Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.
Oct. 4 2007 7:20 AM

Cinderella Girl

How can I make my daughter do the housework I can no longer handle?

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Dear Prudie,
Due to degenerative diseases, I am now disabled and mostly bedridden, and unable to do the housework I used to do. My husband works full-time at a job where he's on his feet most of his eight- to 10-hour day, yet he comes home, makes supper, loads the dishwasher, and does the laundry. I have a daughter who will be 17 in November. She's in school and works as well, but refuses to help around the house. Her excuse is that she goes to school and works, so she shouldn't have to help out at home, because she wants to have fun before having to enter the "real world." My comment is that we're living in the real world right now and things aren't the way they used to be. All I ask is that she sweep a few times a week, mop floors at least once a week, and dust a couple of days. As someone who's used to having the house looking clean as can be, it bothers me that a) I can't do what I used to, and b) she doesn't even make an effort to help. She spends most of her free time with her friends, but I wish she'd come home long enough to do the few tasks I ask and say, "Hi." My illness has been hard on all of us, but she's been through counseling, with us and by herself, and seemed OK with what's going on. Yet I feel she's being selfish, and I'm resentful toward my own daughter, which causes me to feel guilty for feeling that way about the child I love with all my heart. What do I do?

—Disabled, Displeased, and Distraught

Dear Disabled,
Keeping a spotless house was a point of pride for you, and how painful it must be to no longer be able to do this. But it's the rare teenager who would share this interest, and you have to stop turning your relationship with your daughter into a battle over mopping the floor. When she walks in the door of her home, you don't want her to feel like Cinderella. You want her to feel that even though your family has suffered a blow, you still can support and love and laugh with each other. She's got a full load with school and work, so no wonder that in her free time, she wants to feel young and lighthearted with her friends, not that she's letting you down yet again. It's good you've all gone into therapy. Continue it, and discuss the issues of what you can expect from each other in your changed circumstances. Also look into what local social-service agencies can offer—you might be eligible for house cleaning and other help that would ease your life, and your worries. This doesn't mean your daughter should have no responsibilities at home. Maybe you could have a weekly family spaghetti night, where she and your husband make the dinner and you all sit around the table and talk about your lives—with no one allowed to mention chores. Your daughter will be leaving home soon enough, and you need to reinforce the connections between you so you don't lose her when she goes.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudence,
I started a relationship with an amazing woman just as her last relationship was sputtering out.  Our relationship remained open-ended, as she would not commit to me. I would be lying in bed with her, and she would get phone calls from her boyfriend, so she would catch him up on what she was doing. It was heartbreaking. Now it's three years later, we're still dating, and I am very much in love and considering the next step. She travels for work to fantastic locations and meets amazing and successful people. When we're together, everything is perfect, but when she's away, she seems very emotionally distant. She has many nonprofessional conversations with some of these people when she's back—she is entitled to her personal life—but I always get the feeling there's something more going on. Since I watched her destroy another man's life firsthand, and I know he still has no idea who I am or what happened, I am unnerved by other men in her life. She tells me nothing is going on. Can I ever build trust enough in this relationship to take the plunge, or am I doomed to always be fearful of a repeat performance?

—Mo' Info, Mo' Problems

Dear Mo',
You say when your love was next to you in bed, having intimate phone conversations with her cuckolded boyfriend, it was "heartbreaking." Obviously you mean for him, but was it also for you too, because you were imagining what it would feel like to be next? And now here you are three years later, noticing that when you have long-distance conversations with her, she sounds a little, well, distant, as if maybe someone else is in the room. When you say you'd like to take the plunge with her, I assume you don't mean being plunged into the despair of being the next guy whose life she "destroys." Perhaps your girlfriend is telling the truth when she says nothing's going on—but it sounds as if you don't believe it, which is almost as bad as being cheated on. Nor does it seem that over the course of three years, she's become much more interested in changing the rather uncommitted nature of your relationship. There doesn't seem to be any way to build trust and move to the next step without airing all your desires and concerns, seeing where she stands, and deciding whether you believe her.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudence,
Many words and phrases that originate in African-American culture in our country, such as sister, bro, hangin' with my homies, and so on, going back in time (think of hep cat) are eventually incorporated into the larger vernacular. Is it inappropriate, or when is it inappropriate, for white people to talk this way? For example, I have used variations on "I'm with ya, sista" for years. I don't give it any thought other than that it's fun and spunky-sounding. I'm sure I have used it with African-American friends and co-workers. But recently I read comments by a black writer implying that behavior like mine is offensive. The writer found it condescending and gratuitous. I realize that one black person does not speak for all black people. And I address my question also to other ethnic groups' slang, as well as that of African-Americans. But in general, some guidelines would be helpful.

—No Offense

Dear Hep,
I asked Slate's Melonyce McAfee to provide one black person's perspective on your question. She says that of course it's natural for colloquialisms from different groups, be it surfer-speak or black culture, to enter the larger society. But what makes her uncomfortable about hearing black slang coming from white people is when the speaker says it while trying to sound black—it's affected and awkward. She warns that by the time such phrases enter popular culture, they've often fallen out of fashion in the community that spawned them (are you still saying hep cat?). So here are a couple of questions to ask yourself: Have the phrases become part of your natural speech, or do you also adopt a pose when saying them? And do you really feel fun and spunky, or hopelessly self-conscious?

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I recently met a wonderful woman, and we promptly fell for each other—four weeks ago! It feels so right to be together. We're in our mid/late 40s, and have had significant previous experiences, so we're not neophytes. We have discussed our values, our likes and dislikes, and the compatibility index is exceptionally high. If we were in our 20s, we'd probably just run off together or something and never look back. But now, being a bit older (and wiser?), we agree that we should give the relationship some time to mature. So, let's say we decide to wait a while before committing to each other for a lifetime—how do we know when the time is right? If we still feel that same way after three months? Six months? A year?

—Happy at Last

Dear Happy,
I'm either the right or wrong person to ask. I was in my late 30s and my husband in his early 40s when we met. We got engaged after six weeks, married after four months, and just happily celebrated our 13th anniversary. So, yes, I believe sometimes it's immediately apparent you've met "the one," and why wait? On the other hand, if the question of whether to have kids is out of the equation, why rush? If the commitment you're talking about is marriage, give yourselves a chance to travel together, meet each other's friends, have your first fight. That way, you'll know that while it may look ridiculously fast to other people, it was plenty of time for the two of you.

—Prudie

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