A: I agree that cutting people off is sometimes the only way and I suggest that a whole lot. Maybe that's what has to happen here. But I'm recommending drawing some clear boundaries—which is what you did. For some jokesters a flat, "Not funny," can be an effective tool. I said the son should make clear disparaging jokes about his daughter are off-limits and see if his father gets it. If he doesn't, then they can start limiting access to the granddaughter. I will add that I grew up in a family of Don Rickles wannabes and learning to deal with them—and toss it back at them—had its benefits.
Q. Visiting My Parents: I need some advice about staying at my parents' house. Neither of my parents have ever been clean freaks, but since my siblings and I have left the house, it's gotten worse. My father is a hoarder—there is a whole room dedicated to stuff he's bought, but the biggest problem is just the lack of cleaning. The bathroom my siblings and my family and I use when we visit has not been cleaned in years, sheets have not been washed or changed in months. We have to bring our own sheets and blankets from home to ensure there will be some to use there. What should I do? My parents do not seem depressed and it's only this one area of the house that is suffering (out of sight, out of mind?). I'm dreading our visit for Christmas. Staying in a hotel is not very possible (small town).
A: It sounds as if it's time to blast Mom and Dad out of their filth pile and move the family celebration to another venue. Your parents have a serious problem. It's possible that if all the children try to address this with them—and even suggest pooling resources to get the house cleaned—they might listen. I'm guessing not, because this kind of thing is infernally difficult to deal with. Of course all of you could also arrive with cleaning supplies and get the bathroom into usable shape, and do a load of laundry and some vacuuming. But if your parents would object to this, you have to decide how much disgust you can bear over Christmas dinner.
Q. Re: Back to school: Don't be discouraged! My husband is one of the smartest people I know and he was also a late bloomer. Started college at 18, dropped out at 19 and joined the Navy, returned to school at 26, and had his BS and MBA by age 31. I, by contrast, had finished both undergrad and law school by age 26. So what if he did it "later" and I did it "on schedule"—we are both happy with where we've ended up where we are. More people than you think have a "nontraditional" path for their education. Best of luck to you!
A: Great to hear—and this is only one of the many responses that have come in telling the same story. It's way more common than the 29-year-old thinks, and I hope he will connect with others on campus who are walking the same path.
Q. X-mas Grinch?: My MIL looks after my children while I'm at work. I gave her a credit card to pay for child care related expenses. I told her if she occasionally wanted to use it to treat herself I was happy for her to charge it to the credit card, sort of as a bonus/thank you for looking after my children (I also pay her salary for child care). She uses it every couple of months for an inexpensive facial or massage, which is completely fine with me. The only problem comes around at Christmas. She uses the card to buy a massive amount of food for the annual family get together, spending almost $1,000. It takes place at her home and my husband and I are the only ones who help with all the cooking and preparation, which takes days. My siblings-in-law contribute towards the dinner by giving my MIL money, but instead of reimbursing us, she pockets it herself. At first I thought she forgot, but she's been doing this for the past three Christmases. Is it stingy of me to raise this issue with her?
A: Since you're paying your mother-in-law for her child care, if it's a fair salary according to both parties, then you need to either set up a fund for incidentals related to the kids, or ask her for weekly or monthly accounting of her expenses so you can reimburse her. If you separately want to give her a gift certificate for a year's worth of facials or massages at her favorite spa, that would be a great Christmas gift. But it's just too weird that your mother-in-law takes to charging you for the family Christmas dinner because she's got your credit card. But, as usual with in-law questions, I think it's a better idea for you husband to have this conversation, He can tell his mother how much her help means to all of you, but that going forward you two want to have a more predictable outlay for her services.
Q. Unusable Heirloom Table: When we moved, my grandma gave us a gorgeous dining room table that has been in the family for about 100 years. It's beautiful and in great shape. She told us that they're glad we have it because they know we'll take care of it. The problem: It's very low and has wood panels underneath that make it impossible to scoot our chairs under the table. Every single meal, we end up either smacking our knees on the panel or eating hunched over because we can't get any closer to our plates without injuring ourselves. We don't have room to store the table if we get a new one, but it means so much to my grandma that we keep it. No one else in the family is in a position to take it. Are we doomed to a life of eating meals with terrible posture?
A: This can be the problem with even the most meaningful family heirlooms—they just don't work for the way people live now. I've watched enough Antiques Roadshow to know that the last thing you want to do to a 100-year-old table is modify it so that it better suits your needs. But as it is now, this connection to your ancestors is making mealtime miserable. If your space permits perhaps the table can be repurposed. Maybe it would work as a sideboard, for example. If there's nowhere else in your home you can put it, and no one else can take it, you need to talk to grandma. It could be she takes it back. It could be she is willing to pay for it to be put in storage. It could be the best solution is to get it appraised (sob!) and see if it's time to sell it to someone who will cherish it.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.
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