Advice on manners and morals (April 10, 2008).

Advice on manners and morals (April 10, 2008).

Advice on manners and morals (April 10, 2008).

Advice on manners and morals.
April 10 2008 7:00 AM

The Wicked Stepdaughter

My new husband's grown child will not acknowledge my existence. Why's she so cruel?

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Dear Prudence,
I got married last spring to a wonderful man who loves me, my three grown children, my grandson, and the rest of my family. My children and family members all love my husband, too. My husband was previously married for more than 30 years. His ex ended the marriage 10 years ago because she was involved with and eventually married another man. The breakup was hard for my husband and his grown children to accept. When we announced our intention to marry last year, his grown daughter told him that she will never attempt to have any relationship with my children. She has also refused overtures from my youngest daughter to spend any time together, even though they have children of the same age. She told her father that she is still too upset over the breakup of her parents' marriage and is not ready to "take on another family." Recently, we went to deliver gifts to her children, along with my mentally handicapped son. When we arrived, she only spoke directly to my husband and refused to look at or acknowledge me or my son! My son recognized that he was not welcome and went to sit in the car. His feelings were hurt, and my feelings were hurt for him. Is it too much to expect that this young woman would accept my children as part of my husband's family now that we are married? I am completely stumped as to how to handle this situation.

—Apprehensive Stepmother

Dear Apprehensive,
It's possible your stepdaughter may have an undiagnosed personality disorder. The woman's rudeness is of such a magnitude that there's got to be something wrong with her, and it's hard to believe this is the one area of her life where she acts in such an outrageous manner. If so, don't expect much to change, which doesn't mean you should put up with her behavior, no matter what the cause. No, it's not too much to ask that she accept your children as part of her father's family—they are part of her family since they are now her stepsiblings. That she explains her refusal to make eye contact with you or your son because she is still in mourning over the death a decade ago of her parents' marriage would be laughable if it weren't so infuriating. Normally, I tell second wives to back off interfering with their husbands' relationships with their children from a previous marriage, but in this case you need to ask your husband if he will have a serious talk with his daughter. Ideally, he would tell her that he has been lucky to find love again and that he expects her to behave with common decency to her new family members. If she says she can't, he has to explain he is very sad to hear it, because by necessity it is going to reduce the amount of time he will be able to spend with her.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence Video: Shut Her Up!

Dear Prudence,
I'm a new mother and thrilled about it. I adore my infant son more than anything, and life is wonderful. My question is about a grim contingency: Who should raise our son if my husband and I both die? We have avoided drawing up our wills because we can't decide what to do about it. Our parents are too old to take care of him. I have no siblings or other close relatives. My husband has one sister who is married with children, and they would be the logical choice. The problem is that neither my husband nor I is all that fond of them, and we would not be comfortable with our child (possibly children) growing up in their household. We have very close friends who also have a child and a warm, loving home. I would much prefer my child to grow up with them. I see two problems with this, however. One is that it seems an awful lot to ask of someone who is just a friend, and not family, to take on the enormous burden of raising a child. The other is that our friends live several hundred miles away from our families. Our parents dote on their grandson and would be absolutely devastated to have him grow up so far away. However unlikely this possibility is, it's keeping me up at night (sometimes literally!). What should I do?

—Life and Death

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Dear Life,
Talk to your friends. They will be honored to be asked and are very likely to say yes since they know the chances of actually having to perform this duty are vanishingly small. If they decline, then think of other friends you can also imagine raising your child. Sometimes, even if loving family is available, friends are the best solution; the son of Christopher and Dana Reeve went to live with close family friends when both of his parents died less than 18 months apart. Don't be so fretful about preparing a will that you don't get around to it—in that case, if the worst happens, you will have had no say in who raises your son. You can include a letter in your will that diplomatically explains the reasons for your guardianship decision and your hope that your child will spend as much time as possible with his family. And as time goes on, you might find you have developed a close enough friendship with people who live nearer to you and your families that you want to change your son's guardian. But the sooner you take care of this, the better you will sleep during the many years to come.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
I have a crush on this guy at school. I recently found out that he likes me back, and not just through some random rumor: He told me himself! Sure, this is all well and good, right? Wrong! He has a girlfriend, and she's pretty, smart, and talented (things I'm not so sure I am). He said he wouldn't mind hanging out with me, but I'm afraid that doing so would mean that he was cheating on his girlfriend, and I don't want him to do that. He says he doesn't want to, either, and he seems really happy with her. It's confusing! Anyway, I've decided to not do anything about it.  My friends, on the other hand, think I should stand up to his girlfriend and try to "win him over." Am I doing what's right by trying to let go of my feelings for him? Or should I try to earn his affections?

—Love-Struck Teen

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Dear Love-Struck,
Since everyone in high school is stumbling around trying to figure out who they are and how to behave with the opposite sex, it is a time when many people act like utter jerks. Some people manage to look back and say, "I can't believe I behaved like that," while others say, "Hey, now that I've got acting like a jerk down, I'm going to use these skills for the rest of my life!" The romance between your crush and his girlfriend doesn't sound terribly enduring, but it is serious enough that you recognize they're in a relationship, so his coming on to you is both sleazy and flattering. Sure, you could do what millions of high-school girls have done and pursue this boy. But since you are, fortunately, more comfortable being the kind of person who is able to say, "I like you, too, but since you have a girlfriend, I'm not going to do anything about it," stick with that better approach. And don't forget that high school is also the time to see how much you can accomplish, both in your studies and extracurricular activities—which will help get rid of your self-doubts about how smart and talented you are.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I'm associated with a group of corporate ladies, all of us in our 60s. We are giving a 65th birthday tea for one of our friends, using her guest list. It's a mixed group of women, and most people don't know one another. So the other hostesses have insisted on name tags. I hate the idea. This is not a corporate affair; it's a private party. I think it's insulting to the guests (there are only 20 of us) and indirectly a reminder of our age and our memory capacity. I'm in the minority and going along with the group (although my name tag will disappear like chewing gum under the seat sometime during the tea). But, for future reference, so I can come armed with an objective opinion the next time this occurs: What is modern etiquette on name tags? Has the corporate world so permeated our private lives that we actually think this is proper? By the way, I remember a Hillary Clinton fundraiser years ago, where a very savvy Washingtonian removed her name tag before having her picture taken with Hillary—it made her look more like a friend. Stupidly, I kept mine on.

—No Tag Lady

Dear No Tag,
Given the direction my mind is heading, I would like to require name tags at family meals. It may not be elegant to have "Hi, I'm Barbara" on your lapel, but I agree with the other hostesses that at a luncheon of mostly strangers, no one will be able to remember a dozen new people, no matter what the age of the guests. It ultimately will make the event more relaxing and sociable for everyone if they are able to connect the new names and faces. And your friend has an excellent piece of advice about ripping off the name tag just before a grip-and-grin with a celebrity.

—Prudie