Dealing with step-daughters

Q  My husband and I have been married for less than a year. Last month, his teen-aged daughters moved in with us permanently. I was happy about this, but they completely ignore my requests that they clean up after themselves or help around the house. I feel disrespected and angry, but also feel that if I push it, I’ll alienate them. How can I handle this?

A  It’s very hard to be a stepparent when conflict arises. You need to speak with your husband privately about your feelings and ask for his support. They are his daughters, so he needs to be the enforcer. A family meeting, where he talks about how everybody has to chip in is a good start, and follow-up from him protects you from becoming the evil stepmother with rules. It’s now their house, too, and they need to help. For your sake, remember that housekeeping is rarely the priority of teens, so it likely isn’t disrespect toward you, but rather their being unaware of what it takes to make a household work, that has them ignoring your requests.

Q  Can I remind my full-time babysitter that she is supposed to pick up toys and wash the children’s lunch dishes so I’m not coming home after work to chaos? My children seem happy, but dealing with the mess every day leaves me zero time for my children or other things I have to do.

A  Yes. While the priority is her care of your children, it is not unreasonable to expect her to pick up and clean up before you return home, assuming that you made this expectation clear when you hired her. Remember that you are paying her based on specific criteria, and it is not demanding nor impolite to have expectations that she complete the job you’ve hired her to do. While your children’s safety and happiness is paramount when hiring someone to care for them, your peace of mind matters, too. Start by asking her why she isn’t doing what you asked to see if you can resolve the problem with her before putting her on notice. She may have a valid reason that would help you work out a solution together.

Q  What do I do when it feels like food is stuck in my teeth in a restaurant or at a dinner party?

A  You do not use your fingers or a toothpick or dental floss at the table when you feel something wedged in your teeth. Instead, you excuse yourself and go to the nearest restroom to dislodge it. If you notice something stuck in the teeth of someone else at your table and believe he isn’t aware of it, it is a kindness to quietly tell him, whether you are good friends or not, to save him embarrassment. Even if you feel awkward doing this, remember the Golden Rule — you’d rather have someone tell you than let your smile include a bit of stuck spinach.

Questions for Catherine? Send them to [email protected]

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