Dear Margo: Unimaginable Destruction by a Mother

A mother refuses to take her child’s side after abuse. Margo Howard’s advice

Unimaginable Destruction by a Mother

Dear Margo: I recently learned that a cousin was an incest victim from age 10 until she graduated from high school. (It was her father.) When she told her mother, she reacted by blaming her! My cousin was so debilitated by the incest that she never went to college and never found a job. She lives on the opposite side of the country from her mother, who financially supports her. The mother calls her at least five times a day. She forbids her from letting any family members know about the incest and says, “Get over it. It happened more than 30 years ago.”

I have encouraged my cousin to have nothing to do with her mother, who stayed with the father, by the way, and never turned him in to the authorities, never mind making him go to therapy. He has since died. It is very difficult for me to have a relationship with this cousin, who continues to say her mother is “great” despite letting the incest happen, demanding it be kept secret and telling her to get over it.

Additionally, my cousin has forbidden me to tell anyone for fear of my aunt cutting off funds. I feel like I am carrying a very heavy burden. Any advice for me? — Elephant on my Shoulder

Dear El: This truly sad situation is a tragic blend of damage, denial, need, ambivalence, blackmail and dependency. The mother sounds evil, and the daughter seems destroyed. The toxicity inherent in this drama is heartbreaking.

As for your questions: Because the molester is dead, there is no need to warn anyone, hence there is no need to breeze it around. The (financial) consequences would be dire for your emotionally crippled cousin. It is pathetic and revolting that this young woman needs to tell herself — and you — about her “great mother,” but that’s what’s going on. Don’t stop talking with her, and suggest she not answer her phone quite so often.

The only other constructive thing you could do is encourage her to see a cognitive therapist to try to salvage a life. If the wretched mother’s funds won’t support that, tell her there is free and low-coast help that can be located — Margo, unhappily

Special Requests

Dear Margo: I need your help. This year I developed non-celiac gluten intolerance and have found a great deal of comfort from completely avoiding gluten. It is a challenging diet, and I find that eating meals I prepare myself is the easiest.

However, this summer one of my very best friends will be getting married in Chicago. In addition to attending a reception, there also will be a rehearsal dinner and a Sunday morning brunch. As I’m sure you can imagine, I am in a sticky situation. My friend already has a lot on her plate. How do I manage to get meals that are gluten-free? Is it appropriate to ask for a special accommodation from my friend and offer to pay for whatever extra costs it incurs, or should I just plan on packing gluten-free food bars in my purse and munching in the restroom? — Hopefully Eating Gluten-Free

Dear Hope: If all the wedding events are in event spaces, which is my guess, it is easy to get a substitute meal. It is not asking too much of the bride to get this taken care of. (And I’ll bet you’re not the only one.) These days, restaurants ask who has an allergy to what, many people eat vegan or vegetarian fare and others keep kosher. There is no need to offer to pay, and certainly no reason to eat food bars in the ladies room! — Margo, unselfconsciously

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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74 Responses so far.

  1. avatar David Bolton says:

    LW1: If I were you, I would keep a little secret of my own—I’d approach the mother and tell her that if she doesn’t want her exceptionally dirty laundry spread throughout the rest of the family, she’d better pony up some funds for your cousin to get some therapy, post-haste. And if she didn’t, I’d make damned sure she led the most miserable life possible for the remaining time she was alive.

    LW2: “I’m vegetarian” is a lot easier to comprehend and… digest… than “non-celiac gluten intolerant.” I would be inclined to think the wedding caterers can easily supply you with fish and/or a veggie plate for the day, since partial or complete vegetarians are very common—just keep some bars in your purse just in case.

    • avatar B.eadle says:

      Gluten is in more foods than you might think…including a lot of sauces. Getting a vegetarian meal does not mean that it would be gluten free. Fish, since it was mentioned, is often dredged in flour before cooking.

      I think she can tell the bride her issue and ask for the name of the establishments where the events are to be held. She can then simply call them herself and ask for a gluten free meal. That saves the bride any extra work.

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        I know what gluten is—my point is that she’s writing to Margo to ask how to simplify possible issues with asking for a gluten-free meal. It’s one thing to ask at a restaurant, and even then it’s sometimes very difficult to obtain gluten-free options. Asking during something that is prone to having a limited menu, such as a wedding—is likely going to be even harder. That’s why I am suggesting that she put her needs into a context that the caterers are likely prepared for, and she can always specify “no sauces” or “nothing with flour.” It’s one day she has to manage to get through.

        • avatar B.eadle says:

          9 times out of 10 asking for vegetarian will get you a pasta dish. So, when that happens and she looks down and says – I can’t eat this – now they are going to have to scramble. Why all the mystery? Just tell the truth about it. Instead of trying to make things “easier” by beating around the bush about it, she should just be honest. I live in a wee little town and even we have gluten free options at our restaurants. As long as she offers to call herself what does the bride care? It isn’t any extra work for her.

        • avatar toni says:

          David B I’m usually so down w your brilliant answers. Would you recommend the same dancing about and obfuscation if the LW had a seafood allergy?
          It sounds like you dont believe gluten is an allergy in the same fashion. You don’t want to be sitting within a hundred ft of that poor LW after her veggie bowl of pasta…

      • avatar Pinky35 says:

        When I helped with a menu for our office party, there were many people with special allergies. Everyone who had problems came to me and asked for a special meal. The restaurant was VERY accommodating to their needs and they were able to omit sauces and so forth for people with gluten allergies for no extra cost. I have a lactose intolerance issue, myself. So, I ordered a special salad with no cheese. It’s not hard to do. All the bride needs to do is ask. It is up to the guest to tell the host of his/her special needs, though. And the Bride should be the one to call the restaurant, or if the bride has anyone helping her with arrangements, she can pass along the information to that person. No reason for the guest to call the restaurant herself. And the guest shouldn’t feel guilty for asking for a special meal, either.

    • avatar etiennewestwind says:

      Aside from flour often being the sauce thickener of choice, most vegetarians consider fish meat.

      • avatar Koka Miri says:

        People who eat fish are not vegetarian! Please educate yourself.

        • avatar etiennewestwind says:

          Exactly my point.

        • avatar Koka Miri says:

          …Sorry, I misread your comment and can’t seem to delete mine. Agreed, etienne – thank you for pointing that out! It’s actually harder to make something vegetarian than gluten free. There’s a whole wall in most grocery stores for gluten-free, but vegetarian products are mixed in everywhere and most soups have fish, chicken or beef broth, even when they look veggie safe.

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            Read the ingredients, or make fresh. We eat strictly vegetarian (we are NOT vegetarian, but it’s healthy, why not?) at least three times a week. Look in the world foods section, especially Middle Eastern and Jewish. Or find a a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean Market. Lots of strictly vegetarian Also, invest in a crockpot/slow cooker and go wild with legumes, garlic, onions, tomatoes, rice, spices and your blender.

            Also, Kitchen Basics makes a vegetable broth that is vegan, gluten and msg free, and is delicious. I use it as a base for making wild rice, along with olive oil, peppers, onions, garlic, saffron, all sorts of good stuff. Kitchen Basics has a website, check them out, they are a very health and allergy conscious company.

          • avatar toni says:

            Great answer BB!

          • avatar etiennewestwind says:

            Yes, WOW needs to at the least let people edit their comments. Especially sense my phone won’t let me se the whole field I’m typing in.

            Reading labels and asking at resturaunts is critical. People who don’t have issues with eating meat, don’t stop to think about things that don’t look like chunks of animal muscle.

          • avatar etiennewestwind says:

            *Since my phone won’t let me see…*

        • avatar Briana Baran says:

          I know a lot of people who are vegetarians. Some eat fish, dairy and eggs. Some leave off the fish, but not the dairy or eggs, some leave off the eggs and fish, but not the dairy, and some subsist only on plant life. The latter usually refer to themselves as “vegan”. I am quite educated, thanks, and the terminology is coming from people whose preferences and definitions are decades-long.

          In any case, being vegetarian or vegan is a CHOICE, not the result of allergies or an intolerance, and is, somewhat peculiarly, treated with more respect then the physiological abnormalities that can actually KILL people. As it happens, I am not an anything when it comes to food, though I insist on eating meat from humanely, free-range, naturally raised (and I do know what that entails, thanks) animals, who are slaughtered by actual halal or kosher butchers (we even get out pork from a facility at which the butcher has been trained in this methodology, as well as the treyf cuts of beef and lamb), and sustainable fish sources. If we’re anything, it’s extraordinarily healthy, according to our doctors.

          I do have one peculiarity. My choice. I hope everyone will understand. I have a thing about chickens. I do NOT eat chicken except under duress. Chickens are ugly. They eat their own feces, regularly. They will kill each other in wild, frenzied mobs over a spot of blood. They are stupid, flap, cackle, and have nasty, beady eyes, and will drown because they don’t have the sense to come in out of the rain. They stink horribly. And. They. Taste. Bad. And have weird tubes and things in stuff I’m supposed to eat. Urgh. Blech. I will only eat eggs…and I wash the shells before I crack them.

          I loathe turkey, duck, squabs and fear Thanksgiving because I’m faced with this grotesque pinkish monstrosity every year. Don’t even talk about…giblets.


          • avatar etiennewestwind says:

            I’d argue that icthyovegetarianism is actually semi-vegetarianism. (Restricted amounts of meat or only certain kinds of meat.) I realize certain Christian sects have established the notion that fish aren’ meat, but it’s eating fish muscles just as eating beef is eating cattle muscles. Most vegetarians made their choice for philosophical reasons against killing animals, which usually means they consider fish meat. Most resturants (at least the ones I’ve been to) get that. Ergo, asking for vegetarian is unlikely to net you a plate of fish. So that point stands.

            You do have to watch out for places that think it’s okay to fix the veggies with beef or chicken broth though.

            As serious conditions not getting taken seriously… food allergies seem to be faced with a strage mix of disbelief of how serious they can be, and people who mistakenly atribute some minor aliment to a food allergy. People then think that others are being dramatic.

          • avatar Hellster says:

            I always thought that a person who would eat plants, eggs, and cheese was called a Lacto-Ovo-Vegetarian. A person who eats only plants and products made from plants, like pasta, and nothing that had parents is a Vegetarian. I was informed that a Vegan does not even use any kind of animal product (even wool, which does not involve killing the animal). Is that pretty much the sum of it, or are there other variants?

          • avatar etiennewestwind says:

            I had a grade school social studies text that broke vegetarianism up into five categories if I recall correctly. Semi-vegetarianism, which isn’t vegetarianism so much as restricted meat types and/or intake over the cultural norms. Ichtyovegetarianism, which is vegetation and fish. Maybe eggs and cheese too. The lacto-ovovegtarianism you mentioned. Something I can’t remember. And veganism, though I’m not entirely sure the text called it veganism…

            Most vegetarians I know would just call themselves vegetarian if they eat eggs or dairy (and specify those were okay) or vegan if they don’t eat any animal products. Most of the restaurants around here that have vegetarian items design when with lacto-ovovegetarianism in mind.

            Of course, human nature being what it is, new variants are always cropping up.

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            Icthyovegetarianism? Lacto-Ovo-vegetarianism? Look, if you don’t want to eat anything that came from an animal of ANY kind, just tell me you’re a vegetarian, and I will happily fix you a meal that contains absolutely nothing that was ever part of anything that could even loosely be defined as being part of the Animal Kingdom. This will include such things as oysters, sea urchins, shrimp, etc., eggs, cheese, milk, and so on. I treat vegetarianism as a single philosophy…and if multiple individuals claiming to adhere to this want to come to my house for dinner, but separate themselves by denominational, no-animal-product dogma, they’re going to have to provide their own food, because I’m not putting just fish in one meal, and eggs and milk in another…and hiding my leather couches in order not to cause trauma, and purchasing all new kitchen utensils because some animal product MIGHT have touched the existing stuff and would cause projectile vomiting for another.

            I also know people who declare as vegan who wear wool of all sorts (alpaca, vicuna, angora [goat]), so….

            I love animals. I truly do. I work hard for actual animal rights. And I have a question: Why do so many so-called vegetarians (no meat, including fish, eggs or dairy) wear leather goods? I’ve asked the question dozens of times, and the only answer I get is rank indignation, yet…didn’t that leather come from an ANIMAL?

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            I also wonder about cockroaches (I mean allowing them to contaminate your food and potentially sicken or even kill you and your kids), scabies, bedbugs, amoebas who cause dysentery and devour neurological tissue and cause agonizing death, and bacteria. They are animals. Do the truly faithful among vegans kill them?

          • avatar impska says:

            This year has been awful for ants. A local lady wrote a column for the newspaper about her struggles with being vegan and managing pest control.

            She did not do any pest control whatsoever. Her kitchen was infested with ants. Ultimately, it sounded like she killed more ants every day when she did the dishes than if she’d just eliminated their initial trails.

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            O, no, that’s just so gross. I do NOT like ants. We live in Houston, bug central. We use environmentally safe pesticide, which means we still get…spiders. I am unilaterally seriously allergic to all varieties of spider venom. And outside we have fire ants, which I am also allergic to, and intensely dislike.

            What would that woman do if she got German roaches (no slur intended, it’s what they’re actually called)? They carry dozens of diseases, including salmonella, ptomaine, e coli, and anything picked up in feces or garbage or decaying matter, and the dust from their droppings can cause severe asthma, bronchitis and skin conditions. They can infest a house in the 100’s of thousands, and make the inhabitants desperately ill, and the plant based toxins do NOT work on them. Would she just let them contaminate her food and every surface and her air ducts?

            I just can’t go with that, and we catch and release a lot of insects, frogs, geckos and lizards. We’re decent, we don’t kill snakes (if they’re small I just relocate them to the bayous, even copperheads. They eat rats). But roaches are nothing to leave to multiply.

          • avatar etiennewestwind says:

            Well, some people adopt a vegetarian diet because they believe it will be healthier. I wouldn’t expect them to have issues with wearing dead animals.

            I once knew vegetarians who had no problem chopping up raw meat–as long as it was for carnivorous animals, in this case injured raptors rehabilitating at a bird sanctuary.

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            Therein lies the problem, as homo sapiens is an omnivorous species (abundantly substantiated by our dentition and anthropological evidence) that is well equipped to eat meat. I am not a vegetarian, though we consume very little mammalian meat or poultry (see objections to chicken) by choice for health reasons. However, I have never met a vegetarian who declared as such because of health reasons, and have, in fact, known a large number of self-described vegetarians who were obese (pasta, potatoes, white rice and most bread is full of carbohydrates, and excessive consumption of fruit can ruin a person because of the high sugar content, as can certain nuts), suffered from high cholesterol (cheese and eggs), or were hypertensive (too much salt). Almost every self-proclaimed, nothing-with-parents-or-a-face vegetarian I have known has worn leather, at least as a wallet or shoes. I think that’s very ironic.

            I also find it very ironic that a vegetarian would accept that a raptor is an animal that requires meat for its diet…but cannot accept that humans are also animals, and that meat, animal products, are a natural part of our diet too. It’s a bit like the PETA condundrum: if no one keeps animals as pets, or as domestic animals (ie: horses), who is going to care for these animals that are no longer capable of surviving on their own in the wild?

            I guess we’re supposed to be elevated. Right.

          • avatar sueb1997 says:

            I had a friend make a compelling argument to me that humans are NOT meant to be omnivores, but vegetarians.  He looked not at the teeth but at our intestines.  Vegetarians have long intestines for maximum nutrient extraction from our food.  Carnivores have short intestines in order to process meat before it begins to putrefy and cause problems.  There is plenty of evidence that human who eat meat have (generally speaking, with some exceptions, of course) more of these kinds of digestive and nutritional problems than non-meat eaters.

            And, I have dear friends who do raptor rehabilitation, and who are themselves vegetarians.  But they have no problem cutting up meat for their raptors who no one disputes are meat eaters.

          • avatar sueb1997 says:

            oops, hit send before I added the obvious missing statement, that humans have long intestines, not the short kind designed for meat…

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            I didn’t say that homo sapiens relied soley on meat, but that we are equipped quite nicely to use it as a valid (and necessary, read up on how many vegetarian types are seriously deficient in protein, particularly children, teens and young adults) part of a balanced diet. We are a ***hunter***-gatherer species, with teeth suitable both for tearing and rending meat (cuspids and bicuspids, and sharp incisors) and grinding vegetable and grain matter (molars). We are quite capable of digesting meat, and we lack the intestinal design of most strictly vegetarian species. We are much closer to pigs and bears (both omnivores). In fact, pigs make wonderful anatomical facsimiles of humans for dissection, and in the wild they will eat meat, roots, vegetables and fruit, and most bears have identical nutritional needs to humans (polar bears are an exception).

            You missed my point about the raptors, which was that vegetarians who are such due to an objection to humans eating other animals are forgetting that humans are animals. This would be ironic if these same righteous protectors of beating hearts can accept “lower animals” eating, well, other animals. If they truly don’t accept animals eating other animals, then feed your raptors soy “meat”. Or let them hunt on their own, which would be, ahem, “natural”. Humans hunted for millennia, literally, before people became anti-vivisectionist, and raised food animals as well. The archaeological and anthropological evidence is empirical proof of that, so it seems as ***natural*** for humans to eat meat as it does for raptors, crocodilians, lupines, canines, felines, ursines and porcines.

          • avatar Lym BO says:

            Interesting. One might also say we are able to eat either, which increases our ability to survive.

            There is also a huge variability in digestion amongst humans. My spouse & kids digest & eliminate in 8-12 hours. I know plenty of folks who only eliminate every few days or once a week regardless of their diet.

          • avatar Lila says:

            Actually there is also physiological evidence that we evolved to eat meat. Last year the NYT wrote:

            “In its natural form, B12 is present in significant amounts only in animal foods, most prominently in liver (83 micrograms in a 3.5-ounce serving). Good food sources include other red meats, turkey, fish and shellfish. Lesser amounts of the vitamin are present in dairy products, eggs and chicken.

            Natural plant sources are meager at best in B12, and the vitamin is poorly absorbed from them. Many strict vegetarians and all vegans, as well as infants they breast-feed, must consume supplements or fortified breakfast cereals to get adequate amounts. ”

            Google “B12 supplements” and a lot of vegan / vegetarian advice pops up saying the same thing: plants are not a good source, so eat fortified cereal or take supplements.

            Well, when you have to eat artificial supplements to stay healthy, obviously something is missing!

          • avatar NYCGirl says:

            No leather for this vegetarian…

          • avatar jabbeycat says:

            “As serious conditions not getting taken seriously… food allergies seem to be faced with a strage mix of disbelief of how serious they can be, and people who mistakenly atribute some minor aliment to a food allergy. People then think that others are being dramatic.” – This sums up most of my adult life. Often people think I’m being dramatic when I say I can’t eat something because I am allergic to it. It’s not in my head, if I eat some things, I will go into shock and if I don’t have access to my EpiPen and prompt medical attention I will die. People take my brother’s choice to be a vegetation more seriously than my allergies (although he doesn’t, nor does my husband). The flip side of that is people like my husband who don’t take my brother’s choice not to eat meat seriously because it is a choice.

            LW2, talk to the bride, I’m sure the last thing she wants it for you to have a problem. I can relate to how you feel, because I have more than once decided not to attend an event simply because it’s too much hassle to deal with the food and my allergies. For times not attending isn’t an option, I have simply spoken to the host and most of the time, been accommodated. It isn’t at all difficult for the places she’s having the events to accommodate your food needs so long as they know in advance. Sometimes, if you just talk to someone, it turns out to be a really simple fix.

          • avatar Lila says:

            BB, your chicken paragraph almost made me spew my soda out of my nose. I’m sending you a truckload of rubber chickens, and an invitation to the National 4-H Poultry and Egg Conference