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.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. I know we're not officially there, but summer feels really over.
Q. Naked Neighbor: How can we let our new neighbor know that everyone on the block can see through her windows? She keeps curtains over them, but when the light hits just right they are virtually see-through. There are a lot of children around and it has been a topic amongst them that you can see "Ms. Smith" naked most evenings. We don't want to embarrass her, but it certainly needs to be brought to her attention.
A: You're all living an update of Hitchcock's Rear Window, one that could be called, Rear End Window. I'll admit that as teenagers my sister and I spent many hours spying on our neighbors. We didn't have as much fun as your community's kids because our greatest titillation was watching the neighbors pass the Cheetos as they sat on the couch staring at the TV. I imagine that as the word as spread in your neighborhood, a few of the husbands have found themselves suddenly armed with bottles of Windex and a desire to make sure the windows are sparkling. However illuminating all this is, the curtain has to come down on Ms. Smith. This is a case for which the anonymous note was made. Send one to her explaining that her sheers are not providing the coverage she needs. If she doesn't quickly install black-out shades, then she's getting a thrill by providing a peep show. (And no, readers, I can't give you her address.)
Q. Tipping: I am 66 and have stayed in many hotels and motels over the years. Recently I was staying at a Comfort Inn along with some other family for a wedding. One of the family members was my adult daughter, who, as we were all checking out, asked to change a $20 at the front desk. I asked her why and she said to leave in the room for the housekeeper. I saw that she left a $5. Have I been a complete cheapskate all these years? I have never heard of leaving a tip in a motel (or a hotel for that matter) for the person who cleans the room.
A: Have you been a complete cheapskate? Yes. Unfortunately, tipping the maid in the hotel is one of those niceties that many people never learn because leaving a hotel room is generally a private act. Cleaning rooms is hard, and sometimes dangerous, as a recent celebrated case (now dismissed) informed us. Housekeepers really earn their tips. I tip at the end of my stay, usually leaving about $3 a night. I once asked a maid if they prefer to get the tip daily or when the guest checks out. Since maids are not supposed to touch money, she said at the end, which could mean that the woman who cleaned your room most of the week may not end up with the tip. But if everyone knew to leave one, it would all even out.
Q. Inviting First Husband's Parents to My Second Wedding: I have recently become engaged to a wonderful man three yrs after the death of my husband. The reason I'm writing to you is because I am debating whether or not I should invite my first husband's parents. I have been close to them since my first husband and I were dating. They have supported me brilliantly in the past years as I raised my two girls alone. In fact, I see them as my second set of parents. I feel strange going through such a major personal celebration without them—but on the other hand, I realize this could be an awkward situation and also a difficult one for all the obvious reasons. What is the wedding etiquette on this one?
A: Talk to them. Tell them you would love to have them there, but you understand if they would find it to be too hard. I'm betting they would like to be there, seated with your daughters. They will never get over their son's death, of course, but they also must have hoped for you, and their grandchildren, that you would find love again and that the girls would have a good man to help raise them. They also may be concerned that with your remarriage they may be somewhat shunted aside. So this is a good time to tell them what their love and support has meant. Say that you think of them as a second set of parents, and always will. And that no change in your circumstances will change your closeness or their importance to your daughters.
Last week I answered a letter on a similar theme from a bridesmaid wondering if she should mention the bride's mother, who died about a year before the wedding. I encouraged her to include the mother in her toast. And I encourage you to have someone mention your late husband during the toasts. I think it will be a comfort to your daughters to know that finding new love does not mean you forget your old love. And that while all of you can be happy for this day, it doesn't mean their father won't always have a place in all of your hearts.
Q. Family Vacation: My large, wonderful extended family is taking a five-day cruise this winter. I am thrilled as it is rare for the whole family to get together. Since I'm part of the younger generation, the trip is more of a financial strain on me than other members of the family, but I am more than willing to spend the money to go. My partner of two years, however, is not willing to spend the money and so he has decided not to go. I feel that he is a part of my family and so he should come on family vacations. He feels differently. Am I being reasonable in my expectation of him joining me on this cruise? If so, how do I get him to go?
A: Probably the cruise company will not appreciate the old fashioned method of getting reluctant people aboard ship: kidnapping and tying them to the mast. Spending five days with your partner's family may not be many people's idea of a pleasure cruise. Add that you'll all be trapped on a boat and that this fun will deplete your partner's bank account, and you have a pretty weak case. Enjoy your five days at sea immersed in your family without having to worry about explaining private jokes or keeping Uncle Mort from talking your partner's ear off. Do not be resentful that your beloved simply wants to wish you a bon voyage.
Q. Divorcing a Stepchild: My husband and I are unfortunately in the middle of a divorce. He was a widower with a daughter when we married and we raised her together since she was 6. I have never been much affectionate of children, uninterested in having any of my own, and while I did make an effort to include my stepdaughter and spend time with her, I never felt that fuzzy warmth other parents feel as they relish in the company of their children. She is now 15, and probably in need of a mother figure/female role model. My husband assumed I would maintain this role and suggested she stay with me on weekends. The problem is, I don't want to. As long as I was a stepmother to this child I would fulfill whatever parental duties I had. Now that I am divorcing her father, I don't feel particularly compelled to continue. How can I communicate this to the two of them gently with minimal hurt feelings? I don't want to be callous, but I don't feel it's right for me to remain a "mother" out of obligation when my heart is not in it.
A: I'm wondering if during those years you raised your stepdaughter you ever got around to reading her any fairy tales. I'm hoping the portrayals of the stepmothers called you up short. Sure, just because you spent this girl's childhood going through the motions doesn't make you an evil stepmother. And I'll give you credit for being an honest one now in saying you want out. But for all child-haters contemplating marrying someone with children—please don't. Being barely interested in the child in your life simply isn't enough. If you are marrying someone with children, especially a widow or widower, you aren't just becoming a spouse but a parent, a role you should embrace and think of as one for life. My heart breaks for this girl who lost one mother then had a cold one as a replacement. However, it seems rather manipulative on the father's part to try to free up his weekends by passing his daughter on to you. But now that this girl is becoming a young adult, surely you can soften your heart enough to want to remain part of her life, even if that just means occasional sleepovers or lunches. As for how you tell her you're glad to get rid of her—well, maybe before your family totally dissolves all of you could get some short-term counseling to help clarify your future roles and let your soon-to-be ex-stepdaughter find a way to say what she's feeling.