Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.
Sept. 27 2007 7:23 AM

Secrets and Lies

What can I do when I've discovered things my family won't tell me?

1_123125_122976_2131188_dearprudence_ey

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

Dear Prudence,
My parents asked me to retrieve the fall decorations in the attic recently. In my search, I opened an unmarked, plain brown box and found cards and presents addressed to me! They were sent to me by my aunt and uncle, who I don't know. A couple of the cards had money/old gift certificates. I tore into one of the presents, and the clothes were brand new, in a size 3T, with tags still on them. The cards all said sweet things, like they loved me and hoped I was doing well in school, ballet, etc. I'm not sure how they knew I was doing ballet, because my mom and dad don't speak to or about this aunt and uncle. The only reason I know anything about them at all is through pictures at my great-grandma's house. When I was around 11, I was admiring the pictures of this aunt and uncle, and I asked who they were. My mom said it was her brother and his wife, but "they don't act like Christians towards Grandma" (my mom's mom). Later my great-grandma quietly said, "That's your aunt and uncle. I know they love our family." I found out my grandmother never liked my aunt, and they moved away soon after they were married over 20 years ago. I feel terrible that I never wrote to thank them for their gifts. I don't even know if my parents thanked them. Should I tell my parents that I found the box? I'm 16 now, and I'd like to get to know my aunt and uncle, but I'm afraid of how my parents (especially my mom) will react. I know their names, and I would like to look them up and write or call them, but I don't want to get anyone angry. What should I do?

—Wondering

Dear Wondering,
The proverbial dusty box in the attic has been a godsend for taking the lid off family secrets. You have been deprived of loving relatives, and you're entitled to know them—although this won't be easy. It sounds as if you have an ally in your great-grandmother. Can you have a private conversation with her about your discovery, and your desire to know more of your missing aunt and uncle? At least you'll have a better understanding of the dynamics involved. Since so much of this terrible situation comes from keeping secrets and deciding what's best for others, you should be honest and tell your parents that you found the box, and that you want to know your aunt and uncle. This may result in an outburst from your mother. If it does, try to keep your cool and explain you're not bringing this up to hurt anyone, but that whatever took place 20 years ago, it has kept you from knowing people who obviously wished you the best. Perhaps you'll feel this situation is too explosive for you to seek out your aunt and uncle now. But in just a couple of years you'll be leaving home, and it sounds as if your missing relatives will be easy to find.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence Video: Pierced

Dear Prudence,
I've been dating my boyfriend, "Jack," for the past four years. We worked together at our previous employer, where my mother was the office administrator. Our relationship is now progressing toward marriage, which I couldn't be happier about, but one problem remains—my mother. At some point during Jack's employment, he rubbed my mother the wrong way. I'm very close to her and it's important to me that she approves of the man I marry. I've confronted her several times in the past about what it is that she doesn't like about Jack, but she never gives me a clear answer. Everyone else I know simply adores Jack. I know I can't force her to like him, but is there anything I can say or do to get her to warm up to him ?

—Loving Jack

Dear Loving,
Here we are with another family situation in which one person's secret grudge is making things miserable for everyone else. Fortunately, unlike the girl in the letter above, you're not a minor living with your mother but an independent adult. Sure, you want to be close to your mother, but you must have a serious, calm discussion with her about how her hostility toward Jack is ruining your ability to be close. (And have you asked Jack to enlighten you as to the origin of her animus?) Say that if Jack offended her in some way that is reparable, she needs to say what happened so that she and Jack can clear the air. Perhaps she feels she learned something damaging about Jack's character when all of you worked together. If so, she should have spoken up then, because unless it's something that could affect your life now, the statute of limitations has expired. Tell her that you love her, but that you also love Jack, and that it's up to her to decide to drop the hostility, because you're not dropping him.

Advertisement

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
One of my best friends is an intelligent woman who has a 1-year-old baby. By the time the child was 6 months old, I was being told about her addiction to shows like Dora the Explorer and Blue's Clues. I thought it was very early to be putting the child in front of the television, but didn't think much more about it. Two things have raised this issue again. First, my friend recently gave the child a TV for her birthday so she could have it in her own room. Second, an article appeared in New Scientist saying that a long-term study has shown that early TV viewing can lead to attention problems for older children and teens. I don't know that there's a way to broach this subject without sounding rude, and I really don't want to pass judgment, I just want to make sure my friend is aware of these issues. She may continue to raise the child with the TV as an integral part of her rearing process, but at least she'd know what the situation was. Is there any way to tell her without being a nanny goat?

—Less TV

Dear Less,
There is nothing touchier than criticizing someone else's child-rearing techniques—particularly if you don't have children yourself (on second thought, it can be just as touchy if it comes from another mother). Obviously, your friend is not putting her child directly in harm's way, in which case you would have to speak up. I also saw the study, and it, and others like it, raise concerns about whether excessive television viewing at very early ages, which takes time away from the crucial activities of playing, exploring, and making social connections, can be damaging to brain development. But you don't really know how much television the child is watching (although a TV in the room of a 1-year-old in itself seems excessive). The safest thing for your friendship is to say nothing. But if you feel you can't rest until you get the study in your friend's hands, wait until the subject of TV comes up again. Then tell your friend you saw an interesting study about the effects of viewing on very young children—if she's interested, you could look it up and forward it. If she says she's not, then drop it.

Advertisement

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My wife and I divorced after a long marriage, and I've been single for about a year. Around five years ago, I became friends with an unmarried woman from another city who worked as a temporary consultant for my company. We sensed a mutual attraction, but kept things platonic. Though nothing happened between us, it became too difficult for me to see her at all, and I wrote her a letter explaining that while I had developed feelings for her, I also loved my wife and family, and felt it was better if we broke off our friendship. She replied that she had similar feelings for me, and agreed that breaking off our friendship would be best. We have not had any contact since. Now that I am unattached, I face a dilemma: Should I contact my former friend or not? While my circumstances have changed, I have no way to know hers. I would never knowingly intrude on her life, and she may be in a relationship or even married. There is no mutual acquaintance I could ask. Should I let it go, or seize the day?

—Torn

Dear Torn,
For goodness' sake, man, what's the dilemma? If she's packing for her honeymoon when you call or e-mail, she'll let you know (and despite your previous attraction, don't worry that your reappearance will cause her to dump her fiance at the altar). Stop fretting, and carpe diem.

—Prudie