Dear Virginia, I have a problem with my father's widow. They married five years before he died, and she now talks to me in great detail about their sex life. She also barely acknowledges my daughter. My father would have wanted us to be friends, and she's the mother of my lovely half-brother, who's six, so I don't want to cut off all contact, but I feel constantly hurt. When I air my feelings, she gets furious. What can I do? Yours sincerely, Heidi
It seems to me that you present a picture of two women wrangling over the affections of a dead man. It's understandable, since he died comparatively recently, but can't you acknowledge to yourself that however much your stepmother bangs on about sex, and pretends that your daughter doesn't exist, nothing can take away the fact that you are your father's daughter? In your body lie 50 per cent of his genes. No amount of sex, and no number of children, can possibly take that away from you - and that, surely, is why this woman is so desperate, why she tries so frantically to take your father as her own and to deny you any part of him.
Who cares if she barely says hello to your daughter? I'd say it's good luck to your daughter not to have this insecure woman in her life, whose eccentric behaviour is still coloured by grief. She's obviously upset and angry that she had such a short time with your father, and can't help taking it out on you. She's probably unaware of what she's doing.
However, there's a limit to how charitable you can be. And I don't think you should have to suffer remarks about their sex life. Children of any age get frightfully squeamish about the idea of their parents having sex. Why? Partly, perhaps, because we like to think of our parents as never weakening enough to give in to physical passion. And partly because there is invariably a sexual element floating around in families - boys want to marry their mums, and we all know what it means for a small daughter to be "daddy's girl".
When our sexual feelings do develop, it's natural that at some level they focus on those who are closest to us, but, luckily, in most cases on both sides our inhibitions come roaring to the fore. So when anyone else talks about the sex lives of our parents, the old clamp comes right down and we find it repulsive. I bet your stepmother would feel like puking if you talked to her about her parents' sex life. You should simply say that you find references to this aspect of their lives utterly revolting, like nearly everyone else on the planet, and would be grateful if she'd stop.
I'd also try, Heidi, before you meet again, to put on a cloak of invisible armour. It may sound nutty, but once you've covered yourself, and openly acknowledged you might get hurt during a meeting, you're more protected.
You, Heidi, hold all the cards - and it's precisely because you do that your stepmother is so enraged and tries to get one over on you. You should see her behaviour as that of an old cat trying to catch a squirrel - amusing, perhaps; ludicrous, but ultimately pitiable.
Indeed, since her feelings clearly run so deep, I'm astonished that she even acknowledges you at all. It must be quite a sacrifice for her to meet up from time to time and allow you access to her son. Perhaps, rather than feel resentful of her attempts to demoralise you, you should, instead, try to be grateful to her for making the effort that she does.
Invite her over for a meal
I would definitely say something - ask her how she'd feel about the details of her parents' sex life. It's a shame she barely acknowledges your daughter. I'd invite her over for a meal and sit them both together, then just chat and see if anything evolves. All you can do is hope she realises what a mistake she's making.
Isle of Wight
Change the subject
There could be an element of jealousy at play here, with regards to your daughter and your half-brother. Perhaps your stepmother finds it difficult to "relate" to your daughter in a "grandmotherly" way when she has a child of a similar age. She obviously doesn't see you as her stepdaughter - if she did, she wouldn't discuss such delicate matters with you. Perhaps this is where the problems lie - is she of your generation, not your father's?
As you are keen to keep contact going with your half-brother, it is in your interests to humour this lady a little. The next time she finds it necessary to discuss her sex life, steer the conversation away, but continue to discuss your late Dad. Maybe by discussing this topic, it is her way of coping with her loss.
You don't have to be insulted
Why would you want to be friends with somebody like that? Whatever your father wanted, I'm sure he wouldn't want you, or his granddaughter, to be hurt, so you need to tell her what is and isn't an acceptable topic of conversation, and make it very clear to her how she makes you and your daughter feel. You don't have to put up with anybody making you feel like you do. You can stay in touch for the sake of your half-brother, but you don't have to be insulted or hurt. So go ahead, stand up for yourself and air your feelings as much as you need to, and if she gets furious, then let her and don't rise to it. Once she realises that you're not listening, she'll soon back off. So keep calm, stay as friendly as you need to, but make sure she knows what you will and won't put up with.
Give her a guilt trip
The next time you meet her, you should burst into tears, tell her how much you miss your father and how grateful you are to still have her and your little brother in your life. Imagine you are an actress in a soap. Making her feel that she is special to you will encourage her to make an effort. Tell her she means a lot to your daughter. Encourage them to spend time together, emphasising how important it is that your daughter has a good bond with your brother, because that's what your father would've wanted.
She's still grieving
Maybe you need to talk to her about the nature of "in-law" relationships. As the old saying goes: "You choose your friends, but not your relatives." But that doesn't mean you can't value your relatives. You will forever be linked to your stepmother by your father, and your children are linked as half-uncle and half-niece. Talk about this odd relationship - maybe she will be as frank with you as you are being with her. And remember she is still in mourning for her husband - as you are for your father.
Next Week's Dilemma
I'm 43, have been married to man of 41 for four years, and, despite 10 IVF attempts, am unable to have children. We can't adopt a baby, only a child up to six years old. If my husband had known this, he'd never have married me, but he's too honourable to leave. We're thinking of surrogacy, or adopting from abroad... but I know that would be second best. I so want his happiness, but I feel I myself should leave. I know I could cope on my own as a single woman, but I love him. Am I being selfish?
Best wishes, MonicaReuse content