Social Q’s: My Stepmother Calls Herself Mom but Doesn’t Act Like One. What to Do?

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Social Q’s: My Stepmother Calls Herself Mom but Doesn’t Act Like One. What to Do?

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Social Q’s

My father’s wife of 13 years, who has no children, has started calling herself our mom on Facebook. My sisters and I never lived with her and don’t relate to her or our father well because of their alcoholism. She posts corny images of kittens with quotes like, “My daughters are my whole world!” But she barely telephones to ask how we are. We call her “Mom,” not to hurt her feelings. But it feels unjust to our real mother, who raised us alone after our father abandoned us in our harrowing teen years. We have somewhat repaired our relationship with him and want to keep the peace. Is there a kind way to communicate our discomfort?

ANONYMOUS, SAN FRANCISCO

Facebook is not the real world. It is not even adjacent to the real world. Often, it’s where we go to create idealized stories of our lives for (hopefully) envy-inducing consumption by others — as in, “My stepdaughters (who hate me, and whom I really don’t care much about) are my whole world!” When other people’s fictions on Facebook start to aggravate you, “unfollow” them. You will still be listed as their friend but will no longer be subject to their treacly kitties and other nonsense.

Infinitely more important, get yourself and your sisters, if they are game, to an Al-Anon meeting, which is for families and friends of alcoholics. I am not buying that you have “somewhat repaired” your relationship with your father (nearly enough to ease your pain), that you want a “kind” way to tell your stepmother anything, or that you should bury your honest feelings about your “harrowing” childhood to make other people feel O.K.

These are all crucial issues, and they have nothing to do with stepmother nomenclature. Addressing them will require sustained effort on your part, not a fleeting exchange with an advice column. I am really sorry for your family history. But as adult children, we are responsible for the way we feel (now), which often requires working through issues in a supportive environment. Log off Facebook and get on with your life.

Tipping for a Trim

A friend and I use the same hairdresser, who knows that we are friends. She charges $25 for a haircut, and I tip her $5. I feel a little cheap, but it is 20 percent. Recently, my friend told me that he tips her 100 percent. Now I’m embarrassed by my puny tipping. What say you?

HENRY

Stop comparing yourself with other folks, Henry! Too often, they earn more, spend more and — just when you least expect it — their children do better than ours on standardized tests. Normally, I would say that a 20 percent tip is generous. But from your question, it seems as if you felt like a skinflint even before you knew what your friend was tipping. (This may reflect the relatively inexpensive cost of the cut.)

If that is so, increase your tip if you like the haircuts and your hairdresser. Otherwise, don’t sweat it. You didn’t establish the price list at the barbershop. Your job is to be fair (verging on generous) with valued service providers in your life. “Keeping up with the Joneses” is beside the point and a terrible compass for doing the right thing.

The Serial Netflixer

I have a roommate who rarely leaves the house except for work. We have an open floor plan, so you are either in your bedroom or the shared space. On weekends, she spends up to 10 hours in the shared space, sprawled on the sofa, watching Netflix. On weeknights, she settles in after work and doesn’t move until bedtime. When I enter the shared space, she turns off her Netflix and starts to talk. Occasionally, I would like to lie on the sofa and watch a film — alone. How do I handle this?

C.S.

When all else fails, try the truth. Say: “I like sharing the apartment with you, Missy. But sometimes, I would love to have the shared space to myself. Are you open to talking about a schedule where we might each get the living room, solo, one night a week?” She may say yes. But it is shared space, after all. So if you didn’t discuss it before you moved in — or if she doesn’t like the idea now — time to think about moving. (I hear there’s a great townhouse on 64th Street for $90,000 a month!)

Going Solo on Vacation

A friend of mine has rented a place in Aix-en-Provence this summer and invited me to spend 10 days free. I am elated! If I want to spend some time exploring on my own, how should I present this?

ANONYMOUS

The best houseguests have an independent streak. So your wanderlust probably won’t be an issue. But as a guest, phrase your plans like so: “I was thinking of hiking to Cézanne’s studio this morning. Do you mind?” If she wants to accompany you, be gracious. (Eventually, she won’t.) And always be back for dinner. Also, buy lots of groceries and a few nice meals out. Bon voyage!

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