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

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
Dec. 14 2009 3:28 PM

Winter Woes

Prudie gives advice for all kinds of holiday dilemmas and family crises.

(Continued from Page 2)

Emily Yoffe: I've heard follow-up from people saying, "Yes, take the dog," and people say, "No, it will be too hard on the dog."

I'm throwing this out here as a third alternative. It does sound cold, but I also think it's true that people tend to let their animals suffer for longer than necessary because they can't let go. But if the dog still seems relatively "okay", I don't think the owners would ever forgive themselves for putting it down what they would consider prematurely for convenience sake.

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Should I feel guilty?: This year, as always, I will not be celebrating Christmas with my birth family. I choose to spend this and every holiday with my partner and her family.

I'll send gift cards to my mother, my sister and her kids. Usually I send a restaurant gift certificate to my mother, but this year she requested a gift card from a women's clothing store. So, in effect, I'm not sending anything for my stepfather.

He molested me and my sister for years. My mother is aware of this, but chooses to stay with him. My sister chooses to forget, if not forgive. I can do neither.

So why do I feel guilty that when my "box of gifts" is opened, there will be nothing for him?

Emily Yoffe: Too bad the box can't contain an arrest warrant. Nature has programmed children to love and attach to their caretakers even if their caretakers are monsters. Your guilt says that you are a sensitive, moral person. But you can also look at this situation objectively and realize this rapist should be in jail, not receiving Christmas presents from you. My question to all the family members who did and continue to look the other way is—how do you know he's not destroying the next generation?

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Baltimore, Md.: My boyfriend makes a decent amount of money and I know he's going to be spending a few hundred dollars on me this year (because he did the same last year when we weren't even together yet). I recently graduated beauty school and am still working on taking my boards, getting a job, etc., so I pretty much don't have a dollar to my name at the moment. I really have no idea what to do for him, I wish I could get creative and think of something to make for him or somewhere cheap but fun to take him but I just can't! I would feel terrible if I didn't get him anything like I did last year though he didn't seem to care because he knows I'm broke but I don't want to do that to him two years in a row. Any suggestions on what I could do this year?

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Emily Yoffe: You don't have to get creative, you just have to put your skills to use. You are a certified beauty professional. So make or buy a lovely card that entitles him a year's worth of free hair styling!

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Milwaukee, Wis.: My husband and I have had a rough first year of marriage, involving me discovering his three affairs and us undergoing extensive marital therapy—the outcome of which is still not clear. However, since things have been better lately he has expressed a desire to join me visiting my family out of town over Christmas. This will be the first time everyone gets together since the marital problems surfaced.

My family is aware of all the details of our problems, and have been very supportive of me. My problem is, how do I make the reunion of my extended family and much-discussed formerly cheating husband over the holidays more comfortable for all parties involved?

Emily Yoffe: You've been married for one year and you've discovered three affairs (any undiscovered do you think?) and you're willing to give him another try? I couldn't even understand your perspective he played golf like Tiger Woods. But he doesn't, so it seems like he's sent you a pretty strong message about what to expect if you stay married to him.

If he joins you for the holidays, you can't stage manage everyone. Tell your family you two are trying to work it out, and hope they will be civil. Tell him they all know about his behavior, and you hope they will be civil. And consider as you contemplate the year ahead whether you want to spend the rest of your life worrying about what your cheating husband is up to.

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Washington, D.C.: I have a question about rotating holiday hosting duties. My parents are divorced, and I have two siblings. All of us live in the area. Traditionally, we have always had Christmas eve with my mother. A few years ago, my mother decided that she no longer wished to host Christmas eve dinner, so the decision was made to rotate hosting duties among the four (three kids + mom) of us. No problem.

Somehow, however, it was decided that the rotation schedule would include Thanksgiving duties as well. It works that one year, my two siblings each host Thanksgiving and then Christmas eve dinner. The next year, it my and my mother's turn to host Thanksgiving and Christmas eve dinner. The issue for me is that I do not eat Thanksgiving dinner with my family because I am out of town. That translates such that every other year, I host Christmas eve dinner, and my mother hosts Thanksgiving. Which also means that my mother will never host Christmas eve dinner under this system because I will never host Thanksgiving.

I miss having Christmas at my mom's house and frankly (selfishly?) wish to change the rotation so that there is a separate rotation for each meal. My siblings and mother can rotate Thanksgiving among them, and the four of us can rotate Christmas eve as well. Does this sound like a sensible solution or just plain pettiness? Your thoughts and suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Happy Holidays!!!

Emily Yoffe: Good for your mother for instituting this change so that new traditions can be born while she can enjoy them. Too many people hang on so long, that the "children" are all deep into middle age when death is the reason there is no more Christmas at the family home.

In your situation there's so much rotation that my head is spinning. Don't talk to me about this, talk to them! As long as you present this in a positive way—"Hey, can we discuss making a possible change in the rotation?" and not in a whining, "Why can't I have Christmas at Mom's anymore?" way, why shouldn't everyone be open to least having the conversation. If it turns out that this schedule works for everyone else the best, then accept that Christmas at Mom's has to remain a sweet memory.

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Cincinnati, Ohio: My question is about toasting Christmas Eve with my wife's siblings and my daughters' cousins. The cousins have grown up together including annual vacations and almost every Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. This year none are legal drinking age (20, 20, 19, 18, 17, 17, & 15) but four are in college and two of those four drink with their friends and with their parents, and with friends and their parents together.

At our house, do we ASK the cousins or ASK their parents or DECIDE OURSELVES not to serve anyone under the legal age? Personally I think 21 was a poor choice as a drinking age, (I liked 19 = as college versus high school) but I kind of respect the somewhat democratic process that chose it.

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