The best of 'Dear Prudence'

Aug 27, 2012

Emily Yoffe of 'Dear Prudence' is currently on a well-deserved vacation. In lieu of the regular weekly Dear Prudence chat, this week we're asking readers to submit what they think was the best, worst, or weirdest questions or advice they've read in a 'Dear Prudence' chat or column. Also, readers are encouraged to discuss what advice they would have given differently to advice-seekers in the past.

Hi everyone,

Bethonie, here -- I produce Emily's chat each week and hosted a "Best of Dear Prudence" chat last week. Emily's on vacation, returning to chat with you next Tuesday, Sept. 4.


Today, we'll do what we did last week -- talk about our favorite Prudie moments -- from wacky letters to Prudie's poignant advice.


It's great to hear what advice resonated with readers and any advice you would have given to past LWs.


Let's get started.


The advice Prudie gave last week about the mentally ill people who should foster children has been the most controversial advice I have seen Prudie give. It was the only time that pretty much no one agreed with Prudie! I would love to see her do an article on the topic, since it generated such a heated debate.

I agree this is an interesting topic. Anyone else have thoughts about the letter or Prudie's response?

Worth noting: It looks like the LW commented on the column thread last night. I don't think I can link directly to the comment, but here's what it says:


"I'm the LW with OCD, and wanted to say thank you for your advice. I saw a counsellor at my university last week, who is getting me in touch with a psychologist specialising in cognitive behaviour therapy. She's set me the task of writing a list of rituals which I feel I'd be able to tackle and trying CBT techniques in relation to these.  

My fiance and I are also going to have marriage counselling before the wedding and hopefully this will be a time for us to talk about these issues. Children will be a long way off, if we do decide to have them - I've got a year to go of postgraduate studies, then I'll be working for a while to get us set up financially, so hopefully with some proper mental health treatment we'll both be coping better by then."


It seems that Prudie's advice pointed the LW in the right direction. But would love to hear others' thoughts!

That letter had me wondering what Prudie would tell me. My SO and I are both recovering alcoholics and I have struggled with an eating disorder since I was 13. Would Prudie tell me not to pass on my genes? I am thinking the answer is yes.

Only Prudie can say what advice she'd give in your situation. And it's important to note that she encouraged the LW to talk to someone -- "engage someone, say a social worker, who can explore all the issues you raise."


But the letter seemed to really resonate with readers, some of whom dealt with similar issues and questions about parenting. Just check out the comments section of the column.



I feel like family favoritism is a theme in a number of questions that Prudie gets. Remember "Dysfunctional Family" from a few months back?


Prudie advised an LW, who admitted her parents favorited her heavily growing up, at her sister's expense. When the LW tried to reach out to her sister as a result, she received a scathing response. 


It seemed a fair share of readers had similar experiences -- most agreed with Prudie's advice that the LW should have a frank conversation with her parents about how their favoritism destroyed her (and their) relationship with her sister. Some were hopeful that the sister would come around. Others felt it would be too little, too late.


Has anyone experienced favoritism in their families? Have situations improved in adulthood?


Sure, I expect many of us have. Not, I will admit freely, financial favoritism though. All 4 kids were treated equally in terms of access to material goods, paying for college, etc. However, it was always abundantly clear that I was the least favored of my mother and the most of my father. None of the other kids minded me being Dad's favorite since Mom so patently had me at the bottom of the list. My Mom, however, was pissed that Dad favored me. The other sibs and I are all great friends. We were clear eyed enough even as kids to put any blame there was right where it belonged.

This is in response to my query earlier about family favoritism, a theme that seemed to resonate with readers a few weeks back.


Thanks for sharing your experience. Anyone else have any stories or thoughts?

It does not get better in adulthood. My father and stepmother always favored my younger brother growing up, letting him do pretty much whatever he wanted to do and giving him special privileges, while I (the daughter) was confined to the books and a part-time job. My stepmother, who is now in her 90s, still favors my brother and his family, even though both his grown kids are irresponsible fools because he raised them the way HE was raised -- giving them everything and not making them stand on their own two feet. My dad is gone now....and my widowed stepmother constantly lends my brother and his kids money, and barely even talks to me unless she needs help with something (and then doesn't even say thank you). Oh well . . . a lot of therapy, soul searching and a supportive husband has helped me get over it. I value only one thing my parents gave me -- my independence!

Another experience and inspiring story about how to deal with family issues from the past. Thank you!

I don't think people would *tell* this poster anything. The original LW was genuinely concerned about her ability to be a good parent, and seemed to have good reason for her concerns given the nature of her illness. She asked Prudie for her advice, and Prudie gave it. Prudie's advice was not some kind of blanket statement that no one who has struggled with a mental illness should have kids. Rather, she said, in the LW's circumstance (which included a SO with a serious mental illness, as well), it might not be wise. I found Prudie's advice to be both thoughtful and sympathetic.

Some really good points made here. Thank you!

I wanted to write in about your mention of the coworker who knew someone who was named La-a but pronounced LaDasha. I hate to tell you, but this is an urban legend and your coworker knows no such person. 

Thank you for writing. 


A few readers pointed this out to me after last week's chat. I'd never seen or heard any other instances of the story before and didn't realize this was a known urban legend.


I'll stick to firsthand stories from now on. Thanks to everyone who brought this to my attention.

We don't just have bad parents. We also have a few grandparents with a screw or two loose. Like the grandma with the vegan grandchild!

Ah, yes. Vegan Baby. A classic Prudie letter (and response!)

As the vegetables in my garden ripen, I can't help but wonder what ever happened with the LW whose wife wanted to use a chamber pot. Did he ever give feedback?

First, I love the phrasing of your comment "as the vegetables in my garden ripen..." I will never forget this letter either. 


I don't think we heard back from the LW, but for anyone who hasn't seen this gem of a letter, here's the link.


Any thoughts?

Sorry, where Prudie really dropped the ball was suggesting that the couple "try out" parenthood with foster kids. HUH???? Foster kids, perhaps more than any children, need a very stable, emotionally healthy environment. Monumental fail on Prudie's part.

Thanks for sharing your take on the letter. Does anyone else agree?

The sidebar link to this chat points to last Friday's Fix session, not this one. True in the Boswell chat too.

You're correct and thanks for pointing this out. We're fixing this now and it should be updated shortly.

I couldn't help but remember the striptease commute letter this morning when I saw exactly that happening on my way to the office the other day... except the lady was driving! Yikes!

Wow, what a commute you had! Here's a link to the referenced letter, from a man whose not-a-morning-person girlfriend frequently left the house in her PJs and used her commute to change into more professional attire.


Anyone else remember "Striptease Commute" Or have "Prudie moments" where you see something once referenced in a letter or think of Prudie's past advice?

I thought of Prudie this morning when we got an invitation to an international destination wedding... I felt guilty the last time I turned one of these down, but Prudie's advice has made me realize these things are far from obligatory.

I'd imagine wedding season brings a lot of "Prudie moments."

I got the impression that Prudie thought it might be a good way to see if they were good at parenting if they provided a temporary foster home for kids. Not to 'try them out, but to serve as a home when kids are put up for temporary care until returned to their parents or formally adopted. But I was and still am wary of this idea - if the LW is this worried about their ability to provide a good home, I'm not sure a foster kid needs that. Those poor kids have already been through a lot.

Another view on last week's letter. Thanks for this. 

Prudie's advice that the LW and her husband consider becoming foster parents was, indeed, surprising. However she followed up by noting that, if they are denied as foster parents, this would be a good data point. Applying to be foster parents does not mean they will be accepted - they need to be up front regarding their limitations and those should be considered in their application. Really, Prudie was putting them in a situation to get an in-home evaluation by a professional. We certainly cannot say from a single letter that these people are NOT qualified to be foster parents. Why not let them apply if that's what they want, and if they are honest?

More good points about "Fit to Parent" and Prudie's advice to the couple.

When I started a garden, I got fertilizer that came from waste management plants. I had to take it back once I read the not so fine print that said it could NOT be used in vegetable gardens where the crop was for human consumption.


After reading the letters about the poisonous M-I-L and the au jus swapping, I had to call my in-laws and tell them they were the best! They've always been kind, supportive, and appreciative. Wish I understood why all this kind of negative drama occurs. Anyway, thanks.

Great story. Has anyone else gained appreciation for a loved one after reading a "Dear Prudence" letter?

Sometimes I read questions that readers pose to Prudie and I hope that some of them are fake. For example, the dad who bought his teenage daughter a sex toy and then wondered if he did the right thing. REALLY??? The thought of my dad giving me one of those as a teen (or ANY AGE) ... I can't even handle it.

A few other readers wrote that they hoped that letter was fake and other questions have made past readers raise an eyebrow or two.


We obviously want real questions, not fake ones. But does anyone else have examples of letters they thought couldn't be real?

Maybe if the LW has some friends or family with little ones, she could stay with them for a weekend and help take care of them (as can her future husband). It's not exactly like being a parent, of course, but the parents could get some rest and it might give the LW a 48-hour chance to see how it is, with an easy out if she finds herself getting upset. I can tell you that being in close quarters with three and five year olds all weekend can tell you a lot.

Another good suggestion and spin on Prudie's original advice. Thanks!

What about the letter from the man who was having sex with the husband and wife next door, and was worried because his grown son was moving back in with him?

I don't know that we heard back from him, but I do remember this letter well. Thoughts?

In terms of favorite letters, does anyone have one that stands out above the rest? A friend reminded me of her all-time favorite letter -- "Dream Lover," a letter from a man concerned he cheated on his wife while sleepwalking.


What others rank high?

I think my favorite letter of all time was the wonderbra boyfriend. He just seemed like such a boob, and he reminded me of my ex. It made me laugh

I'm having trouble finding this letter? Does anyone remember it? Would love help finding the link!

If you think your folks favor your sibs' kids over yours, you just might gently ask how your sibs feel. I was quite surprised to find that my sister thinks her kids are the unwelcome ones. I always thought my kid was the only one on the dis-invite list.

This, in response to my earlier question about family favoritism.


Worth noting that sometimes a little communication can go a long way. Thanks!

the incestuous fraternal twin can that be real?

Anyone else remember "Brotherly Love"? What did you think?

The LW who suspected her MIL was trying to poison her food, so one time switched plates with her husband. I didn't believe it at the time, and still don't.

This letter came up last week.

A lot of people didn't believe this letter (can you get pregnant by sitting in a boy's chair?), but I remember junior high and high school. And as a teacher, I can assure a lot of kids wonder this even after going through sex-ed.

This is the letter in question. Anyone else have thoughts about the LW's dilemma or Prudie's response?

I've been wondering about the dad that was afraid to handle his baby after the little on vomited all over dad's face......did we ever hear back from that LW?

I remember this and I don't think we ever heard back from the LW. I am having trouble finding the link, but if someone sends it or I'm able to track it down, I will post. Anyone else remember this letter?

The reply from Prudence that the mother-in-laws behaviour was bizarre was very strange. In most agrarian Asian and African cultures, someone other than the mother pacifying a crying child by breast-feeding is very common. It really struck me how differently we get morally stuck in our cultural thinking: me thinking it was natural because I grew up in that culture; and others thinking it was bizarre, and criminal, because they have never seen it. Scientifically speaking, helpful immune antibodies are passed to the child when a child is breast-fed by different women. Ces't la vie.

This letter came up in last week's "Best of" chat, too.


You aren't the first reader to raise this possibility and responses to this letter were all over the board -- from those who agreed with Prudie's advice to those who felt the mother-in-law needed to better respect boundaries, which echoed a line in Emily's response: "Your husband needs to have a very serious talk with his mother about boundaries—emotional and physical."


Any other thoughts about breastfeeding M-I-L?

When I saw "mentally ill people," I expected something a whole lot worse than OCD. The link to the original didn't work so maybe I'm understatig the problem here, but it seems to me that feeling compelled to wash your hands repeatedly or turn the doorknob three times or whatever, hardly endangers a child - and if the OCD parent is aware that this isn't something to pass along to a child, the child will see it as an eccentricity, like always wearing a certain color or needing a separate plate for each dish. It is not such a big deal that it should keep a kid from going to a foster home -- Is it?

Thanks for weighing in -- and letting me know that the link I posted in the first question didn't work! Correcting that now -- and here is a link to "Am I Fit To Parent?" 

well, unless the MIL is actually lactating, putting a baby to her breast is weird, not breastfeeding. In those other cultures you mention, women who do that generally have milk to offer the it's not so weird.

Another response to "Breastfeeding M-I-L" and the suggestion that cultural traditions may have led the mother-in-law to breastfeed her grandson.

I don't have enough information to determine whether this was culturally appropriate (for the MIL--obviously it was not for the DIL), but I doubt that the MIL was capable of passing on "helpful immune antibodies." She would have to be lactating in order to do so, and while it's possible for a grandmother to have a newborn of her own and thus be lactating, it seems unlikely in this case.

Thanks for adding to the discussion about Breastfeeding M-I-L!

Here is the letter someone asked about earlier -- about the dad who was standoffish with this son after the baby threw up on the dad's face


I don't remember hearing back from the LW, but if anyone else remembers, let me know.


Another reader commented that she didn't think OCD was a big deal in the context of parenting, but the LW admitted that " I am frightened of what might happen if my child disturbs a routine. When that happens, I become agitated to the point of a panic attack or a verbal outburst." I don't want to overly stigmatize OCD, but it also sounds like the LW's concerns are justified.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Seems to go with what one reader noted earlier -- that Prudie's advice was custom to the LW's circumstance.

I know we've heard back from the LW about how she's filed for divorce. Has she written any further updates?

Not that I know of, but for anyone who hasn't seen, her follow-up is the last letter on this page.

I've got to run, but thanks so much for the great discussion today! Prudie will be back next week -- chatting on Tuesday (because of the holiday). You can submit your questions for next week's chat here.


Hope you all have a wonderful week!



In This Chat
Emily Yoffe
Emily Yoffe -- a.k.a. Slate's advice columnist Dear Prudence, offers advice on manners, morals and more. She is also Slate's Human Guinea Pig, a contributor to the XX Factor blog, and the author of What the Dog Did: Tales From a Formerly Reluctant Dog Owner.

Read Prudie's recent chats and visit her old archives.

Like Dear Prudence on Facebook
Recent Chats
  • Next: