Help! My Mother-in-Law Won't Stop Telling My Young Daughter How Gifted She Is.

Advice on manners and morals.
July 23 2012 3:44 PM

Bad Granny

In a live chat, Prudie counsels a woman whose mother-in-law plays intellectual favorites with her grandchildren.

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A: Great idea. That, of course, means having a bride who is able to let go of controlling every detail of "her day." And how radical it would be if brides said to their bridesmaids, "Just wear something you like."

Q. Dating the Man in the Wheelchair: I am acquainted with a man who works in the same office building as I do. We've shared hellos and such as we share some mutual professional acquaintances. I was told by one of these acquaintances that he likes me and wanted to know if I was single (I am). This man seems very nice (and he's handsome too!); however, he uses a wheelchair and I'm not sure about how this might work. He is active in Paralympics and other sports and from everything I know he is happy and successful in his career. I'm not sure I know how to proceed in this situation other than just go out with him and see where it goes. It seems many of the typical dating rituals will be thrown off a bit. How does the first-date kiss go? Do I lean down? What if we progress to intimacy (in the future)? I'd feel terrible if I was inadvertently patronizing or insulting. Thanks for any thoughts you or your readers may have.

A: I understand your concerns, but you can put them aside for now. You two haven't exchanged more than meaningful glances. So before you work yourself up about getting intimate, go out for dinner. See if you enjoy each other's company. If you do, I can assure you the rest will take care of itself. This man sounds like he's very confident, so if things catch fire, he should be able to put you at ease about mechanics. And if you two go slow, you will develop the confidence to ask him questions without worry.

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Q. Wedding Gifts: Some of my wedding gifts were stolen by a family member on my spouse's side. We confronted the relative, the theft was acknowledged, but the gifts were never returned. My spouse was furious. In an effort to preserve some level of peace, I advised not pressing charges against the relative for theft and to not sue the relative. It's been over a year and I stand by that decision—it would have only made matters worse to bring the law in. Since then we've been able to deduce who some of the gift-givers must have been, but we have no way of knowing the full list of givers or what they gave. We never sent these people thank you notes since we didn't know what to thank them for. My question is this, do we bring it up with the people we suspect and explain what happened? Do we wait for them to ask? And is it in poor taste to explain that a relative stole the gifts? We feel terrible for not acknowledging the gifts that loved ones gave, but we're in a pickle.

A: I hope the relative isn't left alone on Christmas Eve when all the presents are under the tree. Since you think you know who the gift-givers might be, you should contact the people who you haven't thanked and explain that this is an awkward situation but there was a major mix-up at the wedding involving the dispositon of the gifts and you're still trying to untangle it. Say if they gave you a gift and you haven't thanked them you want to rectify that now. The delicacy is that some people don't give gifts, which is fine, and you don't want to sound as if you're fishing. You don't have to explain a relative stole the gifts. But if you're close enough to the people you haven't thanked, it does make for quite the wedding story!

Q. Baby Planning: My sister-in-law and brother are expecting their first child. They are both attorneys and my sister-in-law is taking a new job working part-time after the baby comes. Evidently my brother will continue his long, stressful hours. I stay home with my three children under the age of 6. I offered to baby-sit for my new niece or nephew, but my brother told me they were placing the child in a day care facility at four months, when my SIL starts her new job. I was hurt by this decision, as I would have welcomed the opportunity to help my brother and SIL out and watching a baby is not new to me. When I pressed them about why they will not reconsider, my brother said that I do not have a licensed day care and that there is no recourse if something should happen. The facility that they selected is reputable, licensed, and insured. But I am really hurt by this decision. Has our society gotten so litigious and so greedy that we cannot even trust our own family anymore? My husband thinks I should just drop it and does not understand why this makes me so upset. I doubt my brother or SIL will change their mind, but I would like to welcome their child without feeling bitter about this. How do I get over my hurt and bafflement?

A: If you were expecting they would pay you, then you've got to stop mourning the income you were counting before the chick was hatched. Otherwise, your husband is right, this is none of your business. You made a lovely offer, it was politely rejected, then you made it an issue to the discomfort of everyone. I think this is so hurtful to you because you perhaps are feeling implicitly put down and judged for being "just" a stay-at-home mother. If this working couple relied on your expertise in order to make their careers possible, it would have been psychologically satisfying. But you are caring for three small children, a job many high-earning executives would find impossible. Embrace your choice and stay out of theirs.

Q. Mean Stepgrandmother: My stepgrandmother has always distinguished between me and her "real" grandchildren. To be honest, it doesn't really bother me because I can see where she's coming from. However, she recently did something that in my view is completely unforgivable. We both attended a performance at my middle-school-aged brother's performing-arts camp. I am very close with my brother, and though we are half siblings, we only ever use the "half" qualifier to explain when people comment on our age difference (15 years) or, before I was married, our different last names. The fact is, we are siblings and we love each other as siblings. How many parents we share is irrelevant. After the performance, my brother was proudly introducing me to his friends, but his grandmother kept correcting him, saying, "Well, really she's just your half sister." I am FUMING! She has no business going around doing that. It's her business if she doesn't want to get me gifts or include me in family photos (though interestingly, she expected to be included in family photos at MY wedding and MY child's naming), but she has no right to minimize my relationship with my brother like that! Is there anything I can do or say in the aftermath of this incident? Should I just refuse to be around when she's around? What should my brother do? He is also very angry with her right now.

A: I get where she's coming from, too. She's coming from the same place as the lousy granny who wants to call some of her grandchildren smart and some, well, not so smart. You and your brother should ask the parent who is the offspring of this witch to have a talk with her. She needs to be told that making these distinctions, especially in such a hurtful and irrelevant way, has to stop. Maybe there's a re-education farm we can send bad grannies to. If they don't shape up, they can spend their lives boring each other bragging about their more stellar grandchildren. And thanks to you for showing how beautifully blended families can work.

Q. Crazy Hair Fetish Commuter on the Bus: I take the bus to work every day. Every now and then I come across a completely normal-looking woman who touches other people's hair. By touching, I mean caressing it lovingly over and over, staring at it longingly, and smelling it, too. She sits behind women with long hair so nobody seems to notice. Once she was doing this to a woman who was at the front of the bus. (I was at the back.) I really wanted to tell her but was far too embarrassed to shout across the crowd of people standing between us. We both got off at the next stop, and I hesitantly asked if she knew the lady who was touching her hair. She seemed shocked and said she had no idea what was happening, as she was distracted with her MP3 player and thinking about something else. Nobody says anything. I don't think anyone knows the etiquette of dealing with a crazy woman who likes touching strangers' hair. Next time I see it, what should I do? A part of me is worried that the crazy hair lady will try to do something deranged to me.

A: It's very odd that that no one seems to notice the woman who is stroking and smelling their hair. This might be good evidence for a study on the power of earbuds to block out all other bodily signals. So far this woman has made an implicit judgment that your locks don't deserve notice, so consider yourself lucky. I think it's up to each Rapunzel to say, "Hey, get your paws off me!"

Q. Re: Grandma teacher: I was one of these whiz kids who skipped a grade two decades ago. I can confirm that grandma's attitude is very damaging. It may help to point out to her that this type of pressure can make the child's first failures *very* painful.

A: Exactly!

Q. Re: Baby Planning: I highly doubt the litigation is the only reason the LW's brother would rather stick to a private day care, since he can afford it. Sometimes it is easier to deal with a corporation or a business than it is with family because there is less emotion on the line with every decision. Something tells me that if you took this situation so personally, you would take other decisions they make personally, too. Avoiding that conflict is perfectly understandable.

A: Given the letter-writer's over-the-top reaction to being told "Thanks but no thanks," I agree that litigation was a red herring and way to avoid saying, "We'd rather leave our kid in a Skinner box then get emotionally entangled with you."

Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone, have a great week.

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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