Miss Manners: Mother’s utter lack of judgment leaves stepmom aghast

April 24, 2012

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am seeking a polite, civil, yet firm way to express that a person’s opinions and thoughts are unwarranted and unwelcome.

My husband has had full custody of his daughter since the age of 3; she is now 12. Last year, for three months, the child had a trial custody change to her mother’s care. The court reversed that decision after “Tammy” provided the child with drinking parties (where minors were getting drunk and making sexual contact with one another).

Tammy is also in the process of being tried on child abuse charges. She is currently allowed two days a month visitation with the child.

My issue arises each visit, when Tammy approaches my husband and me wanting to talk about all sorts of parenting issues that bother her. For example, Tammy feels that the child needs to have her nails manicured at all times; that we should consider taking her out of school if that is the only time the hairstylist has an appointment for a trim (as every six weeks is too infrequent a trim, according to Tammy); and that the child should be allowed a two-piece string bikini of her choosing.

My husband and I try to exit these conversations with, “I’m terribly sorry, but we must get going,” so as not to set a bad example of rudeness in front of the child.

Tammy then persists, calling, e-mailing and text-messaging us daily until we hear her out for what could be hours of conversation because she insists that a 12-year-old should be allowed miniskirts and attendance at parties without adult supervision.

We cannot block Tammy from our phones and e-mail, in case of emergency when she does have the child for a visit. Is there any way, still keeping civil with Tammy, that we can let her know that her thoughts, in the opinion of the courts, the law and ourselves, are rubbish, and we don’t wish to waste any more of our lives listening to them?

GENTLE READER: Suppose there were a way — which there is not — of politely saying, “Keep your rubbishy thoughts to yourself”?

Are you dealing with someone who would reply: “Oh, I’m so sorry; I didn’t mean to bother you — of course you are right — so do as you think best, and I won’t say another word”?

If your stepdaughter’s mother is convicted of child abuse, you may have help in limiting her ability to communicate. It also sounds as if, aside from being annoying, she is actually dangerous enough to children to require you to appeal the decision about even two-day custody.

Miss Manners doubts that anything short of that will work. She is glad to hear that you consider rudeness out of the question, but even firmness would be more likely to antagonize than to deter someone who is not hesitant about making a nuisance of herself.

So you are reduced to deleting e-mails, answering her calls only when the child is with her, and continuing to rush off. Your real problem will be explaining the mother to the child with tact and compassion.

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

2012, by Judith Martin

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