Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at email@example.com.)
Emily Yoffe: Don't cry for me because I'm back from Argentina. (A beautiful, strange, and fascinating place.) I hope everyone had a great Labor Day. Summer really feels over.
Q. Wife/Mother Conflict: A few years ago, I bought my girlfriend (now my wife) a print of a photograph she liked: a black and white portrait of a young woman wearing only a dinosaur mask and cowboy boots. We framed it and hung it on the wall of our bathroom. Now, 99 percent of the time I have no problem with it hanging there; it's only an issue when my parents visit. My mother is fiercely, vocally anti-pornography, and while I don't feel the picture is pornographic, it is explicit, and I don't believe she'll see it the same way we do. Up until now, we've agreed to take it down when my parents visit (although it's been a bigger and bigger argument each time), but this time my wife insists that we leave it up, her argument being that this is her space and if someone doesn't like the picture, that's their problem. My concern is that my mother will not only hate the picture, it will put her in a sour mood and spoil much of the visit, and that knowing this is the sort of thing we like may alter my relationship with her. My wife feels this will help my mother see me more as the man I am. I only get to see my parents a few days a year, and I just want to keep the peace. Is my wife being unreasonable, or am I worried for no reason?
A: The photo sounds great and I'm sure even the Supreme Court ("I know it when I see it") would declare this a piece of art not porn. Maybe, if the image bothers your mother, she can drape a hand towel over it while she relieves herself. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft had the partially nude Spirit of Justice statue draped so he didn't have to hold press conferences in front of a naked, aluminum breast. I assume despite your mother's distaste for pornography, she's been to art museums and understands they aren't simply warehouses of filth. Most telling, perhaps, is not your mother's views on pornography but your implicit description that unless everything goes her way and everyone tiptoes around her, she ensures a miserable time is had by all. But such people always ensure a miserable time is had by all because there is no way to anticipate everything that might set her off. If the image of a naked body in a bathroom will ruin her visit, it's a good thing her trip will be brief.
Q. Sworn to Secrecy About Molestation: I worked as a camp counselor this summer, as did several family friends my age. Several nights during a two week session, camp counselors would stand up in front of the entire camp and deliver a speech about a difficult time in their lives they managed to overcome. During one of the last sessions of the summer, my good friend Grace spoke about how her older brother Greg molested her throughout her childhood. I had never heard anything about this before and, because I knew Greg so well, I was shocked. I would never have suspected Greg was capable of such a heinous crime. According to Grace, she has forgiven Greg and had never spoken aloud of his behavior before camp. Their parents do not know. Grace swore all the other camp counselors who know her family to secrecy. I have seen Grace's family, including Greg, twice since leaving camp, and each encounter leaves me stressed out. Another friend thinks we should tell Grace's parents, because Greg has access to his two nieces and other young family members. Another person thinks we should question Grace more about the alleged molestation, because this is a significant accusation and it would be a mistake to accept it at face value. Outside of camp, Grace does not want to discuss the issue. Should I respect Grace's wishes of secrecy? I cannot figure out another feasible option.
A: That must have been quite a campfire for the little kids. I certainly hope an adult was present for this event because not only should the parents of the campers be notified that things were discussed by a counselor that they should be aware of, the adults in charge of the camp should have been immediately on the phone to Grace's parents, if not the authorities. Even though you are old enough to be a camp counselor, you are not an adult, so it is not your job to investigate the truth of these allegations or deal with them beyond making sure that grownups are. First of all, tell your parents and say you need their help. I hope they will contact the head of the camp, and also other authorities, so have them tell you what their plan of action is. Grace may have felt pressured to forgive her brother (I'm assuming her accusations are true), but if he's done what she say, he need serious and immediate intervention, and she needs help.
Q. Parenting: I'm the stay-at-home mom of a 4-year-old girl, and we are being ostracized from play groups because I have told my daughter that if someone hits her first, she is allowed to hit back. I believe strongly that this is right, but I also want her to have friends. Should I change my policy and, if so, should I tell her why or pretend I believe it? BTW, the philosophy here is "we should use our words," which is NOT what I would do if someone hit ME, but I guess that's just me.
A: If only offices ran on the principles you are espousing. People would be biting each other at the copier, throwing coffee in one another's faces, and lying on the floor kicking while screaming, "No, I won't do it!" Your job is to civilize your child, and as much as you disbelieve in that mission, for the sake of your little girl, pretend you do. You explain to her that people shouldn't hit, and if someone hits her she should tell a parent. You may believe "Use your fists" is less wishy-washy than "Use your words" but it would be nice for your daughter if she had a social life that reached beyond her mother.
Q. Difficult Mother: My 80-year-old mother has severe Parkinson's disease. Ever since my dad died 11 years ago, she has lived with my sister "Nancy," with intervals of traveling to stay with one of her four daughters (we're all scattered around the country). She is currently staying with my family for a few months. The Parkinson's is devastating physically (there are days when she can barely walk), but it also seems to have affected her mind; in recent months, she has become increasingly irrational and over-emotional, which apparently often happens with Parkinson's. All of my sisters have had trouble dealing with her, and it's hardest on Nancy, who has to take care of her full-time. The best place for her would be a nursing home, but when one of my sisters brought up the idea a few months ago my mother became very upset. We come from a culture in which nursing homes are very uncommon because it is considered the adult children's responsibility to care for their aging parents. But it's not fair for Nancy, whose mother-in-law also lives with her. It's also getting harder for my mother to travel. Do you have any suggestions?