Q. Animal Torture: I am against torturing animals. I never thought I would need to clarify that, because I assumed most people oppose torturing animals. Then I met my daughter's fiancé. I found out he was arrested twice as a teen for maiming and torturing animals—his own and others. He has apparently not had an incident since he has to do tons of community service when he was 17. He and my daughter claim his abuse of animals was a reaction to his stepfather's abuse of him. My daughter thinks it is ridiculous to care about something her fiancé did years ago. But ever since finding out, I have not been able to look at her fiancé the same way. Am I overreacting by not fully trusting him?
A: There is no defense of animal torture. There is also no defense of child torture. I understand your visceral response to the news of your future son-in-law's arrest as a boy, but you seem entirely incurious about his own abuse at the hands of his stepfather. This clearly seems to be one of those cases in which an intervention helped set a troubled young person on the right path. That you found out about this indicates he has not buried this secret, but has been open about what he did and his regrets. I just hope this young man has had some therapy because while the effects of childhood abuse can be long-lasting they can also be mitigated by caring and support. So you should now offer yours. He offended, paid the price, and has not done so again. Be accepting and kind to a man who is now walking on the right path.
Q. From the 'Cheaters Fess Up' Letter Writer: My husband and his wife did not have kids together. We haven't seen her since the divorce was finalized, so there's no obvious "evidence" of my husband's first marriage. My worry is someday our daughter will find out about the circumstances of her conception and feel ashamed of being born. Should we ever tell her that her dad was still married when we conceived her, or is that an inappropriate thing for parents to address?
A: If everyone who was conceived before their parents made it to the altar were sorry they were born the world would have a lot of shame-faced people crawling through life. Maybe, years from now, your daughter will do the math and realize you were close to going into labor by the time you made it to the altar. So then you tell her that you and her dad were in love but hadn't gotten married yet. If she's old enough, and she presses, you can tell her that her dad was married when you two first met. But that story is a long way down the road and you should not let your admittedly tawdry beginnings cloud your children's sense of themselves.
Q. Re: Introvert Daughter: I was just like this. I have about 65 first cousins on both sides of my family and we would always go see them around the holidays. It would destroy me because I would have to sit at the table and participate because leaving to go read was seen as "rude" or that I was "too good" to sit with everyone else. Now as an adult, I've found that the way to recharge during family get-togethers is to go to the bathroom, lock the door, turn out the light and sit in the tub for five minutes. (It really helps if there are two bathrooms at the gathering spot.) No one really seems to miss me for that short amount of time and it gives me enough of a recharge to keep on keeping on.
A: But as an adult you should be able to take a walk, or a break to read in a quiet room without having to feel like a fugitive.
Q. Etiquette of Giving Away Someone Else's Money: My spouse recently found a stranger's lost wallet, with a lot of cash and credit cards, and turned it in to the police station. The owner sent us a thank you note and a VERY generous check, I guess as a thank you for turning in the wallet with its contents intact. We don't feel right taking the money, because we don't need it and we don't think we deserve a reward just for, you know, not stealing somebody's money. We are inclined to donate the check to a local charity (maybe the parks and rec department because we found the wallet in a park) but are struggling with how to phrase a thank you note to the wallet owner. We don't want to cash the check without sending him some kind of acknowledgement, but "Thank you for the money, but we're giving it away" sounds kind of sanctimonious. Any ideas?
A: An honest person found a wallet, and a gracious one responded. This is a nice problem. You should definitely send a thank you, say it was your pleasure to be able to return the wallet, and you are grateful for such a generous check. You can add that since the wallet was lost in the park, and you found it there, you are going to use the money to make a donation to the parks department since you all enjoy their services. You will come off as thoughtful, not sanctimonious.
Q. Re: Introverted Daughter: Hope I'm not too late—I was that kid when I was younger! Mom, if you can find quieter things to do with her that are still related to the holidays, that might help her to have fun and enjoy the season. Some of my favorite memories are of my mom and I baking or cooking, just the two of us, either in the evening or while the others watched TV or played games elsewhere in the house. And I agree with Prudie's "out clause"—we have a celebration that gets around 50 family members each year, and while I've grown into it, it was nice as a kid when my folks let me sneak away to read or go on a run when I got overwhelmed. See if you can find what resonates with her during this time of year—I bet she loves something about it, and you can probably make your own great traditions out of it.
A: It's so wonderful to have understanding parents. Thanks for this.
Q. Teenagers, Religion: My 14-year-old has decided that she is, or might be, an atheist. We have been raising her (not with outside religious education and not in a superconservative way) as a Muslim. As a result she told her father she doesn't want to pray with him anymore. This makes him very upset, because religion is very important to him, and because he feels like a bad father who hasn't taught her properly. She is upset because she feels that he does not want her to think for herself. I am not that upset because I think teenagers go through this kind of phase, but it's making for a lot of household stress. I am inclined to tell her to just keep a lid on her unsure views, and keep praying every now and then, to keep him happy. Is this too hypocritical?
A: You are very wise to understand that questioning faith is something many teenagers do and that it's better to respect this exploration. It could be that your daughter never re-embraces her religion, it could be that as a young adult, or a mother herself, she decides to come back to it. But forcing someone into religious observance is unlikely to have the desired effect. You can be a bridge here. Tell your daughter you respect her views and the thoughtful way she's expressed them. Say she's entitled to them, but you hope that particularly on important occasions in the Muslim calendar she will participate in some religious observance as part of a family event and recognition of your cultural heritage. Then say to your husband that while your daughter's declaration may be painful, the way to make her truly hate her religion is to force her to observe. Say to him that if she willingly does some rituals you two will get further by appreciating her willingness to compromise.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.
In a new approach, we’re publishing the chat transcript in shorter, more digestible pieces. You will still be getting all the questions and answers, and we may even publish bonus letters Prudie didn’t get to address during the chat hour.