Dear Annie: My brother’s wife died two years ago while giving birth to her youngest daughter. She was a terrific woman and a great mother.
She left behind two other daughters, ages 8 and 4.
My brother, “Alex,” is now engaged to “Elizabeth,” a 24-year-old woman. Annie, when I first met Elizabeth, I thought she was a wonderful person who truly connected with the girls.
I later found out from my oldest niece that Elizabeth hits and screams at them and says terrible things about their mother when Alex isn’t around. When my brother is present, Elizabeth kisses and hugs the girls, and calls them “sweethearts” and “angels.” When the girls try to tell their father how mean his girlfriend is, he says they are making it up because they don’t want him to replace their mother.
Annie, it’s obvious Alex doesn’t believe his daughters, but I have never known them to lie.
I also doubt my brother will believe me because he is blinded by Elizabeth’s beauty and the act she puts on. Now my niece tells me Elizabeth is pregnant. I can’t imagine how she will treat the new baby.
I want to protect my nieces. Can you tell me how to make sure these kids are loved and safe? — Worried Aunt
Dear Aunt: Please urge your brother to get family counselling before making Elizabeth a stepmother to these girls. Whether or not your nieces are being honest, there is obvious hostility, and the sooner it is dealt with the better.
Once Elizabeth has a child of her own, there is a great possibility that the situation will deteriorate for your nieces. Make sure to stay in close touch with them, and if you see evidence of abuse, report it immediately.
Dear Annie: A year ago, I met my soul mate, and we were soon engaged. Everything is wonderful between us, but our families are another story. My grandmother doesn’t much care for “Pete,” and his mother feels the same about me. My grandmother is still close to my violent and abusive ex and is constantly pushing for me to get back together with him.
Because of this, we are planning to marry in secret, but I am not happy about giving up things I really wanted (the big wedding, family dinners on the holidays, etc.). Am I doing the right thing, or am I being selfish to discard my family for him and ask him to do the same? — Lost in California
Dear Lost: Not selfish, but perhaps a little premature. It is rarely a good idea to marry in secret, especially if it requires such a major sacrifice. If you’ve known this man only a year and are already engaged, your families may not have had enough time to adjust. You must be willing to stand up for your relationship and let them see how happy you are. First consider their objections and address their concerns. Then let everyone get to know both of you better. Spend more time with the families. Eventually, they will get used to the idea and be more accepting.
Dear Annie: I would like to send a message to “Emotional Roommate”: In many ways you have described my marriage, and I understand the frustration and sense of abandonment. I agree with the recommendation about counseling, but I have another suggestion: Build your life. Find emotional support and friendships outside your home. Meet girlfriends for lunch. Volunteer. Mentor children. Visit women in prison. Work in a homeless shelter one day a week and become involved in your church. Train for a marathon, learn bridge, take French classes.
I discovered the only person I can change is myself. It was fruitless to wait for my husband to fulfill me. And this actually works well for both of us. — San Marino, Calif.
Dear San Marino: Thanks for the good advice for anyone who spends a great deal of time alone, married or not.
Annie’s Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please e-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to: Annie’s Mailbox, P.O. Box 118190, Chicago, IL 60611.