Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.
Feb. 8 2007 7:10 AM

The Princess Diaries

How do I fight my mother-in-law's efforts to pamper and spoil my daughter?

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Dear Prudie,
I have a lovely, supportive husband and two darling children, a girl age 4 and a son who's 1 and a half. I adore my mother-in-law in almost every way except one. She is a self-proclaimed princess and the quintessential girly girl, which I respect as a choice she has made for herself, but it is simply not my style. The problem is that she tries to project this on to my daughter. I'm trying to raise children who are respectful, grateful, and do not have a sense of entitlement. I find this princess mentality completely contrary to what I want to teach my children, particularly my daughter. Yes, I played princess as a girl, so I don't mind a crown, a wand, or a tutu every once in a while, but it really irritates me when my daughter receives three of each from her grandma. I already feel like I'm fighting a societal war, anyway, with the bombardment of "princess" and that spoiled attitude I despise every time I walk into a store. My husband has talked to his mother, but ultimately feels like it's our parenting that will guide her, not what toys she gets. Am I worried for nothing, or am I doomed to have a pampered, spoiled 16-year-old despite my best efforts?

—Anti-royalty

Dear Anti,
Let your daughter play princess and fairy and ballerina! Be grateful that your mother-in-law wants to do this so much, so you can do less (and suggest that your daughter keep a stash of this stuff at Grandma's for when she visits there). Are you aware that both you and your mother-in-law are engaging in fantasy play of your own—each envisioning the teenage princess this nursery-school-age child will be? If your daughter wants to play princess, you will only be frustrated if you try to force her to build something with the Erector Set. If your daughter doesn't have a girly girl heart, your mother-in-law will have to accept that she must wear her tiaras alone. But it's one thing to play princess, and another to go through life acting like a princess. That has nothing to do with dress-up clothes, but with the standards of behavior you set, which your mother-in-law should abide by. And in five years, if your daughter seems stuck in princessland, get her the series of historical books on real princesses, The Royal Diaries. After reading about assassinations, beheadings, and betrayals, any would-be princess will want to become an electrical engineer instead.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My son is 21, a junior in college, and seriously dating an 18-year-old freshman. He brought her to our house for Thanksgiving, and she is attractive and charming. The problem is that we are Jewish and have mandated to our three sons that they must marry a Jewish woman. We are heartbroken that he is dating a non-Jewish woman. We are not sure if we should forbid him from dating her or if we should leave them alone and hope that they break up and he finds a nice Jewish woman to marry. Please don't tell me that I should get over this and accept whoever he wants to marry. My wife and I cannot accept a daughter-in-law of a different faith. I don't want to over- or underreact, and don't know what to do.

—Heartbroken

Dear Heartbroken,
How's that going to work, your mandating that they marry Jewish women—will they be banished from the shtetl if they don't? You must secretly want gentile daughters-in-law, because if you continue with your current approach (how do you forbid a grown man from dating someone?), you are on track to get three. Since you are observant Jews, perhaps you've run across an account of the temptation of forbidden fruit? Constant harangues about non-Jewish women will only increase their allure. I truly understand your desire to have your sons marry Jews and raise Jewish children. Surely over the years, you have expressed to them in positive terms the joys of having a Jewish family and your hopes about Jewish continuity. Now, the best thing you can do is make your home as appealing as possible. And if any of your sons decide to marry non-Jews, your best chance for having these women embrace Judaism is to be embraced by their loving, Jewish family.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
An old resentment has crept back into my life and I am unsure how to handle it. My mother died when I was 15, and my father remarried within a year of her death. Along with my new "mother," I got a stepbrother who was a drug addict. My new family life revolved around the drama of his addiction and criminal entanglements. All of the money Dad had saved for my college education went to pay for multiple rehab attempts and attorneys. I worked and took out loans for college, and now pay back several hundred dollars a month. My stepbrother has, thankfully, been clean for a couple of years and is getting married. My father and stepmother are giving him a $20,000 mortgage down payment as a wedding gift. They say that he's had a "hard life" and this will make starting out easier. I thought I was over my resentment about the college money. I can handle my loans, but have an exceedingly lean budget—I would welcome help. Should I talk to my father, who has expressed pride in both my accomplishments and my independence? If so, what do I say? I know I'm not entitled to anything, but feel like I'm being punished (or at least overlooked) for being responsible.

—Angry Again

Dear Angry,
You are accomplished and independent, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be angry that your college fund was raided. Fine that your stepbrother is getting a nest egg, but why aren't you entitled to restitution for the debt you were forced to take on? Go out to dinner and have a private talk with your father. Tell him you're glad your stepbrother has straightened out his life, but that paying off your education will take years, and now that your stepbrother's crises have passed, you hope your father can help you with that burden. Be prepared to be slapped down. Your father has probably felt very guilty about all this, but reassured himself that you turned out better and stronger because of it. Also consider that you're dealing with more issues than just this one. Your mother was taken away and you didn't even have time to mourn or share a life with your father before you were forced to become part of a new, unhappy family. You might want to discuss all this with a therapist—as you already know, buried issues have a way of working their way back to the surface.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
I'm a college upperclassman and have been with my girlfriend for about eight months. We see each other daily and are extremely happy with the relationship. Over the summer, she became close friends with a male co-worker and they spent all day together in close quarters. While they don't see each other as much now that we're back at school, they continue to talk all the time, usually through e-mail, instant message, or on social networking Web sites. From the messages he leaves and the way he talks to her, I think that he's romantically interested in her. I mentioned it once to her, but she doesn't believe he's after anything more than friendship. She recently invited him to our school to go with her to a big local party. I'll also be at the same bash, but my girlfriend is a bit of a party girl and a flirt, and I'm afraid that after a night of drinking, he'll try to make a move on her. I'm not sure what to do if that happens. Should I conduct myself differently at the party if he's in attendance?

—Worrying Boyfriend

Dear Worrying,
If I were you, I'd be worried that my girlfriend is going on a date and it's not with me. Are you saying he's taking her to the party and you'll just be hanging around? What happens later when you walk in on them in bed—are they going to convince you it's just more social networking? Certainly a woman can have a close friendship with a man who's not her boyfriend, but it sounds as if you're possibly the one who is not her boyfriend. Before the big bash, you should have a serious conversation with your beloved (ask her to turn off her electronic communication devices first) about the rules of your relationship.

—Prudie