While I’m away, readers give the advice.
On saying no in stronger and stronger language:
I’m a big fan of the “broken record” technique. You say the same thing in the same language and you do not add justifications, excuses, or anything that changes the original message in any way. It feels weird the first few times you use it, but it does work. Nobody can make you say something else if you decide you’re going to say just, “No, that doesn’t work for me,” over and over and over and over. Figure out your answer, state it, and restate it. You may get an extinction burst (look it up if you don’t know what that is), but remember that nobody has the power to make you say something different from your one answer, and don’t try to soften it, strengthen it, get them to understand, etc. If they complain that you keep saying that, you say, “Yep.”
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Extinction burst: A temporary increase in the behavior you’re trying to eliminate, in response to your withdrawing the reward for it.
On asking people to use a nontraditional spelling or pronunciation of a name:
What is this tendency for stubborn parents to hang a difficult first name on their kid? These poor kids will go through life correcting and explaining. They will probably change it on their own.
On seeking time with a birth parent without the stepparent present:
Someone asking for time alone with his dad away from stepmom could also make the agreement to continue the exclusive time after he couples and has a family of his own. The father may see the value of the time spent alone with his son when it is put to him in those terms.
We always found that when one of us took just one of our children, and now grandchildren, on an outing, the dynamic and the conversation changed. It simply becomes more attuned to the individual rather than the group. And it’s always illuminating. Not better than the group dynamic, but different and valuable. Hope parents can see this (and stepparents).
It matters how, when and where separate time would be spent. If the adult children visit Dad at his home with Stepmother and Dad + offspring have time apart from Stepmother, that is one thing.
A destination vacation without Stepmother is another thing altogether.
A destination vacation without Stepmother and with Ex-Wife is out of the question.
Holidays, birthdays, weddings? Off the table, entirely.
Also, once spouses are included in any outing, so is Stepparent.
Stepparents are NOT interlopers and should have the opportunities to create traditions and memories with the new family.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.