DEAR CAROLYN: For the umpteenth time, my stepdaughter and her family arrived 45 minutes late for a family gathering, disrupting others who were just picking up their forks to eat dinner.
I feel she disrespects the time, planning, money, and effort required to host a sit-down dinner for 15 people, which only happens a few times per year. She never offers to bring a dish, clean up after the event, or host at her home.
She claims to have ADD, but refuses to get a professional evaluation. She has no hobby or career and is a stay-at-home mom. We've gently advised her to budget and find some means of earning for herself and her children since she has repeatedly threatened divorce from her alcoholic spouse.
My husband, who raised her as a single dad, says, "Your grown kids are so engaged with life; what's wrong with my daughter?" but often excuses her behavior. My kids think she's a drama queen, but are kind to her.
I'm no longer waiting for someone who is 40 and still calls herself "daddy's little girl" to take more responsibility. I'd just like to have some peaceful, enjoyable family meals. Strategies please.
DEAR READER: If you're serving dinner at 7, then tell her 6; reserve seats for her family together at the end of the table, so if they're late, the emptiness is contained; serve at 7 promptly whether she's there or not; and don't react when she still arrives after you've started. "Hi everyone, glad you made it [no sarcasm], come dig in."
This minimizes the disruption and detaches your planning from her decision-making, which should do it for a peaceful-meals strategy.
I also unsolicitedly suggest a minimal-resentment, maximal-compassion strategy: A 40-year-old parent with no income, an alcoholic spouse, a possible disability, and no action plan beyond empty threats has much more serious problems than drama or being late for three dinners a year. This is an emotional house fire -- please don't let your main concern be that your tulips get singed.
Ultimately your stepdaughter must help herself and her family. However, some focus and compassion from you and your husband could light a path through the chaos: "We are concerned about you; alcoholism is a complicated and destructive problem; will you let us help you find help?" Be ready with names of good therapists who specialize in substance-abuse problems, and say you'll pay the tab (if you're able and she isn't). This is intervention at arm's length -- a respectful way to help where few such options exist.
DEAR CAROLYN: A really good friend of mine is celebrating a milestone birthday by taking a cruise. A number of us have been invited, including my girlfriend. She felt it was pricey and that when people invite you to celebrate, usually they pay.
I want to go, but can't afford to pay for my girlfriend. Do I just assume she doesn't want to go and move forward solo? Or do I not go at all?
DEAR READER: I'm thrilled if someone buys me socks.
It is perfectly fine and inclusive for a friend to plan a vacation and invite others to join at their own expense. Tell your girlfriend you plan to go and you hope she'll choose to join you.
Chat online with Carolyn at 11 a.m. each Friday at washingtonpost.com. Write to Tell Me About It in care of The Washington Post, Style Plus, 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071; or email
Weekend on 05/09/2019
Print Headline: 'Drama queen' needs some intervention at arm's length