Dear Amy: I have two adult sons. Their father (my ex) remarried (to "Barbara") several years ago. Our family has grown to include wonderful daughters-in-laws and grandchildren.

My boys' dad and I get along well. We celebrate holidays, events and family milestones together.

Increasingly, I've run into people who have been told (or led to believe) by Barbara that our sons and grandchildren are her (biological) kin.

I've tried handling this in various ways with the astonished people who look at me like I am crazy.

And, frankly, it feels crazy, politely explaining that these beautiful men I raised and children whom I've rocked and loved are indeed my children and grandchildren.

My sons and their wives correct this on their own when they are confronted with comments from people who have said they "ran into your mother" and such — when people are actually referring to their stepmother.

Barbara never had children, so I assume she is unaware of the deep personal bond between mother and child. It is not for the taking.

I've never discussed this with her, but this is getting harder to take. It's like she tries to pretend I do not exist. How should I handle this?

Amy says: If "Barbara" has been on the scene since the birth of these grandchildren, then she should be granted full grandmother status. There is no rule that children must have only four DNA grandparents. In my mind, the more grandmas, the better.

However, I can well imagine how the denial of your role as your sons' mother rankles — both you and them.

Your sons could handle this effectively (and kindly) by saying to their stepmother, "Barbara, we treasure you, but we keep hearing from people you've met that you have introduced yourself as our mother. It would be best if you made it clear that you are our stepmother. We have a mom who raised us — and things get really confusing if people don't understand that she is our mother."

Barbara might then ask you if this is a problem for you — and you should be honest and say that it is.

Family secrets

Dear Amy: I just found out that my aunt has been battling cancer for the past six months. I've talked to her frequently and never once did she tell me about her illness. Nor did any of her sons tell me. Everyone has been sworn to secrecy.

Our daughter visited her over the holidays and discovered how sick she was, but was asked not to tell anyone. This put my daughter in an awful position.

This is not the first time in our family's history that health news has been withheld "to protect" another.

What's a good way to answer someone who wants to swear you to secrecy? Now that I know, is there a kind way to reach out to my aunt?

Amy says: Many families (mine included) seem to pull the veil down around illness. Illness is deeply personal, and each of us has the right to disclose, or withhold, information.

When someone swears you to secrecy and you can't do it, you should respond, "I'm sorry, but I can't keep that private."

Get in touch with your aunt. Tell her your daughter told you out of concern about her. Tell her that you love her and are in her corner. Don't pump her for information and don't dive into the drama. Be gentle.

Send Ask Amy questions to Amy Dickinson at P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068 or to askamy@amydickinson.com. Twitter: @askingamy.