As grown-ups, perhaps we are just supposed to “know better”… to be intrinsically, intuitively capable of navigating the minefields of dealing with stepchildren. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case, There are no rules that have a blanket application. Stepchildren are like puppies; they are generally appealing but you don’t know how your relationship is going to develop until it has already happened. And often, the true colors of it aren’t fully revealed until it’s too late, when the actual parent divorces or dies and the stepparent is left with the debris.
Dear L. A. Plume,
What is the protocol of introducing someone to your ex-stepchildren? I recently went to watch one of mine play in a tennis tournament and introduced her to a friend of mine as my stepdaughter. She looked right at me and said, “Well, actually, that is no longer technically true, is it?” I thought we had a passively pleasant relationship after my being married to her father for twenty years, and her step mother for a great many of those years, and was shocked by her comment. Should I have simply introduced her by name and omitted our relationship, and thus the reason for my going to see her play? By the way, she is 35 years old.
If you should be in that position again, you could introduce her as a child of your ex-husband by one of his other wives. She should get the message that you heard what she had to say to you about no longer having any special relationship with her either. If you went to watch her play in a tournament that suggests your feelings toward her are somewhat positive, if not maternal, but you can’t force your way into someone else’s life. She is an adult; she has the right to choose who she thinks of as her family. It’s just too bad she chose to do it in a public way.
L. A. Plume
Dear Ms. Plume,
My stepdaughter is getting married in May. I have been married to her father for 12 years; she has lived with us most of that time since her mother left with a lover, quickly remarried and divorced, and is on the hunt for another man. In the mother’s quest she has almost totally neglected her children as, “They are cumbersome when trying to form a new relationship.” Now her mother is stepping up to the plate with the wedding planning, for which she is not paying one penny (of course that falls on my husband and thereby also me). Here’s my problem: I have not been asked to contribute one single thing or thought. I’ve offered to host a shower, help with the invitations and/or decorations, but it is all a big secret between the mother and daughter, with Dad paying the bills. Our only non-financial contribution is that we are “allowed” to invite a certain few guests on our list. Of course, Dad doesn’t want to upset the proverbial apple cart and is giving them carte blanche. Is there anything I can do?
Hurt and Annoyed
Wear a drop-dead gold strapless cocktail dress to the wedding. Glory is its own reward.
L. A. Plume
Dear Ms. Plume,
I have three stepchildren – a boy and two girls. The boy is eighteen, twelve years older than the youngest girl. He takes a very protective interest in her, which is really not necessary as his father, my husband, is a control freak anyway. For a while, we’ve been noticing that certain things of hers have gone missing, such as a pair of (children’s) dress-up high heels, a lip gloss, and some odd pieces of costume jewelry. I am embarrassed to say that we thought the little girl next door took them, mainly because we couldn’t think of any other possibility. Anyway, the boy went off to college and asked us to send some items that he had forgotten, and when we went to get them, there were all the missing items in his dresser drawer. What should we do?
This will require conversation and perhaps counseling. Meanwhile, you could return her things to her and replace them in his drawer with another pair of shoes, lip gloss and a note telling him that if he would like to have things like this he needs to discuss it with his father.
L. A. Plume