The Family That Bathes Together
Prudie counsels a mother who wonders when the time is right to stop bathing with her little boy.
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.)
Emily Yoffe writes: Good afternoon. Let's get going.
Q. Children: I am the mother of a 4-and-a-half-year-old son who is an only child. I read somewhere that I should stop taking baths with him when he turned 3 years old. I still take baths with him, he loves our bath time, and it does not feel weird to me. I think these things will naturally come to a halt when the time is right, but I would appreciate some advice here. I'm thinking America is so prudish and other cultures would think nothing of this, but I have been wanting to ask you this for a long time. P.S.—I love your column!
A: Some people are never comfortable with family nudity. Some (as I learned from a recent visit to a nudist camp for a story for Slate) are far, far too comfortable with it. Your tub time with your little boy has been a sweet and wonderful experience for both of you, but you're right that soon it will be time to pull the plug on it. The problem with leaving it open-ended about when it "naturally" stops is that it puts the burden on your son to display his discomfort. It's possible that as he turns 5 he'll start to feel uncomfortable but not want to hurt your feelings by saying so. I think it's time for you to start getting out of the tub. Instead of making every bath a joint cleaning session, start supervising him in the tub solo most of the time now. Then soon, if he asks why you no longer join him, you can explain that he's a big boy now, so he can take a bath alone, and it's getting too crowded for the two of you.
Dear Prudence: OCD Neat Freak?
Q. Bad Break-Up: A friend is absolutely devastated by the end of her three-year relationship. He met somebody else and moved on. We (her friends) understand her pain and feelings of confusion, loss, and anger. We each, and as a group, try to be supportive and helpful. But it's been six months! As one of our group asked, "Is this break-up going to last as long as the relationship?" We're pretty much tired of talking about the ex, what might have been, how it happened, etc. It's just tears and recriminations with no seeming effort on her part to, well, get over it. This may seem a selfish question, but how do we get over it? Or is it our tolerance and friendship that are lacking? This break-up has become an all-consuming topic within our group. And it's not pretty.
A: You need an intervention for your friend. The next time all of you are together and she starts in on, "I don't understand, sure we had some problems, but overall we were really happy and ..." all of you—kindly, please!—should explain you're concerned about her. Tell her break-ups are terribly painful, but they're also terribly common. He's with someone else now, and it's irretrievably over. Explain that all of you have realized allowing her to go 'round and 'round about what went wrong is not helping her—just the opposite. So as a group of friends you are going cold turkey on talking about the break-up. However, you feel she's gotten stuck emotionally, and she needs to sort this out with a professional who can help her get back to being a happy, independent person, who, like almost everyone else, once had her heart broken.
Q. Awkward Conversations: Recently, I found out that I was just shy of passing the bar exam. My friends knew that I should be receiving my results and have been asking me, to which I reply the truth—that I did not pass. This makes for a very awkward conversation when people seem surprised that I admit the truth, then they don't know what to say next. I just explain that I was close and will have to step it up a notch next time around. My fiance says just tell them you passed to avoid awkwardness, but I don't feel the need to lie to people. How can I be truthful and not put the person in an uncomfortable position for asking?
A: Since you plan on becoming a sworn officer of the court, it's probably not good practice to lie about your qualifications to assume those duties. Anyone who knows anything about the bar knows that failing the first time around is common and should not hinder an otherwise successful career—just ask Hillary Clinton, who failed the D.C. bar exam the first time, or Jerry Brown, who had to retake the California bar exam. Of course, it's awkward when people are expecting to say, "Congratulations!" so dispel the discomfort yourself. When they ask, you could say: "That question is inadmissible! Actually, I was a hair shy of passing, so I'm hitting the books and hope to pass next time around."
Q. Should I Trust Him? I've been dating a man for five months, but for two of them he was gone, and I had no idea where he was. He was sick in the hospital for a couple of days but said everything was fine; a week later, he left a note saying he had cancer and was dying. He didn't want to put me through that, so he was leaving town. He was gone for a little over a month before I heard from him. He decided to come back, and I agreed to let him, but one thing after another came up, and it was three weeks before he actually came back. I love him and wanted to believe what he told me was true. He's been back a month now, and in that time frame his "ex" wife has contacted me and told me they are still married and his cousin has told me the same thing. He denies it and is "working" on getting copies of the divorce papers. We've been to the doctor about the cancer he was told he had but are still waiting on the results. So much has happened, and I want to trust him, but I'm losing faith.
A: Who knew that marriage was the miracle cure for cancer we've all been waiting for! Your boyfriend isn't dying; he's just lying. Stop waiting for nonexistent biopsies and just say goodbye.
Q. Mothers-in-Law: My in-laws live out of town, so when they come to visit, they're here for at least a couple days. My husband and his dad often take on household projects (like rebuilding the shed) or head off fishing or golfing. Which leaves me solo with my mother-in-law. And it's not that I don't like her. She's really kind and sweet. The problem is, Prudie, that I can't get her to DO anything. She's a guest in my home, so I feel responsible for her good time. But I can't seem to find a common interest. Do you want to go to the museum? No, too much walking. Do you want to go apple picking? No, it'll be crowded. There's a cooking class at the community college, did you want to go with me? No, I already know how to cook that. She just sits and reads magazines, while I mill awkwardly about. Should I feel responsible for entertaining her? My husband says no. But I can't just let her sit and stare at the wall! What I should I do? She's going to be my MIL for a long time!
A: You have the mother-in-law from heaven, and you're complaining. She just wants to take a load off, sit in a corner, and read! Stop trying to stop her. Just go about your business, although continue to offer to include her. You can say, "Denise, I'm going to an exhibition at the art museum, are you interested in joining me?" Or, "I have to run by the mall, would you like to come?" Either she will or she won't. You have a nondemanding mother-in-law, so be thrilled she'll be around for a long time.
Q. Grown Child Indifferent to Anniversary: My husband and I are approaching our 50th wedding anniversary. This is very important to us, and we think it should be important to our children, too. Our oldest son, however, seems completely indifferent to such things. At 41, he has a good (if insecure) job and just ONE child to support, so I think he should be footing the bill for some kind of celebration (perhaps a cruise?). Admittedly, he's preoccupied with career worries, he and his partner don't splurge on themselves, and since they're not married, they don't even celebrate their own anniversary. Still, is it wrong for me to drop hints that something more than a late card would be appropriate this time around? After all, I brought this boy into the world, so I feel like he owes us some gratitude.
A: Probably, if he could afford it, your eldest would happily foot the bill for one of those space shots so you and your husband could be circling the moon and leave him alone. Congratulations on your golden anniversary. If you want to go on a cruise, it would have been a good idea for you to have saved up for one. Your children don't owe you a vacation or anything remotely like that—your son is probably just trying to hang on financially so he doesn't ever have to contemplate asking to move in with you. If you want to celebrate, tell the kids you're hosting a family dinner. Then at it, try not to tell them they're a bunch of ungrateful wretches.
Photograph of Prudie by Teresa Castracane.