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. Back to School: I was immature in my early 20s and never finished college. I left with a lot of debt and only about 55 credits. For the last few years (I'm now 29), I've been working and making anywhere from $10–12 an hour. My wife graduated nursing school and got her dream job and is making more than double what I was. So looking at our finances we decided that if we made it on half of her salary for the last few years then we could make it on her salary now and I quit my job and got set up to go back to school. I start in January and if I hunker down and go all year I can graduate with my bachelor’s in mathematics in December 2016. I keep thinking that I made the wrong decision in going back to school at age 29 and should have just stayed in a dead end job. I'm being stupid, right? My wife supports me but I still can't get it out of my head.
A: If you don't do this, in 10 years you'll be 39, and unless you see a path upward in your career absent a college degree, you will regret you never buckled down and got your diploma. You are a late-bloomer and you will find college has plenty of people like you who are going back to make the investment in themselves. A mathematics degree should open a lot of doors. So while you're paying tuition, make sure you're taking advantage of all the programs on campus for people like you. There may be counseling for older, returning students. And as soon as classes start, go over to the career counseling office and make friends there. It's perfectly understandable you're daunted and intimidated by the task ahead of you. But you should be excited and proud, too, that with the support of your wife you're making good decisions that will make the future better for both of you.
Dear Prudence: Hung Up on Hair Length
Q. Bigoted Father-in-Law: I am very lucky to be married to a kind and loving man, but his father is a problem. Ever since we met, his father has made jokes that really aren't appropriate. Joking about how my mother-in-law's shoulder bruise was because he hit her, suggesting my father was cheap because he is Jewish, belittling my husband's career (at which he is excellent), etc. At a disastrous Thanksgiving last year during which he made a Polish joke in front of a Polish friend and made fun of another friend's wife's unusual name, we decided we just can't take him to any more parties or introduce him to our friends or co-workers. For the sake of my husband, I always tried to be polite and accept apologies when they were (rarely) offered. However, now we have a baby, and the comments have turned on her. My father-in-law now says things like how she's not that cute and would be cuter if she had blond hair. This is his only grandchild, and my mother-in-law is a kind and loving person who adores the baby to no end. My baby can't understand these comments now, but she will someday, and I just can't stand the thought of her being treated by her grandfather the way he has treated me. What do I do? There is a family reunion next summer.
A: Your father-in-law is the jokester jerk who sees life as a Comedy Central roast, the only problem being he does the insults but leaves out the humor. I understand that you want to keep this dad under wraps as regards your friends, but since he and your mother-in-law are a pair, the rest of you need to practice the deadpan reaction and quick escape to refresh your drink. It's unlikely you will reform this guy. I'm not defending his cracks, which have an ugly edge, but he's also not the kind of raging abuser for whom severing relations is the best solution. If you see him as the pathetic throwback he is (Jewish jokes, Polish joke, wife-beating jokes!) that will reduce his power to sting. As for your child, next year she is only going to be a toddler and will be too young to understand your father-in-law's "humor." At a family reunion there will be so much tumult and activity it's hard to imagine anything grandpa does will really register. But now is the time for your husband to tell your father that his grandchild is off limits for his jokes—poking fun at how his granddaughter looks isn't funny and if it doesn't stop you will have to reduce his ability to see her. As your daughter gets older, you can explain to her that some adults say stupid things, and, unfortunately, grandpa thinks saying mean things is funny. All of you have told him you don't like it, but sometimes he still does it. You can tell her if he says something mean to her she's free to say, "Grandpa, that wasn't funny." Dealing with difficult relatives can actually provide useful life lessons.
Q. Premature Infant: My daughter was born at 26 weeks gestation earlier this year: She weighed 1 pound and 12 ounces at birth. She spent 73 days in the NICU, but I'm thrilled to say she's home and doing very well now. Because she seems so healthy, it's hard to explain to friends and family that she's immunodeficient (she missed a critical three months of maternal antibodies!) with lungs that are still not up to term-baby strength. Everyone wants to hold her and love on her (and I want them to!) but cold and flu season is dangerous for her. What would just be a cold in a regular infant could land us back in the hospital, which is a thought I just cannot bear. How do I tell these well-meaning people, who did so much for us while she was in the hospital, that it's hands-off until she is stronger and better able to handle their germs? I could skip the gatherings all-together, which some micro-preemie moms do, but we love seeing everyone—just at a healthy distance.
A: What good news about your daughter, and what understandable restrictions you have just laid out. You will not be hurting anyone's feelings by simply explaining to them what you've written here. That is, that your daughter is still fragile and exposure to germs has to be limited. If you have gotten in the habit of informing people of your daughter's progress on Facebook, put up a post saying you look forward to seeing people this holiday season, but you want to let everyone know that your baby's immune system is not yet up to speed and you have to keep her away from germs for a while longer. Anyone who loves this child—anyone with a shred of decency—would not want to be the person who unwittingly passed along some potentially devastating bug. Don't worry about sounding defensive or hostile; it's hard to imagine who won't be understanding about this medical necessity.
Q. Re: Bigoted in-laws: Your answer to LW is completely wrong, IMO. My father is just like the letter writer's FIL, and to this day he thinks people are "too sensitive" when people call him out on his "humor." It doesn't matter the tone he uses, it still hurts. LW's priorities are to her child first, in-laws second. People like FIL don't see consequences in blank stares or "that wasn't funny." They DO see consequences when they see they've been cut off. Trust me, when I started telling my dad that I wasn't going to listen to his crap and followed through by hanging up the phone or simply not wanting to be around him anymore, the "jokes" practically stopped. FIL and my dad are bullies, they only understand when people stand up for themselves. LW needs to teach her daughter about boundaries NOW, because FIL is only going to get worse.