Hax: Dad shares secrets with stepmom

The Washington PostOctober 19, 2013 

Carolyn: I am a 30-year-old single woman. Sometimes I like to ask my dad for advice, and he always shares this with his wife, whom he married 10 years ago. I asked him not to do this and he said he shares everything with her. But I sometimes would like to have just HIS opinion about something. It's irritating.

Do I have a right to be irritated or is this normal married practice?

ABOUT DAD'S WIFE

I think it's normal marital practice to discuss things freely, and I would have a hard time with a kid asking one parent to keep things from the other parent. In very limited circumstances, I'd keep an open mind, but as a general practice, no.

With a parent-and-stepparent setup - at least, one that started when you were already an adult - it's easier to argue an entitlement to privacy, but I think you have to use that entitlement very sparingly, with cause and with respect for the marriage.

For example, telling Dad that your entire private life is embargoed just because you're not keen on his wife is needlessly divisive. Spouses share things they care about, that's what their daily conversation consists of, and he cares about you. If she's not completely misguided or incompatible with you, and/or if she doesn't have a clear conflict of interest, then his saying this stuff out loud to someone he trusts can even make him a better adviser to you.

Of course, if she's blabbing your stuff all over the place, then you have every right to ask Dad not to load her mouth cannon with everything you just shared with him. Similarly, if his wife is using information against you or wielding disproportionate influence over your dad, then specifying that you want to be able to speak to him in confidence is necessary and important, though of course not guaranteed.

If it's somewhere in between these extremes, then I'll stick to my original thought, that you have every right to ask on specific occasions that a conversation stay private. His not granting you even that would be, in my opinion, justifiably irritating. It would also be your cue either to accept that she'll hear it all or to go somewhere else for advice.

Email tellme@washpost.com. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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