The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carolyn Hax: Stepmom awaits apology for exclusion from family event

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

Hi, Carolyn: My father and my stepmother have been married for 24 years. A few years ago, I traveled six hours to visit family, and my father was away for the weekend. The extended family agreed not to invite my stepmother — she’s only 10 years older than me — for our Saturday outing, but I did visit her the next day, begrudgingly.

She was so upset that she told my father she was disappointed in me. Me! This is not the first time she complained about me, and I hear about it from my dad and how he is disappointed that I don't include her. She is not my mother and I shouldn't be forced.

So, I wrote her a letter and told her we are two adults and she needs to talk to me if she is upset about something. I don't like how she is interfering with my relationship with my dad. She replied with a two-page letter telling me how horrible I am and how I'm trying to break up the family. I wrote her back acknowledging her reply and said from now on I consider her to be my father's wife and I will just continue to talk with my dad.

Recently, my dad said his wife is waiting for an apology from me. What?! There is so much more to this story, just trying to keep it short.

— Stepdaughter

Stepdaughter: If the “so much more” resembles this, then you do owe your stepmother/dad’s wife/24-year family member that apology.

So many times with so many stories, things can go either way, depending on all the details I don’t have. And maybe this one still can, too; I obviously have little to work with.

But then, ooh, I get the Magic Aside, the throwaway scrap in a question that’s the comprehension equivalent of fumbling around in the dark and accidentally bumping a light switch.

“She’s only 10 years older than me.”


How dare he.

Form a lasting partnership with someone younger than he is.


Think for a moment. If you had fallen in love with someone, a fellow adult, and your father was giving you grief because your partner was 20 years younger, would you be okay with that? I doubt you’d appreciate his being in a 24-year huff over it, and still imposing his huff on your family’s guest lists.

Could your stepmother have let this go? Maybe. But, 24 years. That’s how long she’s been part of your family, and you’re still pressuring others (successfully!) to treat her as an interloper. If you want backup for excluding someone from a gathering, then you need proof of malice on her part. Ookie age proximity or old wounds or not being your mom won’t cut it.

No, of course, you “shouldn't be forced.” But your conscience, your better self, your love for your dad, your enduring peace of mind and your humanity are all inner voices that are overdue to exert some force.

Again, unless there’s malice — and I mean evident stepmotherly ill intent, not just missteps in a time of awkward transition — I urge you to hear the pleas, please, of your better angels for you to swallow your pride, let go, and respect her rightful place.