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: Good afternoon. Let's get to it.
Q. Baby: I am quite simply not a baby person, but as I am in my mid-20s my friends are starting to have children. As a female, I feel it is expected of me to want to sit and hold the baby. I want to support the parents by taking a meal over to their house and visiting with them soon after the birth of their child, but I get blank stares when I say I don't want to hold their precious bundle of joy. I love kids and could sit and play with a 2-year-old all day, but I really don't have any need or desire to hold a baby. I always awkwardly stumble on the words and feel the need to reassure the parent that it is not just their baby, but all babies in general. What would be the proper etiquette to pass on holding a baby?
A: You can always say, "She's so precious. I can't wait to hold her. Let me just wipe my nose because I feel like I'm coming down with something and I don't want to drip on her." That should get the baby swooped away from you pronto. You could also say, "Babies can just sense I'm uncomfortable holding them. But I'm loving admiring him from here." That might result in the parents offering baby-holding lessons that you would be hard-pressed to decline. But since you say you do love kids, maybe you should just wash your hands, grit your teeth, and hold the little bundle for a couple of minutes. Place the baby so its head rests on your shoulder. There's no better smell than baby neck, and no better feeling than when that heavy little head rests on you. Even if this does nothing for you, after two minutes, you can say, "She is the most adorable baby I've ever seen" and hand her back.
Dear Prudence: House of Hoarders
Q. My Uncle Killed My Granddad ... I Want To Know How: My mom's brother is the ultimate black sheep. For most of his adulthood, he has stirred trouble over alcoholism, violence, and abusive midnight calls to family members. He bullied my grandparents out of so much money they lost their home. Six years ago, he did something so terrible that my grandfather collapsed of shock and died two weeks after. My grandmother obtained a restraining order from my uncle and the rest of the family severed ties with him. What he did was so bad my dad still refuses to discuss it. He has asked me not to ask Mom as she gets extremely upset discussing her family. I wish to knew the circumstances surrounding my granddad's death. As unpleasant as it is, it is still my family history, and I believe I should know all the facts. But is it wrong to ask my parents to rehash painful memories?
A: Sadly, I hear over and over about the havoc that can be wreaked by one unstable, untreated family member. You know that your uncle did terrible things, so that's not a secret. And I understand your parents, especially your mother, doesn't want to dwell on what happened. But when families try to suppress secrets, it only gives them more power. Tell your father you don't want to ask your mother to talk about her painful family history, but you feel you're old enough to know the story of what happened between your uncle and your grandfather. Say that only knowing part of the story has the effect of making you wonder about it more, and you would appreciate being trusted to know the truth. If he won't tell you, then there must be other family members who could enlighten you.
Q. Wedding Gift: I'm in need of some advice. My husband and I just had a reception to celebrate our wedding, and we received some very generous gifts. My dilemma is this: From at least two couples, we were given a very nice check, but I know that at least one person from each couple was recently laid off from his/her job. Do we still accept the gift? I know they're big boys and girls who can make their own decisions, but I worry about their financial situations. Should we decline and let them know we really just appreciated that they were there with us to celebrate our marriage with our friends and family? If declining is the gracious thing to do, how does one graciously decline a check?
A: How nice to hear that you're concerned about the financial well-being of your guests, instead of complaining that you didn't get enough trivets from them. It's generous of you to consider giving the checks back, but as you say, they are adults and made a free decision to give you a generous gift, no matter how ill-timed it may have been. Write them a thank-you note and do not make reference to their financial situation. Then invite them over for dinner, or take them out and treat them to a celebration of your union. And readers who are invited to weddings but are financially taxed—please, please do not feel pressured to buy gifts that are beyond your means. Something as small as a framed photograph of the couple is a thoughtful and meaningful gift.
Q. Vacation Dilemma: Is it ever a good idea to stay with your boss and their spouse while on vacation, even for a few days? They know this area very well, and we have never been. They want to show us around so it would be convenient to be right there. We planned to get our own place, but there is nothing to rent near them. We get along well. If not, how can we decline without offending them? How about staying one night?
A: I understand your feelings that this is a tricky situation, but given all the variables—you're going to where they have a place, they have extended an invitation, they have the room, they are eager to show you around—I think a short stay (say, two nights) would be fine. Since you say you get along well with the boss and spouse, obviously you have socialized comfortably before. But just keep in mind, this is one vacation during which you don't want to have so much to drink that the next day you wake up saying, "I really shouldn't have said that."
Q. Pre-Marital Sex and Parents: My boyfriend and I are in a loving relationship and we have been dating for eight months already. He has been wanting to have sex, but since my parents are very against pre-marital sex, I have been really hesitant. Personally I want to, and am telling him that once I get a chance, to we can do it. I feel nothing wrong with having sex before marriage at all, but I feel morally conflicted by having to lie to my parents. What should I do?
A: Now that's some shocking news: Your boyfriend would really, really like to have sex. Are you 16 or 26?I It makes a difference. I'm against premarital sex by high-school students. I'm not against pre-marital sex by responsible college-age people. (In fact, I can't imagine marrying someone one hasn't had sex with.) However, if you are making this decision based on how your parents would react, that tells me you aren't really old enough to start engaging in sex. Instead of lying to your parents, I think you should tell your boyfriend, "I really like you, but since I can't stand the thought of sneaking around on my parents to have sex with you, that tells me I'm not ready to have sex with you." If he breaks up with you or pressures you, that only should underline the wisdom of your parents' prohibition (for now).
Q. Reminding Someone To Do a Favor: I am applying for a job that requires my referee to answer a lengthy questionnaire form. I have given one to my former boss, who I am confident will provide a glowing reference. Unfortunately, however, he is also prone to forgetfulness and procrastination. When I worked for him it was common to wait several weeks for him to look over a document and give his final approval. I'm now worried he is going to shove the referee form aside and forget to send it in. Is it rude of me to send a reminder, since he is doing a favor for me?
A: Does your boss have an assistant you have a good relationship with? You could contact the assistant and ask him or her the status of your questionnaire and ask that it be put on the top of the boss's desk. If you can't go that route, and you know the questionnaire hasn't been turned in, then it is fine to contact the boss and say you know how busy he is and you hate to add to his burden, but your new job is hanging until they get this paper from him. If this still doesn't get it turned in, you might tell your potential employer that while you and your boss got along exceedingly well, filling out forms is not his strong suit, and if it's possible, they might want to contact him directly and have him give the answers over the phone. (Readers, tell me if you have better ideas. And I know you will tell me if these ideas stink.)