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.)
Emily Yoffe: Happy Columbus Day. I assume Christopher C, as he was sailing the ocean, never imagined that one day people in the New World would flock to mattress sales in honor of him.
Q. Breast Cancer Remission: I have been in remission for breast cancer for about four years now. I was fortunate to have good health insurance and a supportive network or friends and family during my treatment and recovery. Every October I grapple with the same problem: I feel no loyalty or desire to help out with breast cancer awareness funds. To be quite blunt, I find most national campaigns to be impersonal, they do not score very highly on the charity calculator, and they were not there for me when I was suffering. I am also not particularly interesting in doing any of the 5Ks or other events in October. I find the best way to help breast cancer sufferers is to donate and volunteer at the local level. Every year I get a lot of inquiries if I am participating in different campaigns or activities and when I say no, there is always a bit of an awkward pause. I don't really want to get into why I choose to support the local level more than national, and I don't want people to think I am insensitive to the needs of those with breast cancer. What is a good response to their inquiries?
A: Thank you for standing against this pink ribbon oppression. Both my grandmother and mother had breast cancer, and I, too, have no interest in buying pink ribbon yogurt, or participating in walks for the purpose of handing a big chunk of cash to overpaid executives. You might like the books Pink Ribbon Blues and Bright-Sided, which explore both the dark side of big breast cancer charities and the incessant cheerleading imposed on breast cancer survivors. Mostly, you need a way to shrug off the inquiries. "I give to cancer organizations that help people in this community," should be enough to shut up most people. But if you're up for it, you could do a little breast cancer education of your own and say that unfortunately, some of the big breast cancer charities do not use their money effectively.
Dear Prudence: Evil Twin
Q. Grandchildren's Names: My wife and I have four children and nine grandchildren, all of whom we dearly love. But we're a little sad because each child has named a grandchild after their father-in-law, including a girl, e.g., "Georgia." Two have also named grandchildren after their mother-in-law. None has used my name, my wife's name, or a variation as a given or middle name. We both have standard names so it's not as if the child would be laughed off the playground. No. 10 is on the way and we are wondering if it would be OK to hint, suggest or even come straight out and ask that they did this? It would mean the world to us.
A: You have nine healthy grandchildren, and one more on the way. If you have a good and loving relationship with your children and their children, that's all that matters. I hear from so many people your age who wish they could get their grown children to consider reproducing, but that's one tricky conversation to have. Asking fecund children to name their kids after you is a tricky conversation not worth having. Think of asking your child to name No. 10 Sandra Michaela, or Michael Sanford. Doesn't that feel a little pathetic? Stay out of the baby-naming business and just delight in your abundance.
Q. I've Been Unknowingly Generous to My Sister: My mother works part time as a secretary. She earns enough to support herself but is obviously not well off. Over the years I frequently gave her vouchers (massage, groceries, online shopping gift cards, etc.) to treat herself. I also give her money to buy some luxury items if she mentioned something she likes. I recently discovered, though, that almost everything I've given her has been passed straight down to my sister. My sister earns almost as much as I do—maybe I earn a couple of thousand dollars more a year—but she complains a lot and makes our mother feel like she constantly needs help. I know the textbook answer is that once I give a gift, it's out of my hands and I shouldn't dictate how it's used. But I feel betrayed Mom never once told me she gives almost everything to my sister. If I had known, I would have stopped giving such generous gifts—and Mom knows this, too. She even lied and said she enjoyed the massage or facial (or whatever) when it was actually my sister who used the vouchers! Should I confront the two of them and ask my sister to pay me back?
A: Yours is such a common family dynamic. I hear often from adult siblings about the brother or sister who is an emotionally manipulative leech and whose parents seem to love getting sucked dry. These patterns are deep and abiding. But when you're talking about adults, there's not much you can do. You are right that when you give a gift it's no longer yours to control. You certainly can't go to the person who has been regifted and say I want my money back! Your sister may be taking advantage of your mother, but you are putting yourself right back in the playground if you want to confront these two adults about their relationship. If you want to continue to help your mother, figure out a way to do it directly. If you feel she could use a treat, then invite her to the spa with you. If you want to pay for some of her groceries, set up a system in which, for example, she orders them to be delivered, and you pay by credit card. If you feel anything you give your mother goes to your sister, then stop giving. Take a step back and consider that you sound just as enmeshed in being the helpful daughter as your sister does in being the needy one.
Q. I Need Advice: I am 34 and a single mom to a beautiful 7-year-old. I am divorced and have been for six years. I am very close to my parents and sometimes I feel I am too close. I have decided to take the next step with an amazing man, who just happens to be in prison. He does it for me. I am able to take care of my daughter, work full-time and go to school full-time, and then I am able to have this relationship with him. I know this is who I want to be with. The problem is that my parents and sisters are not going to be excited that I have found love with someone who is in prison. I am not looking forward to hearing their comments about how I am making a huge mistake. This is my choice right? How do I handle this? I do not want to end up alone for the rest of my life because of fear of upsetting the family.