Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. An edited transcript of this week's chat is below. (Read Prudie's Slate columns here.)
Q. Kids?: Do you think everyone who has kids, and is successful at raising kids, "knows" that they really, really want kids when they have them? My husband and I have a wonderful relationship, he would be a great father, and we are likely able to financially care for a child. The problem is me. My parents didn't really want kids but had us anyway, and their apathy toward kids showed when raising us. I'm afraid that I'm too selfish; I'm afraid that the child could have a disability that I am not prepared for; I'm afraid that I'll be a bad parent. I also am just not sure that I even want a kid. It's not that I'm against having one; I'm just not gung ho about it, probably because of my fears. Do you have any thoughts or advice?
A: I know I'm running this letter after one about an abusive mother, but I assure you that even if you grew up with lousy parents, you are not condemned to repeat their mistakes. The fact that you are concerned about this shows that you have the insight and potential to be a good parent, if you choose to have children.
When letters like yours come up, it's hard for me to be objective because I had unhappy parents and a fear of having children. Yet having my daughter is the most wonderful experience and adventure of my life. If you truly don't want to have children, that's fine. But don't let the misery of your own parents rob you of the potential joy a child could bring.
Q. Forgetting Your Birthday: Maybe this isn't such a big deal, but I am totally miffed. My brother and wife, who live a few miles from me, have forgotten my birthday again. I don't want a gift, but a call or e-mail would be nice. They are on Facebook, and it definitely stated it was my birthday and my wall was filled with notes from my friends and even some of my kid's friends wishing me happy birthday. My son says I should say something. I'm afraid that as hurt and mad as I am, I would make things worse. What do you think? P.S. I'm 44, and my parents are dead, so I can't exactly have my mom call and remind him.
A: Sure, a call or e-mail would be nice, but you're not 4; you're 44. Some siblings continue to make a deal out of each other's birthdays; some can't even remember the dates once they're all out of the house. If you otherwise have a decent relationship with brother and sister-in-law, just be happy that so many people sent you their best wishes and appreciate that your brother has many good qualities, but remembering birthdays isn't one of them. It's a mistake to turn your Facebook page into a place to keep tabs of who's not keeping sufficient tabs of your milestones.
Q. Manners, Grooming, Co-Workers: I am a young black woman who enjoys wearing my hair in natural styles—braids, twists, and the occasional afro. When I do, co-workers, acquaintances, and sometimes people I don't even know come up and make comments on the new style, followed by a good pat, tug, etc., on my hair. How can I explain that I DON'T want to be touched, without being as rude as they are? Comments like "Please don't do that again" are usually met with hurt looks and bewilderment or "Oh, but it's so fun!"
A: Complimenting someone on a change in hairstyle is one thing; sticking your mitts in it because that seems like a "fun" thing to do is another. If the touchers are people you know, and one, "Please don't touch my hair," doesn't work, explain briefly and firmly that touching your hair is a violation of your personal space—surely they themselves don't want co-workers putting their hands into their hair—and that you hope you don't have to have this conversation again. As for strangers, feel free to step back and say, "Get your hands off me, now!"
Q. Party Pooper Again: I'll say something to my friend's husband to try and get help for the kids. My friend will just defend her and say how hard she has it and make excuses for her. The oldest may be in school; I don't know details, but I do know she's had issues in her life. I still don't think that's a reason to take it out on your kids. My friend's husband is the one who eventually diffused the situation and made her stop yelling and leave the party.
A: Thanks for following up on this—it's the right thing to do. Having hard times is not an excuse for taking it out on the kids, but it is a good way to perpetuate generations of misery.
Q. Addiction: Help! I'm addicted to advice columns. I read them every day and try to find more and more to read. Sometimes I won't leave the house for hours because I'm waiting for a chat like this one. What should I do?
A: This doesn't sound like a problem to me!
Since this chat is now over, my advice is to step away from the computer for a while and resume your own life—until the next chat.
Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.
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