Advice on manners and morals (March 20, 2008).

Advice on manners and morals (March 20, 2008).

Advice on manners and morals (March 20, 2008).

Advice on manners and morals.
March 20 2008 6:53 AM

Go Away, Little Girl

I dread spending quality time with my toddler. Am I a bad dad?

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Dear Prudie,
I'm in my 30s, and my daughter recently turned 2. I work outside the home, and my wife stays home with our daughter. As my daughter has gotten older, I find that spending time with her is less and less enjoyable. When she was an infant, and I could cuddle up with her on the couch and read a book or watch television, things were fine. Now that she's more demanding, I find it quite frustrating. I feel like my wife pushes us together in the interests of keeping me involved in her life. I realize that my wife needs a break when I get home. However, I just spent eight hours at the office—it's not like I'm on a wonderful vacation all day. When I was a kid, my dad was involved, but somewhat less "hands-on" than would be considered the modern ideal. I hate to say it, but I just don't enjoy Easter egg hunts or playing in the sand box. It's not that I don't love my daughter. I do! I just feel like I'm drowning.

—Terrible Twos

Dear Terrible,
You are drowning if at the end of the day your little girl running to you and saying, "Dada, Dada" fills you with dread. It sounds as if the only part of fatherhood you've enjoyed so far is the fact that as long as an infant is not crying, you can pretend she's a stuffed animal. And, yes, while you aren't on vacation all day, neither is your wife—you acknowledge that spending time with a 2-year-old is hard. However, I give you credit for being able to express what these days is considered inexpressible. Secretly, there are a lot of parents driven around the bend by the endless, monotonous play of toddlers. But while you may have loved your father, do you really want to emulate his distant style? You may be one of those parents who finds that when you can have real conversations with your daughter or coach her at soccer, you will feel a true fulfillment and connection with her. But you have a 2-year-old, and finding a way to enjoy her now will build a bridge to something better when she's older. My suggestion: Let her do things she enjoys, while you do things you enjoy. Your time with her doesn't have to be second-by-second interaction. You can be one of those parents who sits on the bench around the sandbox, absorbed in your BlackBerry, occasionally looking up and making encouraging sounds while she flings her shovel. Put her in a swing and push her for 10 minutes while you listen to your iPod. Get a jogging stroller and plop her in it while you go out for a run. And occasionally focus enough so that when she puts her arms around you and says, "I love you," it feels like a life raft, not an anchor.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudie,
When I was in my 20s, I was deeply in love with a man who was in his 50s. After we broke up, we remained in touch as friends, though I have been happily married with children for over 20 years. He is now elderly and in weakening health but has no family and not many able-bodied friends. I have always loved him and enjoyed his company and want to visit him every couple of weeks to make sure he is getting enough to eat and managing alone. I am in contact with his relatives in another state, and they appreciate it if I keep them posted. They can and will travel here in times of crisis, so this isn't strictly my problem, but I care enough to want to be involved. The problem is that my husband feels threatened by my attachment to this man and resents anything more than an occasional phone call and perhaps lunch on his birthday. What should I do?

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—Still Cares

Dear Still,
I wish your husband could see this situation for what it is: a wonderful testament to your character and a reassurance that if he becomes the infirm partner someday, you will lovingly tend to him. If you have the good marriage that you claim, you need to air this more thoroughly with your husband. Acknowledge his discomfort, even tell him that you feel flattered he is concerned about this man's feelings for you, but make clear that your husband is the love of your life, and there is nothing going on that should be of any concern to him. Tell him you know it doesn't sound like much of an outing, but that you would be delighted if he would accompany you when you checked in on your old friend. Reassure him that there is simply no romantic feeling involved anymore (don't say you still love him—that's too provocative), just a sense of loyalty to someone you still care about who is facing the end alone.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My spouse and I have three small kids. In our part of the country, this is considered an extremely large family. When we enter a restaurant, market, city sidewalk, or even an open public park, perfect strangers are often unable to stifle their denigrating comments about it. It's not so much the faux-sympathy of "Wow, you have your hands full" that is bothersome, but rather zingers like "That's quite a gaggle you have there" or "Look at that brood." Then there's the occasional suggestion that it's socially irresponsible, and the world would be better off without some of us. (I'm not exaggerating.) This is not a matter of taking small children places where they don't belong or can't behave—it has less to do with their behavior than their existence. How do I turn back these interlopers?

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—Brooding

Dear Brooding,
A family with three children elicits stunned reactions? What part of the country do you live in, Tokyo? There, the birthrate has so bottomed out that clever manufacturers, seeking to fulfill the longing of desperate old people who know they will never have grandchildren, are manufacturing talking dolls that the elderly pretend are alive. Thank you for doing your part to keep us from facing a future that resembles Children of Men. I do wonder if you haven't become so sensitized that you are hearing denigration in remarks ("Look at the brood!") that might just be acknowledging the cuteness of your kids. In general, I recommend simply ignoring the ignoramuses who want to pass judgment on one's children, race, disability, etc. If you want to say something in response to more ambiguous comments, you can always smile and say, "Yes, someone's got to pay for our Social Security." But for people who actually come up to you and suggest your children shouldn't exist, feel free to step in front of your kids and tell the idiot, "Please move away from my family" or, "I have to agree with you. It would be better if some people had never been born."

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I'm going to a bridal shower, and the host wants all the guests to bring their own self-addressed, stamped envelopes for the bride to make it easier for her to write thank you notes. I feel even the busiest bride should be able to take the time to write thank you notes. I don't want to say anything, but I just want to know if this is tacky.

—Thanks, But No Thanks

Dear Thanks,
It's only fair to recognize that manners and mores do change. Today's brides are so busy planning a military campaign's worth of parties and celebrations for themselves that expectations by their guests should be adjusted to acknowledge the stress orchestrating all this adulation can cause. How thoughtless it would be to arrive with a self-addressed, stamped envelope into which you have stuck a blank card. The bride doesn't have time to fill that out! Instead, be a considerate guest and take a few extra minutes to write on the card, "Dear Self, Thank me for the lovely chafing dish. The bride will think of me fondly whenever she chafes."

—Prudie