Help! My Mother-in-Law Spends Christmas With Her Other Grandkids.

Advice on manners and morals.
Dec. 24 2012 2:56 PM

Christmas Comes Twice a Year

In a live chat, Prudie offers advice on a grandma who makes an extra trip to see only one set of grandkids.

(Continued from Page 1)

Q. Vocal Visitors: My father's family will be visiting from the 27th to the 31st. I love them deeply, but they are from a small town in Alabama where there is no expectation of privacy. Everyone tells everyone everything. I have OCD and do not want it broadcasted to all of St. Clair County. Prudie, I have enough trouble remembering people's names and enduring hugs from strangers. I don't need everyone to be asking about how often I'm washing my hands the next time I visit. How do I keep the conversation away from my diagnosis?

A: "Oh, it's flu and cold season. I've got so much work after the holidays that I can't afford to get sick, so I'm just staying on the safe side!"

Q. Apocalyptic Christmas Pageant: I have a wonderful 3-year-old son, and tonight was his first Christmas pageant. He's a very loving child, but, unfortunately, he has a pretty severe case of ADHD, diagnosed by three different pediatricians. Boy, tonight was quite a show! If he wasn't tearing feathers off of the angel's wings, or attempting to "battle" with the child playing Joseph, he was doing "the worm" across the stage! (Yes, I got this on video.) None of the teachers made any attempt to get him to behave, and I was instructed to "leave him be and let the play finish" when I snuck around the side to get him off of the stage. What made things worse were the comments I overheard from parents after everything was done. Of course there were the parents who blamed "that brat" for "ruining their baby's moment"; we live in the Deep South and people here tend to automatically assume that any child that isn't acting correctly is either "spoiled" or "special." What I wasn't expecting were the "the boy can't help it because his mom must be a single mother and they never raise their children right." Prudie, I was only at the pageant by myself because my husband was at work and we live far away from our other family! Thankfully, our holiday vacation starts tomorrow, and we won't have to see these people until Thursday. I realize that my son is only 3, and he hasn't had the experience to learn skills to control his impulses, but I'm not sure what to do about everyone else. Do I need to address the pageant once school resumes? Do I apologize to the directors of the play or bring up the snide comments I overheard?

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A: How unfortunate that people don't have enough of a sense of humor or an understanding of 3-year-olds to have been amused by all this. Forget about this silly pageant and just be an advocate for your son. He's going to need one because unfortunately school is becoming more and more a place where children are supposed to sit quietly and fill out test papers. You may need to find a nursery school, and then an elementary school for your son that understands young children have to move around. You should also make sure you have a pediatrician who is in tune with your son's needs. If anyone says anything disparaging to you about the performance, don't apologize. Just say with a smile, "The whole thing was quite a hoot!"

Q. The Santa Lie: This letter may be too late for this year's Christmas, but perhaps you can help me for the future. Do all gifts need to be addressed from Santa for a 6-year-old girl? I met my boyfriend's daughter for the first time earlier this year and I bought her two Christmas gifts that I'd like to give her personally. I leave town on the 21st and would like to see her open them. However, my boyfriend feels it will ruin the idea of Santa for her because he is planning to let her open all the gifts from his side of the family on the 23rd before he takes her back up to her mom's house. I never intended to address my gifts as coming from Santa—especially since we are building our relationship right now. I also didn't grow up this way. I believed in Santa, but also knew that other loved ones gave me gifts. Growing up, this was a lesson on how to be thankful and appreciative. My parents always asked me to thank someone before I could play with the gift they gave me. What are your thoughts? Our holidays won't be ruined over this, but I'd like to know if I'm justified in wanting to address this gift from me. For a child that believes in Santa, is it all that bad for a couple gifts to be opened early because someone special wanted to give them something?

A: I agree with you that children are able to believe in Santa while also knowing Aunt Agnes sent the sweater. Make your case to your boyfriend that you think it would help your connection with his daughter, which you want to nurture, that she knows some special gifts came from you. But don't fight him on this. If everything comes from Santa, then let it go. Presumably there will be many more occasions for you to forge a relationship with his girl.

Q. Should I Confront My Husband About His Affair Before Christmas?: I just discovered that my husband has been having an emotional affair with his ex-wife. They have two children together, and have always been incredibly close. I have always chalked up my misgivings about their closeness to my insecurity. Throughout my relationship with my husband, I've worked hard to become friends with his wife and to learn to trust her. From what I can tell, it has been going on for several months, and it's not yet been consummated. I plan to confront my husband about the affair, but I'm not sure whether I should confront him before or after the holidays. If I wait until after Christmas to confront my husband about his affair, I'll have to spend a good deal of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day around his ex-wife. As detestable as this sounds, I don't want to ruin the holiday for my stepchildren. I don't know if my marriage will survive the affair, because his ex-wife will always be in our lives. I won't know until I speak with my husband about the affair. What do you think I should do?

A: At this point, hold off until Wednesday. Good for you for thinking about the kids. You don't say what evidence you've found, but I assume it's more than just their usual "incredible closeness" and your feelings of insecurity. After the holidays sit him down and tell him you are concerned that their relationship has crossed a line and their escalating emotional intimacy is undermining your marriage.

Q. Re: Parents hoarding animals: Regarding the person whose mother loves animals too much, my parents are the same way. They have six dogs and two cats that run the house. The dogs are left in the house while my parents are away and urinate and defecate on the area rugs. They also sleep in any human bed in the house and the sheets are filthy. One of the cats is nearly feral in the house. When my parents send gifts for holidays, any clothing or permeable surface smells of animal filth. However, the animals are well taken care of, licensed, and vetted. I have broached the subject with my parents and even offered to purchase crates for crate training. They view the animals in an odd and unhealthy way and will not crate them, confine them outside (even for short periods) or "overly discipline" them by house training. In my case, my mother is mentally ill (borderline personality disorder) and my father is her enabler. When we go to visit, we stay at a hotel and limit our time in their home. When I visit without my husband and child, I clean their house and take the rugs to the laundromat. As long as they are adults, lucid, not abusing the animals, and not in violation of local animal laws (which your mother may be), there is no professional intervention available. It stinks (no pun intended), but that's the way it is.

A: As you wisely point out, some things just can't be changed. All you can do is do what's best for you (and make sure innocent creatures are safe).

Q. Re: Small town privacy: Small town folks do have manners, actually. Just because your in-laws tell everybody in town doesn't mean anyone will mention it to you. That's why the murder rate is so low. Everybody knows everybody else's business, but they know when not to let on. They also won't be asking, "What's wrong with her?" when her OCD symptoms show during a visit. Embrace the freedom. (I used to cringe hearing my aunt on the phone telling everybody else my business, but no one ever mentioned that business to me.)

A: That's a good point to keep in mind. The letter writer shouldn't add to her anxiety thinking she'll have to explain herself. People may just be blessedly polite.

Q. Touchy Christmas Gift: With Christmas tomorrow the question of personal gifts has become a sticking point. My boyfriend and I exchanged highly personal "adult" toys for Christmas this year. What do I say to people that want to know what he got me? I've tried the "Oh, it’s personal" but they still push for details. Any ideas?

A: Jeez, who pushes for details of someone else's Christmas gift once you're older than 10? Just say your favorite gift to each other is to go out together to a fancy restaurant and have a blow-out meal—and enough batteries for your toys.

Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone. Have a wonderful Christmas and Happy New Year.

Our commenting guidelines can be found here.

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

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