Miss Manners: Stepmother angered by stepdaughter’s words as husband was dying

By Judith Martin, Nicholas Martin and Jacobina Martin,

Dear Miss Manners: My husband of 31 years died after a short illness. I’d always thought we had a good relationship with his daughter. She’s in her 50s and has a very successful career as an elder care social worker.

Over the years, we shared birthdays, holidays and other family events, even though we live in another state. We conscientiously tried to be on good terms with her, her husband(s), children and stepchildren, including overnight visits, outings and gifts.

My husband had divorced her mother when she was 3, and willingly paid alimony and child support for many years; he also voluntarily paid the tuition for her college degree. We believed we had built a good relationship with her.

A week before he died, she came to the door unannounced. I of course invited her in to visit her father for perhaps the last time. After she talked with her dad for a few minutes, she sat down with me and began to tell me what a terrible father he was and how he had been cruel to her throughout her life!

I was stunned. I knew my husband only to be a kind, honest and loving man. I was so shocked and hurt! I explained that I thought her outburst inappropriate and unkind. I wanted to toss her out then and there, but held my tongue and temper and just asked her to leave. I said that her relationship with her dad was not my business, and that I wouldn’t listen to anyone speak ill of my husband — most certainly not when he was lying upstairs on his deathbed!

I’ve kept my distance since then, though she continues to contact me, asking how I’m doing and wishing me well since she “knows how hard it must be for me to be alone.”

I want to tell her exactly what I think of her poor behavior and ask her to stop contacting me. Every time she does, I relive that painful conversation. Ghosting her seems rude, but I really want nothing to do with her henceforth.

I don’t think any of the grandchildren know about what she said, and I certainly would not tell them, as I would like to continue a relationship with them. Your thoughts on how to put this behind me?

Severing familial relationships may be painful, but it is not complex: Stop returning her calls. There is no need to tell her exactly what you think because you already have.

Miss Manners noticed, however, that is not exactly what you asked. Your phrasing suggests an unease with ending things this way, despite your understandable anger.

Two paths lie open: terminating the relationship or rebuilding it — perhaps on the premise that sometimes a mother (even one appointed later to the task) forgives a child’s transgressions. Etiquette can tell you how to do either, but cannot choose between them for you.

Your first reaction was motivated by loyalty to your husband. After you have had time to grieve, you might wish to consider whether another way of showing loyalty would be to act as you think he would have wanted — which may or may not confirm your current choice.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, missmanners.com. You can also follow her @RealMissManners.

2021, by Judith Martin

Source: WP