Boy nasty to his stepfather

My sister, Shelly, has two kids — a 10-year-old boy from her previous marriage and a two-year-old girl from her current one.

Dear Annie: My sister, Shelly, has two kids — a 10-year-old boy from her previous marriage and a two-year-old girl from her current one.

I am absolutely disgusted by the way my nephew talks to Dan, his stepfather.

He calls him nasty names and swears at him. Shelly does nothing to stop him. In fact, she defends him, saying Dan is equally disrespectful. I’ve heard my sister use the same type of language with Dan in front of my boyfriend and me many times. It makes us uncomfortable and we try not to go there often.

I can’t stand the way my nephew treats Dan and the way my sister won’t discipline him. Sometimes I want to butt in and tell her she is wrong to permit such behaviour, and worse, that she is verbally abusive to her husband. I know she would be upset with me, but I don’t know what else to do. Any suggestions? — Disgusted in California

Dear Disgusted: Children learn what they are taught, and in your sister’s home they are taught to be disrespectful and verbally abusive to one another.

Any change has to start from the top down.

To some extent, Shelly’s family dynamics are not your business and if you do not like to be around them, don’t be.

However, children who are verbally abused and consequently become abusive are a legitimate cause for concern. We’d worry more about your nephew and less about Dan.

If you are too critical, Shelly will become defensive. Instead, approach her gently, explaining how much you love them and want your nephew to feel secure with his stepfather. Ask how you can help.

Dear Annie: My mother-in-law died nine months after a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. My wife has six siblings.

Two sisters never accepted their mother’s death and have chosen to accuse my wife of driving Mom to an early grave. They say my wife pushed her into hospice care prematurely and encouraged the doctors to overprescribe pain medication.

One of the sisters travels quite a bit and spent very little time with her mother when she was sick. My wife, meanwhile, took vacations with her mother and multiple leaves of absence from work to seek treatment and spend time with her.

The hostility that these two sisters have directed toward my wife has upset her terribly. I know that appropriate pain medication and hospice care greatly benefit the terminally ill.

How can I convince my wife that her sisters’ actions speak more to their own guilt than anything she has done? — Caring Husband

Dear Husband: Your wife is still mourning her mother, and now she is “losing” her sisters as well, so her grief is multiplied. You are right that this is about their guilt. It’s easier for them to blame someone else than forgive themselves. Perhaps the other siblings could act as intermediaries to help everyone stop assessing blame so you can be a source of support to one another. You can also contact the hospice organization and ask them to provide grief counseling for your wife. It will help.

Dear Annie: This is in response to “Not Trying to Be Burly About Kimberly,” who wants her husband’s relatives to stop shortening her name to Kim.

My name is Michael and everyone wants to call me Mike. I usually do not make a big a deal out of it, but when the offending party keeps it up even after I ask them to stop, I will shorten their name no matter how ridiculous it sounds. “Bob” will become “Bah,” “Frank” is “Frah” and so forth. When they ask why I’m doing that, I tell them my name is Michael. It works every time. — Michael, Not Mike

Annie’s Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please e-mail your questions to, or write to: Annie’s Mailbox, P.O. Box 118190, Chicago, IL 60611.

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