Ask Athena: All in the Family

This one’s hounded to death and the other is playing a name game. 


Dear Athena: I’m a 67 year old widower, in the process of writing out my will to include my two daughters and three grandchildren. The problem is, only one of my daughters has kids. The other has a pit bull named Macy that she treats like a child and refers to as my “grandpuppy.” Well, she is furious that I am not bequeathing part of my estate to Macy! She’s accusing me of favoring her sister because of my “biased belief” that the only way to be a parent is to create a human. I think my daughter is being ridiculous. Macy’s great – but she’s a dog! I resent any comparison to my grandchildren. Still, my daughter has been a treasure to me and I miss her dearly (we haven’t spoken since this issue divided us). – In the Dog House

A. Dear Dog House,

Full stop: this isn’t about the dog. Unless your daughter is having serious problems with reality, she knows that dogs and kids do not enjoy equal social & legal status in our society. But she’s asking you to make a special consideration in your will that her pet is as much an heir as her sister’s kids – or else. That kind of emotional blackmail speaks to deeper issues that probably started way before Macy was a gleam in her bitch’s eye.

Sounds like your daughter’s got a serious case of sibling rivalry, with you & Macy in the middle. When your daughter accuses you of “bias” for failing to accept Macy as a grandchild, she may be revealing her own insecurities about life choices she has made. She may worry that you don’t love her as much as her sister who is a mother, or she may feel her worth in the family is contingent on how many babies she has made to “carry on the line.”

Next time you talk to you daughter, don’t bring up the will. Focus on her. Let her know how much she means to you, tell her in no uncertain terms that she is loved and valued and respected in her own right, regardless of how many grandchildren — or “grandpuppies”– she gives you.

You should probably check in with your other daughter, too. She may be shaming her sister for remaining childless or otherwise flaunting her motherhood status, which could be adding to the tension. That’s a fire you want to put out asap!

You may want to do some soul-searching, too, and think about ways you might’ve unconsciously or inadvertently encouraged competition between your daughters (especially with regards to life goals and accomplishments). It’s never too late to apologize for past mistakes and learn healthier ways to relate with important people in our lives.

Whatever you do, don’t back down from your right to decide what to do with your own money. Neither of your daughters should feel they can dictate the terms of your estate. You should feel free to donate all your worldly possessions to charity, for instance, if you wish. Or your new guru, Athena (just sayin’…). One of the rewards of maternal success is the joy of sharing the wealth as you choose.

Meanwhile, dog treats are your friend! Stock up for Macy’s visits, and next time your daughter starts picking at old wounds, look in her eyes and say those three little words she’s probably dying for you to say, “Let’s walk Macy!” I bet the money you leave behind will fade in appeal compared to the love you share now.



Dear Athena: My ex-husband lets our 12 year-old daughter call his longtime girlfriend “Mama” — as in “Mama Angie” (her name is Angie) when he has custody. I feel this is disrespectful of me. She is not a mother or even a stepmother. How can I get my daughter to see that “Mom” is a special title for real family members only?   — There Can Be Only One

A: Dear Only One,

The most important person in this divorce is your daughter. Not you. Not your ex. Not Mama Angie. So let’s start with your daughter. We want her to be comfortable and happy. She’s the person calling Angie, “Mama Angie.”  They are not “letting” your daughter call her “Mama”  – your daughter wants to do this.

Clearly, Angie has a place in your daughter’s life as a long-time partner living as a family unit with your ex.  Let Angie have a title.  You are not being disrespected – indeed, it’s healthy for your daughter to express positive feelings for this adult in her life. “Mama Angie” takes nothing away from you. But you are still and will always be “Mom.”

You’re not a jealous and petty person, are you? Then don’t have this battle. Don’t make “Mama Angie” about your hurt feelings and instead focus on how great it is that your daughter has two maternal forces in her life.

Your ex and Angie have made a home where your daughter feels loved and comfortable. If you insist on causing a fuss over this, the only person who loses is you. You need to get over it.

– A

ABOUT ATHENA  When she’s not advising mortals, Athena spends her time on earth in NW Philly with her husband, two sons and a day job where she’s paid to tell important people what to do (naturally).  Send your questions to

About Athena 44 Articles
When she’s not advising mortals, Athena spends her time on earth in NW Philly with her husband, two sons and a day job where she’s paid to tell important people what to do (naturally). Send your questions to

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