Dear Margo: A Modern Cinderella

Should I continue to make the effort with the people I consider my parents? Margo Howard’s advice

A Modern Cinderella

Dear Margo: I was raised in a “unique” family. My mother passed away when I was young, and I was raised by my stepfather and his new wife. These “parents” raised me — as in, they allowed me to live with them and provided me with the necessities and emotional support if I pleaded for it. Ours was a large and varied family, and I was lost in the shuffle. Now I’m in my mid 30s and am happily married with a successful career and two kids of my own. My problem is that my parents rarely want anything to do with my family or me. They often do things with my other siblings (their biological children), yet I’m rarely invited. I used to contact them to initiate get-togethers, but it was never reciprocated, so I stopped.

I recognize that they raised me, but I just can’t help feeling hurt and disappointed that they don’t want to spend any time together. Should I continue to make an effort and take whatever little bit of a relationship I can squeeze out of them, or should I give up, focus on my immediate family and accept that I lost any parent I may have had when my biological mother died? — Stepdaughter

Dear Step: This is a sad situation, and the meaning is that not everyone has a big heart. The reality is that you were young when you lost your mother, and she was married to a man who no doubt felt burdened by a youngster he “inherited,” and real emotion never jelled. When he remarried, the woman he chose was a quart low in the compassion department, as well. So that’s the situation.

I would indeed stop the overtures and let your friends be your family. With luck, you might stumble onto an older couple who could fill the position of grandparents for your kids. Therapy might help you integrate the situation and understand that there is nothing wrong with you and what happened was just a bum break. For whatever it’s worth, some biological kids experience this situation — and worse. I wish you well. — Margo, forwardly

No One Need Stay Married Forever

Dear Margo: I am a 24-year-old male who’s been going through a pretty tough time for quite a while. I’m a former serviceman who got married during my military tour. While I was still in, I had to be away for a period of two weeks, unable to leave my command. I was able to call my wife every day when my daily shifts were over, and everything seemed to be OK. However, when I was finally able to return home, the house was cleaned out, except for my uniforms and very few other objects. A letter was on the counter stating she had left for her home state to be with another man. Six months later, I was discharged and returned to my own home state. All of this happened three years ago.

Since then, we have been in limited contact via email, and every time the topic of divorce comes up, she gets dodgy and disappears for weeks if not months. At one point, she sent me a package of divorce papers from the state we were married in, and I filled them out on my end and sent them back to the state’s court system. However, nothing happened with the proceedings. I again filed for divorce through my home state and had her “served.” She blatantly refused to answer them, and the courts will do nothing until she does. What can I do? I need to move on. — Broken Heart in Michigan

Dear Broke: I don’t know how things work in Michigan, but many states now have remedies for spouses who will not respond to divorce papers. Often “abandonment” kicks in after one year apart. I suggest you contact a lawyer for guidance in securing your divorce. — Margo, hopefully

* * *

Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


Every Thursday and Friday, you can find “Dear Margo” and her latest words of wisdom on wowOwow

Click here to follow Margo on Twitter

47 comments so far.

  1. avatar normadesmond says:

    margo’s right. waste not an iota of emotion on the people that raised you.
    create your family. i hope they give you the love you deserve.

    • avatar JCF4612 says:

      Ditto on that … absolutely, Margo’s right. Your children will be ever so better off without being exposed to frost from your stepfather and his wifey.

    • avatar P S says:

      Yes, yes, yes! I hope this doesn’t come across wrong but sometimes when cold fishes like these lack reciprocation it’s a blessing in disguise. It’s permission to get the H away from them.

      Don’t give another ounce of your time or energy to them. Let ’em go and build a family of choice who really will love you unconditionally.

  2. avatar phanie says:

    To the soldier: Margo’s advice is spot on- that is how my mom finally divorced my biological father. I don’t know how it works with active duty (I married my husband after he was put on TDRL) but I hope she’s not receiving any financial benefits from your marriage… this is the only reason I can think why she hasn’t finalized the divorce.

    All the best to you, soldier. You are appreciated, you are loved, and you are honored.

  3. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:  It does appear as if the people who raised you feel they have satisfied their *obligation* and don’t feel like maintaining a bond with you.  This is their loss and inexplicable to me because I would think the more to love in a family the better…biological bonds or not… but they seem to lack open hearts.  I agree I would not make any more overtures to include them in your life.  I read something recently which in an interview of some celebrity that hit home to me.  She said,  *If I start to feel like I’m chasing someone to be my friend (in your case family), its not worth my energy*.   At the time I was struggling with my disappointment in a friend and I decided if someone isn’t that into me then why waste my time and emotional energy on that person when I could be spending it on people who do love and appreciate me?  

    It sounds like you are creating a very happy family of your own so continue to use your energy toward them and others who appreciate you.

    LW#2:  You need a good lawyer specializing in Family Law.  If you have a lawyer now who is telling you nothing can be done, find a new one.  With no children and no significant property to divide up, this should be a no-brainer for a good family lawyer.  Good luck!  

  4. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW#@: Dump this woman before 10 years fly by, or she’ll be into your earnings record for Social Security as well.

  5. avatar Lym BO says:

    LW: Wow! Your “parents” are some pretty emotionally distant people. Margo is right that your step dad got caught in an interesting situation with a child to raise. You were also a painful reminder of his wife to him & his new wife. Who knows, there may have also been some jealousy on the part of wife #2. Mirror, mirror,…. While they might have not been ideal parents, you have to give them some credit for not bailing out on you. Many people in this situation would have turned you over to an aunt, uncle or grandparents. Now that you have kids you realize how much raising a child entails. Not to mention that you are happily married & raising a family, which meant you must’ve learned some valuable traits and lessons from these parents.
    If it were me, I would write them a letter of gratitude touching on some of the above & then let them initiate any contact after that. Obviously, you can’t pay them back, but do think about it from their perspective. I’m not defending them, but there are two sides to any story. If it suits you to lessen your contact with them because they are aloof then certainly go that route. But first write that letter so you feel like you did the right thing…

  6. avatar Lym BO says:

    LW2: One thing to consider is why she refuses to divorce you. Is she expecting/receiving military or retirement / pension benefits or medical insurance? I can’t fathom another reason unless you belong to some small religious group that look down on divorce, but that hardly makes sense since she is galavanting about the country. IT is usually about $$$. Document well her absence & get to the nearest lawyer. You may get some advice via your military branch.

  7. avatar Karin Smith says:

    LW#1: I remember reading a news story several years ago where a woman in her mid-30s was basically abandoned by her biological parents; while they had been distant for most of the woman’s life, they eventually flat-out told her that they didn’t want anything more to do with her, and severed all contact with her. (The woman had no history of drugs or crime or anything like that, the parents were just very dysfunctional.)

    A few years later, the woman decided to put out an advertisement for adoption… as in SHE was looking for an older couple to adopt HER as their daughter. As I recall, she had no real other family to speak of (siblings, grandparents, aunts/uncles, etc), so she took the initiative to seek out a family that would want her.
    Lo and behold, an older couple responded, and after getting to know each other, everyone decided that they liked the arrangement, and the couple officially adopted the woman as their daughter. (They had a few biological children and grandchildren of their own as well, so the woman was embraced by the entire family.)

    All that to say, you don’t have to go to the length of getting officially adopted if you don’t want to. However, there are many older couples who would like to add to their family in a similar way; some of them already have kids of their own, and some never had children, but would welcome the opportunity to have children and grandchildren (especially since their “child” would come already grown up!). I would encourage you to seek out a couple that could “adopt” you (officially or not) and your family. You could check with a local church, retirement village, volunteer centers, etc.

    You can’t always choose the family that raises you, but you can choose to make your own family if you need to.

  8. avatar Lila says:

    Cinderella, one does not NEED all four grandparents, especially if they are jerks. What about your husbands’ parents?

    We lost our mother quite young, too, and her parents and sibs were estranged after that. Dad was an only child and his parents were both gone. It would have been nice to have the additional support and security of other steady adults in our lives, but given a choice between “toxic” and “nothing,” I’ll take “nothing” any day, and make my own way.

  9. avatar Lila says:

    Broken Heart was discharged about 3 years ago, and given how the military cross-checks eligibility for benefits, and makes you show your orders to about a zillion people at every new post before they allow you so much as a crouton, I doubt she’s getting any military perks any more.

    I hope he kept that letter she left on the counter as it is an admission of both adultery and abandonment.

  10. avatar crystalclear says:

    You can file for a “No Fault” divorce and you won’t need her approval.   The marriage will be over and done with in a matter of months.   Gone are the days when not having a signature holds up a divorce.   I wish you luck, Soldier, and God Bless you for serving our country.   I hope you move on and find the right person for you.   Merry Christmas.

  11. avatar crystalclear says:

    My heart goes out to the woman whose parents don’t include her in family events.   That’s rough emotionally but it’s important to understand that this isn’t about you it’s about them.   You’ve done nothing wrong.   Always believe in yourself and never let their inactions determine the kind of day you’ll have.   You are very important.   You are raising two children and my guess is that you’ll be a wonderful mother to them knowing how hurtful your parents have been to you.   Live your best life and don’t look back.

  12. avatar Grace OMalley says:

    LW #2 – All you need to do is contact an attorney where YOU live now and tell him/her that you want a divorce, your spouse’s last known where abouts were _________________ and that you wish to obtain a divorce using Notice of Service by Publication.  They will contact a newspaper in the town where your spouse was last known to live, run an ad in the personals section for three weeks and issue an affidavit stating that it in fact ran and then you go to court, answer a few questions and you’re done and done!

    • avatar lisakitty says:

      I’m sorry Grace, but that’s not the case everywhere.

      As the LW has already served the wife with papers, in most states of the US, he should be able to get a divorce date immediately.  When the clerks set a court date, the wife will be sent notice by the courts of the court date.  If she does not appear, then the LW wins by default.

      I’ve worked in and around divorce attorneys my whole life and I have never heard of putting a notice in the paper, are you from Canada?  It sounds  a little like “posting the bans”?    

      • avatar lisakitty says:

        OOPS!  Sorry, I meant “I’ve worked WITH and around divorce attorneys”…. yikes the other way sounds creepy! Sorry about that!

      • avatar Brook Leasure says:

        Lisa, that’s how it’s done in Tennessee as well, if the person refuses to accept the papers or is unable otherwise to be contacted as well.

      • avatar lisakitty says:

        Interesting to know Brook, but the LW has already successfully SERVED his wife.    SO the point is moot.

        I guess what I am upset about here is that posters such as Grace and crystalclear are giving people a misrepresentation of how difficult a divorce really is to get.  It is NOT easy, it requires time and investment of effort, money and organization.  And, what works in one state or even county doesn’t work in another one.  To give people the thought that  “oh yea, this is easy, all I have to do is place an ad in the personals, or pay $35 bucks and it’s done” is misleading.    I heard a lot of advice like that before I filed and trust me, I’d rather have been better prepared for the timeline and fees up front.

        We have to realize that other people are reading these posts too.  But thanks for the clarification.  

      • avatar DragonLord says:

        I work at a newspaper in Idaho, and I’ve run several of these “Divorce Notices” in our paper in place of serving a missing spouse, although as far as I know (at least here) they must be run as a legal notice (the same as a foreclosures, tax deeds, etc.) not just as a notice in the personals.

        As far as I know, however, as noted by lisakitty, this is in place of traditional “serving” of the notice, so probably would not apply in this case, unless the prior serving was invalid in some way, and the spouse has since disappeared without a trace.

  13. avatar Deborah Key says:


    Please know that not every servicemember is a soldier.

    Some of us are sailors, airmen and Marines.  

    I’m proud of my time in the military – and I was no soldier.

  14. avatar crystalclear says:

    Deborah, and you should be very proud as you are!   Everyone in the military is important because they all work together, wherever they are stationed, for a good result.   Thanks for posting this.  It’s important.

  15. avatar crystalclear says:

    Grace, great advice!   Anyone who wants a divorce can get it these days.  

  16. avatar wendyblueeyes says:

    I feel for the abandoned child. My mother was an only child, my father had a mother and 4 sisters. He died when I was 10. I never saw or spoke to any of my father’s family after the funeral, except for my grandmother, who I saw a total of 3 times in the following 11 years. She lived a busride away. The only reason I saw her those 3 times is that my mother put me on the bus to go visit her. My mother would get Christmas cards from my father’s family. That’s it. I asked my mother to lay it on the line what I became an adult, and she told me that my father’s family was Catholic and we were Presbyterian, so they couldn’t be bothered with us. After that little tidbit of info, I looked askance at all Catholics. However, I did marry one, and his Catholic family has embraced me, every last one of them. I now realize it wasn’t the religion, as my mother thought; it was a flaw in this particular family. I was better off without them.

  17. avatar crystalclear says:

    wendy, when you made that decision hopefully you never looked back.   Many of us have an idea in our head that families are naturally close.   That’s not the case.   It’s about the individual personalities and often times we expect more from them than they can deliver.  That sets us up for hurt feelings.   I’m glad you are where you are now because life is too short to beat ourselves up looking for an explanation.    I believe you are much better off without them, too.  

  18. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    I agree with Margo 100% to both letters. How sad. Wish both the best!

  19. avatar flyonthewall says:

    Great advice, Margo. I’m one of those biological children you speak of in regards l#1. I agree that lw needs to seek love and acceptance from others and let these toxic family members fall by the wayside. The problem lies within the relatives, not with the lw. Therapy does help, so Stepdaughter should give it a try.

    As for lw#2, thank you for your service to your country and I wish you the best of luck in cutting loose your ex. I think Margo I right in getting a good lawyer to work on this for you.

  20. avatar P S says:

    LW2 – Your situation is so sad, and I’m sorry she’s pulling that crap on you. I agree there are ways of getting yourself out of it and you’ll need a lawyer to help you explore what your rights are.

    My ex pulled all sorts of outrageous crap to prevent finalizing the divorce. I’m not going to go into gory detail but suffice to say it took calling a trial date, an ultimatum from the judge, and his *sixth* attorney yelling at him for several hours on the day of the scheduled trial to finally get him to sign papers we’d drawn up the year before based in large part on HIS demands in an attempt to settle OUT of court. My ordeal took a year and a half all told, and if I knew then what I’ve learned since, I would have called for a trial date *immediately* when I filed papers through my attorney.

    My ex didn’t deserve the amount of patience we extended to him. Yours doesn’t either. Get yourself a nice shark who will eat her for lunch and help you get on with your life. I’m no psychologist but there’s something very pathological and sadistic about what she’s doing to you.

  21. avatar lisakitty says:

    LW2:  I am going through a similar situation, it’s no fun.

    There’s a reason my (hopefully soon to be ex) doesn’t want to divorce me.  He stands to lose a LOT when we divorce and he knows it, so he’s doing exactly the same as your wife.  You have to figure out why your wife doesn’t want to divorce you.  Financial?  Is she under your insurance? Any other benefits she has access to as a military wife that she is taking advantage of?

    Find that out.  The next thing is that you can contact an attorney if you want, but in my case, I did my divorce without a lawyer using what they call in my state “family law advocates”.  My sister is a judge in another state and she has told me that almost all states in the nation have similar programs.  Basically, these are people (not attorneys) who advise you on some of the basics of the divorce process (what papers need to filed and when).  Since you have already served her, you most likely qualify for a divorce by default (in my state, you could ask for a court date immediately)  Call the local county clerks office and ask if they have a similar program: in my county it costs $30 to talk to these folks, much much cheaper than an attorney.

    So many people are taking care of their own divorces (especially if there are no children involved, but even in those cases) that the courts have stepped up these programs to help the judges (so they don’t spend all their day giving legal advice).  I’d also check with your base (if you are still active) about some legal advice options, and if you are no longer active, check the veteran’s association.  

    PS:  What you describe is so common that in my state, you have to sign an affadavit when filing divorce saying that your spouse is not in the military.   It angers me someone would treat one of our heroes this way. 

  22. avatar Jo Jandrok says:

    Dear Stepdaughter,

    There are two kinds of family. Your blood family, which is the family you’re born to, or raised with, the family you had no choice about being in. And there’s your life family, made up of close friends, favorite relatives, your spouse and children.

    Seems to me, you need to let go of the blood family because seriously? They are not worth the consideration you’re giving them. Concentrate on your life family. You’ll be much happier, and much more fulfilled. And your kids will be happier, too. No one likes to go visit relatives who barely tolerate their parents. Been there, done that. You wouldn’t willingly live near a toxic waste dump, right? So… dump the toxic family.

    Dear Broken Heart,

    Find a lawyer. Now.

  23. avatar crystalclear says:

    You can also get a divorce on line for around $35.00.   Just fill in the paperwork provided for the state you are in or the state in which you were married.    My significant other did this and it was a breeze.

    • avatar lisakitty says:

      GOD  I hate posts like yours!  SO wrong.

      1.  You do not “get a divorce online”.  You have to file in a courthouse and you (or an attorney) have to show up in person.  You have to show up.  You can do the paperwork yourself and the courts do provide that FREE online.  But you still need to know what docs to file and you have to spend quite a bit of time filling those out.  I have a strong legal background and my divorce docs took me three hours to finish.

      2.  Filing costs at the courts cost MINIMUM in my state $500.  You can have that waived, but you still end up paying other charges.  In my case I was able to have the filing charge waived, but had to pay about $300 in other costs to the courts.  These included mandatory classes about the process and since I have a child also parenting classes (not the same for the LW).

      3.  Your SO is pulling your leg at least about this and maybe about more.  ONLY if  both parties agree on the divorce, sign the papers etc.  will the above cost be the absolute minimum (at least in my state).   If one party disagrees with the process, the court proceedings can go on and on, costing even more money.   Any property?  Add at least another $1000.  Debt?  Almost the same amount.  Children?  $3000 minimum.  You have parenting plans etc. to get through.

      My point, crystal, is that you aren’t clear at all.  Unless you are an attorney, you should not throw those numbers out there.  $35 for a divorce?  Did he also sell you a bridge in Brooklyn?  Get REAL!  

      • avatar Lynne Bucher says:

        Perhaps in YOUR state you or your lawyer have to show up, but in FL we were actually able to do a divorce by mail.  I would never have known this was an option if not for my lawyer, who apparently dreaded the long drive to my county’s courthouse more than the $275/hour he would have been paid to make the trip.
        And in my case it was a wonderful way to go, since my ex was dying to do some kind of Perry Mason routine when he “got his day in court”.  I was delighted that he was denied his soapbox to tell the world how victimized he was by my divorcing his lying, cheating a$$.

  24. avatar crystalclear says:

    Jo, you hit the nail on the head.   Although I love my natural family I have to say there are a few of them that I can do without.    I could also do without several of my friends but the other ones I woulnd’t trade for the world.    It’s important that all of us realize that we are human and we have choices.   Forcing yourself to be around toxic people is unnecessary and it can bring your spirits down.   It’s really okay not to like some of your family members.    I have often thought about why we actually treat our dear friends better than family members.   Perhaps if family members treated each other like dear friends the world would be a better place???   These things are hard to know!!

  25. avatar crystalclear says:

    Additionally, regarding getting a divorce on line, the paperwork is provided for one to complete and then you can send it to the court and I believe there are additional fees there.   His divorce was final in three months.   They had to negotiate on their own over the actual settlement but it became complicated so he gave her everything and said “I just want out.   Take everything and sign the papers.”   She took everything and signed the papers!

    • avatar lisakitty says:

      Sorry, Crystal, I didn’t see this post before I gave you heck above.

      Still, ONLY if both parties totally agree can the divorce be final so quickly.