Carolyn Hax: Sometimes, 'Stepmom' means 'second Mom'
While advice columnist Carolyn Hax is away, her readers weigh in on being introduced as a stepmother, dealing with a family member's negativity and the dreaded "When are you due?" question.
DEAR READERS: While Carolyn's away, readers give the advice:
ON BEING INTRODUCED AS A STEPMOTHER: My stepmother came into my life when I was 4 years old. I initially called her my "footmom." Stepmom was a wonderful, gracious, giving person to me, my brother, my dad and later to my two adopted sisters. My mom, whom I lived with, was also great. I was lucky to have two moms!
Many years after reaching adulthood, my stepmother introduced me at a social event as her "son." It seemed natural to me. However, Stepmom worried that she had insulted me or my mom by doing so and confided this to my dad.
After Dad alerted me, I was able to tell Stepmom that I was honored to be called her son and that I also considered her my mom.
Sadly, we lost Stepmom to cancer a few years ago. A few days before she passed, she received a heartfelt letter from my mom thanking her for being a second mom to her boys.
— M.ON DEALING WITH A PARENT'S OR IN-LAW'S NEGATIVITY: When I was 50 I suddenly realized I didn't care about other people's opinions of me and now, 10 years later, I am sorry it took me so long.
I understand: They are family, but still. My mother was a complete nut job. She hated infant car seats — "We didn't have them when you were a baby, and you were fine." When I quit caring about other people's opinions, my life changed dramatically.
— S.ON BEING ASKED THE DREADED, "WHEN ARE YOU DUE?" I look like I am about six months' pregnant at all times; unfortunately, it's simply where I carry all my weight — skinny everywhere but my big belly. I get the "When are you due?" question weekly.
I figured out that the best thing to do is give them a genuine smile and in a caring way say, "Oh, I'm not pregnant ... but it was an honest mistake. I get that question a lot, so please don't feel bad." Then I finish it with a quick pat/rub on the shoulder or arm, because at that point the people usually have horrified looks on their faces.
I do this because it finally dawned on me that this situation was far more embarrassing for the person who just stuck his foot in his mouth. Most people aren't trying to be jerks; they really do believe what they're asking is OK.
Diffusing the situation with kindness will go a long way in making you feel more comfortable in your own skin. Also, you can be sure the person will never make that mistake again.
— A.MORE ON "WHEN ARE YOU DUE?" It seems as if pregnancy is an area where people really are unable to control their foot-in-mouth disease. So, new rules:
1. Unless someone tells you she is expecting, do not congratulate her on her pregnancy.
2. When someone says she is pregnant, the correct response is, "Congratulations." If she seems upset about it and you are close, you may follow up with, "Are you OK?"
3. Do not ever remark on a woman's size. Pregnancy does not give you leeway to do so.
4. Do not ask someone whether she's trying, when she's going to have a baby or any similar questions. It's none of your business. If it were, you would know.
5. Do not remind someone that her biological clock is ticking. She knows.
6. People do not wear their fertility status on their sleeves, so never assume a woman is capable of procreation just because she's a woman.
7. Not all women want kids, so don't assume they do.
8. Do not say to a woman, "When you have kids, you will understand." She may struggle with fertility; she may have lost a child.
9. Never tell a woman who is struggling with fertility, "I told you not to wait so long." (Seriously.)
10. Marriage does not mean a baby should be forthcoming.
Find her columns daily at www.seattletimes.com