Ask Amy: Blended family is not really blended

Dear Amy: My husband and I blended our two families 24 years ago.

My husband’s middle son, “Bret” has always been difficult.

Last year my beautiful 40-year-old son died, suddenly and unexpectedly.

Two weeks after his death, Bret and his 4-year-old son came out and stayed with us.

Bret and my husband expected me to cook, clean, and pick up after all of them. It was awful!

If I asked Bret not to let his son run around the house with food, I got a tongue lashing. My husband thinks I’m being dramatic, so he says nothing to his son!

Now my other stepson, his wife, and their two children are due to stay with us next month to go skiing.

They have no rules for their darling children and my husband refuses to say anything to them.

I have been told to suck it up and be an adult.

I have thought of leaving while they are here to visit, BUT my beautiful home would probably be in a shambles when I return!

Your thoughts?

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— Depressed and Disappointed

Dear Depressed: I’m so sorry for your loss, and for what you are going through now. Your household dynamic leaves little room for you to grieve and find comfort.

You and your husband have been married for 24 years, and yet I would not describe your family as “blended.”

Successfully blended families become their own unique organism; the boundaries between “step” relationships blur over time, and all members (to varying extents) identify as “family.” Family members also come to understand and respect in a basic sense the stepparent’s important role.

Your husband holds the key to the dysfunction and lack of respect in your household. You quite obviously believe that you have no voice.

I assume that the dynamic between you two is well-established, but I wonder if your son’s death has changed your perspective, and perhaps opened your eyes to your husband’s lack of support and respect.

If he saw you as an important and equal partner in your own home, his children would, too. If he saw, supported, and respected your needs and boundaries, his children would, too.

Now that you are aware of this dynamic, I hope you will assert your own rights.

When this next group of family members visit, if you don’t want to see them or serve them, then yes — you should leave. This would be your version of “sucking it up and being an adult.”

Before you go, you could tell your husband, quite plainly, that you’re taking a break, and that you’d appreciate it if the house was in good shape when you returned. While away I hope you will make a choice to make some big changes in your own life.

Dear Amy: Gift giving is my “love language,” and I really go above and beyond to give gifts to friends and family members for their special days.

I’m thoughtful in that way and I genuinely enjoy doing this for others.

However … I recently celebrated my birthday. I got phone calls and texts from the people I’m closest to, and one person sent me a card, but I didn’t receive any gifts at all.

I’m really upset and have decided to stop giving to all of these people.

Maybe I shouldn’t make this decision when I’m so upset, and so I’m checking my decision with you.

Do you think I’m doing the right thing?

— Cheerful Giver

Dear Cheerful: If giving and receiving gifts is your “love language,” then you might feel better about this situation by reconsidering your definition of “gifts.”

Your friends and family members remembered your birthday and got in touch with you.

Is a phone call or an affectionately worded text message on your birthday the equivalent of receiving a scented candle?

Is a carefully chosen birthday card a real gift?

I’m suggesting that if you opened your eyes to these expressions, you might see these relationships themselves as gifts that keep on giving.

Because this imbalance upsets you, you should scale back on your material gifting and become more fluent in another love language: “Words of Affirmation.”

Dear Amy: “Broke Dad” wrote that his teen daughter deliberately broke her phone in order to get an upgrade.

That spoiled, entitled brat needs to learn that is not the way the world works.

If they buy her an upgraded phone after this performance, will she wreck the family car to get a better, newer model?

— Disgusted

Dear Disgusted: I could absolutely imagine this happening. Thank you.

(You can email Amy Dickinson at askamy@amydickinson.com or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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