Ask Mel: Family drama

Melissa Puppo

Dear Melissa,

Over winter break, there was some drama at my family Christmas which is still causing me stress and I am hoping you can offer some advice. 

Going “home” for Christmas since my mother’s death when I was a teenager has never been super fun for me.  My dad remarried after I had moved out and started college. Since I never lived with her, I feel weird calling his wife my “stepmom.”

Although I am genuinely glad that she is there to make sure my father takes care of himself and to help organize family functions, she is not someone who I would hang out with voluntarily.  She is a very high strung person who is super particular about everything and doesn’t demonstrate much emotional caring. 

When I was much younger (I’m a graduate student now in my early 30s) I used to be a bit snotty towards her, but for years now I have done my best to just stay quiet and comply with her requests in her home.

I had been suppressing my frustration with her barking orders at me for a few days when she snapped at me over something very trivial. It was a straw that broke the camel’s back sort of thing and I got upset and excused myself to go upstairs and try and calm down.

My sister in law saw me crying and the next day brought up what had happened. She tried to stick up for me, saying that I was trying to help and didn’t deserve to be snapped at. What followed was shocking to me. My dad’s wife just lost it and spat out a barrage of accusations about my attitude, repeating that, “Its not what she says but how she says it.” Later on that day my father reprimanded me for upsetting his wife and indicated it might be best if I discontinue visiting his family.

This all happened the day before I came back to Ohio and I was so confused and shocked by both her and my father’s reaction that I just sort of hid out in the room in their basement where I was staying until he drove me in total silence to the airport the next morning. When I got home I put together a gift for his wife, a sort of peace offering, which she sent back to me without comment.

Although I’m trying just to focus on my schoolwork now that we are back in session I find my thoughts drifting back to this incident and myself getting emotional. Any advice you might have would be most appreciated.


                 No longer a brat but still being thought of as one


Melissa Puppo

Dear Ex-brat,

I know you can feel like the smallest person in the world when things like this happen. I’ve never had to deal with step-parents or stepsiblings, but there are ways to deal with it.

Sometimes, the best way to communicate your feelings without actually having to speak directly to the person is to write them down.

Write a letter to your stepmom and your father and explain how you really feel — how you haven’t quite felt loved recently, how things have been difficult since going to college, how you want to make amends, but unfortunately you tried and felt rejected. The old saying is true: Things get worse before they can get better.

This is your chance to be to be the bigger person and fix what’s been wrong.

Sometimes people say things and act in ways they don’t mean to; it’s in the heat of the moment, which is what happened to you.

If sending a letter doesn’t sound right to you, try arranging a time for you and your father to talk over lunch, or pick up the phone. Speaking directly to someone about your feelings can be the hardest thing ever.

Trust me, it takes a lot for me to do it, but it’s one less thing on your chest to worry about. Just expressing yourself will help tremendously. Don’t stress too much. Eventually, everything works out for the best.

            XO –Mel

Contact Melissa Puppo at [email protected]