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Step daughters - lack of empathy?

(19 Posts)
UrbanYokel93 Tue 10-May-16 13:15:33

Hi Everyone

I am new to Mumsnet and this is my first post. I am married with two step daughters aged 14 and 17. I am pregnant with my first child, and my baby is due 2nd November.

My husband has recently had an operation to remove his cancer (fingers crossed). He told his daughters a few months ago that he had cancer, and we've both been keeping them up to date with his progress.

What is concerning me is the total lack of concern my step daughters have towards their father. When he told them he had cancer, they didn't seem at all bothered. I know they're teenagers, but an "I'm sorry to hear that" or "I hope you get better soon" wouldn't have been too far fetched. I updated them on his progress when he was in hospital, texts ignored. He's been in contact with them since about things they are doing, and how he is doing also. When they can be bothered to reply (not often lol) they reply about the things concerning them but don't ask him how is etc.

I'm not one to moan about my step children, they're really not that bad. This is why I'm careful to say "seems" not to be bothered. What worries me is their apparent lack of empathy. I know teenagers are notoriously self centered and I accept that, but I would have thought your dad having cancer would at least get some sympathy.

Does anyone have teenage children/step children and can you offer advice?

Many thanks.

almostthirty Tue 10-May-16 13:18:05

Maybe hey just don't know what to say. My dad currently has cancer and even as an adult I struggle with how to cope with the situation. Maybe their way of coping is to ignore the situation and hope it goes away.

Lalalelele Tue 10-May-16 13:25:22

Avoidance and pretending it's not happening would be the response I would have had to this as a teenager. Have they been encouraged to talk about their emotions as they've grown up and do they manage to now? If not, something as sensitive as this might be very hard to discuss. Do they show empathy about other things that would be less distressing for them?

UrbanYokel93 Tue 10-May-16 13:54:35

Thanks for your replies.

Almostthirty - I am very sorry to hear about your dad, I hope he gets well soon. I agree it is a very difficult situation and there's no ideal way of coping, we just have to do our best.

Lalalelele - the answer to your questions is no, and this is the trouble. They come from a family where feelings aren't talked about or encouraged. They show very little empathy about anything. They are very controlled children.

I am not judging my step daughters in any way, I just hope they are ok. I think you are both right and it's a kind of coping mechanism. They know we are always there for them and I wish and hope one day they will feel able to approach us for support, until then we continue to reach out to them.

Lunar1 Tue 10-May-16 14:13:52

I think if that's the way he's helped raise them then he probably doesn't expect any sympathy from them. Has he said anything about their attitude?

ImperialBlether Tue 10-May-16 14:16:32

Could you send a text saying, "If you've got a spare few minutes tonight can you give your dad a call? He's not been too good today and would love a chat with you." Or would they think "Why doesn't he call me then?" grin

ImperialBlether Tue 10-May-16 14:17:03

And I'm really sorry your husband is ill and hope he recovers quickly.

UrbanYokel93 Tue 10-May-16 14:22:46

Lunar1 - He hasn't been able to raise them for a while, due to contact largely being denied over the years. I think a lot of men in his position would have given up to be honest. Yes, and it makes no difference.

ImperialBlether - thank you, I hope so too! They just ignore both our texts, but it's a good suggestion. He tries to call/text often but they are completely unresponsive. It would be easy to give up but we don't.

Thanks for your advice.

Chasingsquirrels Tue 10-May-16 14:25:41

They are probably just trying to cope with it. They are very young really.

I hope your DH recovers.

Chasingsquirrels Tue 10-May-16 14:28:01

If he hasn't had good contact for a while, then to an extent, he is somewhat removed from their lives. I think he has to accept this, keep in touch and keep treating them as an important part of his life regardless of their lack of responses.

RaeSkywalker Tue 10-May-16 14:34:34

I hope your DH recovers soon.

My DM has had cancer twice (in remission now thankfully). The first time I was 20 and really struggled. It was a huge shock to me to realise that my Mum was mortal, and that she might die. I think I would've coped even more badly if it had happened when I was a teenager. I still find talking about it very difficult now (in my late 20s).

The waters are muddied in your situation by the reduced contact. I also wonder if maybe this and the baby news is a lot for them to cope with.

I'm not sure what the answer is! All you can do is keep updating them.

Fragglewump Tue 10-May-16 14:50:56

Teenagers are difficult to communicate with about the good stuff - their favourite food and clothes etc. They are probably shocked and worried about their Dad but if the whole family fail to communicate then they will find it hard to open up now. If you are looking for them to provide support and empathy then I think you might struggle. Just keep the lines of communication open with them and maybe have a gentle chat with them if it feels appropriate e.g. "I know you must be a bit worried about your Dad - is there anything you want to ask us?" Ask them if they need any extra support - can school offer them a listening ear if need be?
Sorry you are going through this - it must be tough with your pregnancy and everything! Good luck op.

Wdigin2this Tue 10-May-16 21:59:09

Maybe it's their way of coping with it,....if we don't talk about/acknowledge it, it's not really happening....sort of thing??!

Bananasinpyjamas1 Tue 10-May-16 22:18:25

I had similar with my DSDs. Their grandmother had cancer some years ago. DP mentioned it to them, I explained a bit more to them and said they could ask any questions etc. I know that they are not super close, but she only lives around the corner and comes around every week to see them, brings sweets, is very kind.

There was also a total lack of empathy. A complete lack. I was quite bewildered, and wondered, like you, if it was their way of dealing with it. But now, I do think that they didn't really think about it all that much. One DSD got cross that she wasn't told earlier, as she liked to be the eldest, and had a go at me. So I explained sensitively that we'd just found out, and said several times over the next few weeks if she'd like to see her, send a card, sign my card. She wasn't interested. None of them even bothered to come with me and DP to see her, at all, at any point. None of them asked about her, and frankly they looked bored when I mentioned it.

It still makes me a little confused to this day.

DontMindTheStep Wed 11-May-16 16:42:11

I have teen step children. Teen girls live in their own worlds. I wonder if Dad's situation might seem unfathomable to them. Perhaps, truly, they can't "feel" anything much, it's not touching them, they are a bit detached, and being self centred. They understand what they understand. ..and this is outside of their knowing.

Now, we know many illnesses are fixed. Some cancers are fully treatable. wine Cheers to your hubby's treatment and i wish him well.smileiflowers

I have a step parenting story which is relevant to your post. But I don't want to upset you, I just hope it helps you understand your teen step children.

My teen lot suffered really badly at a funeral (sorry to talk death when you are worried about hubster), and they shocked themselves silly with emotion they felt at the funeral, which they hadn't felt when they heard about a family member's cancer.

They knew the one in the family had cancer. The teens carried on as normal even when after knowing the treatment wasn't working well, and when dad and I were beside ourselves with worry. It didnt touch them. After some fraught time I had to break the news about the death.

Whilst announcing, one teen continued (slightly) texting (or started to pass on attention seeking news to friends?) as I informed them of the sad news, and another wouldn't look at me fully, wouldn't turn round and was facing the texter and hovering over returning to the computer.

It was a whole another story at the funeral. Seeing others so desperately sad at the funeral, it was like they woke up. They realised what a tragedy it was! The eulogies talked about suffering and loss, the early departure of the relative, the missing out on life, and how loved he departed was. It was so moving. The teenage children sobbed and sobbed and shook and struggled. It became real.

It was an education in some ways. Two were older than your two and they still weren't in any way cognisant of what it all meant until they had to face it.

I am sure your DSD'S are worried, but maybe it's unreal to them, so they park it and worry about their own lives.

You could try imagining how you'd handle this if your own child was a teenager. Or if they were your sister's children. Why not have a bonding chat? Don't offer them support exactly. Appeal to their maturity. Tell them you love dad, all three of you do, and how real the fright has been, and how precious they are to him and you. A cancer diagnosis makes everyone consider what can happen, and during hard times like this, please can we go that extra supportive mile for dad? Now is the best time to show him how loved he is.

Would they listen to you? It's a whole heap of change for them having heard you're having a baby. The teens need handling with kid gloves right now.

UrbanYokel93 Wed 11-May-16 17:08:55

Hi everyone

Thanks so much everyone for all your advice and support, and well wishes for my husband, I really appreciate it.

I hope you are right when you say it's a coping strategy, that's what I prefer to believe rather than they just don't give a crap!

Raeskywalker - thanks for sharing and I am glad to hear your mum (? sorry unfamiliar with the acronyms!) is in remission now

Bananasinpyjamas - I totally relate to your post, this could have been written about my step children, particularly the "looked bored when I mentioned it" part! I'm sorry to hear about Grandma and hope she recovered from her illness. My step daughters treat their (very loving) grandma just the same. It is difficult to understand their lack of concern isn't it?

Don't mind the step - thank you for sharing your story and I'm very sorry to hear of your loss. The part about announcing the news and the texting/no eye contact sounds very familiar indeed! I will try your advice and hope for the best.

At the end of the day, it's on their consciences. If their behaviour is a way that they cope, then that's fine, but if not I hope for their sakes they don't get to middle age with a lot of regrets.

PS. they don't know about the baby yet, we are waiting until their exams are over to tell them!

DontMindTheStep Wed 11-May-16 18:21:56

That is good thinking and generous of you, waiting til they have theor exams out of the way.
My teens had their dad announce a pregnancy to my girls, 14 and 16. The girls were very happy, and I was very positive to them about the new baby on the way. How exciting for everybody (especially you). Must be hard to keep it secret! X

RaeSkywalker Wed 11-May-16 19:28:04

No problem Urban. Yes, DM= Darling Mother smile

You sound lovely and I hope that your DH is on the road to recovery soon. Good luck with the baby! flowers

Bananasinpyjamas1 Wed 11-May-16 19:47:14

Thanks urban - I think you've conveyed more empathy than any of my DSDs in your post! Grandma recovered thankfully. But yes, like you I found it strange. They weren't dealing with it at all, just totally detached. They are not bad girls, and feel for friends or boyfriends. Parents and family are background to their lives only - I wonder is that what you fear in yours? Perhaps it would be good to teach a little empathy, say specifically what their dad might need - a card - being asked. Keep telling them about hospital visits and how it makes you feel - such as - we are worried, your father is tired, but the treatment will really help, it would be fantastic if you texted him just to say hello and ask after him, he'd so love that.

Good luck with your DH, and your pregnancy. Wishing you all well. flowers

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