Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on manners and morals.
Nov. 27 2002 11:23 AM

I'll Have a Blue Christmas With You Here

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Get "Dear Prudence" delivered to your inbox each week; click hereto sign up.Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. (Questions may be edited.)

Dear Prudence,

I have always had a problem with my mother-in-law. She's never liked me (I'm not Catholic enough) and has always gotten a kick out of trying to show me up or make me look like an idiot in front of the whole family. Generally this takes the form of always having a tissue when the baby has a runny nose and saying loudly and reproachfully, "Here, let Grandma wipe it," implying that I'm too lazy to do it—that kind of thing. Generally this does not bother me because everyone else knows what she is like, so I just try to be polite and ignore her. However, in her attempt to show me up, she has started giving my children ridiculous amounts of presents. Usually I would be appreciative and not look a gift horse in the mouth. But last year, on Christmas Eve, our 3-year-old was expected to stay up past midnight to open over 50 packages from her and others until he was so tired he was crying. (When I suggested it was bedtime, of course I was told not to be a party pooper.) My children were totally overwhelmed. The really sad part came the next day when Grandma's presents had outshined Santa's, and Santa is never skimpy at our house. My husband and I do not want to offend, but we are considering asking his folks to cut down on the number of presents they give our children at Christmas.

—Pushed Too Far

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Dear Push,

Good, there's still time to get control of the situation for this Christmas. Tell your m-i-l that you and her son have a new rule: only two gifts per child. You be in charge—they're your children, after all—and if dozens of presents do appear, just sweetly say that your rule still holds. It's worth a fight, if it comes to that. As for "outshining Santa," don't be competitive about the gifts. It's often the case that the grandparents' presents are the more lavish ones. As for the midnight business, that was your fault, and you should have put your foot down. Regarding the irksome matter of swooping in to wipe the baby's nose, or similar gestures, why not make that issue a nonstarter? Just walk into her house, hand her the baby, then announce that you've come to enjoy yourself and you know she'd love to tend to the little one. A little pre-emptive strike can do wonders for certain situations. Merry Christmas ... and in your case, to all a good night.

—Prudie, merrily

Dear Prudence,

Here is my dilemma. My girlfriend and I have been in a relationship for just a little over a year. We have been on and off, due mainly to issues regarding respect and trust. My main problem stems from trust issues. My girlfriend works in a small law firm, and this Christmas there will be the annual party. The problem is that it is a closed party: Significant others and spouses are not welcome. Being in a committed relationship (we are talking about moving in together and possibly having a child in the spring), I personally feel very uneasy with this, and, to tell the truth, I see a lot of red flags. I just need some advice.

—Scared of What May Happen

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Dear Scare,

Office Christmas parties are famous occasions for drunken women lurching at the boss ... or the other way around. For family reasons—and now economic considerations—many firms have made alternative arrangements, such as giving turkeys, making charitable contributions, or maybe just knocking off work early. You would be perfectly within the bounds of good sense to tell your S.O., if indeed you are a committed couple, that you think closed Christmas parties are inappropriate, and you would hope she does, too. Should she tell you that her good standing at the office depends on her presence, tell her that if that is the case, then she needs a new office. This may occasion a blowup between you, so you may have to decide how much the issue means to you. Having mentioned prior trust concerns in addition to the on-and-off, rocky nature of your romance, it's entirely possible that the two of you may be greeting the New Year separately.

—Prudie, thoughtfully

Dear Prudie,

I'm 25 and happily married for four months now. In talking with my husband the other day, I found out that there is something that is eating at him. He is concerned about the number of men I was with before him. I admit that I was a bit frisky in college, and there were 15 guys. Though this isn't a number I am proud of, I don't think it is anything to be really ashamed of, either. I lost my virginity when I was 18, had fun for a few years, and then quit! On the other hand, he was saving himself for marriage and was a virgin until we started dating. He said that he worries that if I was with those other guys, then left them, what will keep me from leaving him? But I look at it as having gotten it out of my system, knowing what is out there, and truly appreciating what I have. And I kinda worry that he might wonder what else is out there and stray from ME. I love my husband very much, but I don't know what to do to put his mind at ease. Maybe I shouldn't have told him the true number in the beginning, but I was only being honest with him. Any advice would help.

—Truly, a Faithful Wife

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Dear Tru,

An old rule of Prudie's: Leave out the numbers when asked about the past. You may be new at Prudie's and perhaps missed this one, so let us deal with the situation at hand. What one did or didn't do before marriage is no indicator of future behavior. Try to get your husband—with or without a counselor mediating—to understand this. The headline of your story is this: What's gone before is history, and you should do everything possible to make your spouse feel loved and secure. If he continues looking over his shoulder at your past amours, suggest to him, gently, that he is lousing up what otherwise would be very happy times.

—Prudie, presently

Dear Prudence,

I need your help. My husband and I have been married for 10 years. We have two young children, under the age of 10. Recently my husband lost his job. He is currently going to school for a nursing degree. I am very proud of him for doing this. My problem is that sometimes he hooks up with old friends and does some drugs I do not approve of, namely cocaine. When I ask him if he has done this, he looks me straight in the eye and says, "No." Later, maybe the next day, I ask him again, and then he comes clean and says yes ... but usually I have to keep asking him. I hate it that he lies to me, and I want to know if I should be upset about this or if I should just let it go. I just feel awful that he lies to me. And I certainly do not like it that he is doing these drugs. What should I do? We do have children to consider, too. Thanks for your help.

—Mrs. X

Dear Mrs.,

You have a bigger problem than trying to extract the information from him, my dear. You seem to be focusing on his dishonesty when the larger issue is surely the drug-taking. Since you cannot control what he does, the most useful thing to do, for you and your children, is to find a support group for family members of drug or alcohol abusers. Try Al-Anon in the phone book if you need guidance about finding the appropriate group. Good luck with this difficult problem.

—Prudie, hopefully