Sage Advice: Woman Ponders Cruel Stepmom

By Amy Dickinson | May 28th, 2019

Her father's wife is not the kindest of them all...


Cruel Stepmom Ask Amy Image

Dear Amy: I’m a happily married woman in my 30s. Two years ago, my mom tragically died of cancer, which devastated my father. A year after that, he married “Maria.”

While I’m thrilled that Dad seems happy and less lonely, I can’t help but notice how cruel Maria seems to be. The first thing she did after moving in was have my mother’s beloved dog put to sleep (she said the dog was old and “they had decided they didn’t want pets anymore”).

After that, I received a package in the mail full of my paintings. I’m an artist, and several of my paintings were displayed around the house. Maria had taken them down because “they decided to redecorate.”

I live two hours away, and when I call them I rarely get to speak to my father. Maria always answers the phone, and if I ask for him she will say he’s too tired right now or that he’s in the shower. I don’t know if Maria gives him my messages because, when I do get to talk to him, he acts like I haven’t called in years.

I’m a grown woman, and I’m happy to see my father have companionship. The last thing I want to be is petty. But I’m hurt by this woman’s actions, and I need an objective outsider to tell me if my feelings are out of line. Obviously, I still miss my mom terribly, so maybe that is marring my judgment. What should I do/say to this woman, if anything?

– Worried Daughter

Dear Worried: It sounds as if your father’s wife is deliberately (and successfully) isolating your father. Having the dog euthanized, quickly redecorating and shipping your paintings to you are all ways for her to remove familiar – and likely comforting – aspects of your father’s former life.

It can be extremely painful to witness a loved one engaged in an abusive or controlling relationship. Attempts to intervene or possibly intimidate the controlling party will not necessarily work, and may backfire.

Presumably, your father is cognitively healthy. He has the right to choose to be with this woman. However, you should do everything possible to keep in close touch with him. Visit at least once a month — and invite both of them to visit you for an overnight. The best way to keep an eye on your father might be to befriend his wife, as much as possible.

If you notice signs of abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation, if you are never able to speak with your father or become alarmed by any sudden changes in his health or behavior, you can call an elder abuse hotline in their area for advice and possible intervention.


In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2019 by Amy Dickinson

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