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 email@example.com.)
Q. Parents of My Son's Best Friend Are Too Strict: Our son has a friend, "Matt." Matt's parents are very religious and have a lot of rules about what Matt isn't allowed to watch or read. He is not allowed to play video games, period, and wouldn't be allowed to watch a Harry Potter movie or a superhero movie. He is not allowed to watch most cartoons and can only listen to radio stations with religious programming. Our son hardly ever goes to Matt's house to play, but Matt comes over here a lot. The boys play board games or play with Legos, but Matt sure would like to watch movies or cartoons or listen to the radio—I've "caught" him reading my son's Harry Potter books. My husband says we should just let him watch and read the stuff and that his parents' rules can be for their house, but we don't have to follow them. While I agree the restrictions put in place by Matt's parents are ridiculous, I would be very upset if our son went to stay with a friend and was allowed to watch or listen to something that we didn't want him seeing—like something with excessive violence or sexuality. Matt will be staying with us this weekend and my husband wants to take the boys to see a movie of which I know Matt's parents wouldn't approve, but one that is age appropriate for 11-year-old boys. Is my husband right? Can we disregard Matt's parents' wishes or should we follow them as they seem to trust us to do?
A: This is sad and disturbing and I wish the parents understood they only make all the forbidden fruit that much more delectable. I'm assuming that Matt's parents have given you their list of forbiddens, and if you've signed off on them then it's not right you do something you know is verboten. However, these boys are 11 years old and that means you don't sit in the room and monitor them. If Matt picks up a copy of Harry Potter or plays a video game while you're in the other room, so be it. But taking him to a movie when the parents have explicitly forbidden such evil entertainment is a violation of their trust and will only smash the relationship of the two boys. Discuss with the parents what your plans are and see if you can get them to sign off. If you can't, come up with some other entertainment. I do wonder why parents think they make their restrictive beliefs more appealing by trying to keep their child from experiencing the world.
Dear Prudence Classic: Kinky Mom
Q. Racist Co-Worker: I found out recently that my co-worker is a white supremacist. He had never brought it up at work, but after a couple of beers at a happy hour, he asked me if I'd be interested in coming to one of his meetings. This was after he ranted to me for 15 minutes about how all of the minorities and women in our firm get promotions and raises without deserving them. This guy doesn't know that I'm Jewish, another group of people he's directed his hate toward (they pull all of the levers in Washington and are keeping white Christians from getting ahead). Is this something I can bring to the attention to my boss?
A: Tell your boss. It may be that this co-worker is undermining other people at the company in a way you aren't aware of. He revealed to you his insane beliefs and that he is profoundly hostile to his co-workers. He even tried to recruit you, although it's probably a good idea you didn't say you were unable to attend because the meeting conflicted with Shabbat. If he is publicly involved in white supremacist activities and this is linked back to your company, that's something the people in charge need to know.
Q. Sister and Infertility: My sister and brother-in-law struggled for infertility for about the past four years. In this time period, I had my second child and two of our cousins had children. My sister made it clear that baby-related parties and activities were hard on her and her husband. We all appreciated this and tried to limit our baby conversation in her presence. She also did not attend baby showers and baby baptisms for me or our cousins. We made a conscious effort to have adult-only dinners with our parents where we all paid for a sitter. A few weeks ago she announced that the last round of IVF was successful and she was about 12 weeks along. We were all ecstatic for her. But then she started emailing us instructions for what she expected: gender reveal party, elaborate baby showers, and explicit instructions on hospital visitation times. We understand that she is excited, but what she wants us to host for her is above and beyond what we did for our own pregnancies and above and beyond what I can afford in terms of both energy and money. I am hesitant to bring this up to her because I know she has suffered a great deal of heartache. Should I go along with her plans, taking into account how sensitive she can be over this issue?
A: People in difficult circumstances deserve understanding. But your family has been trying to hide the fact that there is a next generation because of the volatile sensitivities of your sister. Of course it is painful for people struggling with infertility to attend celebrations of births. But life doesn't stop for others because of one's own problems. I always applaud the people with fertility issues who manage to have joyful relationships with the offspring of their friends and family. Three months is a point at which many people announce a pregnancy because they are past the point of highest risk of miscarriage. But declaring the hospital visit schedules is getting bizarrely ahead of the action. It's also simply rude to announce a list of social events that must be carried on in one's honor. All of you adopted a code of silence about your children for the sake of your sister. So now go ahead and express your ecstatic congratulations on her pregnancy. But unless she has announced such specifics as, "Donna, you will be hosting my shower on February 16, and here's the guest list," just ignore her list of expected social events. If she then asks which of her parties you are going to put on, you can properly say it's not the place of family members to host showers—but that you eagerly look forward to attending hers.
Q. Re: Trying to keep their child from experiencing the world: I agree with your answer, but not necessarily this principle. I mean, if I'm kosher, I'm not going to let my children eat pork or allow his friend's parents to serve it to him, to the extent I can control it. What's wrong with keeping my child from experiences I truly believe are wrong? I may be making the forbidden bacon more delectable, but if it's conflict with my religious beliefs, what else can I do?
A: Not eating pork (or being allergic to peanuts) is very different from saying virtually all the existing culture is evil and corrupting—and making it almost impossible for your child to negotiate the world you live in.
Q. Thanksgiving Visitors, Who Pays?: My sister and her husband will be flying across the country to stay with us for the week of Thanksgiving. The problem is, my car is a two-seater. I suggested to my husband that we should pay or at least chip in for a car rental since we can't pick them up from the airport nor drive them around during their stay. We do not live close enough to the airport for a shuttle. He says that since we are giving a comfortable place to stay and free food that it is enough. I really don't know what is right. Any suggestions?
A: You are not obligated to provide your sister's transportation. Since she and her husband will have long treks to and from the airport and will need a car to get around while visiting, you need to tell her because you've only got a two-seater that if she hasn't booked a car rental yet, she needs to do so immediately to make sure one's available during the holiday.
Q. Re: OP for Sister and Infertility: In my family (and many others, I think) it is not all that uncommon for a cousin or sister to throw a shower. I actually have no problem throwing my sister a baby shower and I am genuinely excited for her. But the type of shower she wants is on a much larger scale then I can afford. I want to tell her that we would all be happy to celebrate with her, but we need to take it down a few notches. I don't know how to explain this to her given her sensitivity. Thanks!
A: The etiquette rule about family members not throwing showers for relatives is based on the perception of it being rude to ask for gifts for people you are related to. I agree that this is falling by the wayside and that's fine—loved ones are often the ones most available for these duties. How you explain to your sister that you can only afford the size party you can afford is to say exactly that. People in your family have been tiptoeing around her for far too long. It's time for her to join reality and not demand you all live in her reality distortion field. If she flounces off and says she doesn't want the smaller shower you envision, you've just saved a lot of time and money.
Q. What Is in a Name?: We're expecting our first baby together. I very much want to include my stepchildren in the naming process because they are also gaining a new baby. The problem is that they keep vetoing all of the names my husband and I find to agree on. My husband prefers new trendy names like Riley, Ava, etc., and I like classics like Eleanor, Alice, etc. We were thrilled to come to a compromise with Violet! But my stepkids, stepdaughter mostly, said she simply hated it! I want to give her and her brother the connection to the baby by helping us choose a name, and being involved in this. Would it be terrible of we can't find a name that all four of us love?
A: Thank you for being someone who wants your stepchildren to feel no distinction between themselves and their new sibling. However, naming the baby is a parental decision. If you want to involve your stepkids in things involving their little brother or sister, have them chose between your three favorite paint colors for the baby's room, or the pattern for the car seat. Baby naming is for parents. And most people will tell you it's a good idea before the birth to keep knowledge of your choice limited to a small circle. A baby's name is not a matter for a plebiscite.
Q. Third Wheel Brother: My boyfriend and I have been together for three years. The first year of our relationship, we lived with his brother. Eventually, our relationship grew strained because we were NEVER alone. His brother ended up moving out after all three of us had a huge fight where a lot of mean things were said. Secretly, I was glad he moved out because I had finally lost my third wheel. The problem is that since moving out, I have come to resent him every time he comes over to visit. My boyfriend and I work opposite schedules and we see each other one day a week. Conveniently his brother wants to come over on that day, and they play video games and watch football. I've gotten so grumpy about it that I just hide in the bedroom. I have attempted to express my concerns to my boyfriend, but he thinks I hate his brother. How can I get some quality time?
A: I agree it's time to end having a third wheel, so I suggest you find your own other living arrangements as soon as possible. Your boyfriend was fine with having you bunk with him and his ever-hovering brother. Now you and your boyfriend only see each other one day a week, a day that's devoted to hanging out with bro. It sounds to me as if you're someone who helps pay the rent, and is available for sex, but you don't have the basis for an intimate relationship. When you try to express your concerns about this state of affairs, your boyfriend says you hate his brother. I think it's fine that you do, but I don't see any reason for liking your boyfriend very much, either.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Have a great week.
Check out Dear Prudence's book recommendations in the Slate Store.