Carolyn Hax: ‘Stepmom’ raises a woman’s hackles

Carolyn Hax
Columnist July 10, 2012

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I married a wonderful man with grown kids. It’s my first marriage and I have no kids.

A few years into our marriage, his son announced his upcoming wedding, which we flew down to attend. The son introduced me to his new in-laws as his “stepmom.” I was (and still am) very offended.

I’ve never mothered him or anyone in any way; they were grown and out of the house when I came on the scene.


My question: How do I prevent this from happening in the future? (The sister may be getting married soon.) Or, how do I respond if they have the audacity to call me that again?

Still Offended

The audacity to call you what you are? To count you as family? To give you what many other stepparents — oopsie! I mean people somebody’s parents married — would consider a compliment?

Legally, you’re their stepmother. Therefore, the proper response to being introduced as such is “Nice to meet you.”

Now, if you still want me to address the “how do I prevent this from happening in the future” question, then the answer is to hold on to this petty grudge with all your might. That way, your stepchildren will eventually come around to not inviting you to things and voilà, no “stepmother” introductions to worry about.

Carolyn:

I understand where the impulse came from, but — take away the anger and indignation, and the letter-writer does have the basis of a legitimate question.

She’s not comfortable being introduced as “stepmom” when she hasn’t acted as a mother in any way. She can (kindly, without snapping offended sparks) say, “I appreciate the full-scale welcome, but I am feeling uneasy about it, because it’s not really a role I ever took in your life; I came on the scene when you were an adult. Would you mind introducing me as ‘my dad’s wife’?”

And then for all that’s holy, allow his children to be part of her life actively, whether or not there’s any parental/child relationship between them.

Anonymous

I see your point. I still don’t see hers, at all, but I do see yours.

One concern: By introducing their stepmother as “my dad’s wife,” these kids will create the impression that they want to keep her at tongs’ length — which they apparently don’t, and which would reflect poorly on her. Shouldn’t any advice, baseline, help save people from themselves?

Dear Carolyn:

My wife decided to lose 20 pounds. I didn’t think she was particularly overweight (she’s always been active, so that’s not really an issue), but she does look a lot better with the weight off.

The downside is that she’s gone from a happy, easygoing person to a hypercritical, calorie-counting fiend. I’m not looking for advice — but I wanted to second the notion that beauty has very little to do with the size of your butt (or, um, whatever).

The Whole Beauty Thing

No advice then. I’ll just call it a public service announcement.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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