Dear Margo: What To Do About “Old” Kids

My girlfriend spends time with her ex and his kids, what should I do? Margo Howard’s advice

What To Do About “Old” Kids

Dear Margo: My girlfriend was in one other serious relationship aside from ours. It lasted three years and ended three years before ours began. She keeps in touch with the ex because they work together a few days a week, and also my girlfriend was close to the ex’s three young children. (They all lived together for most of the three years.) While they don’t spend time together outside of work, once every few months she attends some of the kids’ events (school plays, graduations, soccer games, etc.). I’m not threatened by this, because I have no doubts about the innocent nature of these interactions. Also, the ex is established in a new, seemingly serious relationship.

The other day, my girlfriend wanted to go to a school awards ceremony for one of the kids and wanted me to go with her and then to dinner with everyone afterward. I felt uncomfortable with this (and also had no interest), so I declined, which upset her. She thinks it’s unfair that I would make her “compartmentalize” her life by not integrating myself into this other group.

I want to be supportive, but I don’t want to hang out like a big happy family. We’re hoping to start our own family after getting married, and I honestly would prefer that the kids from the past relationship were out of the picture (if it were up to me). These are not her kids, she has no financial or legal ties to them, and honestly, I wouldn’t expect that a few years in a surrogate parent role would entail an ongoing lifelong relationship. What do you think? — Wanting a Clean Slate

Dear Want: My opinion is that your girlfriend is a lovely human being to continue the friendship with the kids, especially because children feel loss and abandonment in a different way than adults do, and she clearly cares for them. I also think she should accede to your wishes about not wanting to be one big happy blended family. If you felt differently, that would be fine, but you don’t, so I think a workable compromise is that she continues as she has with “the old kids,” but that she do it on her own. — Margo, compassionately

The Hostess and the Shoes

Dear Margo: What is the best way to respond to hostesses who insist I remove my shoes upon entering their homes? My husband is significantly taller than I am, so I wear high heels most of the time, and certainly always for an evening out. Therefore, my pants are hemmed at an appropriate length for heels. When I am asked to remove those heels, I am then stepping on my pants. When I wear skirts, I am standing in my pantyhose with cold feet, anticipating a snag. I take great care to coordinate a full outfit, including accessories and shoes. How can I tell a hostess that I prefer to keep on my shoes? — Not a Barefoot Kind of Girl

Dear Not: You raise an interesting question. Usually, the remove-your-shoes girls have white carpets or are trying to live like the Japanese. My guess is that if you, like Bartleby the Scrivener, said, “I’d prefer not to,” you would get pushback … something on the order of, “But it’s a rule of the house.” I wonder whether anyone has ever done that and been told to leave. When you mention “hostesses,” are you telling me you have more than one friend who tries to relieve you of your shoes at a party? If you really can’t stand it, do not accept those invitations. Or … always wear a skirt, and put a pair of socks in your purse. — Margo, practically

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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.


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107 comments so far.

  1. avatar ShiverMeTimbers says:

    “Old Kids”, take it easy.  In time, your girlfriend’s ex will ease her out of the picture, and ease in the new girlfriend.  They’re probably doing the best possible, most unselfish thing for the children, which is to say, letting the children continue to have a relationship with your girlfriend in spite of the fact that the adults have moved on to other people. 

    Adults these days introduce their sexual partners to their children, then break up with that partner and expect the child to just “get over it”, as though that child hasn’t bonded and befriended the ex-partner.  It’s cruel and thoughtless and now we’re raising an entire generation of kids who either can’t or won’t connect and also experience “attachment disorders” because the adults in their little lives act like it’s nothing more than a revolving door, in and out with nary a thought for what the child experiences in the way of loss and grief for that loss. 

  2. avatar May Voirrey says:

    LW#2 I have had the same complaint for years. I hate standing around in my stocking feet at a party. What irked me most was that no hostess ever thought to mention this rule ahead of time. If they had, I would have either dressed differently or brought slippers with me. Until I develop the ability to levitate and hover above the floor, I will resent the request to come to a nice party and then go without shoes.

    Eventually, I got to know who cared more about their floors than the comfort of their guests so I could plan accordingly or not go at all. What if I end up walking in someone else’s foot fungus?Maybe I’m old-school, but I was raised to cater to my guests’ comfort when they’re in my home, and not demand that my guests be uncomfortable so that my house doesn’t remain in pristine condition. For example, I don’t smoke, but I have created a comfortable smoking area outside for my guests who can’t get through a visit without a cigarette. I also own a good vacuum cleaner and a mop so the floor can live to see another day.

    I remember reading this very question about ten years ago in either the Dear Abby or Ann Landers column. If I could find it, I’d post the link. Essentially, the answer was that if you want guests to take off their shoes, provide slippers, but understand that carpet is meant to be walked on and if your reason for asking guests to go shoeless is not cultural but to preserve the condition of your carpets, you chose the wrong carpet. I clipped that column and saved it for years, and LW#2, I wish I had it so you could share it with the hostesses who make you take off your shoes for the sake of their housekeeping. Yea, Abby or Ann!–whichever understood how to be a gracious and welcoming hostess.

  3. avatar Diane Shaw says:

    Ltr. #2, I have no issue with being asked to remove my shoes but realize, and completely understand, that not everyone is comfortable with that. I think it’s the “good host(ess)” who let’s people know ahead of time about the house rule and provide (washable) socks and slippers to their guests.

  4. avatar MichelleF says:

    Concerning LW1 – It doesn’t seem to me that his issue is with the girlfriend’s continuing relationship with the kids (he’s “not threatened” and acknowledges it’s “not up to him”) but rather with her expectation that he develop some type of relationship with them himself.

    Wouldn’t that be odd from the kids’ point of view? You’re at school getting a perfect attendance award or something and some complete stranger is there to watch/support you? It doesn’t sound like even the girlfriend is THAT close to those kids (“once every few months”). It’s sweet that she would continue to make herself available to kids whose lives she has been a part of for (at least) 6 years now, but it sounds like she’s not playing an active role in their daily lives, which is probably as it should be if she’s ready to commit to the new relationship and move forward.

    The problem is that the tie to the kids inevitably equates to ties with the ex. I don’t blame this new guy for not having any desire to awkwardly attend school functions or social outings. The dinner conversation is likely to include all sorts of allusions to the past life when they used to live all together and probably took “family” trips, had “family” inside jokes, shared “family” specials holidays, etc., because that is the common/shared experience among everyone at the table except new guy. Even if the guy is not a super jealous type, nobody relishes hearing cute stories about the happy times from their partner’s past relationships.

    I think Margo got it right – the guy and his girlfriend should both respect the wishes of the other. It might be a good test of how well they understand each other and their ability to compromise, if they’re thinking marriage/family for themselves.

    • avatar wendykh says:

      no he does resent her involvement. He says flat out if it were up to him they’d be out of the picture.

      he’s an ass and she should dump him.

  5. avatar D C says:

    Several years ago we were selling our house.  We had a showing and left between the appointed window of time, and sat in the car nearby to watch for when we could return.  It was nearing dinner time, and I had plans to cook.  The window of time came and went, and we gave them an extra half hour, and then figured it must be a no-show and went home and commenced to make dinner.  We were all sitting at the table starting dinner when the doorbell rang and it was the realtor with the lookers.  I told her they were welcome to come look around, but that we were going to have our dinner. 

    My sons always slip off their shoes when they come into the house, so their shoes were there.  It’s not a house rule or anything, they just like to drop them out the door so the next time they need to go out, the shoes are there.  So the family saw the shoes at the door and they and the realtor all slipped off their shoes as they came in. 

    My youngest child, who is autistic, hates shoes, and most clothes for that matter — I’m sure he’ll be a nudist when he lives on his own — and he takes them off constantly.  It’s a problem at school, but luckily we had it written into his accommodations that as long as he’s doing his work quietly, he can slip off his shoes at his desk.  Now if we could just get him to sit in his desk most of the time instead of lying on the classroom floor…

  6. avatar MichelleF says:

    Concerning LW2 – Personally I find some people’s feet grosser than any dirt their shoes may track in. I think of that every time I have to walk through airport security and everyone has to walk through barefoot. How often are they sanitizing the floors there?! It’s totally disgusting.

    With that said I think it’s the homeowner’s/host’s call and respectful guests should comply accordingly. Probably no one cares about your shoes complementing your outfit.

  7. avatar A R says:

    LW1: What I think is that if your girlfriend and her former boyfriend stopped living together, she should have quite playing parent to children that were not hers around the same time. I don’t have any appreciation for their shared attempt to pretend that she was/is still significant to their lives when they were not her kids, the adults never married, and they permanently split up. If you ask me, it’s pretty screwy and kept everyone hanging on instead of moving on with their lives (her, him, and the kids included).
    Meanwhile, she’s put you in a bizarre position. If it were me, I’d probably move on to someone who is not emotionally obsessed with a family that she’s not actually a part of. I would go so far as to say that she is as emotionally unavailable as a person who is still in love with someone else.

    LW2: Being asked to remove your shoes is no worse than being asked to smoke outside or put your glass on a coaster. At the end of the day, you should respect the home of the person you are in—you are a guest, not a renter. You seem a little too preoccupied with your clothing and under-concerned about your so-called friend’s home. Can you not wear a pair of pants with flats to those folks’ houses?

  8. avatar ch says:

    I love the people who assume that being asked to take off shoes means the home owners care more about their flooring than their friends. The woman in the letter appeared to care more about her pants and her pantyhose.

    I suspect neither of those viewpoints is 100% correct.

    Yes, I said I understood the value. Yes, my family has health issues. Our friends who know us understand this and have no problem removing shoes. They comment how much more relaxed they are knowing they can.

    My mother-in-law wears special shoes and never takes them off, nor do we ask her.

    A good host/hostess does what they can to make their guests feel welcomed and comfortable and does not insist, respecting their guests. 

    A good guest respects the host/hostess and when accepting an invitation, understands and respects the “culture” they are about “visit”.

    It’s a two-way street, particularly if it’s a valuable relationship.

  9. avatar R Scott says:

    LW1 – I think the GF may want to start distancing herself from the family especially if the Ex is now seeing someone else seriously. Just a thought. I think Margo’s suggestion is on target though. New BF does not have to attend and be a part of the happy family if he doesn’t want to.

    LW2 – I’ll kick of my shoes if the host will provide me with something else to put on. I don’t know who/what has been on their floors. I don’t know how healthy your feet are or how clean they or your sox may be. I do not want to stand in front of the hosts toilet in my bare or socked feet. No thank you. I wear shoes for protection as well as fashion and warmth. I stepped on a straight shirt pin in someone’s carpet one evening with no shoes on and it still knots my stomach to think about it. Straight into the ball of my foot. Hurt like a motherfu……….. it hurt really a lot.  

    I have to admit though that if the LW does know she’s going to Hostess X’s house with these rules why doesn’t she where shorter pants and flats? It’s not like no one doesn’t know she’s short. And yeah, throw some sox in her purse and put them on.  

  10. avatar Lila says:

    “My girlfriend was close to the ex’s three young children.” and: “These are not her kids, she has no financial or legal ties to them, and honestly, I wouldn’t expect that a few years in a surrogate parent role would entail an ongoing lifelong relationship.”

    Well, apparently SHE understands what the LW does not, that children do indeed feel abandonment differently from adults. The ties are not financial or legal, they are emotional, which is far more important and binding if you see children as human beings rather than simple obligations. Maybe, just maybe, she actually loves these kids, after spending 3 formative years in their young lives?

    As for those who suggest that she should “bow out” since there is a new woman in the father’s life, that would imply that mother-figures are as easily changed as light bulbs. These are young children, according to the LW. They need stable bonds and reliable adults, not a rotating gallery of disposable “Dad’s current girlfriend” types. What would that teach them about relationships, commitment and responsibility? That love is never permanent, and no one can be relied on or trusted.

    Kudos to the LW’s girlfriend for being a responsible, caring, constant and reliable adult.

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      Lila, I guarantee you that there’s money involved as well. Do you really expect someone to be as involved as the GF is with these kids and not spend anything on them?

  11. avatar R Scott says:

    With the exception of foul winter weather where the slush, salt mud etc. is hard to avoid and, of course boots and outer wear is removed, do some of these folks have to tread through stock yards, pig wallows and tar pits to get to the front door? Wouldn’t a nice bristly welcome matt work to wipe off the shoes as they come in? With all due respect to everyone I’m just tickled at the very strong opinions about this – mine included. Very interesting. Something I just never thought a lot about I guess.

  12. avatar lia71 says:

    I wear slippers around the house and prefer that everyone else does. My boys and I put our slippers on as soon as we get in. Guests have their own pair here or bring slippers with them. We don’t do formal dinner parties, they are more casual gatherings. I dont think it’s rude to ask your guests to remove their shoes, but it’s best to warn them in advance.

  13. avatar animelily says:

    All of you that would refuse to take off your shoes will never be invited over to my house.

    My infant daughter likes to eat leaves and dust bunnies and she manages to find things faster than I can usually catch her. There’s nothing quite so gross and sweeping out a dust bunny covered in baby drool out of your child’s mouth. She hasn’t managed to get a hold of any road salt thanks to people taking off their shoes. That would not only be gross but very harmful. Thankfully I have very thoughtful friends.

    Is it really that much of a put out? The people who are going “shame on you for making us take off our shoes.” Really? I mean really?

  14. avatar llmcr says:

    I have lived all over the world and what is interesting is that it is only in the States that wearing outdoor shoes in a home is common. Anywhere else it is considered good manners and hygienic to take them off. Even on American sitcoms you see people lying around on sofas with the dirty shoes on them. It makes no sense. What is the benefit of having dirty shoes on inside a home? Anyone who thinks people are more important that floors should then always be taking off their shoes as it is showing respect for others and their belongings.

    The few people that I know that routinely leave their shoes on (or always “forget”) have co-incidently a self- esteem problem and like to feel that they are more special than others, for example, “my shoes aren’t dirty”. That is okay as I see it as their issue not mine.

    • avatar Daisy Adair says:

      For the longest time I thought it was only on TV that Americans wore shoes in the house.
      When I learned that they really do that I was shocked and horrified.

  15. avatar sarajane says:

    Obviously if the letter writer puts so much effort into planning her outfits, she is not going to be happy with the advice to “bring a pair of socks” to wear over her stockings! If the issue is the that the hostess has carpet which she does not wish to get dirty (which I think is a totally reasonable request especially if it has been rainy & is muddy outside) the writer could wear ‘outside’ shoes to the party & then when asked to remove them, she can pull out her party shoes and assure the hostess that they are clean and carpet-safe.

  16. avatar Daisy Adair says:

    I have to STRONGLY disagree with your answer to The Hostess and the Shoes.
    It’s revolting to wear shoes in the house. NO ONE comes into my house with shoes.
    Period. I’m not “trying to live like the Japanese” — this is the custom of everyone that I know.
    The only people that I’ve known that allow people into their house with shoes on live like pigs and never clean the floors anyway. In Canada, you bloody well take your shoes off or you’re not coming in the house.

    • avatar wendykh says:

      Please do not speak for all Canadians. You can keep your bloody shoes on and your disgusting bare feet off my floors thank you very much. I am completely grossed out by bare feet and would rather mop. Revolting. Where are your friends walking that need shoes off?

      • avatar Messy ONE says:

        I don’t know if you know this, but there are now things called “socks” that normal people put on their feet before they put their shoes on. These “sock” devices are readily available in many stores and frequently go on sale at very low prices.

        Perhaps you should investigate these things.

  17. avatar Ann Hipson says:

    On shoes–
    When I visit a home, if the host asks me to remove my shoes, I do even if I am more comfortable with them on.

    In my house, I always wear shoes. My floors are (hard–oak) hardwood and tile, with dark rugs. Both the wood and the tile are too hard for comfort on my old feet and I don’t find slippers comfortable long term, either. I do not ask people to remove their shoes and if they wish to remove their shoes, I tell them my floors are rarely barefoot clean but if they prefer, sure.

    I try to be a thoughtful guest and a thoughtful host. In either role, I see no reason for a power struggle about my feet.

  18. avatar SherryDAmore says:

    Ummmm…..I think we’ve gone off in two different directions!!!  The original letter was about a woman who was invited to a PARTY – a social event, where she was dressed up and told to take off her shoes.  At a one evening social event, I would never ask anyone to do this.  I believe that the care and comfort of my guest supercedes floors or anything else.   

    However, I now live in a part of the country with a lot of mud, rain and snow, and just as a nomal thing, we take off our shoes in someone else’s house.  That’s fine.  But I never been told nor would I ever tell someone to take their shoes off.  I have a golden retriever, and she brings in all sorts of thing on her coat.  Yes, she gets brushed, but stepping on one her surprises, like a burdox hurts!  Also, I have had plantar warts, and DS has had athletes foot.  I never want anyone in bare feet walking on my floors, even though a vac. and mop daily. 

  19. avatar NevadaFriend says:

    I lived in the Aleutian Islands for many years, no sidewalks, no paved roads. No one would even think of bringing mud and dirt into another person’s house (and no one had white carpets). We had dozens of house parties and went to dozens of house parties and no one ever minded in the least to remove their shoes. We’d wear our clean socks for the most part but many folks brought a pair of slippers to wear. Even to church we’d wear our boots and bring a clean pair of shoes to change into. You left your boots usually in a mudroom or a designated spot where the coats would be put (in a person’s house or at church). In the seafood plants people never wore their boots and outer clothing into the galley(galley is a name for dining room or cafeteria) either, as it was against the rules. People went stocking footed or carried a pair of slippers or flip flops.

  20. avatar Annie Chan says:

    #2 you know… I don’t know anyone who goes walking around the house in shoes, maybe slippers but those are made for indoor flooring and stuff. Most times, for me anyways, it’s a given that I wouldn’t be walking around inside a house in shoes UNLESS I was told otherwise (and usually it’s in a designated area, you know what I mean?). If you really need to wear shoes, such as for medical reasons, by all means bring the right kind of shoes. If it’s just for show, try to be more understanding and find a substitute. Personally I wouldn’t care if my husband towered over me… I’d actually like it ;P

  21. avatar Grace Malat says:

    I’m a bit late on replying on this but still felt the need to.

    On the first letter, the woman went out with the man and lived with him for three years, then they broke up and 3yrs later she has started dating another man, doesn’t say how long they’ve been dating. In the meantime the ex has started dating someone new whom he is serious about.
    It may be all well and good intentioned for her to stay in touch with the children for a short period of time after the break up, But during that time with the help of their father and mother if she happens to be around she should have started limiting her interactions with the children and slowly extricating herself from their family dynamic. By now she should not be having any contact with the children. It was not in the grand scheme of things a long relationship and while during that time she and the children became close, the main relationship, the one with the father ended. She really has no place in their lives at this time and should have ended it a long time ago.
    Now the ex has a serious gf and yet his ex is still hanging around for the ‘sake’ of the children but they are not her children. I might feel differently if they had dated/lived together for a much longer period of time but it was a short 3yrs. It is time for her to back out and give the new gf a chance to develop a healthy relationship with the ex bf and his children without his ex gf showing up for family oriented type events or any event. I’m surprised that anyone is putting up with this. They’ve now been broken up as long as they were together. How long does she plan to be a part of their lives? Forever? And why? This is just a bit strange.
    The current boyfriend is right to not want to go, and she should not be going either. She needs to talk to the children as does their father about time and life moving on, it’s taken her far too long to no longer be a part of a family that she really has no right to be a part of and most likely is very confusing to the children.

    LW 2 with the shoes, my daughter would feel the same way you do. She is on the very short side and has a thing for heels and wears them more often than not so everything is hemmed to their length.
    If it’s concern for dirt or such you can get booties like doctors wear in surgery and keep those in your purse for just such occasions and slip those on over your shoes, although it will slightly take away from the fashion sense you’ve put together your hostess shouldn’t have a problem with that.

  22. avatar Rienne says:

    LW1: It is simply respectful to follow the rules of the house, regardless if you feel inconvenienced or not. I also insist on shoes being removed on my home…the sign on my front door states to please remove your shoes upon entering. Never has anyone had an issue with this. Even the cable guy removes his shoes due to the sign on my door and he is only in my home to work. I have told him it’s not required as he has to frequently enter and exit my house to complete his job. Not only does this cut down on the wear and tear of my carpets, but it also dratically cuts down on staining of the grout on my tiled floors, the wear and tear on my vacuum and my back from constantly sweeping and mopping. I see it like this: if my children’s friends have the common courtesy to remove their shoes upon entering my home, why shouldn’t an adult offer me the same courtesy?