ANNIE'S MAILBOX Stepdaughter's mother challenges their rules



Dear Annie: I have raised my 17-year-old stepdaughter since she was 6 years old. "Heather" visits her mother and stepfather regularly, and each time it creates a major problem.
Although Heather has a dress code, her mother often challenges our rules. When Heather was 13, Mom bought her a backless dress. When she was 15, Mom allowed Heather to wear jeans slung so low she shouldn't have been out in public. Last week, Heather returned from her mother's with her bellybutton pierced.
My husband's new job means that he is gone a lot, so I'm often the one on the front lines when there is a problem with the ex-wife. Heather had asked us earlier about piercing her navel, and we told her it was unacceptable. We've also told Heather that the rules can be changed, depending upon her level of responsibility and how much we trust her. If she is truthful with us, we will consider her desires and occasionally give in. Quite honestly, I may have changed my mind about letting her pierce her navel if she had been upfront and not chosen to do it behind my back.
I have asked Heather to remove the piercing, but she refuses. I also worry that if my other children see it, they will want one, too. Am I wrong? Stepmom in North Dakota
Dear Stepmom: You are right to be concerned that Heather's rebelliousness will affect the other children. You are wrong, however, to pit yourself against Heather's mom when it comes to her appearance. It means Heather sees you as the bad guy and Mom as an ally. It also makes Heather's mom more likely to undermine your authority in an attempt to gain control over her daughter's life.
You sound like a loving stepmother, but Heather is 17, and it might be time to change your approach. Contact the Stepfamily Association of America (saafamilies.org), 650 J Street, Suite 205, Lincoln, NE 68508 (800-735-0329) for suggestions.
Dear Annie: I received a "couples baby shower" invitation from a cousin. At the bottom of the invitation it stated that cake would be provided, but we must purchase our own dinner and drinks.
My husband and I figured that after a $25 gift, $40 for dinner and $15 for a baby sitter for my three kids, it becomes a mighty expensive shower. Is this a new custom to invite people and expect them to bring a nice present, as well as pay for their own dinner and drinks? Bakersfield, Calif.
Dear Bakersfield: No, it's not a new custom, it's a shakedown. And it's being perpetrated by too many newlyweds and expectant parents, who think it is somehow acceptable to bill their guests. We suspect it's only going to get worse, because the more such tasteless greed is tolerated, the more people think it's OK. Feel free to send your regrets. The gift is optional.
Dear Annie: I was supposed to attend my 40th class reunion, but I suffered a heart attack and wound up in the hospital. My wife contacted the secretary of the class to let her know, and two weeks later, I received a get well card signed by several of my former classmates.
Annie, because they came from across the country, I would like to take advantage of your column to say something to these wonderful people: To the Flushing, Michigan, High School Class of 1963, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Each time I read one of your names (and I remember each and every one of you), I burst out crying yet again. I appreciated all the kind words and am looking forward to the next class reunion in five years. Charlie H., Class of '63
Dear Charlie: Glad we could help. Feel better soon.
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