Ask the Manners Guy: Den Mother

What's a stepmother to do?

A small dog watching a vacuum

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My stepdaughter has been to visit frequently, and she doesn’t seem to do her part. She promises to sweep up after her messy and rowdy babies, but after her last two visits, I had to clean and vacuum the carpet and found residual pieces of cereal in the den. Is there a proper way to approach this without the image of the evil stepmother rearing its ugly head?

—Agitated in Georgia

It sounds like you’re suffering from the same ills that plague many families. Yes, it’s tricky to enforce your house rules, but you needn’t come off as an authoritarian villain. First, talk it over with the other head of the house, so you can present a united front. (The worst scenario would be your partner interrupting with “Now, come on, it’s not so bad” just as you were making your point.) Next, if you can clearly and calmly communicate some simple demands, it will seem less like passive-aggressive nagging and more like a conversation. Show some compassion for her situation (“I know it’s exhausting being the mother of toddlers …”). Be sure to include affirmations like how much you love them and enjoy their visits — and studiously avoid the judgmental words messy and rowdy. These kinds of conversations are difficult, but they’re not impossible.

The Manners Guy is a former bartender who knows his way around awkward social situations. Send your questions to [email protected].

This article is featured in the March/April 2020 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

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