Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of this week's chat is below. ( Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie's Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
A: Red hair attracts comments, perhaps not so much in Ireland, but anywhere else it's a striking trait and one people feel comfortable noting. (It is not universally desired, however. News is that the world's largest sperm bank doesn't want any more flame-haired donors.) But it's insensitive to comment on the remarkable tresses of one sibling while the other is just standing there. However, you're not going to stop people from saying, "Look at that gorgeous hair!" so you have to show that, yes, she has lovely red hair, but hair just doesn't mean very much to your family. You should smile and say, "I'm lucky I have two gorgeous daughters." Teach your ginger girl to simply say, "Thank you," when she gets compliments about her hair. Your brunette daughter may resent the attention, but your redhead also knows that simply growing hair doesn't take any ability.
Q. Death of a Parent: I second Prudie's advice. When I am stressed or upset, I tend to cry or get upset or want to talk it out a lot. My S.O. is the complete opposite. He might eventually want to talk, but he needs time to process his emotions, calm down, decompress, etc. I expended way too much energy trying to get him to talk about it before he finally got me to understand that talking isn't what he needs. All I asked in return is that he just tell something like: "I'm not mad or angry with you/I want to talk, just not now/Let me have some time to myself" so I'm not left wondering. It makes everyone's life much better.
A: Good advice to understand each other's styles for dealing with powerful emotions. And I agree the quiet partner should feel comfortable telling the talkative partner, "I just need to think this through alone for now, thanks."
Q. Paparazzi: There was a house fire on my street last week where a house completely burned down. Thankfully, everybody got out in time and no one was killed (thank you fire alarms!). There was a big crowd of people around the house. The family who got out just in time were obviously distraught and crying. Some people started taking photos of the house—and the distressed family as well. I saw from my house across the road and I really wanted to run over and snatch the cameras away. Days afterward I still feel shaken by the whole thing—obviously about my neighbors, but also about the people photographing the "event" as well. Should I have said something to the paparazzi?
A: But this is more exciting to post on your Facebook page than what you had for lunch. "Take a look at the faces of my distraught neighbors while their home turns into a cinder behind them!" I think it would have been fine to quietly tell the photographers that this is a time to offer help, not to take pictures of their neighbors' distress.
Q. In-Laws Visiting: My husband's parents are visiting us for a week. My question is mostly to do with my MIL: She is very controlling with my 3.5 year old son. She tells him "no" all day for little things. "Don't peel the paper off of that crayon." "Don't hold your fork in that hand." "Don't tidy up that way." It's constant and nonstop. How do I intervene without contradicting her every time she says something? I don't want to make her look bad in front of my son (her grandson), but I'm sick of this negative attitude. We don't have the greatest relationship to start with, and she doesn't take well to being corrected.
A: It's true that usually the people who are a fount of criticism don't enjoy having the hose turned on them. As I repeatedly recommend regarding problems with in-laws, the first line of defense should be the biological child. Your husband should tell his mother that he knows she has strong opinions about child-rearing, and she got to exercise them when he was little. But now it's the next generation's turn, and the two of you have more relaxed views. He should say he'd appreciate it if she didn't give your son so many corrections. Remember, the visit is only for a week, so it will soon come to an end. On the other hand your toddler shouldn't have to listen to a string of crazy orders that whole time. So when she starts in, say as calmly as possible, "Irma, it doesn't bother us if Zach peels the crayon." If she gets to be too much, say you're buckling him in the stroller and taking him out for a run.
Q. Red Hair: I have red hair. I got all of the comments that the original poster's daughter got. I also got taunted by kids my own age and didn't like having red hair until I was about 18. I wrote my college application on being a redhead. All of it means next to nothing as an adult. My hair has faded to a strawberry blond and my hair only makes it easier to find me in a sea of blondes and brunettes. The reality? Compliments mean next to nothing to children, but the teasing and taunts of elementary school probably bother your redheaded daughter more than the brunette daughter is bothered by the lack of compliments on her hair.
A: I didn't think about the other side: the flame-headed getting flamed for it. Thanks for this perspective.
Q. Red Hair: I was the mousy-brown haired sister of someone who had (and still has) beautiful red hair. For every adult who comments positively on the hair, there is a kid yelling "carrots" on the playground. Just saying that while, yes, the mother is right to be uncomfortable, she isn't hearing all of the comments the red-haired daughter or her sister hear. It isn't something to lose sleep over!
A: See, Mom, the brown-haired kid is all right.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week!
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