Dear Margo: My husband has custody of his three sons from his first marriage. The boys' mother is an alcoholic, and at the time of the custody battle, she was also addicted to meth. Her current husband shares her addictions. Visitation with the mother was limited by court order to four hours a week, and she rarely shows up.
Last year on Mother's Day, after not seeing them for months, she did pick the boys up and took them to a local lake. During the visit, her husband, in a fit of anger, physically assaulted one of the boys. We filed and received a protective order against their stepfather the next day.
Since that day, the mother has been verbally and emotionally abusing the boys on a near daily basis via telephone. She calls, drunk, dozens of times a day to tell them they don't love her, that they'll be sorry one day for the way they "treat her." (They are actually respectful, but tired of her abuse, they are starting to stand up for themselves.) If the boys turn off their cell phones, the messages escalate into the hundreds. When she calls to talk to one of us, she accuses us of taking her boys from her, as well as causing her addictions and problems.
We spoke to our lawyer about terminating her rights. We were told that as long as she shows up, even if sporadically, and pays her child support (garnished by the state for the first two years when she did not pay), there's nothing we can do. (Though she did lose her job yesterday for regularly showing up drunk.) We cannot make her stop. We cannot make her change. We cannot make her face reality. We can only be there for the boys and try to comfort and counsel them through the anguish. If you happen to have any advice about how to make the situation better, I am all ears. — Helpless Stepmom
Dear Help: Isn't alcoholism a terrible and destructive thing? One thing you can do is send your boys to Al-Anon so they can gain understanding and get support from people who have "been there." On a practical level, because this woman has lost her job, there will be no child support, meaning that you may be able to stop the visits. Regarding the drunk dialing, you all might consider changing your numbers.
The good news is that the visits are sporadic. And ... though you don't say how old the boys are, there comes a time when kids can make their own decisions about seeing or not seeing a parent. Good luck. The turmoil will at some point be over. — Margo, thornily
Do We Ask About Face Lifts?
Dear Margo: I've been close to "Maggie" for 30 years, from the time we were young mothers in our 20s. We've always had a joke pledge that we would never do anything to our faces. I don't know what your position is, but we both thought it was unnecessary and phony. Well, lo and behold, Maggie, after some weeks away ("visiting a cousin"), returns looking, uh, quite refreshed. I mean, the wrinkles are gone, and so are the jowls. What would you suggest I say to open this discussion? — Longtime Friend
Dear Long: Nothing. In this case, her face speaks for her. Unless she brings up the subject, why cause her embarrassment? Often, women who don't wish to fess up will tell you they are just "well rested" or they've "changed their makeup." The kindest thing would be to play along, telling her the "rest" did wonders for her, and let her think you've bought her story. Where's the harm?
As for myself, I am not looking for reasons to go under general anesthesia, and I must say I'm interested to see how my face goes to hell on its own. As I've written before, facelifts are a dicey business. You can wind up looking like a Picasso, suffer nerve damage, or look pulled and shiny. Some faces are so changed that friends might think you're in the Witness Protection Program. 'Nuff said. — Margo, naturally
Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers' daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at www.creators.com/dearmargo. Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.