They sort of dance around the answers, tip-toeing around the issues. What we need in this fast-paced world we live in are answers that get to the point quickly.
It's one of those rare cases where I actually think I could do a better job than most of them.
So, below you'll find a sampling of letters to various columnists, with their reponses and then my alternatives. You decide.
Annie's Mailbox (by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar)
Dear Annie: Both my boyfriend and I are over 40. He has two teenage children, and so have I. We plan to marry early next year, and I will be moving into his house because it's paid for and there are enough bedrooms for each child.
The problem is, his children are very lazy. They don't pick up after themselves, and the place looks like a tornado hit it. I figured when it got dirty enough, someone would clean it, but that never happens. Sometimes I go over there and want to faint.
I will not accept this slovenly behavior when their father and I marry. What can I do? Give me some ideas, please. -- Not Domestic Help
Their Answer: First, don't come on like gangbusters. They will resent it and can make all kinds of problems for you. You need to develop a solid, loving relationship with these children, and it would be best if housekeeping did not become a major source of conflict.
You and your boyfriend should make a list of chores that are distributed equally among all members of the household. He should be primarily in charge of monitoring his children, at least initially. You can remind them, gently, that it's Child A's turn to do dishes, or Child B needs to pick up his clothes, but don't call them slobs or yell about the mess. Check out the National Stepfamily Resource Center (stepfamilies.info) for more suggestions.
My Answer: Okay, you're an idiot. If you think anything is going to change after you two get married, you're nuts. So, crazy and stupid -- not a good mix. If you have any shot at all at fixing this you have to do it now -- tell that Reginald Q. McSissyboy that you're marrying that HE better man up to this and get his kids and his house under control and he can look someplace else for his good lovin'.
Dear Abby (By "Abigail Van Buren")
DEAR ABBY: My husband, "Clay," has a very abnormal relationship with his mother. (I'll call her "Jewel," although she's far from one.)
Clay frequently tells me I'll never be as perfect as Jewel, that she's a living saint. He tells her how much money he makes, but he won't tell me, and he refuses to tell me where his money goes. He insists we have separate checking accounts, but he shares an account with Jewel. Abby, Clay earns three or four times as much as I do, but he never helps financially.
He never buys groceries, and I've had to pawn my jewelry, work overtime and beg my parents for money to put food on the table for our three children. Clay will pay nothing toward the children's clothing or doctor visits, and he has never bought them -- or me -- a gift for any occasion. He has never bought anything for our home, either.
Jewel is nosy and butts into every aspect of our lives. She claims she "loves" us and is "trying to help." When she calls, if no one answers, she demands to know where we were -- and Clay tells her. If he goes somewhere alone and I ask where he's been, he says it's none of my business and accuses me of being controlling. Jewel calls to question him five times a day and it's OK, but when I ask him anything, I'm "intruding" on his life.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. I could go on and on, but I'm sure you get the picture. Abby, how can I get him to understand how his relationship with his mother is hurting me? Mothers and sons should be close, but not that close. It's time for him to cut the umbilical cord. I'm desperate -- please help me. -- MARRIED TO A MAMA'S BOY
Her Answer: The "saint" in the family must be you -- for having tolerated this situation long enough to have three children with this man.
Your mother-in-law may be part of your problem, but your marriage to Clay is so out of balance I almost hesitate to call it a marriage. When people marry, they have certain financial obligations toward each other that Clay seems to have ignored completely.
Marriage counseling might be helpful, but only after you have consulted a lawyer to learn what your rights are -- because it seems to me you're enduring all of the hassles and enjoying none of the privileges of marriage.My Answer: Okay, you're an idiot. What were you thinking when you married this loser? Had you MET his mother beforehand? This situation is hopeless. Here's what you need to do: a) get a good lawyer and file for divorce; b) pack Clay a suitcase and put it on the front porch with a note telling him to go back to his "perfect" mother; c) change the locks. The sooner the better. You'll be far better off without him AND his mother.
Dear Margo (by Margo)
DEAR MARGO: My wife has always had what I refer to as a "trucker's mouth." Her whole family does. They can have conversations averaging at least one swear word per sentence. I'm no puritan and can swear with the best of them, but when I do, I try to do so only in appropriate company.
In the two years since our daughter "Gloria" was born, I've been asking my wife to curb her swearing. Alas, the cursing continues. I wasn't so worried during the first 12 months, figuring I'd give my wife some time to transition herself, and also because my daughter was too young to understand a swear word from any other word.
Now Gloria is 2, and she's talking up a storm. This battle came to a head last night when my wife was so wound up that she kept swearing about this and that, even after I repeatedly asked her to stop. (We were out for a walk with Gloria at the time.) She didn't, so I walked away from her, taking Gloria with me. We haven't spoken since.
--- CURSED IN MASSACHUSETTS
Her Answer: Well, at least you're not hearing her swear. (Kidding.) This is a problem you are unlikely to be able to fix. People who rely overly on swear words reveal a poverty of language skills, and to retrain an adult would be very difficult.
You are right about kids picking up on this language, however. Perhaps the first time your wife hears Gloria mention &*^%$# to her grandmother, she might rethink what she says. Failing this, should Gloria start talking like a sailor before she even knows what the words mean, you need to be the one to tell her that while Mommy is saying a no-no, Gloria is not allowed to.
I do believe there's a way to use an occasional vulgarity in conversation and still stay within the bounds of polite society. Ahem. But you have to gauge where you are. I had a bit of a potty mouth when my kids were little, but they were somehow able to understand the restriction: "Not in front of Gram!" Good luck.My answer: Okay, you're an idiot. Seriously, you, your wife and your in-laws sound like a real delight. But at least you get that it's a problem, and you took the first step last night -- literally. When your wife "Tractor Sally" starts up, walk away and take the child. She'll get the point. And if she doesn't, keep walking. Stop pleading and start punishing. Time to grow a set and act like a man, sonny.