Dear Margo: What To Do About "Old" Kids

My girlfriend spends time with her ex and his kids, what should I do? Margo Howard’s advice

What To Do About “Old” Kids

Dear Margo: My girlfriend was in one other serious relationship aside from ours. It lasted three years and ended three years before ours began. She keeps in touch with the ex because they work together a few days a week, and also my girlfriend was close to the ex’s three young children. (They all lived together for most of the three years.) While they don’t spend time together outside of work, once every few months she attends some of the kids’ events (school plays, graduations, soccer games, etc.). I’m not threatened by this, because I have no doubts about the innocent nature of these interactions. Also, the ex is established in a new, seemingly serious relationship.

The other day, my girlfriend wanted to go to a school awards ceremony for one of the kids and wanted me to go with her and then to dinner with everyone afterward. I felt uncomfortable with this (and also had no interest), so I declined, which upset her. She thinks it’s unfair that I would make her “compartmentalize” her life by not integrating myself into this other group.

I want to be supportive, but I don’t want to hang out like a big happy family. We’re hoping to start our own family after getting married, and I honestly would prefer that the kids from the past relationship were out of the picture (if it were up to me). These are not her kids, she has no financial or legal ties to them, and honestly, I wouldn’t expect that a few years in a surrogate parent role would entail an ongoing lifelong relationship. What do you think? — Wanting a Clean Slate

Dear Want: My opinion is that your girlfriend is a lovely human being to continue the friendship with the kids, especially because children feel loss and abandonment in a different way than adults do, and she clearly cares for them. I also think she should accede to your wishes about not wanting to be one big happy blended family. If you felt differently, that would be fine, but you don’t, so I think a workable compromise is that she continues as she has with “the old kids,” but that she do it on her own. — Margo, compassionately

The Hostess and the Shoes

Dear Margo: What is the best way to respond to hostesses who insist I remove my shoes upon entering their homes? My husband is significantly taller than I am, so I wear high heels most of the time, and certainly always for an evening out. Therefore, my pants are hemmed at an appropriate length for heels. When I am asked to remove those heels, I am then stepping on my pants. When I wear skirts, I am standing in my pantyhose with cold feet, anticipating a snag. I take great care to coordinate a full outfit, including accessories and shoes. How can I tell a hostess that I prefer to keep on my shoes? — Not a Barefoot Kind of Girl

Dear Not: You raise an interesting question. Usually, the remove-your-shoes girls have white carpets or are trying to live like the Japanese. My guess is that if you, like Bartleby the Scrivener, said, “I’d prefer not to,” you would get pushback … something on the order of, “But it’s a rule of the house.” I wonder whether anyone has ever done that and been told to leave. When you mention “hostesses,” are you telling me you have more than one friend who tries to relieve you of your shoes at a party? If you really can’t stand it, do not accept those invitations. Or … always wear a skirt, and put a pair of socks in your purse. — Margo, practically

* * *

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.


Every Thursday and Friday, you can find “Dear Margo” and her latest words of wisdom on wowOwow

Click here to follow Margo on Twitter

107 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Kate Olsen says:

    LW1 – I am interested in how the ex’s new woman is responding to his ex who is not the mother of his children being so involved with them.  This is an interesting situation.  I would bow out now that the ex has a new woman.  but that is just me. 

    LW2 – If your friends have hard wood floors, I can see why they would not want high heels putting little divits or scratches in it.  My brother had new carpet installed and insisted everyone take off their shoes or enter via the back door and stay in the kitchen which was tiled.  His carpet was still like new when he sold the house 10 years later.  Take a pair of socks the color of your outfit with you to save your panty hose.  As Margo mentioned, if you know the rules and do not like them, do not accept the invitation.  I have this rule and so do many of my friends, especially in winter when sand and salt from sidewalks get on everyones shoes.  Saves on the mess and damage to any flooring. 

    • avatar Anais P says:

      If Americans realized just how much dirt they tracked in on their shoes, they would ALL follow the lead of Asians and take off their shoes in the house! Now that LW2 knows the custom of the house, she can take along soft slippers.
      As for LW1, it is too bad he cannot be more sympathetic to the needs of these children. I have heard from children of divorce whose parents either married or hooked up with others for enough time to form emotional attachments that are subsequently severed when the adults break up. It is admirable of the LW’s girlfriend that she wishes to continue the attachment to children who are not hers but who obviously still look up to her and want her to continue in their lives. Children need as many caring adults as possible in their lives. It would be ideal if the LW can try to get over his short-sightedness and join the group sometime in the future.

    • avatar j d says:

      Another option if she doesn’t want socks are those nice little fold up “ballet flats” that are pretty much like slippers – could be coordinated with the outfit, inexpensive, and they even come with a little bag for your purse.

      • avatar R Scott says:

        But wouldn’t they have to be thrown out after she wears them once? They would be contaminated wouldn’t they?

        • avatar Lila says:

          Not so much, if she only wears them on clean floors. And the little bag keeps any dirt or “yuck factor” at bay when you put them back in your purse.

          • avatar j d says:

            Yep! Like “gym shoes” we had as kids, indoor slippers… or anyone pantyhose/socks worn at any other home prior to arriving as a guest.

        • avatar Nikki Sunset says:

          No, these are not throw away cotton slippers, these are little fold up ballet flats, re-usable forever. Anyway, what do you think would contaminate the slippers in a home?
          BTW I don’t wear shoes in my house and while I don’t ask my guests to remove theirs they almost always offer to when they see we are barefoot or in socks.

  2. avatar Patti Spencer says:

    For LW #2 – I have family that does the same thing. I am the type that would prefer to go with out shoes all the time – personally hate the things! But my mom is a different story – she always has to have something on her feet. She makes life easy on herself and takes her slippers with her. Mind you, they are in good shape, so there isn’t the embarrassing issue of filler falling out. I agree with Margo here – when you accept these invitations, go with a skirt or dress – and take your slippers. Your feet will stay warm, your hose will be kept in good shape and you don’t have to bend over a lot to take off/put on something.

    • avatar Pdr de says:

      I used to be the “Barefoot Contessa” when I was younger – never wore shoes in the house. I spent the first 8 years of my life on a farm with a big cinder driveway (yes, it was 100 years ago) and the soles of my feet were so tough I could walk across that wide expanse barefooted. But as I reached my middle 60’s, I noticed a change in the “padding” in the bottom of my feet, there was less flesh/sole and I was walking on bone which became very painful. Thus except where the flooring is thick carpeting, I can no longer go barefooted and must wear slippers. I’ve spoken with other women in their 60’s and 70’s and many complain of the same problem. There are perfectly comfortable snuggies which can be slipped into one’s purse and put on in such a situation. Frankly, where a hostess requests that both men and women remove their shoes at the door, it would be nice if they had a supply of men and women’s snuggies for them to wear so their feet are warm. Easy enough to throw them in the washing machine after each party/dinner. I have not worn high heels since I was in my 40’s so have never dealt with the extra length of one’s slacks having to be longer to accommodate heels, but suggest that this lady have a couple of pairs of pants and skirts that work with flats and wear them on the occasions she is going to the home of someone who she knows will request that she remove her shoes so she isn’t walking on the cuffs of her slacks. I imagine many people reading her letter wish that was their biggest problem.

  3. avatar olivepoetry says:

    Also, LW2 could coordinate outifts that allow her to go sans shoe when she knows this is a house policy.

  4. avatar impska says:

    LW2: I’m sorry, but there is no polite way to refuse to take off your shoes once a host politely asks you to remove them. Will they immediately throw things at you and demand that you leave, while cursing you and yours – no. But they will think you are rude. Other guests will notice and also think you’re rude.

    Ultimately, you will do less damage to your pantyhose and long pants by stepping on them for a night than your heels will do to someone’s floors. And not just heels – shoes are dirty. They leave dirty marks on carpet too. Your hostess then has to get down and scrub them, or hire someone to clean them after a party because you were afraid of looking short next to your husband.

    I’m sorry, but your concerns about how you’ll look when you take off your shoes are kind of petty. No one is going to ask you to take off your shoes at a formal event. This will only ever happen at someone’s home, where unfortunately, there is no red carpet waiting for you.

    Keep a spare pair of indoor-only flats in the car, or slippers, or socks. And if you know that you’re going to someone’s home, arrange your outfit so that it suits the more casual atmosphere. It’s not like anyone ambushes you as you’re leaving your house and screams “Surprise! You thought you were going to a dinner at the White House, but actually my house is just white! Take off your shoes!”

    • avatar LuckySeven says:

      Sure there is: No, sorry, I didn’t bring slippers/another pair of shoes to protect my feet. I wish you had told me when you invited me that this was a house policy so I could have dressed accordingly.

      If you don’t want shoes on your floors, it is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to tell people so when you invite them, so you don’t bait-and-switch their choice of clothing.

      • avatar impska says:

        I disagree. When you go to someone else’s house, you follow the house rules. And as adults, we’re old enough and mature enough to sacrifice fashion for the sake of good manners for a short time. We’re old enough to be able to predict that it’s possible that we may need to remove our shoes at someone’s house.

        If it’s a rule that you would expect a five year old to follow, then, as adults, we also should follow it.

        This is like asking: Why do I need to thank someone for a gift that I don’t like? (Afterall, it’s the gift giver’s responsibility to know you well enough to choose an appropriate gift). And yet, we tell a five year old to smile for grandma.

        Why do I need to thank someone for dinner, when the dinner was awful? (When you invite me to your house, you are responsible for serving a decent meal!) And yet we tell a five year old to do their best to eat it and say thank you.

        Seriously – if your mom covered the topic when you were five years old, then the rule still applies!

        • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

          House rules are that we are nudists! Don’t be rude.

        • avatar dcarpend says:

          It’s not just fashion, but safety, too. Have you never cut your foot stepping on something? Furthermore, I simply dislike going barefoot; I put on shoes as soon as I get up in the morning, and wear them until I go to bed at night. If I had a friend who insisted I go barefoot at their house, I’d suggest we get together elsewhere.

  5. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:  I think Margo’s advice is spot on asa good compromise which respects both of your feelings about the issue.  I also think that as time goes on, and if you marry and have your own family, and as her ex’s chidren get older and build their own lives, your girlfriend will be less involved with their daily lives and just be distantly friendly with them.  As someone pointed out, the ex’s new girlfriend, may have an opinion about this too which will limit your gf’s contact with the group.  But, if not, that is fine too. 

    LW#2:  I always thought that  people (other than Japanese and others for which it is a cultural thing) who asked guests to take of their shoes at the door were fanatically anal and should not have guests if they couldn’t stand the wear on their precious carpets.  However, on the few occasions I was asked to take off shoes, I did without much more thought to it. I go barefoot at home except when its cold and I wear slippers, and haven’t worn heels since 1988 save for the occasional wedding and funeral and very formal affair so it was really not a big deal for me to go without shoes.   

    Then, I was watching one of my judge shows one day.  A guest had refused to take off her very high stiletto heels in a friend’s home and was being sued by the (now ex) friend because her shoes had left serious indentations and scratches on the very expensive hardwoods.  The entire floor had to be replaced in parts, or  resanded and refinished in others, depending on how deep the grooves were.  This gave me a new perspective on the issue.  Todays high heels are not the sedate pumps of old but can be very high, very thin, spikes.  You wouldn’t wear spike shoes on your friend’s carpet or hardwoods would you?   Good hardwoods cost thousands of dollars and carpets are not cheap either.  Respect your hosts wishes, making adjustments in your dress or stockings to make yourself comfortable, or stay home.   

    • avatar shelee says:

      I have hosted family parties at my home for years. For many of those years I found myself having to re-sweep the floors and carpets after my guests had left because of dirty shoes. The hardwood, tile floors and rugs were filthy. People can inadvertently bring in all sorts of nasty things on their shoes including oil, lawn pesticides, sticky spilled beverages and animal waste (not to mention dirt, leaves and mud). I have been asking friends and family to remove their shoes for a few years now and they don’t seem to mind. I have new, clean slipper socks available for all guests, though they are rarely used. My floors have never looked nicer and it’s much less work for me. I personally can’t see why people would wear shoes inside a family home.

    • avatar Lila says:

      Katharine, yep, stiletto heels have such a tiny area supporting one’s weight that they commonly exert 1500, 2000, 2500 PSI and more.

      The stilettos of the 1950s and 1960s also did a lot of damage in public buildings in Washington DC. During my time in the Pentagon, renovations were not yet complete and there were still a few hallways with the old composition tiles – buffed to an incredible shine, but so pitted that they looked like an orange peel, or as if they had serious acne scarring. Some wood floors still exist in other buildings, that look the same way.

    • avatar dcarpend says:

      Clearly you don’t remember the shoes of the fifties and sixties. Spike heels were the rule of the day, and yes, I have seen comments in old housekeeping books about the possibility of them dimpling floors.

  6. avatar ch says:


    I also think the girlfriend is a lovely person who understands children. I sincerely hope the letter writer has made his views about children (his/theirs) known, because I forsee problems ahead. That set up some “red” flags… well, at least “yellow”.


    Removing shoes in Japan, is a custom based not on culture, but on practicality of a very dense population in a small environment trying to keep their homes clean and free of diseases, given that in many small houses, the living room floor is also the place where they sleep on futons (rolled out mattresses) on top of mats.

    It is often customary there, for the small entryway where everyone removes their shoes to contain guest slippers. Some of them are adorably cute and designed to match their frequent friend’s personalities.

    As someone who once tried to sell a house with wood floors, watching in horror as the visiting real estate agent minced her way through the entire house leaving stilleto-divets behind, I understand the value issue of removing shoes.

    As someone who has an entire family with very severe allergies, every piece of grass, fertilizer, etcetera that comes in on shoes leaves something behind that will cause reactions and needs to be cleaned as soon as possible.

    Attending a party where you don’t know the hotess, I can understand being taken aback. If it’s someone known, and it’s a repeat visit, come prepared.

    – 7 inches shorter than husband and LOVES wearing slippers.

    • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

      I am not sure what red flags his view has set up, but I think that you are exaggerating it.  He has indicated that he wants to start a family with her in the future.  He did not say anything bad about her relationship with the kids, just that he does not want to be involved and if he had the choice, which is implicit in his letter that he knows that he does not, she would not be involved.

  7. avatar Obediah Fults says:

    People walk through (or step on) spit, animal waste, and I don’t want to know what else. If they were to wear their shoes inside my house (tracking everything with them), I feel like they might as well just spit on my floor! It’s disgusting and I won’t allow it. Please bring a pair of slippers if you’re coming to visit me.

    • avatar John Lee says:

      Well said.  I feel like they might as well sh!t on my floor, or at least, have their dog sh!t on it.

      But then I’m Asian, so I’m lucky that I can to play the race card when it comes to that and people will nod and try not to offend me.

      • avatar Lila says:

        Obediah, you got that right! I spent a few months in Moscow where you constantly see all kinds of spit, urine, gum, and God-knows-what on the sidewalks. They are pretty good about sweeping up trash, but that other stuff doesn’t sweep so well. Had I dropped a glove on the ground there, I would have just walked away and left it, it was that nasty.

        Every Russian apartment I visited had the shoes-off rule, and many of them had a collection of variously-sized “loaner” slippers by the door. I also liked shelee’s idea of having clean slipper socks available for her guests.

  8. avatar Barbara says:

    I’m in the minority for LW#2. I think people now care more about their show-off houses than people. The horror of having to sweep or vacuum after having guests!! I have kids, dogs, lots of friends, hardwood floors and light carpeting. In this day most people drive everywhere so the only walking outside they do is the few steps to your door. I have never had all those horrible dents in my hardwood floors everyone seems so concerned about. (Why would you install such soft wood that you cannot walk on it?) I get my carpets cleaned once a year. My house looks great and everyone loves to congregate here – perhaps because I am a relaxed and casual hostess. I love having friends and family over and really can’t be concerned about a few bits of dirt.
    That said, there is no polite way to disregard a request to remove your shoes at someone else’s house. I do agree that if you know the rules, go prepared with the appropriate clothes and socks or slippers.
    But for everyone, get a grip! You aren’t going to catch some deadly disease because someone walked through your house in a pair of shoes.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      Mmmm…I don’t have a “show-off house”. We have extremely nice vinyl tile that everyone initially thinks is stone or ceramic, no carpet or wood, and furniture that is meant to be comfortable. We also have a dozen felines and a teenage son…and live across from an elementary school with a playground, which means that we get a lot of dust in our house.

      While I am not a germ-a-phobe, and my OCD does not revolve around cleaning obsessions, my house is swept or vacuumed everyday (as I said, dust and numerous cats), and there is no odor of cat pee. When my son’s friends come over, they just automatically take off their shoes at the door. So do my friends. In our area, service and repair people put paper booties over their boots or shoes, and lay down mats if the work will be messy (I don’t live in one of the million-dollar “villages”, our home was purchased for about $85,000 and is very modest). These are just courtesy issues. I ask people if they’d prefer if I removed my shoes when I enter their homes, and I always get a favorable reaction.

      I have been told by my ENT and allergist that carpets are one of the most disgusting things to have in your home. Cleaning them once a year isn’t enough…according to both of them (and neither is a “clean freak” sort of doctor. On the contrary, both believe in exposing children to bacteria and allergens to build up tolerance and immunity) carpets should be steam cleaned at least twice a year in an average home. Trailing outside dirt, which contains enormous quantities of fecal matter and fungal spores, onto carpet is a very bad thing. It can quickly make a house “sick”. That is no petty matter.

      I am neither Japanese or Canadian, or a cleanliness or germ freak. I am also 5’1″ tall…so I am frequently the shortest person at any event. If I’m going to someone’s house, I wear shoes that I can slip off easily, and which don’t affect the look or comfort of my clothing. Also, there are now slip-on satin flats (I believe Dr. Scholl’s Makes some very nice ones) that come folded in their own little purse-sized bag that would be ideal for such an occasion. How weird is it that some readers are demanding that such picky, petty, germaphobic, tacky hostesses with such a concern for dirt and damage provide THEM with sterilized slippers to protect THEIR precious feet from those horrid, filthy floors. You know, those horrid filthy floors that she’s trying to maintain as clean, attractive floors by keeping YOUR filthy, horrid outside dirt off of them. Good grief.

  9. avatar Eileen Heath says:

    LW1 – I think she’s trying to size up his potential for being a family man. Women do gauge how a man acts around other kids. I know it’s unfair to say but because it’s based on my experience, I’ll declare this simply my opinion: every man that has ever acted this way around my friends has always questioned the linage of his own children seriously as if he was looking for a reason for them to not be his responsibility – even after a dna test. Again that’s an opinion.

    LW2 – I often make my friend remove her lovely high heels in my living room because she drags her feet. I’ve even pointed out the furrows and scraped up carpet to her as it happens to explain why she should remove her shoes when we’re just going to be sitting around watching tv or playing a board game. She’s a pacer so she doesn’t stay put. Plus she’s clipped my dog because she doesn’t gauge where her heels are when she steps over him. She’s mortified after she does it but next time she comes over, she doesn’t remove her heels.
    I see your point more but there might be some sort of circumstance you aren’t aware of (like my lovely but forgetful friend). She might be making everyone remove their shoes to not single you out.
    I’m certainly considering trying it.

  10. avatar SherryDAmore says:

     LW 2

    WRONG!  WRONG! WRONG!!  People – the comfort of your guests – are MUCH more importatnt that stupid floors or carpets.  If your floors are so important, that they can’t be used in the way they are intended – for people to walk on them –  don’t have people over!!  Rent a hall or go to a restaurant.

    • avatar Messy ONE says:

      So leave your shoes on. If your hosts are like me, that would be your last invitation. OR, just bring a checkbook. The hardwood in my living room cost just under $10,000.00. If you want to replace it, knock yourself out.

      • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

        Good luck with your legal claim in most states.   You better make it perfectly clear what your expectations of guests are when you invite them over to your house, if you plan to get a guest to replace your floor.  Not that I think you shouldn’t be able to tell them to take off the shoes, just that it might not be as easy to win as people think.

        • avatar Messy ONE says: