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Stepmom won't let reader off the hook for car repairs

| Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, 9:52 p.m.

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi Carolyn:

A lot of backstory and angst go along with this story, but I'll keep it short:

I'm in my 20s, and I got in a car accident in my dad and stepmom's car. I did not borrow the car for fun; I was visiting them from my home a few hours away and needed to pick up prescriptions.

Car accident happens — totally my fault, although luckily no one was hurt. I find out the car doesn't have the relevant insurance and no damage is covered. In the heat of the moment, I offer to pay, not realizing how expensive the repairs would be.

Stepmom wants to hold me to this promise. Dad tells me he doesn't want me to pay anything but won't tell my stepmom this.

My mom and stepdad, who have had issues with my dad and stepmom not paying them things as promised, are adamant that I should not pay, and that it was their fault for not having insurance.

I feel I should pay something, but I'm worried that if I do, my stepmom will hound me for more. But I feel guilty.

— Guilty Feeling

Yes, it's their fault for under-insuring their car, but you also say the accident itself was “totally my fault.”

What also matters here: You promised to pay, your stepmom expects you to pay, your dad disagrees but won't back you up.

What doesn't matter one bit: backstory, angst, and what your mom and stepfather think. I get they've been stiffed by Camp Dad and want restitution, but don't succumb to the temptation to let Camp Mom use you to seek their idea of justice. You're an adult, and this isn't their car, so they're just bystanders.

Put that all together, and I think you do need to pay for the damage, in installments you can afford, unless and until your dad calls off your stepmom.

If you're covered by your own or Camp Mom's auto policy, make sure you check for coverage there.

Dear Carolyn:

I would like to take my husband's last name after we marry. I will probably use my maiden name professionally, because I'm in academia and have published with that name.

However, friends have given me grief about it. I've been told it is “outdated,” and why doesn't he take my name, or hyphenate, or whatever.

I want to do this, and it is right for us. How can I explain that to friends who talk about setting women's lib back decades or giving up my own identity?

— Rose by Any Other Name

You can tell them to blow it out their portholes. Liberation means freedom to decide what to call yourself, versus having society dictate it — and that includes the society of friends who want you to make their political point.

Email Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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