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

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
Jan. 4 2010 2:44 PM

Dress Me Up, Dress Me Down

Prudie counsels a woman whose sister's snide remarks are driving family members away—and other advice seekers.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. A transcript of this week's chat is below. (Read Prudie's Slate columns here.)

Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. Hope you all have hats, gloves, and scarves on today.

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Baltimore: How rude can you be to someone who is rude? My older sister is one of those who thinks it's funny and helpful when she points out someone's lack of style. She has alienated all family members who worry about their style. I do not, but when she picks on me, it is in front of my kids. My kids are in their early and late teens and have watched this behavior for years. They know she means well, too, although she certainly can't accept any criticism. Is there a response that I can give my sister that will show my kids that their mother is 1) not cruel but 2) fed up with the snarky remarks?

Emily Yoffe: How does your sister mean well? She sounds like she enjoys insulting other family members. Since your kids are old enough to understand the dynamics here, have a discussion with them in which you say it's possible to love people but also dislike parts of their personality. Then when she comments on your hair or shoes or accessories, you can say something like, "Hey, it's Stacy London! Thanks for the advice, but I'd prefer just to catch up with you and not feel like I'm on an episode of What Not to Wear."

D.C. Metro: I have a family member who sends a gift of some animal to the Heifer fund as a Christmas present to us every year. Every year I get more and more offended, as this is not a "gift" to anyone except themselves, as they get a tax deduction. My kids understand about giving to charity, but I cannot explain how this is a "gift" to us. I would like to tell this person to please stop sending these donations as "gifts" and only a card is fine.

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Emily Yoffe: What a good lesson for the kids! A family member makes a contribution in your family's name to a wonderful cause, and you want your children to understand this isn't really a gift but a tax deduction, and you want to demand a refund from the giver. Unless you have some moral objection to helping the poorest people in the world obtain farm animals, be a good example to your kids and tell them this is a generously spirited gift and have them help you write a thank-you note.

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Northern Va.: One of my best friends and his kids just left after a long visit—single dad, 11-year-old boy, and 4 year-old girl. My husband and I have a 4-year-old boy.

Our friend's ex is a horrible parent who allows a lot of dreadful behavior, and the stepfather is no help.

We only get to see our friend when he brings his kids (he lives in Florida). But honestly, we simply can't do this again. The kids are horrible. They scream, break things, refuse the food they are offered, complain, interrupt, contradict, and lie. Our son's behavior after one of their visits is problematic for a few days.

Finally, our friend really feels that it is not appropriate for my husband or me to say anything. We don't think we have a right to discipline the kids, but we think we should at least be allowed to say, "Hey, that was rude, and I don't like it" when a kid spits out his juice because it has pulp in it.

Any ideas for us for approaching our friend?

Emily Yoffe: How tragic for these children, and how unsurprising that they spend all their time acting out when they are being raised in chaos. You should have a straightforward talk with your friend pointing out the delightful qualities of his kids (go ahead and lie), and then saying you are also concerned about them. Say you know they have a tough road with his ex but that you worry that life will be very hard for them if they don't learn the basics of how to behave and that you think they need some outside help—as any child would under the circumstances. You can also say you welcome a visit in the future but that when they're there, you will expect them to behave according to the rules of the house, which you will be happy to point out to them in a gentle way. And that's not a matter of, "Hey, kid, you're rude!" but, "Tommy, in our house there's no jumping on the couches or touching the art in the living room." Your friend may not want to hear this, but you're going to give up on the friendship if you can't be honest.

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College Park, Md.: I need some help so that I can better help my wife. We have a 6-month-old daughter. My wife has never really bonded with her. She returned to work after three months and has added pumping twice during work into an already stressful job. The biggest problem seems to be lack of sleep. For the most part, out daughter has been sleeping from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. for the past two months. Yet, my wife can not sleep because she is worried our daughter will wake up. If she does wake up, I have always been the one to go to her nursery room, changer her diaper, and then bring her to my wife to nurse. Today, like many other days, my wife broke down and cried. She claims that she hates her life and is never happy. I have asked her what would make her happy. She does not know. I have asked her to go talk to a professional about post partum depression. She says that would make her more stressed and depressed.

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