Virginia Ironside's dilemmas: Why should my stepmother be able to prevent me seeing my father at Christmas?

"The stepmother is always the easiest person to blame"

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The Independent Online

Dear Virginia,

 My father and I used to be very close until he married my stepmother, a much younger woman, after my mother died. Since then, he’s had another family and, though I see him often, it’s not quite the same. But I’m a single parent and I was going to be alone at Christmas, so I asked my father if I could come over. He was very nice, but explained it might be a bit “tricky”, so I backed off. But I still feel so hurt. Why should my stepmother be able to prevent me seeing my father at Christmas? I have always done my best to be friendly to her.

Yours sincerely, Angela

Virginia says...

What makes you think your stepmother had anything to do with “preventing” you from spending Christmas with your father and his new family? I know it’s unlikely, but it could be that she suggested to your father that you should be asked for Christmas, and he thought it over and imagined he’d have to keep the peace between you, and felt uncomfortable and said: “Oh, I don’t think she’d want to,” or something like that, and then put you off with that hurtful phrase, “it might be tricky.” Because I suspect that, had you gone, the person who would really have found it tricky would have been your father, not your stepmother.

But let’s say that your instincts are right and it was she who said she’d prefer you not to come. Why on earth didn’t your father, someone you’ve been so “very close to”, put his put foot down and say: “For God’s sake! She’s my daughter! Her mother’s died, she’s a single parent, where can she go at Christmas if not to us? I know you don’t like her, but just for Christmas, this time of peace and goodwill, please put on a good face and make it a pleasurable occasion for us all.”

The stepmother is always the easiest person to blame. Just say the word and you conjure up an evil monster, someone who wants her stepchildren dead, whose idea of heaven is to send them all off into the forest to be eaten by bears. But we’re all so busy blaming her, we forget that there’s another person involved: the father. Why is he so weak that he allows this to happen? Why does his longing for a quiet life so often override his doing the right thing by his first children?

If you confront your father, I’m sure he’ll put the blame on your stepmother. And it’ll be very easy for you two to get into a huddle about how difficult she can be. By wringing his hands and saying how temperamental and unreasonable she can be on occasion, he’ll appeal to your superior maturity and rationality to enclose you in a mutually satisfying conspiracy, which will, in the short term, be very satisfying and flattering. But this sense of having a secret pact with your father won’t change the situation you’re in. It won’t get you invited next Christmas. Indeed, it will prevent you from ever daring to suggest it again. So don’t let him get away with it. Ask him why he allowed this situation to develop,  ask him if his love for you and his grandchild has taken second place to his love for your stepmother.

You be the one to make things “tricky” for once. And force your weak father to face up to his role in this cruel situation. Your stepmother may indeed be evil and jealous, but there’s no reason your father should allow her to indulge feelings that will hurt you – his beloved daughter –  as a result.

Readers say...

Become part of their family

You expected to be embraced into your father’s new family at this time of year, but how much effort do you make to be involved with them the rest of the year? Are you sure this isn’t just as much down to your attitude to your stepmother? You obviously still feel aggrieved that someone else has replaced your mum in your dad’s affections, but what did you want for him? A lonely life, or one where he devoted all his time to you?

You must have other friends you could have spent Christmas with. Your father and stepmother didn’t condemn you to a rotten time – you did. Maybe you could use some of your new year to become part of their family, and you and your children can get to know your half-siblings. Make an effort and you may be surprised at how happy next Christmas could be.

I Puxted , by email

Next time, call your friends

If I am alone at Christmas, and for whatever reason I am unable to be with any of the family, I invite friends who may also be alone, and this year there were five of us. I, as hostess, provide the main course and my friends bring contributions of dessert, drinks, chocs, crackers etc. Each of us has some cause for sadness at being alone, but together we have a very enjoyable time, and planning a special day like this is a positive way for me to cope with the “sad” side of Christmas.

Meg, by email

Fathers are only human

You mustn’t think that your father’s remarriage means that he didn’t love your mother and that he no longer loves you. It is simply that, for now at least, he feels that he has to give priority to his new relationship. Oscar Wilde said: “A man remarries because he loved his first wife, a woman remarries because she hated her first husband.” That may not be fully the case in this instance, but marriage should be a partnership of equals. When there is an imbalance – between the giving and the taking – the foundations are undermined.

You don’t say how long ago your mother died, or how recently your father remarried. At some point his new family will grow up and move on, and he may be able to make more room for you in his new life. Or it may all end in tears. Should it do so, he will need you, and you mustn’t blame him – even fathers are human.

Tom Bartlett, by email

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Next week's dilemma

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