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: Can you write back to the chat and give Mary's full name and phone number? She will have parents bidding for her services. I understand your distress, but your daughter knows you are her mother and she loves you. You don't say that you think Mary undermines you in any way—it's just that she's a great nanny so your daughter also adores her. The behavior you're describing in your daughter is completely normal and will change as she gets older. Think of what you're saying: You're considering getting a worse nanny to make you look better. But replacing Mary with someone your daughter doesn't like as well will not actually raise you in her estimation. It will just confuse her about adults. Revel that you have done your daughter the great service of finding her a fabulous caregiver.

Q. Re: Hobo Party: Unfortunately, in the popular teen/tween show iCarly, the kids had a hobo party. I'm not surprised this would then become a theme for other kids. TV is influential, and what might have seemed funny to the writers on a TV show becomes pretty insensitive in real life.

A: Thanks for the explanation. A part of me does think "A hobo party, so what?" And as another letter writer pointed out, people dress up in all sorts of ways for Halloween. But it's just better for your kid not to be immortalized forever as a homeless person, and also to think about what it means to dress up for fun as if you are destitute. It's also good for a kid—even a 16-year-old—to have her parents say, "Nope, I just don't like that, so you're not going."

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Q. Re: Wedding Protocol: I was a bride who did not want to be alone on the dance floor with my father for similar dislike of the spotlight. My husband and mother-in-law shared "What a Wonderful World" with us, and wouldn't you know it, with the whole big dance floor to ourselves I don't think we bumped into each other once. There are lots of photos of just me with my father and just my husband with his mother, and there was a lot less anxiety for me on an already stressful day.

A: Thanks—you have written the words that should end the new mother-in-law's angst.

Q. July 4 Drama: Last year my aunt and uncle hosted a big Christmas party for our family and hers. My aunt's Uncle Kevin drank a lot and manhandled me as I came out of the bathroom that evening. He held me against the door and cupped my crotch and my right breast. I did not tell anyone, because I was so embarrassed. My parents won't be in town for the Fourth of July, so they've invited my aunt and uncle and their kids to use their lakeside cabin over the holiday. I will also be at the cabin over the Fourth. My aunt just emailed me to let me know that Kevin and his wife will join us at the cabin. I feel anxious and nauseated. I haven't seen Kevin since he grabbed me at the Christmas party. I don't want to spend a single night in the same house as him. But since I never spoke up about the incident, and now that months have passed, I don't know what recourse I can take. I was 18 when it happened, and I'm 19 now.

A: Please tell your parents. It is not the least bit unusual for victims not to speak up after a sexual assault (that's what Kevin's actions were)—the Jerry Sandusky trial made that abundantly clear. But even though a year has passed, it's not too late to let your parents know. Sure, you may not want to pursue this legally, but Kevin needs to be told by your parents he is no longer welcome, and why.

Q. Re: Perfect nanny: I am 30 years old, and the daughter of working parents. We had a nanny like Mary, and my mom recently described behavior just like Kate's, and feelings just like the LW, when I was a toddler. (I'm pregnant, which is how it came up.) Honestly, I could hardly believe her—I never have had any doubt about who my mom was. I bragged about her on the first day of kindergarten. I adore and respect my mom, always have, always will. It'll work out.

A: This should be very reassuring to all parents who have perfect nannies! How great that you can look back and remember how you felt about the wonderful women in your life.

Q. My Husband, the Etiquette Police: My husband and I work in the same area and commute together on the subway. Occasionally, we come across someone who isn't very considerate—talking loudly on a cellphone, leaving their bike by the door, watching a clip on a smartphone without headphones, etc. Instead of either (a) ignoring it or (b) politely asking them to be more thoughtful of others, he takes the passive aggressive route. Just before we get off the subway, he'll glare at the offender and loudly complain—"What kind of an idiot doesn't know how to use headphones?" or "Do people not know how to talk on their cellphone quietly?"—and so on. It's enough to attract attention on the offender, and I'm certain he's left at least a dozen fellow commuters embarrassed. I don't make excuses for people who are inconsiderate on the subway, but I think it's equally rude to publicly embarrass them. I've pointed this out to him several times but he thinks they deserve to feel embarrassed and/or that he's teaching them a lesson. Frankly, I'm the one who's embarrassed by his behavior. Since talking to him about this hasn't diminished his sense of moral duty as an etiquette police, should I just ignore this as one of those annoying quirks that everyone has to tolerate in a spouse? Or should I take drastic measures, like refusing to sit next to him?

A: When other commuters mention how rude their fellow passengers can be, they will be citing your husband as an example of some jerk who just popped off for no apparent reason. If your husband wants to be encased in a bubble, away from the depredations of others, he should drive—but your husband is probably the kind of driver who flashes his brights at others. There are a couple of problems with your husband's approach. His rudeness tops that of the miscreants he is trying to correct, and he runs the risk of calling someone an idiot who decides to respond physically. Yes, marriage means putting up with each other's quirks—but not if they potentially endanger you. Tell your husband taking public transportation means learning to ignore the people around you. And if he can't do that, you will sit in another car and ignore him.

Q. Confessing an Affair After the Marriage Has Ended: My soon-to-be-ex-wife and I are going through a divorce. We're trying to do our best to keep things civil, but obviously there are a lot of negative emotions running through. Last week I received a drunken 2 a.m. call from my wife, starting with a stream of abuse. This was totally out of character for her so I stayed on the line to make sure she wasn't somewhere dangerous and somebody was looking after her. Then she blurted out, "Did you cheat on me when we were together? Answer me honestly and I won't hate you for the rest of my life." I was shocked, because I did have a short fling about a year before we separated. It was on the other side of the world, with a woman who has absolutely zero mutual connections with me, and I was pretty damn sure nobody would ever find out. I was very careful. I told her she was drunk and needed to rest and hung up. We haven't had any contact since. I am not sure whether I should ’fess up, or let it be. If she already knows somehow, I feel like I at least owe her my honesty and acknowledge I had an affair, apologize, and tell her it wasn't her fault. But I'm worried that this is going to unleash a whole lot of ill feelings and even more unnecessary hurt than what we're both going through. Your thoughts?

A: She's about to become your ex. Now is the time for your lawyers to sort out your separation, not to give her ammunition for an emotional (or legal) fusillade. You handled her call very well. If she makes any more like that, tell her you're sorry to hear her in distress and that you hope she seeks help.

Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Have a great July Fourth! Talk to you next week.