How Can I Forgive My Evil Stepmother?

My father had a terminal illness and died recently. Throughout, there was drama between my adult siblings and our stepmother. She refused to take him to a better hospital; he told us she made him feel like an inconvenience and that she tried to stop my dad’s mother from visiting. Since his death, it’s gotten worse. My stepmother snapped at my sister that she feels like an outsider and that she was the only one there for my father. She won’t let us take anything from their house until she’s gone through everything. She refuses to pay back money my father borrowed from my brother. And she won’t divide up my father’s ashes so we can have some. My father didn’t have a will, and they were only married for a year. His last wish: that we forgive her. How?


I’m sorry for all of you. In an effort to help, though, I am going to do the unthinkable by speaking ill of the dead: Your father created this nasty drama, not your stepmother. For a man with grown children (and debts) to die without a will or burial plan is to invite precisely the misery that your poor family is suffering now.

At any time during his illness, your father could have changed his medical proxy to one of his children or shared his wishes for his ashes. Apparently he didn’t. As for your stepmother’s complaint that she was your father’s only consistent caretaker — a physically and emotionally exhausting job — is it true? You don’t share the story of their marriage, but how awful for newlyweds to spend their first year in hospital rooms!

I also know the prevalence of the evil stepmother trope. It’s more often based in misogyny, I think, than reality. Try to honor your father’s dying wish by acknowledging the sad truth: Your stepmother is an outsider without the tools or instructions to manage adult stepchildren. She is probably grief stricken — just like you. Offer to help her instead of focusing on the ways she let you down.

Socially Distant Friendship

In 2015, I became close friends with a housemate while we studied abroad. Back in the States, on different coasts, we kept in touch by text and Facebook. Before the pandemic, we were planning a visit. Last year, we connected on FaceTime and both got pandemic puppies. Since then, she hasn’t responded to texts in July and August 2020 or in January 2021. She isn’t active on Facebook. But I saw she got a promotion at work, so I know she’s OK. Should I let this friendship go?


Texting and social media are relatively passive (and frequently offhand) forms of communication. I get that they were the primary ways you spoke to your friend, but if you want to make a last-ditch effort to reach her — rather than letting the unreturned texts speak for themselves — call her. It’s more direct.

If she doesn’t answer, leave a kind message that you miss her and ask her to call back when she gets a chance. She may not. But you will have done everything in your power to reconnect with her. Then try to let her go.

Unhired Help?

My husband and I have been friends with another couple for 10 years. Recently, they invited us to their wedding, which is in two months. After we accepted, they called and asked us to be their videographers. They said we would only have to film the ceremony, their reception entry and the “first” dances. They told us that after spending $25,000 on flowers, they were trying to save money. We’re shocked! We have no experience filming anything, nor did we ask them to work at our wedding. Do we have to agree?


Of course not! Many people — even the loveliest ones — can become self-absorbed about their big days. But don’t clap back. No need to mention your shock, their jumbo flower budget or the rudeness of them asking you to work the event.

Just say, “We don’t feel comfortable taking on such a big responsibility. We have no experience, and we’re afraid we’d ruin your record of the day.” Then stick to your guns. They still have time to find someone else.

When the Messy Adult Son Moves In …

I am an artist who makes her living cleaning houses. It’s not ideal, but it lets me make art several days a week and support myself too. The problem: The young adult son of one of my best clients moved back home recently. He leaves his bedroom and bathroom in a truly disgusting state. I feel disrespected and, at the same time, reluctant to discuss the issue with his mother. What to do?


I see no harm in raising the issue. Start by telling your client how much you value your position with her. Then ask if she’s aware of how her son leaves his bedroom and bath. If not, show her. Ask her to speak with him.

It’s possible that this will not improve matters. Then you can decide whether to keep the gig (with its filthy man-child) or try to replace it.

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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