When Parents Aren’t Enough
In a live chat, Prudie offers advice on neighbors who care ceaselessly for their disabled son—to the neglect of their infant daughter.
A: For an answer, I turned to the chat producer, Bethonie Butler, who is of African-American, Mexican, and white background, and who has written about dealing constantly with the discussion of her ethnicity. Here is her excellent suggestion for what to say to the boss: “I appreciate your interest in my culture, but I wish we didn’t talk about it so much. It’s true my parents are immigrants and I am proud to be X, but I’m also American. I enjoy working with you and would feel more comfortable if we weren’t constantly talking about my ethnic background." Bethonie's answer is elegant, gentle, and to the point.
Q. Re: Calling authorities on a loving mom: Why CPS? Shouldn't that be a last resort? The LW doesn't say she has tried to hook the family up with supportive resources or even addressed her concerns to the parents themselves. Yes, this family needs help. But there are lots of avenues you can use to help them before jumping to the most disruptive one.
A: A lot of readers are criticizing me for going nuclear and suggesting calling CPS. I actually wrote an answer like the one above and before I hit "publish." I reread it, deleted it, and rewrote it. The neighbor simply has no expertise with the issue of disabled children and the social service system. The parents needs some people who do. CPS doesn't take children away unless it is necessary. But they have the knowledge of the system to be able to get the parents in touch with the other social service agencies who should be assisting this family. The family needs a caseworker and supervision—that cannot be supplied by a well-meaning neighbor. A baby is suffering now, so action has to be taken immediately.
Q. Phrasing of Wedding Invitations: My fiancé and I are excited to get married in about six months. We recently created our invitations and emailed drafts to our parents to get another set of eyes on them and see if there were any errors. My fiancé and both his parents are physicians. My fiancé does not use the Dr. title outside of work (and rarely inside of work, for that matter). Both his parents do use the Dr. title in their personal and professional life. On the invitations, we did not identify my fiancé as a Dr., but did identify his parents. My fiancé's parents were fine with the phrasing of the invitations. My parents, on the other hand, thought that putting their titles on the invitation was both unnecessary and a form of bragging and asked us to remove the titles because it looks pretentious. We read your column every week and thought you might have a good (and unbiased!) opinion on this matter. To title or not?
A: Unfortunately, six months is not enough time for your parents to rush through medical school so they can append a Dr. to their names. It is not bragging to use Dr. if you are an physician, which this threesome is. Your fiancé would be perfectly entitled to use the Dr. on the invitation if he so chose. I have more of a problem with people with Ph.D.s using the Dr. title, which I think is better reserved for those with medical degrees. Try to convey to your parents that it's not a putdown of them they you're marrying into a medical family and their using Dr. is just the facts.
Q. Crazy Relatives: My sister is eight months pregnant with her first child. She owns a 4-year-old miniature pinscher who is well-behaved 95 percent of the time. The other 5 percent of the time he is extremely aggressive. Unprovoked, he has bitten every single member of my family and has drawn blood almost every single time. This is in spite of being on high doses of anti-anxiety medication. She has hired two behavioral experts in the past, both of which told her that the dog needed to be put down. My family has been pressuring her to consider her options, as we all feel strongly that the dog's aggression is too unpredictable and too violent to keep him in the same house with a small child. The more we push, the more my sister tells us that he's just misunderstood and that she won't let anything happen. We all feel that she is in total denial about what the dog is capable of. What should we do?
A: I hope there's a father of this child who's more rational about the dangers of an aggressive dog toward his offspring. I suggest contacting the previous behavioralists and asking them to each outline to your sister the potentially fatal consequences of an uncontrollable dog in a home with a baby. Unless the dog is physically separated at all times from the baby, which would probably make the dog more crazy and aggressive, there is no guaranteeing the child's safety. Since several of you have been bitten, you could report the dog to animal control. Multiple bites could get the dog confiscated. If necessary, someone should take the dog before the baby comes home and up its meds to the "comatose" level as you try to come up with a permanent solution.
Q. Developmentally Disabled Sister-in-Law: My sister-in-law "Amy" is 33, but has the mental faculties of about age 8. My in-laws have a family history of excusing Amy and typically she gets what she wants. My husband and I are expecting our first child and Amy asked if she could be a baby-sitter. My husband and I do not feel Amy is able to be a reliable and trusted baby-sitter, so we told her no, but that she would be a wonderful helper and we are excited for her to meet her niece/nephew. It turns out my in-laws started telling Amy that when they baby-sit, "Amy will be in charge." Prudie, I am all for giving Amy independence and responsibility, but I would rather something other than my infant be the trial run. My husband agrees with me and is willing to have a conversation about this with his parents. What are some good ways to frame this concern? We want to express that we love Amy—but feel very uncomfortable with Amy having the impression she is "in charge" of something so delicate as an infant.
A: You've already framed the conversation very well here. Your husband just has to have it with his parents. If they indicate they don't get it, or that it will be wonderful for Amy to feel she is in charge, then your in-laws will only be allowed to be with your child when one of you is around. The hurt feelings of relatives and dogs do not come before an infant's safety.
Q. Standing Up to My Parents: I've always had to walk on eggshells around my parents, and I never know what's going to turn an otherwise pleasant moment into a raging argument. These incidents have gotten less frequent over the 10 years I've been away from home, but old habits die hard and I've never been good at standing up to them. This time, the situation involves their dog, a very large pit bull who is their "baby." They travel a lot and take her with them everywhere they go. She's very sweet, but not particularly disciplined. My parents came to visit my new house recently, and brought their dog (without asking first if it would be OK), and my husband and I had to keep our cats locked up in our bedroom the whole time as a result. The dog also did some minor damage to the house in various places. At the time I made some small effort to ask if they could either not bring the dog, or possibly stay in a hotel room, but ended up backing down. They spent the whole visit telling stories about people they won't visit because they can't bring the dog. Now they're coming again, and I don't know what to do. If we keep the cats in the bedroom, they keep us up all night, not to mention the logistical problems of lugging our large mechanical litter box upstairs. I feel like I need to stand up for myself, but I also worry that I'm being an inconsiderate host or, worse, a "bad daughter." Is there a tactful way that I can put my foot down about this, or should I back down in order to keep the peace?
A: Maybe leaving the pit bull with the insane miniature pinscher would solve the previous letter writer's problem. Just kidding. Your dilemma is not just about an insane dog person, but more generalized mental problems. Of course your relationship with your parents has gotten better since you've been away from them; it sounds like being away from your parents is the solution to dealing with them. It's fine if they visit, but not if they bring their pit bull into your home. It's simply too disruptive. Practice saying those two sentences before you actually speak them to your parents. If they rage and whine, then the visit won't happen. If they find a pit-bull-friendly hotel, it will. Imagine if you have children and your parents insist that their baby be allowed to be around yours.
Q. Re: Too many doctors: Have your parents both get ordained online. Dr. and Dr. and Rev. and Rev. invite you to the wedding of their children.
A: Great suggestion!
Q. Comment on disabled child: My sister-in-law is an LPN and has been one of the round-the-clock caregivers for a woman who was born profoundly disabled but has been taken care of at home for her entire life rather than in a facility. State agencies offer a variety of services as part of the Children With Special Health Care Needs provision of the Social Security Act to help in just such cases. There is absolutely no reason this family should be doing all this care all on their own, and I'm frankly very surprised that their son's doctor and other health care providers haven't steered this family toward adequate caretaker resources.