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

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
June 1 2009 3:03 PM

Can My Mom Come Along?

Prudie on a mother and daughter who double-date a pair of brothers—and questions from other advice seekers.

(Continued from Page 3)

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Washington, D.C.: We have a small child who is possibly the most-photographed kid on the planet. My husband practically lives behind the camera — but only with his own family. When we're with my family, we might come away from the visit with two or three snapshots. Visits with his family get a page or two on Flickr. I've mentioned that I wish he would show as much interest in my family's interaction with our child as he does in his own. He says "sure" but nothing changes. Am I wrong to be a little miffed over this?

Emily Yoffe: You are wrong in not taking the camera yourself and making sure you get plenty of shots with your child and Grammy and Papa. There are enough real issues that make marriage difficult, so skip the ones that aren't.

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Re: Volunteering: Shouldn't this person honor their commitment and then find a better fit? They are obviously needed. I volunteer at my children's school and while a portion of my time I get to work with the children, a lot of it is boring copy, laminating, filing and organization. But I know my helping lets the teacher's spend more time teaching.

Emily Yoffe: I think doing scut work for your kid's school — which allows you know the staff and teachers better and feel part of that community — if different from doing utterly tedious work for an organization where you have no direct connection. It sounds like a very long summer of alphabetizing for free for no real good purpose.

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Washington, D.C.: I have recently begun to get graduation invitations from the children of high school friends and distant relatives. I have never met these children, and in many cases I have not seen their parents in over 15-20 years. Is a gift really expected or required? The invitations came from the children themselves — not from their parents with a "can you believe I am old enough to have a high school grad" type note, which would have made it seem more "news-y" than "greedy."

Emily Yoffe: You may be tempted to respond with, "I can hardly believe it, since until your note, I didn't know you'd been born!" You can ignore the notes from former friends you haven't seen in decades. As for distant family, you can reply with a note of congratulations — if you feel if the circumstances were reversed you'd never expect a gift, then don't send one.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: My 82-year-old grandmother is blind and, since my grandfather went into a nursing home, has been living by herself for the past three years. For the most part, she is amazingly self-sufficient; paying her bills and ordering her groceries online, etc. I am extremely proud of her. My problem? I live 5 minutes away and am the relative she relies on for all of the other things that she needs help with. I honestly do not begrudge her the help she needs, picking up prescriptions, making out checks for her, taking her to visit my grandfather, taking her pets to the vet, etc, but more and more I'm feeling resentful that none of the rest of the family who live in the area pitch in to help. While I am over there several times a week, my uncle, who lives less than 1/2 an hour away, stops by briefly maybe once a month, if that. When the subject is brought up, he gives vague excuses as to how "busy" he is at work then goes on to describe the time he spent on his sailboat the weekend before.

When she had her house renovated, I was the one who spent weeks dealing with the contractor, the paperwork, and helping her get the house ready, though a few family members did come over on two days to help clean out some of the rooms.

I find myself resenting each trip to my grandmother's because I know that it will be filled with obligatory tasks and chores. She is too proud to accept help from senior services, so I'm at a loss as to what else to do. How can I stop feeling like an indentured servant and start feeling like a granddaughter again? I love my grandmother dearly and miss the time when I eagerly looked forward to our visits.

Emily Yoffe: If your grandmother's pride is making you dread your visits, then it's time for pride to taketh a fall. You need to call a family conference to discuss how all of you can better address your grandmother's needs. You have fallen into being her de facto caretaker and it's not going to serve anyone if you become overwhelmed. Tasks have to be delegated — maybe someone can be in charge of finding out what services are available for your grandmother. Others can agree to run errands, care for her pets, take her to visit your grandfather. Tell everyone you all need to share in the burdens and joys of last years.

"Math? That's over my head": I think this writer deserves more of an answer. I'm a woman in physics, and nearly everyone makes a self-deprecating comment when I say so. The point really is this: there is a cultural pride in innumeracy that doesn't exist for illiteracy—no one will brag about not being able to read, yet feel free to essentially brag about not being good at math. This is not people being candid about their abilities. It actually is a way of dismissing the importance of the field of study by implying that it has no cultural necessity or meaning. There has to be a way of responding to this, but subtly encouraging people to believe that it can be understood (with perhaps some effort—but what doesn't take effort?). Most people can do math to at least the calculus level with time and effort, not talent. And most people can understand even high mathematical concepts, if not perform them, if they'd get past the mental block. This hurts everybody!

Emily Yoffe: I'm sure most people could change their carburetor with some time and effort, too. Instead of lecturing people about how their innumeracy hurts everyone, understand that people are complimenting you on your impressive skills. So come up with some things to say about your field that can engage even the innumerate, like me, in conversation.

And thanks, everyone, for this week's conversation!

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