Annie's Mailbox: Nephew mistreats stepfather

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Dear Annie: My sister, "Shelly," has two kids - a 10-year-old boy from her previous marriage and a 2-year-old girl from her current one.

I am absolutely disgusted by the way my nephew talks to "Dan," his stepfather. He calls him nasty names and swears at him. Shelly does nothing to stop him. In fact, she defends him, saying Dan is equally disrespectful. I've heard my sister use the same type of language with Dan in front of my boyfriend and me many times. It makes us uncomfortable, and we try not to go there often.

I can't stand the way my nephew treats Dan and the way my sister won't discipline him. Sometimes I want to butt in and tell her she is wrong to permit such behavior, and worse, that she is verbally abusive to her husband. I know she would be upset with me, but I don't know what else to do. Any suggestions?

- Disgusted in California

Dear Disgusted: Children learn what they are taught, and in your sister's home they are taught to be disrespectful and verbally abusive to one another. Any change has to start from the top down.

To some extent, Shelly's family dynamics are not your business and if you do not like to be around them, don't be. However, children who are verbally abused and consequently become abusive are a legitimate cause for concern. We'd worry more about your nephew and less about Dan. If you are too critical, Shelly will become defensive. Instead, approach her gently, explaining how much you love them and want your nephew to feel secure with his stepfather. Ask how you can help.

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