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 firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Q. Seat Belts for the Whole Family: I'm having an ongoing discussion/argument with my husband regarding his seat belt use—or rather, lack thereof—and I'm hoping you can help me! We are in our early 30s and my husband grew up being taught from both his parents that seat belts don't make a difference. His mom had an aunt who was unable to get out of a car after a nasty wreck because she became entangled in the belt, and died. This was of course tragic; however it was many, many years ago, and safety regulations have changed, but husband doesn't listen to that argument. Husband himself rear-ended someone when he was in his early 20s and happened to walk away with just a few bruises, and he will use this to say, "See? I wasn't hurt, and I won't be hurt." Between this and my FIL's small town "I've never worn them, you can't make me" attitude, my otherwise completely logical and amazing husband refuses to wear a seat belt. We now have a child on the way, and I've point blank told him once that child is born, he will be wearing the belt at all times, to which he rolls his eyes and acts like I'm spewing conspiracy theories. I've tried explaining it's for the baby's safety as well as his, and he just replies, "Well of course the kid will be buckled in!" How can I possibly convince him that his not being belted can endanger the life of everyone else in the car as well as his own life?
A: Of the four people in the car the night Princess Diana died, the only one who lived was the one wearing a seat belt. Your husband and his parents simply couldn't be more wrong. Now that your husband is about to become a father, it might be worth it to do some research on seat belts to present to him—the National Transportation Safety Board and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety are a couple of places to start. The story of his aunt's death is a family legend, but who knows how true it is, and likely this is an old story and seat belt technology has improved exponentially since then. I hope your husband knows he will be breaking the law if he refuses to wear a seat belt, particularly while driving with a child. Wearing a seat belt is no more a matter of personal preference than deciding on what the speed limit should be. But if logic won't work, action might. From now on, refuse to drive with him unless he buckles up. Of course this might be inconvenient, but you can explain he is putting your new family at risk by exposing himself to the dangers of being unbelted. If an accident were to happen, he would be an uncontained missile in the car. Explain to him that you would rather not be caring for a new child and a brain-damaged husband, and you are not going along for the ride unless he obeys the law.
Dear Prudence: 7-Year-Old Holy Terror
Q. Stepbrother: I'm a 24-year-old woman who recently moved back home with my parents. My stepbrother is 31 years old and has never left the nest. After moving in, I noticed that my dirty unmentionables began disappearing. Last week, after entering my stepbrother’s room, I found an article hanging beneath his pillow. He's been my brother for almost 15 years. I don't know how to approach this. I love him, but I'm seriously creeped out. What should I do?
A: Do everything you can to get your finances together and move out. A stepbrother in his 30s who’s never left home and steals his sister's dirty underwear—well, I hear those staccato violins squealing in the background. I'm not suggesting you personally are in danger, but there's something seriously off with stepbrother, and you and your laundry would be better off at your own place. But his problem sounds larger than locking up your hamper. If your parents aren't dealing with why their son never fledged, there is some serious pathology going on. Maybe it's time to talk to your parents about what's going on with Norman. Until you go on your own way, maybe you could put a lock on your bedroom door. Certainly you can leave a note on your basket of dirty undies, "Norman, hands off."
Q. Re: For non-seat-belt wearer: Along with research and putting her foot down, the wife could present her stubborn husband with one of those tools that shatters car windows and slices seat belts in case of entrapment. I think they can go on a keychain.
A: Great suggestion. The husband knowing he can slice through the seatbelt might be enough to mollify him into wearing one. A nice, fat moving-violation fine might also help.
Q. My Daughter Is Isolated Because of Me: I'm writing because my daughter, who is 4 years old, is feeling isolated because of me. I have always had a hard time making and keeping friends. Even in grade school I had very few friends. I always felt like I didn't belong anywhere, and I still carry that with me as an adult. My husband and daughter are my comfort zone. So now that I have a child, my problem, for lack of a better word, is affecting her. Every day she wants to do things that normal kids do, but sometimes I physically can't go out the front door or even answer my phone when it rings. The thought of arranging play dates terrifies me. Prudie, I don't know what to do, my daughter is suffering because of ME.
A: Despite your social problems you managed to connect with another person and form a loving marriage, so give yourself credit for this and use it as a platform to build on. Good for you for recognizing your own limits and not wanting them to interfere with your daughter's happy functioning. It sounds, however, as if you're suffering, and that has to be addressed. A cognitive behavioral therapist might be a good choice because the treatment would be focused on giving you exercises to help you overcome your difficulty in going out and socializing. You could tell your therapist one of your goals is to interact more with other parents so that your daughter has access to playmates. I hope your little girl has been in pre-school and that she is signed up for summer programs. That gives her easy access to other children and get-togethers. Try trading off small activities with other mothers. You could offer to take two of the girls out for lunch and to the playground one day, in exchange for the other mother doing it another. And it's a little sexist to expect all childhood activities are filtered through moms. Let your husband step up and arrange play dates, too. Instead of beating yourself up, recognize what you're doing well for your daughter, and address what you can do better.