A: Only you know if this was the kind of exploratory play many kids engage in or whether you were forcing him into your games against his will. However, you were both in the single digits, and if nothing more happened than these kisses, they may be an uncomfortable, even disgusting memory to your cousin, but it just doesn't seem helpful to cast this childhood play as abuse. You say since your cousin's words with you when you were in college, you have avoided "him and family gatherings." I'm hoping this was a typo and you meant, "him at family gatherings." If you've made yourself a permanent outcast, that seems way too harsh a punishment for some childhood kisses. Since all the events you describe took place years ago—both the kisses and the confrontation—I think you should stop acting as if you are scum. Go to family gatherings and be friendly to your cousin. If he remains aloof, take him aside and say you want to try to clear the air. You should certainly apologize for making him miserable when you were children and say his words to you years ago have haunted you. Maybe that will be enough for him to consider letting it go.
Q. Strangers and Rude Questions: I am the mother of 14-month-old fraternal twin girls who look nothing alike. When we are out and about, everyone loves to interact with them, which I don't mind at all. But often, these strangers will ask if the twins are "natural." My twins were conceived through IVF after miscarriages, and I feel strongly that I (and they when they are older) shouldn't be ashamed of that. Part of me thinks that I should tell people this and try to break down the stigma surrounding fertility treatments. But it's such a rude question, and the term natural is offensive! I'm sure they don't realize they are implying that my daughters are "unnatural," but I never know how to react. Certainly the twins don't understand any of this now, but I think my answer becomes even more important as they get older. How should I deal with this question?
A: You could reply, "I actually don't know any unnatural children." If this doesn't end the inquiries, then you say, "I don't discuss my family with strangers," and move on.
Q. Re: Voldemort: The children also absolutely must be told, because they need to know that their BIL isn't a safe person to be around. If he were ever to show up and try to pick them up from school, say, or at the house, they need to know not to go with him.
A: Good point. Thanks for mentioning this.
Q. Argumentative New Boyfriend: I've been with my boyfriend six months now, and he's very attentive and thoughtful. He has a great sense of humor, and we click on several levels. The problems begin when we are in a group of friends. He either sits silent for hours or gets into loud disagreements with anyone on virtually any subject. I have brought this up to him many times, but he doesn't see a problem. He says if he agrees with the conversation he keeps quiet and listens, but if he disagrees he has to argue. He thinks consensus is boring and looks forward to these battles. Meanwhile all my friends just think he is a jerk. What do I do?
A: Your new guy has given your friends sufficient evidence to draw what seems like a very reasonable conclusion. Unless you intend to just click with him in private, each time you two socialize you've got to expect he's going to either act colossally bored or be obnoxiously belligerent. If outside of your circle of two he acts like a jerk, then that's what he is.
Q. Re: Parents getting off early: I'm an attorney and a parent, and I have to leave on time every day to pick my kid up from day care. I do indeed pick up my work again as soon as he is in bed, almost every night. She didn't say that she was doing their work, she just said that she is staying late to work. That is her choice. If you decide that leaving work at 5 every day is a priority, to make dinner or hang out with friends or go to yoga or whatever, you can rearrange your work schedule to make it happen. And if work doesn't let you do it, then I agree, that's not acceptable.
A: Great advice. If the workplace believes in flexibility, it should be for all. Of course there is also the hierarchical issue of being a junior attorney, and that perhaps flexible hours are seen as something you earn.
Q. Cheating Stepbrother: Our stepbrother is 28 and lives out of state with his long-term, 23-year-old girlfriend. The GF has made several trips to visit our family. We all thought this was a serious relationship that would lead to marriage. Two years ago, the stepbrother slept with another girl and told us about it. We didn't get involved but convinced ourselves that he had stopped cheating. Now, he's doing it again. Two weeks ago, he brought another girl to a family function, and she hung out with all of us. Our sister confronted him privately about it, and he said he has at least four other girls on the side and this is just how men are. His girlfriend does not know. We obviously don't want to condone the cheating and we really like his girlfriend, but we also don't want to poke our noses in and create a family rift. What, if any, obligation do we have to alert his girlfriend?
A: Since he's been open, even blatant about his cheating, none of you are obligated to keep his secrets. What concerns me is that he's potentially endangering the health of a very young, likely innocent girl. I think in this case it would be fine for one of you to say to the girlfriend that you were concerned when brother brought another young woman to a recent family function. Then it's up to her to get the truth.
Q: The Hardest Part of Breaking Up Is Getting Back Your (Daughter's) Stuff: I've left my girlfriend of three years, but she refuses to release my daughter's belongings into my possession. My ex says she needs "time" and "space" until she can gather her thoughts. I want my daughter's stuff back. I don't want to be a jerk to the woman; nor do I want to deprive my kiddo of her toys, stuffed animals, furniture, and goldfish (which probably isn't being fed). Should I walk away and let my ex have my daughter's stuff, should I involve the police, or should I wait?
A: If you were in a long-term relationship and your daughter thought of your partner as a parental figure, your daughter's life has just been turned upside down and she's missing a lot more than her teddy bear right now. I agree it would comfort your little girl to get her stuff, but surely you left with some of her possessions, so have your daughter hold those tight. I'm dubious about calling the police over the theft of a goldfish. It sounds as if you ended the relationship rather abruptly, so you need to get unentangled from your ex, not more involved. You can tell your daughter your ex wants to take care of the fish for now, so you two should go off to the pet store and get another one.
Q. Re: Natural vs. Unnatural: This reminds me of the questions I sometimes receive when out and about with my daughters. They're a few months apart, and one is adopted from overseas. Instead of natural vs. unnatural, I get the "is that her real sister?" My favorite response is to have her pinch herself (lightly) then say, "Yep, I'm real ... and her sister." That usually works. Don't get me started on the occasions when someone has asked how much she cost. (I always reply “cheaper than you think ... they were having a sale that week.”)
A: Great! You are putting those people in their place and also showing your girls you are comfortable with this and giving them the tools to handle adoption questions with humor and aplomb.
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