her children.

Just how high did Crystal go in the Army anyway? Even assuming she enlisted at the age of 18, if she was out by age 25, she didn't spend that much time in uniform - and if she served in Iraq or Afghanistan, she may have PTSD issues. She doesn't have to come on to her stepchildren like the superintendent of West Point.
Comment: #7
Posted by: Kimiko
Sun Feb 19, 2012 4:59 PM
LW1 "She went into my sister's drawers and the clothes weren't folded" Crystal should be happy the clothes were at least in the drawer and not strewn all over the floor. A size 8 is not fat. Most parents with kids that age would be thrilled to have them want to watch movies and spend time with them. If the LW did study and do her best, then getting a C is not a reason to be grounded.

Obviously, we're only getting one side of the story. But even is Amy's senario is even remotely accurate (which I doubt), they have only been married for six months. You don't join a ready made family and set about to change everything to your way and/or all at once.
Comment: #8
Posted by: C Meier
Tue Feb 21, 2012 10:16 AM
Advice columnist to Crystal, via Amy:

Look, hon -- it's admirable that you want the best for these kids, but face it, Rome wasn't built in a day and certainly not by an outsider.

Yeah, your husband was letting his hormones rule his heart with you (and his heart rule with his kids, over the years) -- but if you'd done ANY basic reading of step-parenting (a freakin' Google search would've got you started), you'd know that you can't come in and start ruling the roost the way you'd like, no matter what your starry-eyed honey-schmoopie said. Ya gotta reassure the kids that yes, you LIKE them and want to get along...and you make your changes slowly and not punitively. By age 25 you certainly should have read enough wicked stepmother stories to understand the need for this!

You took on a tough role without a lot of life experience to help guide you. But that was YOUR choice, and it was and remains YOUR responsibility to figure out a way to make this work. If you want to be part of the team, you have to act like part of the team, rather than the drill sergeant.

That means you don't get the right to dump clothes out of someone else's drawer because they're not folded to YOUR satisfaction. Learn a little about logical consequences -- in this case, they would be that the kid wears wrinkly clothes--it's no reflection on you -- or the kid irons her own clothes. You can offer to teach her to iron, but you don't get to insist.

So they eat pizza and junk. You do what a responsible person does -- you start there and figure out how to compromise. Pizza's not inherently unhealthy, especially if you make it yourself. The lycopene in the tomato sauce is pretty good for you. You make a traditionally thin crust, you put on about half the cheese and you experiment with healthier toppings. Fresh pineapple? Green and red peppers? Onions? Crumbled small bits of bacon, not piled on, but added judiciously for flavor? Teach the kids to make pizza dough -- learn how to throw it, even, if you like. You have fun with these kids and they're gonna be more receptive to your overtures.

Which brings us to the youngest, whose probably missing her mom BIG TIME as she heads into adolescence. Remember what a fun time that was? Who says she's 15 pounds overweight? The pediatrician, or your fashion magazines? In what world is a size 8 fat? I remember junior high, and kids who were a size 8 were NOT teased about that. You seriously need to read up about the dangers of anorexia and bulimia. If you want her to exercise, understand that what works for a 25 year old isn't gonna work for a 12 year old. She doesn't want to go on the Stairmaster -- and she shouldn't. Go take her to rent a tandem bike or fly a kite with her. Get the family to a state park -- and yes, stop for a small ice cream cone afterward. Take her sailing; take her roller-blading. Make it fun.

And for heaven's sake, get Dad to be the main disciplinarian. Tell him it's unfair to make you the heavy. If he cares about his kids' eating habits, if he wants them to know how to clean and do laundry -- he needs to be setting those rules, at least until you have earned your stripes with them.

You don't have much time left to do that before the 17 YO leaves home. But if you're serious about wanting things to improve, you're going to have to be the one to do it. Read some books, join a .net support group, get some counseling. Don't try to bluff through it with bravado -- what may work in the military or on the job as an adult most certainly does not work when stepparenting teens, as you had better know by now.
Comment: #9
Posted by: hedgehog
Sat Feb 25, 2012 11:00 AM
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