Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. A transcript of this week's chat is below. (Read Prudie's Slate columns here.)
Back of the Bus: If your husband's sister planned a "family dinner" at a nice restaurant to celebrate her parents' anniversary, would you assume that your children, the grandchildren of the celebrees, would be invited?
I, in my innocence, assumed that the progeny of myself and my husband, who share the same last name as my in-laws, were part of the family. Apparently, however, this is not the case, since I discovered yesterday, six days before the event, that not only has the reservation for this "family" event been made for 8:00 PM (bedtime), my children (ages two and five) were explicitly not included in the head count.
My husband swears he told me that we'd need to get a sitter, and he confirms that my SIL told him over the phone a few weeks ago that the kids weren't invited. But this is the first I've heard about it, even though I've talked face-to-face with my SIL about it on three separate prior occasions. My SIL has a long history of excluding my kids from family events, and my husband has even spoken gently with her about it.
I'm deeply offended that she explicitly excluded my kids this way. If she'd spoken to us about it and let us decide whether we wanted to bring the children, and we'd opted to get a sitter, I'd have no problem with it. But the fact that she decided that she didn't want the kids there with no regard for our opinion (or my mother-in-law's, for that matter) strikes me as incredibly selfish and deeply inconsiderate.
Am I wrong to be so upset? I am considering backing out of the dinner and staying home with the kids while my husband attends alone, but I don't want to hurt my mother- and father-in-law, because this really isn't their fault.
Emily Yoffe: If I had the opportunity to go to dinner at the nice restaurant, the last thing I'd want to do is to have to attend to my two small children throughout the meal, even if these "progeny" did share a surname with the "celebrees." Maybe your husband is playing gaslight on you and swearing he told you this was a no kids event, even though you have no memory of it. But maybe whenever he brings up family events involving your sister-in-law, you're unable to hear the details because the voice in your head starts repeating, "Hate her, hate her, hate her, hate her." Your sister-in-law may be a pill who dislikes kids, or is jealous that you have them. That's an issue for another day. On the day of the anniversary party, you give the babysitter your cell phone number, and go out and have a lovely evening celebrating the union of the people who made your own children possible.
Second Tour: I am a US Soldier getting ready to come home from my second tour. Occasionally I get asked an infuriating question: "Did you kill anyone?" No, I have never killed anyone and hope to God I never have to. I am quite happy being a helicopter mechanic. Prudie, would you please get the word out that asking a service member if they have ever killed anyone is terribly inappropriate and just downright rude?
Emily Yoffe: I am happy to help you spread this word. When you get asked this question, please feel free for the sake of your fellow soldiers, to say that this is not a subject people in the armed services want to discuss casually, so you will decline to answer and you hope the questioner will respect the uniform enough not to ask it of others. And thank you for your service.
Washington, DC: I'm 30 yrs old and for financial reasons still live at home (I was laid off and cannot rent without a job). A few days ago, a father figure in my life (in his early 60s and for whom I've never really cared) told me he wanted to see my boobs. Of course he told me not to "go telling everybody." I was sickened, surprised, speechless and disgusted and immediately called a close relative of mine crying. I have not mentioned it to my mother yet as I'm not sure what her reaction would be (although I dreamed last night that I told her and she did not believe me). How and when would be appropriate to mention it to her? We do not get to spend time alone as she is busy and both she and this man are always home (when she's not working). Should this close relative of mine be with me when I mention it to my mother? This is out of character for this person and I'm wondering if maybe he should see a doctor for a brain scan.
Needless to say, I no longer want to be at home alone with this person and am more resolved to find a job immediately so I can move out.
Please help -- I don't know how to handle this!
Thanks in advance,
Sickened and Disgusted
Emily Yoffe: The "father figure" should not be with you when you tell your mother. Get your mother alone and say a deeply disturbing thing happened recently -- then say exactly what he did. I think you should mention that this was so horrifying that you wonder if the "father figure" needs a neurological check up because he's never behaved this way before. Tell her that even before this happened, you were working to get on your feet financially and this has you redoubling your efforts. But in the meantime you would like her to speak with the "father figure" and tell him she knows and that it better never happen again.
Thermopolis, WY: "Back of the Bus" sounds like the kind of person who drives me nuts with her assumption that her little darlin's should be invited everywhere regardless of the event. An evening out at a nice restaurant is not a place for small children--no matter how well behaved you perceive yours to be. Get a sitter and have a nice time!
Emily Yoffe: Exactly. What I don't understand is why the mother of these young kids wouldn't be delighted to have a nice meal, a glass of wine, and adult conversation without having to cut someone's food into small pieces and do a diaper check.
New York, NY: EY: Before Valentine's day, I went out on 2 dates with a woman. I was just in Vancouver for a week, and was torn whether I should get her something. I did-- not a ring, but jewelry. Is it too soon to give it to her? I don't want to scare her off, yet I do like her.
Emily Yoffe: Shaun White, you romantic! Is that piece of jewelry you want to give your woman friend a gold medal? That's so sweet!
However, if you are not Shaun White, Shani Davis, Evan Lysacek or any other American gold medalists, I suggest you hold off on the jewelry until you know this woman well enough to be sure you know her middle name and those of all her siblings.
Erie, PA: Prudie - Last night my two young daughters (ages 5 and 6) found one of their dad's porno mags. They only had it for two or three minutes, but it was long enough to see some naked ladies and some tasteless cartoon nudity. At the time, they were giggling, and I didn't make a big deal out of it. However, today they told their grandma what they found, so apparently it was a big deal to them. I don't have a problem with my husband having the magazines (although I guarantee they will be better hidden from now on), but I'm at a loss as to how to explain to them why their daddy has it and what it's for. (By the way, this was an old issue of Hustler, which is a little less tasteful than, say, Playboy or something.) Help!
Emily Yoffe: It sounds as if you handled this perfectly. You acted unruffled, did not let them continue with the oeuvre of Larry Flynt, and shrugged it off. Sure it was an exciting discovery, and they were eager to share the news with their grandmother -- who must have been thrilled! But as for what you should do further, take your cues from them. If they don't ask you anymore about it, then I would let it go. If they want to know why their Daddy has such a thing, you can say, "This is a grown up magazine that has some articles and some pictures that must seem pretty silly." The most important thing you're communicating is that they didn't do anything wrong, and you're not upset. It's great that you understand that your husband's magazine are not a threat to your marriage. But we agree, however, that this literature should also be as inaccessible to kids as the drain cleaner.
Orlando, FL: I have recently married a man I adore. We are in the process of moving him in to my condo and we are combining our two households. His mother is an amateur "artist" who has provided him with numerous paintings over the years, and he treasures them all. She is not a great artist but her work isn't intolerable. Thankfully most are smallish landscapes and ocean scenes, and they can be easily stuck in corners or hallways and not be too noticeable. The problem is his main living room piece. It is a huge nude, which would be fine, but it is the equivalent to something you would see on the mudflap of a semi truck. It is garish and brightly-colored, and it has a naked woman posing with her head thrust back, back arched, etc. with flames all around her. It is just plain horrid. Obviously I cannot tell my husband how bad it is, and I understand we do have to hang it in our home. But please help me... how can I negotiate not having it as the centerpiece of our living room? My husband is the best man I know and is worth having to tolerate this trashy painting in my house, but I am horrified thinking I will have to look at it every day until I die.
Emily Yoffe: Does his mother do illustrations for Hustler? If you know someone well enough to marry him, that means you have license to discuss your styles of decorating. Merging your households requires editing, and since your taste might run more toward "Whistler's Mother" rather than "Mudflap Nude on Fire" by Mother, you just have to speak up. Fortunately, you can say you admire his mother's landscapes, and want to give them a place of pride. But that the nude simply makes you uncomfortable and you can't see displaying it. Perhaps he can loan it to a sibling, or tell his mother that it doesn't fit in with his current decor, and maybe she has a place to display it. This is something a wonderful man you adore should be able to understand.
Denver: I have a 18 month old. And, in defense of Back of the Bus, I don't go anywhere that he can't go. If he's not invited, I don't attend. My friends and family know that and invite accordingly. I don't long for time away from my child nor do I miss not having the time away. He joins me at dinners, concerts and conferences. If she thinks her children should've been invited and is willing to keep them up past their bedtimes to attend, I think she should take them.
Emily Yoffe: Denver, I don't know how to break this to you, but 18 months ago you expelled your son from your body and the two of you are not longer attached by an umbilical cord. It's time to snip it. No one wants an 18 month-old at a concert, unless it's "Sesame Street Live." And there's nothing like a business conference at which one of the executives puts a diaper pad on the conference table so as to not miss the latest sales figures. You can stick your principles, but expect the invitations to start drying up.
Back of the Bus, defending myself: Prudie --
The problem isn't that I really wanted to have my kids along at a nice restaurant -- it's the fact that my SIL talked to my face about it being a family event (and planned a family portrait session that includes my kids for earlier in the day) and then excluded my kids for the meal. Additionally my brother- in-law is bringing his baby -- it's just because my kids are old enough to walk and talk that they're being excluded.
FWIW, I generally get along with my SIL, and my kids adore her. But honestly, if I'm going to get a babysitter and go to an expensive restaurant, I'd rather do it with my husband, not his four siblings and parents. (And I'd rather not be railroaded into paying for a portion of my in-laws' meal on top of the expense of food and a babysitter.) It's about the fact that I was neither consulted nor informed than a deep desire to drag my rug rats all over creation. Hope this clarifies my position a little.
Emily Yoffe: Your kids adore their aunt. Auntie set up a photo session which will be really exciting for the kids and far more fun for them than having to sit through a boring dinner. You may be annoyed that a baby is there, but a baby will probably sleep and it's hard for a breast-feeding parent of a newborn to be away for hours. I'm glad you wrote in to clarify because you sound less angry here than in your first letter. Accept that you are incurring an unavoidable expense, let go of your resentment, and show your kids that you love your husband's family and are happy about the big day.
Philadelphia, PA : Hello, Darling.
A few days ago, my husband and I received a letter from a family were are acquainted with through the church we used to attend. It was a letter telling us they had decided to adopt a child from Africa. They have 3 biological children under age 5, just as an aside. My issue was that they were asking us to donate to them so they can get the child they have already picked out. They gave us options: donate directly, run in a 1/2 marathon and raise support, or buy free trade coffee from a website (BONUS: Free T shirt with a donation of $50 or more!). I am very supportive of adoption, but I think it's horribly tacky to ask others who you don't know well to give money so you can get a baby. To me, it would be like me sending out support letters because I want to do in vitro and need the cash to make it happen. Am I a big fat meany? Or does this seem a little weird to you, too? As always, your insight is much appreciated. Signed, How Much Is That Baby In The Window?
Emily Yoffe: A request such as the one your received does set up warring impulses: admiration for what the family wants to do; and puzzlement at how people could think it's a good idea to add a fourth child under age five to a family, particularly when the family is obviously financially stretched. I know that some agencies handling foreign adoptions warn prospective parents against such fundraising, because host countries can be reluctant to approve an adoption for a family that can't afford the fees. Would you feel differently about the tackiness of asking you for money if it was to support a breast cancer walk? The general problem is the one of being hit up to support others' worthy causes, and feeling social pressure to give, even if you have a budget for your own worthy causes. Fortunately, in this case, since you hardly know these people, you aren't going to get a face to face solicitation, so you are free to tsk-tsk and toss their request.
Warwick, Rhode Island: Dear Prudence,
More than two years ago I dented the driver's side door of my neighbor's car (it was pretty slight) while backing out of the driveway. As she was not home at the time, I left her a note apologizing for the accident and asking that she contact me when she knew the amount of the damages. (I do not know her very well and have only said the occasional hi.) A few days went by and I did not hear from her. One day I saw her while we were both getting in our cars. I apologized in person and mentioned again that I expected to pay for the dent. She said that she wasn't worried about it as it was slight and that if she ever decided to do anything about it she would let me know. Well two weeks later I received a letter from her with a mechanics note assessing the damage at over $700. Like a fool I forked over the money (didn't want my insurance to go up) without getting a second judgment. (I was a new driver at the time and didn't mention the incident to anyone else.) I wouldn't be bothered about it so much except that two years later the dent is still in her door. Did she have an ethical obligation to get it fixed once she had the money or is she clear of any obligations since I was the one who made the mistake?
Emily Yoffe: And one time I, while backing out of the parking lot at my daughter's pre-school ever so carefully to avoid hitting anyone, managed to put a tiny little, hardly noticeable dent in the car of -- naturally -- her teacher. I also offered to pay the full amount, and it cost about $800 (and the dent was minuscule!). The problem here is that you rightly said you would pay for a repair. But a piece of paper saying the repair will cost $700 is not a repair. What you should have done was tell your neighbor that as soon as she got the car fixed, she should give you the bill and you would immediately reimburse her. Or if she couldn't handle the bill, you would arrange to pay the repair place directly once they did the work. You made a genuine mistake; your neighbor has taken you for a ride.
Washington DC: Dear Prudence, I have a friend who loves to plan things--not necessarily elaborate get-togethers, just the regular social calendar of friends, such as dinners together. Besides the fact that I'm more of a casual, let's hang out, see what everybody likes to do, and commit later to these run-of-the-mill events (or not if there's something more "special" to do), I am beginning to resent that she essentially directs which restaurant, when and where, or if something else is going on. How do you suggest I approach this in order to strike more balance? Right now, I usually duck out, explaining why I don't like something in particular--which makes me feel like a dissatisfied customer. If it helps, she has acknowledged she needs to plan in order to avoid anxiety.
Emily Yoffe: Let's see, your complaint is that you have a friend who is willing to put the time and effort into planning an agreeable social event, and you're of the school that this person should be left wondering if anyone is going to actually show, depending on their mood, or other offers. At least you aren't complaining your planning friend is excluding your small children. You are free to be a flake. I hope your friend comes to understand that the best thing she can do for her anxiety level is to stop inviting you.
Washington DC: In your response to Erie, PA, what did you mean by "It's great that you understand that your husband's magazine are not a threat to your marriage." My wife became very upset when she learned about my interest in Playboy. She definitely believes it is a form of cheating despite my pleadings. ...
Emily Yoffe: I meant that unless a husband's looking at porn is an obsessive interest, wives should lighten up and shrug it off. You like to look at Playboy? Given what's available on the Internet, your wife should be thrilled you have such old-fashioned, literary tastes.
MD: the neighbor's car was damaged and you are compensating her for that. She is under no obligation to get it fixed on your timetable. She may decide to sell the car as is, and that value is less than what it was before you damaged it. With your payment, she is then whole.
Emily Yoffe: Okay, fair point.
Balogna, US: Dear Prudence,
Why does it feel that every time that I read your chat I get the feeling that all of these Q&A's are scripted well in advance?
They all seem too perfect and your replies come too quickly and too well written to be done on the fly.
Then again, maybe I'm the one who has issues.
Emily Yoffe: The chats are spontaneous, they not scripted -- and I will take your observation as a compliment!
Thanks, everyone, talk to you next week.