Miss Conduct

Advice: Mom died recently and I’m not ready for dad’s girlfriend living in my parents’ home

I’m still grieving, and it’s hard to imagine feeling comfortable over the holidays with a new woman in mom’s place.

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My mom died a year ago after a long struggle with cancer. For the past five months, Dad’s been dating a mutual friend of theirs whom I have never met. She’ll be moving in before the rest of the family arrives for the holiday. I’m weirded out at the thought of another woman occupying the same physical spaces I associate so strongly with my mother. I’m sure I’ll exhibit some odd and possibly inappropriate behavior. Should I “explain” myself when I meet her, or will that make things worse?

B.P. / Chicago

I’m so sorry for your loss and for the stress you must be experiencing right now. Sweet fancy Moses, that is some brutal timing! How will everyone not be constantly thinking of how the holidays were last year? Better you should have all gone on a cruise, or something.

The impulse to give your father’s new partner a heads-up is a courteous one, but don’t. If she’s an even remotely sensitive person, she already knows this holiday will be a difficult one for you and the rest of the family. (And if she isn’t, you don’t want to show her your soft underbelly.)


Address things as they come up. It’s good to warn people of your triggers, but in this case you don’t know what might set you off. All your poor hostess could do with advance information is be horribly nervous about upsetting you.

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And she probably is horribly nervous. Wouldn’t it feel odd to be in her shoes? It might be good for you to take a bit of a leadership role during the visit and suggest activities to change up your usual traditions as much as possible, so this holiday actually feels like Holiday 2017, and not like Holiday 2016 Minus Mom. And allow for a long solitary walk or two, or whatever it is you do for self-care, for yourself. May it be a gentle holiday for you and yours.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.

When should you speak up about a faux pas, and when should you stay quiet? Ask Miss Conduct at us on Twitter @BostonGlobeMag.