Re: Thank you notes: I just wanted to say that my children love getting the Thank You notes from their teachers. It just takes a couple of sentences on an inexpensive note card and tucking them in the child's backpack. It also sets a good example. I know teachers are busy, but you make such a big impression on children, some of whom will never get these lessons at home.
Emily Yoffe: True. Many kids grow up in homes in which they are never taught they need to properly (pen to paper) thank people for gifts.
Herndon, Va.: Dear Prudence—While on a family vacation, my mother-in-law recently walked in on me as I was getting out of the shower and, for lack of a better phrase, "saw everything" and actually gazed a little longer than expected. Should I tell my wife of the incident or just let it go? The reason I ask is I now seem to be getting a lot more attention from my mother-in-law than usual, for whatever reason.
Emily Yoffe: Herndon, couldn't you have put a "Letter that will make you gag" warning on this? Yes, you should tell your wife—isn't this the kind of thing spouses tell each other: "Honey, the most embarrassing thing just happened ..." As for the special attention, do your best to ignore it. And let your hygiene go at the next family vacation.
Regarding Richmond: I'm not involved in this situation, but I'm more worried about the gay man being subjected to harassment. Should the writer let him know about the prejudiced neighbor's plans? Or do you step up as a witness only after something has happened?
Emily Yoffe: I think the writer should let the gay neighbor know—that way he will understand what's going on if a pickup starts waking him up at dawn.
Herndon, Va.: My father, brother, and I share this trait that when we get together, we complain about our significant others. I've realized it, made efforts to break the pattern and have made some improvements. My father, however, has not.
When he and my stepmother visit, it's pretty clear the things that he says hurt her feelings or at the very least bother her. She usually hints that it bothers her, but he is oblivious or doesn't care to stop.
I've touched on the behavior with him in the past, but he did not really acknowledge it. Do I say something again, or do I stay out of it?
Part of the problem is that it makes it harder for me to resist doing it when he starts doing it.
Emily Yoffe: If your father and brother liked to shoot up heroin when you got together, that wouldn't mean that you have to find yourself saying, "Pass me the needle, please." I'm not sure scientists will ever be able to identify the "disparaging your spouse" gene—so instead of blaming it on heredity, take responsibility for what comes out of your own mouth. As far as responding to what comes out of your father's, when he makes nasty comments about your stepmother, you can say something like, "Dad, I don't want to hear you insult 'Jean.' Your remarks are not only unpleasant, they're wrong."
Washington, D.C.: When my in-laws visit and we go out to eat, they will only eat about one-third of the food on their plates. With no fridge in the hotel, my husband and I are expected to take their leftovers home. I think they believe they're doing something nice for us, but it's disgusting. I am in my late 30s, doing just fine financially, but feel like a baby bird who is being offered regurgitated food.
I have pointed out that they pack my fridge with food that I can't eat (dietary restrictions), and my husband doesn't particularly like. So even though they can't stand to waste food, they must realize that's what will happen after they leave. But they still won't order less/just leave their garbage behind. As time passes and I am more annoyed by their eating habits, I have been getting a bit meaner about it.
I don't like them, but they're not bad people. Please help me learn to deal with this or something to say to get through to them.
Emily Yoffe: When they say, "You can pack up our leftovers and eat them tomorrow." You say, "Thanks for the offer, but we've got tons of food at home." If they start insisting, then pack it up, take it home and feed it to the dog or put it down the disposal. This is not something worth making an issue about.
Philadelphia, Penn.: Dear Emily,
I'm a 29-year-old married mother of three, and my question is in regards to my eldest child, my one and only daughter. I had her when I was 21 and was a single parent for a good two years before dating and marrying my husband. Since she was so young when my husband came into the picture, she's always called him "Daddy" (which she chose to refer to him as such on her own accord). She's never met her biological father (aka sperm donor), and I'm not really sure who he is.