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Heavy Meddle: I Want Nothing To Do With My Future Stepmother

Do I have the right to keep my young son from attending the wedding, given that she’s not inviting other kids? (Les Anderson/Unsplash)
Do I have the right to keep my young son from attending the wedding, given that she’s not inviting other kids? (Les Anderson/Unsplash)
This article is more than 2 years old.

Welcome Meddleheads, to the advice column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions via email. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.

Hugs,
Steve

...

Dear Steve,

Help. My Dear Dad is getting remarried next June and I don’t know how to deal with his Awful Fiancée.

DD has been dating AF for the last 15 years. I understand his desire for companionship and his wish to make sure she is taken care of financially in her later years (he just turned 76 and she just turned 60). His emphasis on making sure she's okay financially doesn't strike me as particularly romantic and I find it odd that after 40 years of being a serial monogamist since my parents' divorce, now he decides to get married, especially after so long of a courtship and at an age when marriage doesn't really seem that necessary. But companionship is companionship. She is not my first choice for a stepmother, but this isn't my choice to make.

Over the years, for the sake of my father, I have tried to turn a blind eye to AF's poor behavior; like the time, during a family dinner in a restaurant, when she repeatedly flicked raw meat at my father because she was angry the server and chef got her order wrong. AF also likes to "joke" about putting my father into a nursing home if he doesn't behave (according to her standards) and scolds him to "use his words" if he mumbles. I worry that my father is being verbally and possibly physically abused. I've expressed my concerns to my father, which he explains away as AF being funny. The way I see it, she needs to go to anger management and if the genders were reversed, no one would question whether this is abusive behavior.

I'd love to sit this wedding out but I know that would be a giant mistake and only make things worse.

Now my dad and AF are planning their 75-plus person wedding. AF has a vision that includes two wedding dresses, ballroom dancing, and her grandsons (18-months and 3-years-old) as well as my son (also 3) as ring bearers. Despite allowing three toddlers at her wedding, AF refuses to invite my father's great niece and nephew, who will be 8 and 10, respectively, at the wedding. AF doesn't want "rug rats" ruining her big day. That was how my dad explained it to me.

I have implored my father to invite all of the children and I offered to speak to her myself. But he says that AF has her mind made up and talking to her is a bad idea. I know I have to go to the wedding but I no longer want my son to attend if his cousins aren't allowed. Yes, that's irrational and I don't want to deprive my dad of his family, but this honestly feels like the straw that is breaking my back.

Do you have any advice on any charming and persuasive arguments I can make to ensure all the kids are invited? Do I just suck it up even though it goes against my core beliefs? I'd love to sit this wedding out but I know that would be a giant mistake and only make things worse.

Signed,
The Redheaded Stepchild

...

Dear Redheaded Stepchild,

Here’s my take: you disapprove of this woman, don’t want her involved with your father — let alone married to him -- and are using the issue of which kids are invited to the wedding as a pretext for registering your disapproval. I say this not as a criticism, but as a description of what I think’s really going on, beneath questions of wedding protocol.

To be more specific, I think subconsciously (and perhaps consciously) you want to get into a big donnybrook with this woman, one that will drive her off, or at least get you out of having to fake your way through a wedding of which you quite obviously disapprove.

Do I blame you for this impulse? No. Not based on your description of this woman. You clearly feel that she is not a good match for your father.

Your letter raises two distinct, though related, issues. The first is whether you believe this woman is abusive toward your father. I don’t know how to assess this suspicion. Based on your descriptions, I’d say your future stepmother can be belittling and controlling. The conduct you describe in the restaurant is downright infantile. Given your obvious animus towards her, I sense that if you had more concrete reasons to believe that this woman is actually battering your father, you would have cited them in your letter.

But I don’t mean to dismiss this possibility. Perhaps she’s done worse than you’ve cited here, or is doing worse things in private than the behaviors you’ve witnessed.

I think subconsciously (and perhaps consciously) you want to get into a big donnybrook with this woman...

If you genuinely believe her to be abusive the proper step to take would be some form of intervention. This might begin by talking to other members of the family to see if they, too, feel her behavior is abusive. You should also consult a mental health professional, and/or someone experienced in the dynamics of abusive relationships. And potentially, if you feel your father’s in danger, the police.

Would that upset the apple cart before this marriage? You bet it would. It might also lead to a permanent rift, not just between you and AF, but between you and your father. There’s a big difference between taking the position, ‘I’m troubled by how this woman treats my father’ versus ‘I believe this woman is an abuser.’ I’d make sure you figure out how you really feel, given all that’s at stake.

But even if you don’t consider her an abuser, you’re still left with a second issue: this woman’s disturbing behavior toward your father. The question for you then is whether you want to say something to your father about this, or to your future stepmother.

Here again, you’re in fraught terrain. I’m not a big fan of trying to bury feelings this intense. You have the right, maybe even an obligation, to voice misgivings that are this serious. But you also have to recognize that your dad may dismiss them, as he has in the past.

Ultimately, as you recognize, your Dear Dad is an adult. He gets to lead his own life. He’s been dating this woman for 15 years, so he knows what she’s like. And he’s chosen to marry her, for whatever set of reasons. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a right to your feelings about this decision. But the decision — for better or worse -- belongs to him.

Given the intensity of your concern, and how precarious the situation is, my advice is to seek out a therapist with whom you can discuss all this. Why? Because your feelings are so extreme, and the situation is so complicated. Ultimately, this woman is likely to be in your life for the foreseeable future. She’s the woman your Dear Dad loves.

In the end, the question for you may be whether you can find a way to make your peace with AF, if only so you can be a loving and supportive daughter to your dad, who you clearly adore, but who also does get to marry whomever he likes, even if she flings meat at him. (Good grief!) Again, finding this peace may involve a heart-to-heart confession of your concerns — to one or both of them. Or it may involve you learning to manage your contempt for her.

One thing to remember is that you do have something big in common: you both love the same amazing man. If nothing else, you can commend her taste in men.

Onward, together,
Steve

Author's note: Holy smokes! What do you all think of this situation? I was trying to walk the line between taking her allegation of abuse seriously and figuring out how she’s supposed to live with this woman in her life. I’m not sure I took the right tack, but I trust you readers will let me know. Please use the comments section to send along your counsel. And when you’re done with that, send along letter to Heavy Meddle, too. You can send your questions via email. I may not have a helpful response, but the act of writing the letter itself might provide some clarity. — S.A.

Heavy Meddle with Steve Almond is Cognoscenti's advice column. Read more here.

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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