Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Uncensored: Thanking the Stepmother

Every week, Danny Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe discuss a Prudie letter. This week: thanking the stepmother.

Nicole: I absolutely think you should write her a long and honest letter.

Sit on it for a bit, have your therapist read it, there’s no rush, but I think it would be really good for both of you.

Danny: having a therapist read it is a great idea

that’s where I come down too — it’s possible that she doesn’t want to hear from you, but with a letter she can decide whether or not to open it, read it, respond, etc


Nicole: If this woman put up with you at your worst, I am pretty sure she will be open to an apology, if she opens it. But yes, prepare yourself to never hear back and to have the act of SENDING the letter be your closure.


Don’t rely on her forgiveness or acknowledgement for that.
It’s not on her.

Danny: i think it would be wise to open with that, maybe?

Nicole: Yes! “You do not need to respond, this is something I have to do for myself to make amends.”

Danny: something like “i understand if you don’t respond/have feelings about this, please know i’m not asking you to forgive me, i just want to express both my gratitude and my sincere regret for how i treated you as a teenager”



that makes it clear right off the bat you’re not asking her for anything

Nicole: I think this is excellent

And I am so impressed w the LW for doing the work of rethinking her whole life


Danny: i think so too, and i think she might actually feel really moved and relieved and get a certain degree of healing if she were to learn that all her hard work eventually paid off

yes, that’s really hard

and just given the context of your upbringing — you think your dad probably abused her, your mom’s death, your family legacy of depression

Nicole: So much

Danny: i’m really impressed that you’re doing so well now and you’re able to think carefully about how you want to treat people and don’t just continue lashing out like you did when you were a kid


Nicole: Yes!!

Danny: and i do hope you can extend some of that grace towards yourself as a kid; yes, the way you treated her was cruel and you don’t want to act that way anymore, but you were also a teenager in a lot of pain and without a lot of models besides your stepmother

which doesn’t mean your behavior was okay at the time

Nicole: There’s so much unspoken work that brought her to this place.

Danny: for some reason i read this OP as male


Nicole: Oh, interesting! There’s nothing to indicate that’s not the case.

Danny: but no matter the gender my advice would be the same here

Nicole: Precisely

Danny: i think i made a gendered assumption about the kind of lashing-out


throwing things, etc

but teenage girls can definitely throw things!

Nicole: Sure can!

But honestly, this letter makes me so hopeful about the future.

Danny: me too

Nicole: I wish that these terrible things had not happened, the losses and the cruelties, but owning your role is everything and I feel confident the LW’s apology will not be full of weasel words.

Bc there are NONE here

Danny: yes! this sounds like SUCH a thoughtful and self-searching apology

this letter seems very honest and like you’re able to acknowledge fully the harm you caused without trying to minimize or excuse it

and that kind of apology is really powerful and can be healing

Nicole: I think it could be life changing for the recipient.

As well as our sender.

I wish them both all the happiness and luck.

Danny: me too

i just hope you keep doing and being well, letter writer

i’m really happy that your life now is so much more peaceful than it was then