Q. Baby Gifts: This past year my brother and SIL lost their newborn. Last Christmas the family bought said newborn (while in utero) a lot of gifts, celebrating the upcoming birth. This year she is pregnant again (second trimester). We really don't know what's proper for Christmas this year. We don't know if we should give gifts for the baby or not.
A: Talk to your brother about this and tell him the family wants to be sensitive to where they both are at. You can imagine the complicated and conflicting emotions they are going through. But it's perfectly standard not to buy lots of gifts for an unborn child. I think it sounds like a better idea to bring the baby gifts a few months from now when there's a healthy baby to celebrate.
Q. Re: Manhandled wife: I have seen many families that do interact this way with each other. Verbal and physical jabs. The key is does your wife participate or is she just the target? If she enjoys participating and is involved in a back and forth, I see no harm at all. Unfortunately some of these types of relationships can turn very bitter if one person is the target and does not participate other than to receive verbal and physical jabs.
A: Yes, the key is how all participants really feel. And that means separating out feeling pressure to go along with a style of interaction that you hate. But it also means that what can look appalling to an outsider is a blast for the insiders.
Q. Friendship: I have a friend that consistently gets involved with married men. I can't keep quiet anymore about how awful I think this is on so many levels. I know it all stems from her incredibly low self-esteem but it needs to stop. She always says she wants to find a man but because she's always involved with these married guys she never does. How can I tactfully and forcefully tell her enough already without wrecking our friendship?
A: The next time she confesses that she's found someone who's good husband material—because he's already someone else's husband—just tell her what you think. You say that you find cheating deplorable and that she's gotten herself in a very destructive pattern that's going to mean she never finds an available man. If that wrecks your friendship, so be it. Your contempt for her behavior is going to destroy it anyway.
Q. Re: Sister-in-law's favorite: Speaking from firsthand knowledge: Please give the older girl time away from her mom and little sister. The best confidence builder for me was going on "dates" with my father; a run to the hardware store or to pick up pizza still make me smile 60 some odd years later.
A: I agree the older child needs time alone with supportive adults. But hearing your story makes me sad that there are parents who knowingly allow a spouse to emotionally damage their children.
Q. Wedding Gift Etiquette: My stepsister is getting married and I don't live in the area my family lives, so getting to the wedding and hotel costs will run me around $1,000. I have been told that because she's family I am required to provide a gift that's worth at least $100. I feel as though I could get them a small gift and my presence would be sufficient. This is a couple who makes good money and the wedding is primarily paid for by the parents so I also don't feel it should be an obligation for a gift in the first place. What is appropriate?
A: Of course it's better to attend family weddings. But if you don't have the $1,000 to do it, then you need to decline. That will free up some money to send a gift and a heartfelt note. If you are planning to go, then whoever is your etiquette adviser needs an etiquette adviser. There isn't a minimum price of admission. You get something you can afford: a picture frame, a set of salad tongs, some trivets. And if you go, remember this is someone's joyous occasion and not the opportunity for you to pile a quarry's worth of chips on your shoulder.
Q. Friend's Ex-husband: Last year, a close childhood friend divorced her husband. It was messy, and since I had a relationship with both, I found myself in the middle at times. It's been a while since the divorce was finalized, and I maintain the very close relationship I've always had with my friend. Her ex-husband, however, has not been in my life except to invite my husband and me out for a few events. The first invite was extended not long after they separated and I said flat-out that I didn't think it was the right thing for me to do, but might be OK if more time could pass. The most recent one left me feeling a little stumped. My friend acknowledges that it's weird for her, but she doesn't want her ex-husband to lose friendships due to her indiscretions (she was the cause of the breakup). I really do value this man as a friend, he's a great person, and he was basically the victim in this situation. That said, is it poor form for me to maintain any kind of friendship with him? Do I keep the friendship to myself, or do I have an obligation to tell my friend when he contacts myself or my husband?
A: When friends split up it can be an open question as to who gets custody of the friendship. Sure, you have a long pre-existing relationship with your friend, so you are maintaining that. But I don't see any reason to cut off the ex if you enjoyed his company. It's perfectly reasonable for him to invite you and your husband to join him for an evening. It would be one thing if he were the cheating rat (that was your friend, apparently) but I don't see why he has to sever all his ties with his core social group. If you see him and he spends the evening pumping you for information about his ex, or venting, then you can tell him you can't participate in that conversation. But if he's just reaching out because he doesn't want to spend all his time alone, you should see him. You can tell your own friend that you've decided to see her ex occasionally and let that cover it; you don't then have to inform her of each get-together.
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