Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online 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.)
Q. Wedding Dress? Me Too!: My future mother-in-law would like to wear her wedding dress to our wedding. I’m less concerned about the dress and more concerned about what this says about our future relationship. She is a very kind, considerate person, and I am certain that she knows this is not a very nice thing to do. What could her possible motivations be and what should I do about it? I’m inclined to let her wear whatever she wants, as it doesn’t bother me as much as maybe something else would. Should I pick my battles, as they say? Or will not saying something make me seem like a pushover?
A: It’s not that this is a not-nice thing to do. It’s that it’s a deranged thing to do. No one—no one—is going to be confused about who the bride will be. But the more literary-minded of your guests will wonder how Miss Havisham got an invitation to your wedding. I often advise that in the matter of in-law problems, the blood relation has first go at addressing this issue. Your fiancé should tell his mother he’s heard about her plan. He can say that she’s a grown woman and of course can wear whatever she likes, but that he’s worried she will embarrass herself by showing up to his wedding in her old wedding gown. Then if she decides to wear some puff-sleeved, high-necked horror from another era, just smile and tell her how happy you are to see her.
Q. Friend’s Kid Is a Jerk: My best friend and I have known each other since our teens (almost 20 years). She and her husband have two kids, a 7-year-old girl and a 4-year-old boy. My 2-year-old daughter loves playing with her kids when we get together, but lately there’s been a big issue starting to arise. Her son’s behavior is atrocious. He is mean and aggressive to my daughter, shoving her and snatching toys out of her hands. My friend never corrects him or makes him apologize, and if I say something I get the evil eye for daring to say something to her kid. Just yesterday while playing at the park, he threw my daughter’s toy into a tree. I walked over and said, “That wasn’t nice, you need to apologize please.” He began to cry so hysterically, you would have thought I slapped him. What do I do? She’s kind of sensitive to (what she sees as) criticism.
A: This is sad all the way around. There may be something off with her son, but the mother seems unable to address it. Whether there are some underlying issues in the son’s behavior or he is just a very rambunctious boy who is receiving no guidance, you cannot allow your daughter to be bullied by him. You need to talk to your best friend. You can say that while your daughter loves getting together with her kids, she is not able to defend herself against her son and he has been very aggressive toward her. So explain you are going to put the play dates on hiatus until everyone is older and more mature. If she doesn’t acknowledge what’s going on with her 4-year-old, unless his behavior improves, the school system will.
Q. Nail Polish–Wearing Son: I have a 4-year-old son whom I take with me to the salon regularly to get his finger- and toenails trimmed. Recently he has asked to have his toenails painted like his sister and I do. He gets superhero designs and thinks it’s awesome. My husband, on the other hand, hates it. He says due to where we live, the painted nails will cause social problems with the other kids and parents. I say A) they’re his toes, which are mainly covered by socks, so no one but us will even see. And (more importantly) B) other parents can suck it. I’m not willing to say no to my kid over something so minor even if it makes other people, including my husband, insecure. What say you?
A: I love the description of your son’s manly pedi! I agree with you that he should continue to rock the superhero toes. Sure, your husband might be right that this might mean some people will tease him, and you have to gently prepare him for that. But I’m also guessing that his friends are less imbued with old gender stereotypes than your husband. It’s likely your son’s classmates will love his twinkle toes. You can point out to your husband that we live in an era in which football players rock long braids and sometimes wear their hair in buns. I’m sure your husband is also aware that many men wear earrings, something that would have been shocking in another era. I hope that your son’s toes cause such a positive clamor that popular demand leads you to have a pedicure birthday party when he turns 5.
Q. Re: MIL Dress for Wedding: My MIL did not propose wearing her wedding dress, but purchased a dress more suitable for a baby shower or Sunday morning at church than her own son’s wedding. I thought this was hilarious but said nothing because I figured she could look as ridiculous as she wanted. One of her friends brought her back to her senses, she wore the original dress to our rehearsal dinner, and purchased something more appropriate for the wedding. But it’s been nine years and I still laugh about this, as it’s indicative of just how clueless and socially inept she is.
A: Ha-ha-ha, clueless and socially inept mother-in-law bought a dress more “appropriate for a baby shower” and was going to wear it to her son’s wedding! No wonder that nine years later you are still laughing at this pathetic excuse of a woman! Forgive me if I don’t understand the sartorial distinction between a dress appropriate for church and one appropriate for a wedding. (And I don’t know what a “baby shower” dress is—I can only hope it doesn’t involve wearing a bib.) Your mother-in-law may indeed not have much fashion sense and be an awkward person. You sound like an unpleasant one.
Q. Grieving: Acceptance or Denial?: A few weeks ago, my mother died at age of 56 after a long battle with cancer. My father was her main caregiver, but I lived with them in their house and visited nearly every day while she was hospitalized. The last few months have been brutal. While she was sick, I was a nervous wreck and constantly crying in my car or anywhere else I could be alone. But now that she’s gone and the funeral is over, I feel weirdly calm. I still miss her, but I’m not hysterical as I once was and I’m mostly back to my normal routine. Is this normal or should I be worried that my feelings of grief have been delayed/repressed when they should exist? Dad is still clearly not back to normal, and I feel guilty that I’m adjusting without too much trouble.
A: You say your mother went through a long, brutal struggle and that you were almost undone by it. So you were grieving deeply while you watched her slip away, and working through contemplating the world without her. It’s not at all unusual for someone in your situation to feel a sense of relief and release at knowing a terminally ill loved one is no longer suffering. Please stop feeling guilty. Surely your mother would want you to let go of your pain and feel re-engaged in your young life. Your sense of calm now does not at all mean a breakdown is in your future. But missing your mother will be a process that changes for you over time, and be prepared to be taken by surprise at unexpectedly, and acutely, feeling her loss. That will be normal, too. But do feel glad that your worst sorrow has passed and you are feeling pleasure again.
Q. Re: Nail Polish: I live in a deeply conservative Southern area, and when my son (now 12) was in preschool he had me paint both his finger- and toenails whenever I did mine. My nephew (3) does the same thing with his mom and with me. Neither one ever got negative feedback from preschool or church. As long as you don’t walk in looking to make excuses, my experience is that nobody really cares.
A: Great to hear! I agree that the father needs to stop projecting his own hang-ups on his happy son.
Q. Re: Wedding Dress? Me Too!: Doesn’t it depend on what the MIL’s dress looked like? My mom got married in a very cool, dressy suit (not white) in a vintage ’60s style with a knee-length skirt. She could have worn it to a wedding and people would have just thought it was a cool, vintage look.
A: If the mother-in-law’s wedding dress was a Jackie Kennedy-style pink suit, then it’s a nonissue. I think we can safely assume the wedding dress being discussed here was a real wedding dress.
Q. Temperamental Fiancé?: My fiancé is usually a great guy but he has quick and destructive temper flare-ups that have resulted in my calling the police. These are rather infrequent but enough to make me hold off the wedding till he gets counseling and possibly undergoes anger management. He says he feels bad after this happens and I am just pushing him into it. I say if he wants us to be together, he will be willing to get help so we can have a good chance at a future. What is your take on it?
A: My take is that if you need the police to sort out your domestic disputes, you should get new domestic arrangements. Your fiancé is an abuser with violence and control problems, and apparently lacks insight about this. Of course it’s the case that most abusers are not abusive all of the time. That would mean most victims would get out. It’s easier to stay if, as in your case, you think you’re with a great guy who is sometimes abusive. The problem is the great guy is also the abusive guy—they aren’t two separate people, and you can’t just eliminate the dangerous guy. Well, actually you can—you do so by eliminating him from your life. Which is what I think you should do here. And if you are afraid of his reaction if you break up with him, then call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for help.
Q. Re: Another Dress at the Wedding: I had a friend show up to my wedding in her wedding dress. Everyone wondered why she was wearing that. ... But like you said, Prudie, it was clear to all the guests who was the bride that day. No big deal in the long run. My husband and I still laugh about it.
A: Now that’s a wedding attire story worth laughing at. As I’ve said many times, wacky relatives and friends just add entertainment value to these events.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.