DEAR AMY: When I married my wife, she had two kids and I had two kids. We became a very happy blended family of six and have been together for 12 years.
My wife's extended family has accepted this. They always include all four children for holidays and recognize all the kids' birthdays. They love all four kids equally, and it shows at family functions. You can just feel the love; it's very warm and welcoming.
My family has a problem and just can't accept our blended family. They exclude two of my children (my stepkids) on birthdays, graduations, Christmas, family functions, conversations, etc. It really hurts me to see my own family exclude my children.
My sister frequently tells my wife that her kids are not blood-related to us, and she rubs this in my wife's face a lot. The hurt in my wife's eyes is hard for me to handle.
I married my wife and want to protect her from all of this. It's hard to accept that, with all the things in this world that could hurt my wife, it's my family that hurts her the most.
I'm so ashamed. How can I get my family to understand how hurtful their actions are?
— Sad Dad
DEAR SAD: You have had more than a decade to train your family to be decent people and let them adjust to reality, which roughly translates to this: "My wife and I have four children. Deal with it."
You have not advocated for your wife and children. Now, rather than passively commenting on how sad your wife's eyes are when she is disrespected in your presence, I suggest you act a little less sad and get a lot more mad.
The next time your sister expresses this level of disrespect toward your wife and children, your reaction should be consistent: "This is unacceptable. Get your coat; it's time to go."
You owe your wife and all of your children an apology. Say: "My family members are ignorant and have been very rude to all of us. We are 100 percent family, and I'm going to try to do a better job of being a dad to all of you."
When you tolerate this sort of disrespect, your stepchildren aren't the only ones affected. This treatment places your biological children in a terrible spot with their siblings. I'm sure it makes them uncomfortable, embarrassed and quite sad.
DEAR AMY: I really don't like to drive, and owning a car seems to be more trouble than it's worth. My parents say I can't get a job unless I learn to drive.
Can you give me some advice about how to handle this situation?
— Lousy Driver
DEAR LOUSY: One way to handle this is to become a less lousy driver. The less lousy you are, the more confident you will be, the more enjoyable you will find this skill, and the safer you (and others) will be on the road.
The ability to safely operate a vehicle is important, even if you decide that ultimately you don't want to own a car or drive regularly. If you are able to drive, it will increase your employment options; it also means you would be able to drive someone (or yourself) in an emergency. Driving will also put you in good stead in the event that we all find ourselves in some sort of apocalyptic "Mad Max" future.
If you choose not to learn to drive, you can prove your independence by getting a job and figuring out a way to safely get yourself to and from it, without relying on your parents. They (and I) will admire your spunk.
DEAR AMY: The letter from "Shaking My Head" was familiar. This writer was bewildered at her stepson's choice to use college financial aid to pay off credit card debt.
I know of students who accept financial aid, show up for the first day of class, get an F for the semester and spend the rest of their time squandering this money.
— Also Shaking
DEAR SHAKING: These students are also squandering their future, and that's a shame.
Send questions via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Amy Dickinson's memoir, The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter and the Town that Raised Them (Hyperion), is available in bookstores.