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: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Boys Will Be Boys: I have a 19-month-old son who is an all-around joy! He has taken to the habit of putting on the nearest pair of shoes, grabbing his diaper bag and my keys, and pretending as if he is about to go bye-bye. He usually puts on my shoes because my husband's big shoes are much too heavy for him to walk in. My husband has taken issue with him wearing my shoes (generally ballet-style flats) because he doesn't think that a little boy should play dress-up in women's shoes. I don't care if he plays in them, and although I don't believe at this age he knows the difference in gender-bearing apparel, I would not care if he did. My husband, however, makes him take them off, often prompting an emotional response from my son. My son's hysterics then cause my husband to make him sit until he calms down. We've argued about this issue so much. I see no harm in letting a child explore his curiosity and imagination in this nonharmful way. My question is how do I get my husband to lighten up about it? He is from a culture where males are supposed to display typical male gender roles and characteristics only.
A: Please enroll together with your husband in a parenting class—many YMCAs have them. You want this to be a joint experience for the two of you. You want to avoid sounding as if you are sending your husband alone to the dunce's corner, no matter how much he may belong there. I totally agree that your 19-month-old is doing what every toddler is programmed to do, that is imitating his parents, the most important people in his life. Your husband's overreaction to his son's sweet and charming behavior is crushing and confusing. Since this is a recurring problem, look with your husband at the Gesell Institute website which has lots of material about children's developmental stages and what to expect. I also will reiterate my recommendation of Haim Ginott's Between Parent and Child, a book that really helps a parent understand a child's mind and respond with compassion. You do not want to set up a dynamic in which you attack your husband's culture—you married him knowing what it was, and presumably that he embraced some of the tenets. Instead you want to examine how some of these beliefs affect your family, and work together so that all three of you treat each other with gentleness and respect.
Dear Prudence Classic: Kinky Mom
Q. Background Check on Questionable Fiancé?: My younger sister is engaged to be married to someone she only knows from online and has never met. They're planning on meeting when she drives out east to help him move into her apartment back on the West Coast, and marrying around the holidays. We know nothing about this guy. No Facebook, nothing. But she is very trusting and gave me his name and birthdate and I know which state he lives in. Should I have a background check run? I am willing to take the risk that she'll hate me forever if I can at least check out that he's not a criminal or already married.
A: Time for an intervention with little sis. It just can't be that the only evidence that she is troubled and unable to make good decisions is this engagement. This is a potentially very dangerous situation. She is leaving her home to drive across the country to have sex with a man she's never met. Unless she has a substantial bank account he can tap, I'm doubting a marriage is going to ensue. Yes, your sister is an adult, but I'm hoping she has good enough relationships with her family that she will be willing to listen to reason, and even talk this out with a professional. It's fine for you to check this guy out. But do it quietly and hold the information in reserve until you try to get your sister to reconsider. Even if he's a registered sex offender, people like your sister tend to believe the accounts from their beloved that it was all a terrible frame-up.
Q. Stalked by Co-worker: I am a 24-year-old female who changed jobs six months ago. Since my first month in the new company, a co-worker has been persistently trying to ask me out. He let me know early on that he has a girlfriend, but things are not going so well between them. I already told him that I like him as a friend but nothing more. We used to hang out a lot earlier, but after this exchange, we have slowly stopped hanging out and talking as much. I recently told him about how addicted I have become to the website Reddit and have been enjoying my conversations there. I have a common username that I use on all social networking sites. Last night, he sent me an email quoting a comment that I made on that website specifically about how I am annoyed by my co-worker's advances. I don't know how to deal with this situation. On one hand, I feel stalked and harassed. But on the other hand, I also don't want to make things any more awkward between us than they already are.
A: First of all, get a new username that hides your identity. Unfortunately, you tipped off this guy to one of your pastimes and presumably your username is close enough to your own that he was able to discern you went online to complain about him. He is not your friend. You need to make explicitly clear to him that you are co-workers and you want to get along in that capacity, but that he has been crossing the line and it has to stop asking you out. Then stop all conversation with him about your personal life. Keep the email he sent and any others and if he continues to harass you, go to HR. Explain you've tried to deal with his advances yourself, but this has become a workplace problem that they need to address.
Q. Re: Boys will be boys: My brother is 10 years younger than I am and he practically worshipped his big sister. He used to put on my actual ballet shoes and other various items. He also once stuck a sanitary napkin in his pants. Today he is a macho masculine guy and not one person would ever consider him even remotely effeminate. But he does respect women and knows how to treat them properly.
A: I love the image of a sister-worshipping boy wanting to use a sanitary napkin! I am hearing from a lot of readers whose sons and daughters behaved similarly. Wherever a child ends up on the gender identity scale is fine. But a toddler trying on the clothes of mommy, daddy, sister, and brother is not indicative of anything but loving the big people in his or her life. The father described in the letter needs some serious education on child development and sexual identity.