A Baby by Any Other Name
In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman who wants to give her son the same name as her husband’s son from another marriage.
Q. What's in a (Sur)name?: After years of not being able to get pregnant, my husband and I adopted our son just shy of his second birthday. I vaguely knew the circumstances of his birth parents, a couple who died in a fire, and no relatives came forward to take guardianship. I knew about the fear that comes with adoption that your child whom you love and think of as "yours" will think of his birth parents as his "real" mom and dad, but our son really didn't have much interest in discovering his roots growing up and even now I don't think he is. He just graduated law school in the spring and dropped the bombshell that he wants to change his last name back to his birth father's name. My husband's last name is rather uncommon and easy to misspell and mispronounce, while I admit his birth father's name is more common and nicer on the ear. He isn't the first member of my husband's family to change his name. As he put it to me, he didn't change his name, but my husband and I did when we adopted him. I mentioned our future grandchildren not carrying his father's name, and he pointed out (quite right) that if he was a girl, we wouldn't have thought twice about our grandchildren not having his father's name. I don't know how to feel. As he pointed out, I kept my maiden name after my wedding. I guess I feel a bit hurt by his decision even though I know this seems more about professional choice rather than some reclaiming of his roots. Am I making too much of this in my mind? I haven't really discuss this too much since I'm worried that I don't really have a coherent argument to make beyond my vague feelings that comes with being an adoptive mother. (He is a lawyer after all, so coherent arguments are pretty important.)
A: The key here is that you haven't really talked to your son about this. You need to do so. To his mind it may be just the most practical way of starting a career with an easier-to-spell name. Maybe there is a deeper longing he is feeling. He's an adult, and a lawyer, so if his mind is made up you certainly have to respect his choice. But I think it's fair that you say you'd like him to hear you both out about this. Then express—without tears and drama—that his decision does feel somewhat painful to you. Lots of people with names difficult to spell and pronounce anglicize them, so maybe that's a possibility here, since you mention other family members have done something similar. But if he's set on this, let it go and don't let a name change affect that fact that he will always be your son.
Q. Parents Are Losing It: My parents seem to be losing their minds and I don't know what to do. They are in their early 70s and get around fine. This past weekend when I visiting them, my dad grabbed a pellet gun and headed for the back door yelling "the eagle has landed." Here's the thing, there was no eagle, it was a blackbird, and he didn't have any pellets. I tried to ask mom what the heck was going on with him and she just stood at the stove making tapioca pudding, like it was no big deal. My dad is not a joking type of person, so I don't think he was just messing with me. During my visit I observed some other odd behavior also. I'm an only child so I don't have a sibling to ask if they think there is a problem. I'm only able to visit them a few times a year and now I'm worried about what is going on when I'm not around. Do people develop these strange quirks as they age? Should I contact their physician? I'd never forgive myself if something happened, but I don't want to mother-hen my parents.
A: It's a good thing the eagle hadn't landed and your father didn't blow it away, because killing endangered species can get you in a lot of trouble. Your father needs a complete physical evaluation to find out why he appears to be losing contact with reality. And since he seems mentally out of it, his guns should be confiscated, too. Yes, contact their doctor immediately. If your father is trying to kill nonexistent birds, you need to step up and be mother hen.
Q. Re: Overweight Sister: In what world is it appropriate to ask to go to your sister's gynecological appointment? If she invites you, sure. But asking to go on an extremely personal medical visit? How is that less of an issue than talking about family history and the need for weight loss?
A: I totally agree it's an intrusive suggestion, but she says her sister almost died during her last pregnancy. That's alarming, and being 100 pounds overweight has to be a complicating factor in pregnancy. I'm trying to come up with a way to make sure the overweight sister is actually addressing the medical issues involved in a potential pregnancy. If she won't agree to let her sister go with her, that's the end of that.
Q. Baby Drama: My younger sister and her husband are expecting a baby, due around Thanksgiving of this year. Most of us are extremely thrilled and can't wait to snuggle the little bundle. However, my older brother and his wife have been nothing short of cold to my sister and brother-in-law since they've announced their baby news. My brother and SIL have been trying to have a baby for six years and have not had any luck. I understand that infertility is heartbreaking, but my sister (and everybody else in the family) have gone to great lengths to be aware of my SIL's feelings during this time. Still, my SIL sent a scathing email to my sister accusing her of “throwing her infertility in her face” and claiming that since my brother is the oldest in the family, he should be the first to "give" our parents a grandchild. Prudie, I know this is crazy-talk but how do we handle this? My sister is so upset she doesn't even want our SIL at her upcoming baby shower, which of course will cause more drama. Help?
A: Let's hope that unless the sister-in-law can emotionally get it together, she declines to go. (She should be invited, however.) Of course I understand being unable to have a child is agonizing. But way too often I hear from people who think infertility allows them to behave in socially grotesque ways. Lots of people suffer in life, but that doesn't mean they can take it out on others who are more fortunate. Your brother and sister-in-law have to wrap their minds around the fact that your younger sister is not usurping their child and their reproductive troubles have absolutely nothing to do with other people's choices. Maybe you, as a more neutral party, can talk to your brother and sister-in-law and say that everyone understands their pain, but estranging themselves from your younger sister is not going to make things better. After that, f they want to remove themselves from family events because someone had the audacity to have a child, that's their loss.
Q. Parents Shun Older Husband: My parents freaked out when I decided to marry my then 41-year-old boyfriend, because I was 24 at the time. Now, three years later, they still haven't warmed to my husband, mostly because of his age. My parents have some prejudices about May-December relationships. I knew they would have concerns about the age difference, even though I assured them my husband and I had discussed the topic at length before becoming engaged. But no matter how well my husband treats me or how happy he makes me, my parents still treat him like he's an untrustworthy pervert. Now I'm pregnant, and I want my parents to begin treating the father of my child with some respect. My husband has proved himself to be a good man. How can I make (or encourage) them to take notice?
A: You're going to be a mother so handling irrational and obstreperous people is good training for you. Sit your parents down and say you know they have long disapproved of your husband, but you two have been happily married for three years and are about to become parents. Say you really want your parents to be part of this baby's life, but how much interaction you all have is going to depend on how they treat your husband. Say their disrespect of him has become intolerable and that needs to change right away, because you've had enough.
Q. Baby Shower Etiquette: I didn't have a baby shower with my first child because she arrived unexpectedly the day before my best friend scheduled a surprise shower. Now that I am pregnant with my second child, I'd like to arrange my own. I already have all the baby things I need—I basically just want an afternoon of fun with my girlfriends and a good excuse to indulge on cupcakes. My mother saw me writing out the invitations with a note indicating no gifts were required. She said even if I added that note, at least some guests would bring a gift anyway (either out of obligation or simply because they want to) and it would embarrass those who accepted my “no gift” request. She says if I really don't want any gifts, I shouldn't throw myself a baby shower at all. Is she right?
A: Your mother is right that you don't throw yourself a baby shower, especially if you don't want any gifts, which is the purpose of a shower. Get a new set of invitations and just let everyone know you're hosting a summer party.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone!
Going forward, we’re spreading out the chat, publishing the transcript in a shorter, more digestible form. You will still be getting all the questions and answers (just not all at once).