Q. Bridesmaid Wants To Change: My sister-in-law has asked my permission to change out of her bridesmaid's dress immediately after my wedding ceremony and pictures so that she may wear her own dress to the reception. As much as I want to be agreeable, this really hurts my feelings. Our reception will not likely exceed 2 hours, the wedding party are all seated at the same table as my future husband and I, and none of the other bridesmaids are planning on changing. When I asked her why she wanted to change, my sister-in-law said she felt that she would be more comfortable in another dress. The dress is not seasonally inappropriate, revealing, or particularly form fitting. Am I being unreasonable for not wanting her to change?
A: Unless your sister-in-law is one of those passive-aggressive types who just likes to make herself annoying, there is some reason she really hates this dress and she's done you the courtesy keeping it to herself. Yes, I think she should have just hated this dress all night long, but once the ceremony is over and the pictures are taken, you shouldn't care that she can't wait to get if off and into something that makes her feel pretty. Think how much better your relationship with her will be in 10 years if you just say, "Thanks for asking. Off course you can, and I look forward to seeing what you'll wear."
Q. A Boyish Girl: Our 5-year-old daughter likes to dress up as a boy. We're not concerned about it, because she grew up with two older brothers and the three of them are inseparable. Other than occasionally offering her girls' clothes, we don't think much about this issue. My brother, however, seems to think there's something very serious going on. He keeps asking why we haven't taken our daughter to a psychologist who specializes in transgender children. He researches and prints off information about gender reassignment procedures. He thinks she is a "boy born inside a girl's body" and needs appropriate treatment to make the transformation. We just think it's a harmless phase. Is my brother right? Should I look into this more or tell him to butt out?
A: So your brother apparently would like his kindergarten-age niece to begin the process of gender reassignment. You should reassign him as "World's Worst Uncle." Your daughter is 5-years-old. She may just like dressing up like her beloved older brothers. She may be a tomboy. (Are there tomboys anymore or is that like saying she's a flapper?) She may love looking girly in a few years—or maybe not. She may end up who knows where on the sexual spectrum, but you're right not to be concerned about this now. She sounds like a perfectly normal kid with perfectly loving parents and an uncle who is perfectly out of control. Tell him you don't want any more information or advice, and if he cares for his niece he'll cease right now worrying about what she wears.
Q. For "Too Many Siblings": I can relate. My teenage years were filled with babysitting. A summer job will give you great new skills that will help build your resume and expose you to new ideas and opportunities and better place you for the not-great job market in a few years. More babysitting will not. (Although you have learned quite a few great skills already, including time management and managing people!) Step away, and enjoy.
A: Great point. The summer job will make this young woman a more attractive future employment candidate.
Q. Throwing Myself a Pity Party: We recently learned that my mother has stage 4 cancer. She just had a surgery, but the cancer has metastasized. They are going to start chemo in two weeks. I have been coping pretty well but what throws me off more than anything is falling into the downward spiral of thinking my mom isn't going to be there on my wedding day, to see her grandchildren, to cook Christmas breakfast. How can I turn those thoughts off when they come on? For what it’s worth, I'm scheduled to go to a therapist at the end of the week but was just hoping I could have some interim advice. Thank you!
A: I'm so sorry and I hope your mother's treatments are successful. It's good you're going to see a therapist. All of us wish there was a way to turn off painful thoughts, but what you're experiencing are the natural thoughts and fears of anyone in this situation. I like the precepts of "mindfulness," which instead of trying to stop these kinds of thoughts, teaches accepting them. Not so they disable you, but so that you can deal with them better. Please look into mindfulness resources, but for now when the terrible scenarios creep into your mind, you can say to yourself, "Yep, I'm wondering again what Christmas would be like if Mom wasn't there. It would be really sad. But right now I'm not going to dwell on it. I'm going to put that thought in a balloon and let it float away."
Q. Child's Schooling: My husband and I are expecting our first child next month and have stumbled upon an issue that I realize now that, before we had gotten married, we should have discussed and resolved: public or private schooling. Both of us feel very strongly about our preference and are really surprised that the other feels the opposite. We are at an absolute impasse on the issue, and it is starting to create stress and acrimony. We live in suburban Maryland and have excellent options for both, but our philosophical preferences do not seem to converge. We talk to friends about how they made their choices, hoping to find some common ground, and they feel as strongly about their choices that we feel about our sides of the issue. I don't see a compromise here, and one of us is going to have to cave. My mother suggested (in jest) we alternate years or alternate children, but the former sounds disruptive to our kid’s socialization, the other creates the impression that one is worth more money than the other. For what it is worth, financial considerations are not part of the debate.
A: Why not let your yet un-born child get potty trained first (but keep the potty away from the garden!) before you start worrying about where he or she is going to matriculate. It may seem irrelevant now, but who your kid is—shy, exuberant, precocious, slow to mature—is actually going to have something to do with your choice. Even though you have the cash to pay the bill, it's possible your child may not even get into the private school of your desire (if you decide to apply). Make a deal with your husband that you will drop this conversation for the foreseeable future. In a couple of years you will have the chance to reopen it with open minds.
Q. Re: A BOYISH GIRL: I was the little girl dressed like a boy. I also refused to admit I was a girl until I was 6. This was because of my older brother, who I looked up to and adored. I wanted to be just like him. I never turned into a girly-girl, and still stole his clothes in junior high (with comedic results), but eventually grew into my own feminine sense of style. I am happily married to a man, and have been learning over the years how to curl hair, find the right fit of pants, and what looks best for my body. I can understand the ease of wanting to dress like a boy—there's so much less to think about! And it's comfortable. The uncle needs to calm down and talk to his niece about all of the amazing women out there, to show her that there are plenty of people to look up to and admire that share her gender.
A: Thank you! The mother should show the uncle your note then tell him the conversation has officially ended.
Q. Unbalanced Cousin: I'm deeply conflicted about the relationship I have with my cousin. She is seven years younger than me and my wife. She has had a series of colossally bad relationships with men several years older than she is. She also has a tortured relationship with her father (he has basically ignored her for her entire life). She visited us about a year ago and it became quite clear that she was mentally unbalanced. She has been institutionalized before and has a history of eating disorders and self-harm. My cousin's behavior was so frightening that we took our 3-year-old daughter out of her room and we all slept in our room behind a locked door. We have been supportive and accommodating of her needs and eccentricities for 20 years. It happens that we are expecting our second child at the same time my cousin is expecting. She seems to think that we have this great relationship while, in fact we (and her father and his wife) really fear her and the drama that accompanies her. My family and I don't want to be around her, but she really wants to be around us and have a relationship with my daughter and have the two we are expecting to "grow up together." Am I a jerk for not ever wanting to see her again? Is it selfish of me to want to protect my children from this unbalanced woman? How do I cut the cord without sending her further down the rabbit hole?