Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My husband is a widower with three kids. His youngest daughter, “Danielle,” is getting married. My two stepsons have been much more welcoming to me since I entered the family than Danielle has. I approached this by being loving to Danielle but nonintrusive, and hoping she will come around. I never expect to replace her mother, but I do hope we can be friends. At best, she is polite to me.
Throughout wedding planning, Danielle hasn’t been any different and I didn’t really expect her to be.
Recently she had some seating charts out. Danielle wants her father in the front row during the ceremony, with an empty seat next to him in honor of her mother. I am asked to sit wherever I want on the bride’s side beyond the first row. During the dinner, I am not seated with my husband or the immediate family, who are all sitting together.
I am considering asking my husband to ask Danielle to reconsider. I haven’t yet because I wanted to see if I would settle and not care as much.
Carolyn says: The kindest interpretation I can reach for is that Danielle is still grieving her mother significantly. Life milestones without Mom would only make her feel more raw and emotional.
This doesn’t mean she can mistreat you. I just point it out because she might be blind to her rudeness, and even feel justified. Can’t punch fate for taking her mother, right? But she can take all kinds of anger out on you.
And her grief will tell her, “My mother belongs next to Dad at my wedding! Stepmom has a lot of nerve.”
It’s the worldview of a 5-year-old, but hardly rare.
Your pain is valid, too — plus you have common decency on your side, so, yes, talk to your husband. Don’t minimize her pain when you do it; her actions are the problem, not her feelings.
So, with compassion blazing: “The seating chart is a shrine to her mother. I feel for her. But I don’t appreciate being banished and humiliated just to make it happen. I think any intervention will be better coming from you.”
I do agree the stepdaughter is not treating her fairly. But I wonder if the better long-term play here is to abide by Danielle’s wishes. It requires nothing other than swallowing your pride. It’s not fair, but you’re dealing with someone working through intense ongoing pain. Perhaps this is just a gift you can provide to her.
I just cannot imagine not seating the couple together. That is just reprehensible. It is unbelievable, actually. Dad should absolutely say something. If Danielle wants an empty seat for her mom — I get that — then allow stepmom on the other side.
The husband-to-be should have stepped up here. The father can also say: “Honey, I know you must be missing your mom terribly. Seating your stepmother in Siberia isn’t really a way to honor your mom, and I don’t think it’s something your mother would have done in your place. It’s also hurtful to me to not be able to sit with my wife.”
E-mail Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at washingtonpost.com.