DEAR READERS: Every year I step away from my daily column to work on other creative projects. I've gathered some topical "Best Of" columns from 10 years ago. (Some content has been lightly edited.) I'll be back in two weeks with fresh columns.
DEAR AMY: My fiance and his 12-year-old son recently moved in with me, and I want to set some household boundaries without coming across like an evil stepmom. My stepson-to-be is a good kid, but doesn't do the little things around the house that I would like him to do, like pushing in his chair after dinner, putting his own dishes in the dishwasher after a meal, putting the toilet seat down, taking out the garbage (his chore) unless asked, etc. I'm pretty agreeable (although I'll admit I am used to order and like things neat), but think that if we're going to keep the house clean and presentable, we can each do our part. On the other hand, I can also see these requests coming across as controlling, and I want to try to avoid that. His dad is always supportive of anything I ask and will ask his son to do these things if I ask him to. I just wanted to give it a go on my own first to establish some authority. Any suggestions?
DEAR STEPMOM: This adolescent is doing what all kids his age do. Sometimes he'll remember to do things without prompting, and sometimes he'll forget. Sometimes he'll be agreeable and sometimes, not so much. You should not waste your real authority and interrupt the positive growth of this relationship over something as trivial as neglecting to push in a chair after eating.
Stepparents have a tricky role to play in the life of a child. The first thing you should establish is your warmth, trust, affection and friendship. This takes time. After trust is established, the authority will flow from that.
For the initial period of your cohabiting, his father should review the rules of the house with him and face the music in terms of any pushback. You should see him as the primary parent, and you as a supportive back-up.
You should always strive for the long view. A good relationship is more important than an orderly home. Give the boy plenty of time to adjust, and offer him opportunities to self-govern. He may have ideas for ways he can be useful around the house. You should ask him to choose ways to contribute, go easy on him when he flakes out, and give him credit when he does well. August 2010
DEAR AMY: I have been in a book group of about 10 members for eight years. About a year ago, I invited a neighbor — let's call her "Fanny Dashwood" — to join the group without knowing her well. This was a mistake; she is abrasive, pushy, and rude. Whenever my two close friends (other members of the group) and I do something together, Fanny confronts us, drilling us about why she was not invited. When we have larger gatherings that are book group-based, we do invite her. A member of the book group is planning a camping trip for a family occasion; several members are going because they have known this family for many years. When Fanny found out, she confronted the woman at the meeting, saying, "Is it a book group camping trip?" Then, Fanny invited herself and her two large dogs on the trip, to our dismay. We don't want her in the group anymore, and she is not welcome on the trip. How should we handle this?
Mean in Minnesota
DEAR MEAN?: Because you invited Fanny into the group, you must politely hold the door for her exit. You say, "Fanny, I'm so sorry, but this is not working out. Because you are such a divisive member of the book group, I'm going to have to ask you to step aside. I'm very sorry, but this isn't a good fit."
The person hosting the camping trip should handle this uninvited guest, herself. Fanny may stomp and hiss, but she was doing this anyway. Turn the page on this episode, and start a new chapter. And remember: It's a "book group," not a "friend group."
Your "Fanny Dashwood" is a Jane Austen character come to life, so I'll leave you with a quote from "Mansfield Park": "If one scheme of happiness fails, human nature turns to another; if the first calculation is wrong, we make a second better..."