Help! I Can’t Compete With the Expensive Toys My Niece Gets From Her Mother.

Advice on manners and morals.
July 2 2012 3:31 PM

Occupy the Dollhouse!

In a live chat, Prudie advises a mother whose niece flaunts her expensive toys in front of her cousins.

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A: I can't tell you how many husbands (maybe yours!) write to me about this problem. They first try the "I want you to be healthy" route, to no effect. Then, usually after their wives press them, they "admit," as yours did, that a large weight gain is a turn-off. It's true you are not at an alarming weight for your height. But 30 extra pounds in a short amount of time is concerning. I assume you don't plan to put on 10 pounds a year for the foreseeable future, which would fairly quickly land you in the unhealthy area. I'm also concerned that your reason is that you say you don't have time to look after yourself or really care about your appearance anymore. Are you depressed? Are you so wrapped up in your daughter's life that you have lost a sense of your own autonomy? Ideally, your husband loves you no matter what your size, and vice versa. But I think it's fair for him to note that he married someone slender who no longer is and doesn't seem to care. Getting in a power struggle over your weight is a disaster that likely makes you turn away from your husband and to Ben & Jerry for comfort. But you need to figure out for your own sake why you think being a mother is incompatible with keeping yourself in shape.

Q. Hobo Costume Party: I was home from college last Saturday and the oldest person in the house; my parents were out for the evening. My 16-year-old sister wanted to go to her friend's 16th birthday bash, which my parents OK’d because it was a chaperoned party. When my sister came down to leave, I noticed her clothes were baggy, dirty, and had some holes in them. I asked what was up with her look. She told me her friend's party was a "hobo costume party" and that guests needed to dress like "hobos." I was turned off by the theme and, like a true tattle tale, called my parents to tell them the kind of party my sister wanted to attend. They were grossed out by the theme too, and they forbade her from attending. Pictures from the party have popped up on Facebook, so I'm glad my sister wasn't there to be photographed. She's still pretty mad with me and said I'm a loser sister. Should I have let her go to the hobo party, or was I right to call my parents? Or did we both do wrong?

A: I think the theme is in bad taste, too. I understand "hobo" is probably considered an archaic term by the kids, but they probably are being savvy enough not to call it a "homeless person" party. In the olden days, when there were hobos, kids could go to a party like that, their parents could find out and explain why it was insensitive, and that would be the end of it. Nowadays, dressing up as a homeless person for fun is documented and disseminated on the Internet—presumably forever. Your sister is lucky she will never have to explain these embarrassing photos. I think you did right, big sis, to act as in loco parentis and keep your sister away from a loco idea for a party.

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Q. Re: Spoiled Niece: Given that American Girl Dolls are $100-125 and the girl saved for the two of them over 18 months, that is saving $11-14 a month. And also assuming the charitable donation and the amount to savings is the standard 10 percent, and that she spends a small amount each month, that puts this 10-year-old girl’s allowance (payment for chores) at somewhere around $20-25 a month, which is not unreasonable in this day and age.

A: Thank you for doing the math—which further puts in perspective how well the niece and nephew are being raised and how ugly the envy of the letter writer is.

Q. Weight Gain and Sympathy: My partner has gained weight over the past year. I'm still very much sexually attracted to him, but the weight gain is definitely not a positive. He is aware of his weight gain and comments frequently on it ("I'm so fat, Look at this gut," etc.). I have lost a significant amount of weight and have ideas on how one does it. However, whenever I've offered suggestions after he makes a comment, he sounds horrified. He says he's looking for "sympathy." Well, sympathy is the one thing I can't offer him. It's not like he has a thyroid problem or an eating disorder, he just eats terribly, drinks more than he should, and engages in no form of exercise. It was very hard for me to lose weight and it's hard to maintain, and I don't have any "sympathy" for someone who does nothing. So, when he says something about it now, there is now just awkward silence. I want him to put up or shut up, and he seems to be doing neither. What can I do?

A: Have I got a girl for him! This is an interesting insight about wanting sympathy for a weight problem, instead of wanting to address is. I think you should tell your boyfriend what you've said here, that you can't offer him sympathy because the only way to deal with a weight issue is the ways you've previously outlined. Then tell him you no longer want to discuss this. It may be that you find yourself less attracted to him not because of his weight, but his attitude about it.

Q. Wedding Protocol: My son will soon be married to a lovely woman, and I'm very happy and excited for them. I realize that the mother of the groom is a minor figure in the wedding party, but I admit that I was looking forward to the mother-son dance at the reception. My son and I have a close relationship as we supported each other in the difficult task of caring for his disabled younger brother. For me, the dance is a special tradition where I could thank him for being a wonderful son and say goodbye to the boy who is becoming the man of his own house. I was surprised, then, when he mentioned to me that his bride doesn't like being the center of attention, and she wants the father-daughter dance and the mother-son dance held at the same time. It's the bride's day, not mine, so I'm prepared to be a grown-up and suck up my disappointment. However, I'm uncomfortable at the prospect of intruding on what usually is a very personal moment for the bride and her father. Can you say something that will help me get over this?

A: You are a woman who has lovingly cared for a disabled son, so you know that life can be arbitrary, hard, and unfair. What is not a problem in life, however, is that you and your son will share the dance floor with his bride and her father. The scene you describe sounds lovely—an adjective you use for your new daughter-in-law—and should have you counting your blessings, not stewing in disappointment.

Q. Cheating Ex: I really liked my ex-husband's girlfriend Molly until I found out from my former sister-in-law that my husband began dating Molly two years before our divorce. He initiated the proceedings—I knew our marriage was in trouble, but he refused to go to counseling with me—and it took me a long time to recover from the heartbreak of his leaving me. We've now been divorced for three years, we are pretty good co-parents together, and we're both very happy in new relationships. But now I'm shocked and hurt that my husband left me in part because he wanted to be with his girlfriend. This news has lowered Molly in my estimations and has also made me very angry. I feel like an idiotic fool. I have no idea how to proceed, though. I have proof that Molly and my ex-husband began seeing one another two years before he and I divorced, so this isn't a malicious rumor on my sister-in-law's part.

A: I don't blame you for your feelings about your ex and Molly. I think you should add your ex-sister-in-law to this pantheon of miscreants. She has some strange motivation to be the snake in the grass long after you and your husband have left Eden. It's humiliating to find out you've been played for a fool, but fortunately you are discovering your husband's and Molly's deceit long after the fact. And the fact is, you are better off without him—you sound better off without his whole family—and say you are in a happier relationship that the one you had with him. Molly could end up being your children's stepmother, so it's important for you not to turn your anger on her or say anything to her about your discovery. I hope you have some good friends, who are able to keep their mouths shut, who can hear you out and give you the sympathy you deserve. I hope you will then quickly find yourself sick of discussing your ex and his paramour. You might take quiet comfort in knowing that relationships that begin with a betrayal often end that way, too.

Q. I Want To Fire My Perfect Nanny: "Mary" is every working mother's dream nanny. She adores my 2-year-old daughter "Katie" and they have so much fun together. Mary is an active lady, so when my daughter naps for an hour in the afternoon she will use that time to clean the kitchen or prepare us dinner, even though we make it clear she doesn't have to. If I'm held back at work occasionally, Mary will happily stay longer and refuses overtime. She carefully plans different activities with my daughter, reads to her a lot, and strictly feeds her only the healthiest of food. Perfect, right? I thought so, until Katie began to see Mary as more of a mommy than a nanny. After eight months of being together, Mary is the first person she asks for when she wakes up. Katie is usually a friendly child, but when Mary is around, she becomes clingy and refuses to go to anyone else. Katie gets incredibly upset parting with Mary each day. They obviously have a special bond but I feel hurt and upset that Katie loves Mary more. I've spoken to my husband about letting Mary go, and he thinks I'm crazy. What should we do?