Mother Left Me With My Step-Father

Published: May 14, 2012
Dear TeenHealthFX,
About a year ago my mother moved away and left me with my step father and two step brothers. Ever since then he's been treating me like I'm his personal slave. I have to clean floors with a toothbrush, do my brother's homework, clean their room, and when one of them misbehaves I'm the one that gets punished. when I tried to tell my dad i didn't like how he treated me he said "I owed him" for being in his house. help. Is this abuse or am i just over reacting?
Signed: Mother Left Me With My Step-Father

Dear Mother Left Me With My Step-Father,


There are two parts to your question that TeenHealthFX wants to consider. The first is the issue of custody, and the second is how you are being treated by your step-father.

In terms of the first issue, TeenHealthFX is curious to know what the circumstances were that your mother left you in your step-father’s care. Did she legally divorce your step-father and a court established he would have residential custody of you? If not, her leaving you there could be considered abandonment. There are details missing for FX in terms of how you specifically came to be in your step-father’s care – legal details that could be of great importance.

The second issue is whether or not your step-father’s care of you could be considered abusive. FX will definitely say that it sounds like he is relating to you out of anger – telling you that you “owe” him, having you clean and do things for your step-brothers, and punishing you for things your step-brothers do. FX does not know if your step-father is an angry man in general, or if he is taking out the anger he has at your mother for leaving him onto you – but either way it does sound like his actions are coming out of a hostile place. And FX can appreciate how difficult this must feel for you since you absolutely deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. Whether or not this would be considered “abuse” is tough for FX to say with such little information to go on. Having to clean the floors with a toothbrush is certainly excessive – but more information is needed before a determination of “abuse” could be made.

FX does not think you are “overreacting” to be upset about the situation you are in. You may be feeling abandoned by your mother and may easily have many strong, negative feelings about the type of person she chose to leave you with. While there are questions here that FX cannot answer because we do not have all the facts, we do think that it is very important for you to get them answered for yourself. We strongly recommend that you to speak to a trusted adult about how exactly you came to be in your step-father’s custody, as well as to give someone more details of how you are treated by your step-father so it can be determined if his behavior would be legally considered abusive. You could speak to your school social worker or psychologist, a school guidance counselor, or even your primary care physician – you want to talk to any trusted adult who you believe will act on your behalf in this matter, whether that means helping you in the event that any laws have been broken, or just getting you the help and support you need in dealing with what is going on in your home even if nothing illegal is going on. If you want, you can even call your local child protective services office with your questions and concerns. If you live in New Jersey you would call DYFS at 1-888-NJ-ABUSE. You can also call The Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-792-8610. This hotline is to report physical or sexual abuse for people living in or outside of New Jersey, and is available 24 hours a day, 7days a week.


FX certainly does think there is a problem that your mother left you with your step-father and that your step-father is not treating you in a kind and respectful way. But, again, how much of a legal problem these things are depends on details that FX doesn’t have – so please speak to a trusted adult as soon as possible so that you can get the help you need in dealing with this.

Signed: TeenHealthFX