Mobile, Ala.: My husband lost two close family members to alcoholism. Probably because of this, he does not drink and never has. I like to have a glass of wine every now and then. I also like to have a drink when I go out with my girlfriends (we go out once or twice a month). I understand my husband's concerns, but just because two of his family members died as a result of drinking, does that mean I can never drink? All I really want is to have a glass of wine after I put the kids to bed. He finds this to be unacceptable and just recently threatened to call the police because I was having one glass of wine after I read to the kids and put them to bed. Is there any way past this?
Emily Yoffe: What are the cops going to say? "A glass of chardonnay is a misdemeanor but sparkling rose—now that's a felony!" Is your husband otherwise sane? Threatening to call the police because one's wife wants a glass of wine indicates he's got some serious control problems—even if they don't involve his own consumption of alcohol. Sounds like it's time for a counselor to help you referee this. (I bet some other issues might come up, too.) And while you sip your wine, if he wants to call 911, call his bluff and let him.
Washington, D.C.: My darling niece is turning 1 next week, and my sister is having a party at her apartment in New York City. Due to the high cost of planes, trains, and automobiles (not to mention hotels), I had to send my regrets. I got word that she is really upset with me, and I'm not sure what to do about it. I would love to have attended (with my husband and my child), but it's just not in our budget now—and I don't think I should have to explain this to her. Should I just let it drop and hope she gets over it?
Emily Yoffe: I assume the "she" here is not your 1-year-old niece, who is probably more concerned that her diaper is wet than whether you're coming to her party. I think turning toddlers' birthday parties into adult social events is ridiculous. And any event that requires long-distance travel and a hotel, unless it's a family milestone (wedding, graduation, funeral, etc.) is entirely optional. Send a nice gift, and if your sister wants to pout—well, maybe we need to rent an auditorium for all the pouting relatives to air their grievances.
Pittsburgh, Pa.: I'm happily pregnant. But my husband and I are already worried about the amount of "stuff" our moms are buying for the baby, who is not even born yet. We are not huge consumers and have some strong views on the items we purchase—less is more, quality vs. quantity. We do not want hundreds of cheap plastic toys and stuffed animals. How do we get them to understand this while allowing them to indulge? Both live in other states, are retired, and have money to spend. We've tried to explain ourselves, but it hasn't gone well.
Emily Yoffe: Sadly, there are many young mothers who don't have loving families to shower them with toys and items for the baby. So, as you sort through your bounty, pick out the things you like and deliver the ones you don't want (keep a few for re-gifting) to a local charity. Your mothers' impulse to help you prepare for the baby is so deep in the human psyche that lectures about "less is more" are not going to extinguish it. Let them have their fun, thank them for their generosity, then spread the wealth.
Washington, D.C.: Please help! My son's second birthday is around the corner. We had a family celebration with my in-laws, with a special dinner, cake, presents, etc. We will also celebrate with my parents and siblings, who live out of town. Finally, I am hosting a party for my son's friends from day care and the neighborhood. My dilemma: My M.I.L. insists on attending the kids' party. I do not want her there because she will be in the way in every way imaginable, not just physically. She constantly questions what I do, and the order in which I do it. I want this to be fun for my son and his friends, without having to serve as a referee to my M.I.L. My husband has told her it's just for the kids (and their parents), but she is very upset. If she would just attend and enjoy the party, I would have no problem. But that's not her style. She will hound me and the other parents. She questions our decision to send our son to day care, and she will have no qualms about harassing the other parents. (She has done it before.) I have a feeling she will show up regardless. What to do?
Emily Yoffe: Maybe your mother-in-law can go to New York and attend the birthday party for the 1-year-old whose mother thinks that is a command performance. Your husband told his mother that she already attended the celebration and that the next party is just for little kids. If he needs to repeat that, fine. Then if she shows up at the door, have him meet her on the doorstep and say, "Mom, we'd love to visit with you some other time, but it's chaos in there, and we can't do it today. See you soon." She needs some shock therapy in order to understand there are limits to her behavior.
Seattle: Re: Madison: Not all gifts involve money. We frequently "give" my elderly widowed M.I.L. gifts of service. These could be in the form of doing minor repairs around the house, cleaning, etc. These cost almost nothing yet are really appreciated!
Emily Yoffe: Good idea. But that's gifts for the mother. I don't think the stressed-out grown kids want to be roped into cleaning each others' gutters.
New York, NY: My girlfriend went off the pill a few months ago (loss of health insurance; pill she was on made her feel awful) but always said that she'd get an abortion if she got pregnant. We were mostly careful, and she took emergency contraception when we had an "accident," but now she's pregnant and wavering about getting the abortion. We're not engaged, and I don't feel ready to be a father. How do I best support her while also encouraging her to go through with the procedure?
Emily Yoffe: If in the course of "a few months" your girlfriend has gotten pregnant twice, you weren't "mostly careful." There's no magic phrase I can give you to get you out of this fix. Your terror and lack of desire to be a father may help persuade her, but as you realize, this is her decision to make. Whatever happens, I hope this persuades you to be "scrupulously careful" in the future.