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Aunt worries about late sister's kids, new stepmom

DEAR AMY: My sister died from breast cancer two years ago at the age of 50, leaving behind three kids (ages 20, 18, 17) and her husband, "Martin." Martin started dating "Laura" (no kids) about four months after my sister's death. The kids were naturally upset that he started dating so soon. There were a lot of issues that needed to be resolved, but Martin chose to ignore those issues. The youngest two girls went off to college and the oldest son enlisted in the Army. Shortly after, Martin married Laura but didn't tell his kids for two months. It wasn't pretty when the youngest two found out and learned that their father didn't have the courage to tell them. The girls are home for the summer. One daughter is sleeping in the basement bedroom and one sleeps in the unfinished attached garage. Her former bedroom has been turned into a guest bedroom. This story sounds like Cinderella but without the glass slipper part. This is the third marriage for Laura. She has not been supportive of the girls and stepped into the role of stepmonster when she told the youngest recently that she needs to get over her mother already. As their aunt who lives far away, I am outraged by the manipulation and spinelessness. I think my best role is to listen to the kids when they call or text, but what more can I do?

-- Anguished Aunt

DEAR AUNT: These kids are old enough to entertain alternatives to their current Cinderella status at home and -- if they say they need to make a change -- you may be able to help them brainstorm ideas, even to the extent of inviting them to stay with you during the summer (or next summer) if they would like.

Otherwise, encourage them to talk about their mother and commiserate with them (but never instigate) about their father and stepmother's behavior. You need to remember that even though he seems to be treating them as second-class citizens, he is their dad and they will likely continue to feel conflicted about him for a long time.

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