DEAR AMY: I have two adult sons. Their father (my ex) remarried (to “Barbara”) several years ago. Our family has now grown to include wonderful daughters-in-laws and grandchildren. My boys’ dad and I get along well. We celebrate holidays, events and family milestones together. What is baffling is that, increasingly, I run into people who have been told (or led to believe) by Barbara, that our sons and grandchildren are strictly her (biological) kin. I’ve tried handling this in various ways with the astonished people who look at me like I am crazy. And, frankly, it feels crazy, politely explaining that these beautiful men I raised and children who I’ve rocked and loved are indeed MY children and grandchildren. My sons and their wives correct this on their own when they are confronted with comments from people who have said they’ve “run into your mother,” or how enjoyable it was “meeting your mother” and such — when people are actually referring to their stepmother. Barbara never had children in her previous marriages, so I assume she is unaware of the deep personal bond between mother and child. It is not for the taking. I’ve never discussed this directly with her, but this is getting harder to take. It’s like she tries to pretend that I do not exist. How should I handle this?
Loving and Blessed
DEAR LOVING AND BLESSED: If “Barbara” has been on the scene since the birth of these grandchildren, then, in my opinion, she should be granted full grandmother status. There is no rule that children must have only four DNA grandparents. In my mind, the more grandmothers, the better. Bring on the Grannies!
However, I can well imagine how the denial of your role as your sons’ mother rankles — both you and them.
Your sons could handle this effectively (and kindly) by saying to their stepmother, “‘Barbara’,” we treasure you, but we keep hearing from people you’ve met that you have introduced yourself as our mother. It would be best if you made it clear that you are our stepmother. The reason is because we have a mom who raised us — and things get really confusing later if people don’t understand that she is our mother.”
Barbara might then come to you and ask if this is a problem for you — and you should be honest and say that it is.
DEAR AMY: I just found out that my aunt has been battling cancer for the past six months. I’ve talked to her frequently and never once did she tell me about her illness. Nor did any of her sons tell me. Everyone has been sworn to secrecy. Our daughter visited her over the holidays and discovered how sick she was, but she was asked to not tell anyone. What gives? This put my daughter in an awful position. She didn’t know how to avoid promising not to tell this secret. This is not the first time in our family’s history that health news has been withheld “to protect” another. I felt it was wrong then, and I think it’s wrong now. What’s a good way to answer someone who wants to swear you to secrecy? Amy, why do people do this? Now that I know, is there a kind way to reach out to my aunt?
DEAR UPSET: Many families (mine included) seem to pull the veil down around illness. Illness is deeply personal, it affects your own body, and each of us has the right to disclose, or withhold, information.
When someone swears you to secrecy and you can’t do it, you should respond, “I’m sorry, but I can’t keep that private.” When someone swears me to secrecy in advance of telling me the secret, I always say, “I can’t guarantee to keep this a secret, since I don’t know what it is. So maybe you shouldn’t tell me.”
Get in touch with your aunt. Tell her your daughter told you out of concern about her. Tell her you love her and are in her corner. Don’t pump her for information and don’t dive into the drama. Be gentle.
DEAR AMY: “Hugs over Smooches” suggested that girls and women should be coached with ways to respond to male physical aggression. You poo-pooed that, and said it was men who needed the coaching. Yes, this is true, but I do believe that it would be helpful for females to learn how to respond.
DEAR READER: I agree. A loud, “Stop that,” might help.