Dear Prudence answers readers' questions live at Washingtonpost.com.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
May 26 2009 2:58 PM

The Gift They Keep on Giving

Prudie counsels a woman whose loutish brother-in-law passed off her present as his own—and other advice seekers.

(Continued from Page 2)

The true reasons why we aren't having a baby now or imminently include: we want to enjoy at least one year of married life before starting a family, we're trying to save money while we can, and also I was diagnosed with a type of cancer a few weeks ago that is highly treatable/curable with a low dose of chemo, then anticipate a 2-year period to watch for possibility of recurrence before having a baby. (I made the decision not to volunteer information about my medical condition outside of my close immediate circle, and few if any people would guess that I have cancer or am undergoing chemo based on my appearance, energy level, etc., not to mention that I have one of the few cancers that affects young people.)

I know I don't need to justify or respond to these classically rude questions. But what is the best way to easily deflect them? (My tight-lipped smile didn't stop additional inquiries from well-meaning relatives over the course of the weekend.)

Emily Yoffe: The fact is that even if people shouldn't ask, they're going to, so you need to be armed. Since you are so young, you can say you two want to enjoy just being a couple for the time being (people in their thirties are going to get badgered about FSH levels by their loved ones). You can also say with a little too much emphasis, "You'll be the first to know."

Best wishes on a speedy recovery.

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San Diego, Calif.: My 23 year old niece got pregnant deliberately to trap the 27 year old bartender she met after graduation into marriage. They are now married, parents, and the subject of endless joyful comments and cooing by the rest of the family. I am appalled by it all. Must I send a baby gift? FWIW, I have not received any thank you acknowlegements from this niece for years, and no graduation announcement (she entered my profession of 30 years, nursing).

Emily Yoffe: I'm with you on the fact that this girl has never acknowledged a gift, rather than the fact you don't approve of how she came to be married and pregnant. But she is very young and surely needs a layette, so it would be big of you to send a gift and your best wishes (knowing you won't get any thanks in return).

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St. Louis, Mo.: Dear Prudence, I love my stepsister dearly; her dad has been married to my mom for the past 19 years. We have developed a bond that blood sisters couldn't rival, and consider each other to be best friends. The problem I have is with her mother and her side of the family. They don't like my mother and seem to carry a grudge against me because of that. Also they are loud, obnoxious, and rude. They drink heavily, and act this way in front of my daughter and my stepsister's children whenever we are together. I love my sister and don't want to offend her because she is very sensitive. How do I tell her that I don't want to go to the kids' birthday parties, or camping trips, or BBQs when her other family is going? Or do I just suck it up and deal with it?

Emily Yoffe: You can choose to attend events or not without explanation. Going to a child's birthday party has the advantage of a limited time frame and minimal alcohol consumption; a weekend in the woods with these drunken loudmouths borders on the masochistic. If you and your stepsister are that close, surely you can sensitively bring up the fact that you are sometimes uncomfortable at blended events because you feel your side of the family has never been fully accepted. Surely she'll understand; maybe she'll even ask them for a little more consideration. But don't worry about them influencing your children. After they see a drunken outburst, when you get home you can tell your kids that's what happens when people are rude and lose control. I think the value of the negative example is underappreciated.

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Maryland: I see a my doctor once a year for a checkup. We live in a smallish town and our families know each other socially. After my mother died about 3 years ago, he asked how she was doing as I was paying my bill. I told him she had died, which was awkward, but it's not like I expect him to know every detail of my life and apparently he hadn't heard. Problem is, the next year it happened again. This time, his wife was visiting the office and was aghast. "Hon, she died!" I'm not overly emotional, but these scenes are pretty excruciating, taking place in the lobby with the uncomfortable receptionist and other people looking on. He's a great doctor (and the only one around with his specialty), but I'm sort of dreading this year's visit. How should I handle this?

Emily Yoffe: Death is the theme this week. Yes, he shouldn't have made the mistake a second time, but he's a good doctor, and if you only see him once a year, you should cut him some slack. If he does it again, you could say, "Well, I really miss her. We've talked about her death a few times. She died in 2005." That might help keep this fact stuck in his head.

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Re: dinner party: I agree with your initial advice and completely disagree with the person who wrote in to disagree with you. Everyone grieves differently and I would not want to decide for my friends that they are not ready to attend. Chances are that they would not be, but I would let them decide that. Additionally, if I were the one who suffered the loss and heard that my friends had a big party without inviting me, I would be extremely hurt at a time when I most need my friends' support.

Emily Yoffe: I'm hearing from several people making your point. Okay, for the time being you have convinced me to reverse my reversal. After the initial note and visit with the grieving friends, the consensus seems to be to gently extend the invitation. One person suggested sending it with a note attached saying, "If you feel ready for an evening out, we would love to see you. If you're not, we completely understand, and will call so we can get together just the four of us. You are in our thoughts."

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Herndon, Va.: Every time I get together with my family (my father and brother), we start telling stories about our respective wives/girlfriends that don't paint them in the best light. It's mostly lighthearted and just good-natured ribbing, but I can't imagine that they like it, especially since it has become routine.

How do I go about breaking this cycle? My main problem is I don't even realize I am doing it until after the fact.

Emily Yoffe: You're lucky your wives and girlfriends haven't ended one of these lovely evening with that comedy special: a pie to the face. I am all in favor of teasing -- I think it's a great social grease, and if it's all being done good-naturedly, the women should get in on the fun. But it sounds as if you're picking up a nasty undertone of put-down. So now that you realize it, be prepared the next time you go to a gathering. When things spin off from good-spirited to mean, you can say, "Actually, I think Elaine must have a great sense of humor for putting up with you." Or you can even say, "Ah, you're going to far for my taste." Or, "I'm lucky, I'm with the most wonderful woman in the world." You break the cycle by breaking it.

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Washington, D.C.: "What purpose could be served by blowing the whistle on an ill, desperate woman trying to raise a daughter alone?" I grant the woman is ill and desperate, and maybe this isn't the place for philosophical debate, but why does her condition excuse her actions? Assuming she knows that what she is doing is both dangerous and illegal, where do you draw the line? If she didn't have disabilities? If she wasn't a single mother? What if her disabilities are the result of her own action at one point in her life? What if the child has a father who would love to be involved?

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