Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Aug 13, 2012

Important note to readers: We are moving the Dear Prudence chat from 1pm on Mondays to 12pm noon on Mondays, as of August 13th. Going forward, the Dear Prudence chat will begin at noon on Mondays.

Need help getting along with partners, relatives, coworkers... and people in general? Ask Prudence! Emily Yoffe -- a.k.a. Slate's advice columnist Dear Prudence took your questions on manners, morals and more.

Good afternoon. Thanks for joining me at a new time.

Dear Prudie, My husband and his first wife named their son Adam. Their Adam is 25 and lives across the country from us. Now we are having a son, and Adam is my late father's name and grandfather's name. I always wanted to name my son after my dad. My husband says I can't do that because of his first born son, and he can't have two sons named Adam. But mostly, because it would upset his ex-wife. I don't think I should have to forgo naming my son after my dad because of this. We rarely see his older son, so I don't see what the problem is. My husband got to pick the name for our daughter and it meant a lot to him. This means a lot to me. His son said it would be alright with him, but his ex is livid at the idea.

Only three more sons to go -- all named Adam -- and your husband could tie George Foreman's record for having sons who all share the same name.  I hear from a lot of people who think other family members have "stolen" a name they wanted for their child. But while it doesn't matter if cousins have the same name, it is bizarre to give more than one of your own children the same name. You husband already has a son named Adam. The older Adam may feel so disconnected (or is so laid back) that he says he doesn't care that he could have a younger brother also named Adam. But your husband says he doesn't want to give both his sons the same name.  I agree the wishes of the ex-wife are completely irrelevant, but maybe your husband is trying to make her the heavy.  You can honor your own family name by making Adam your son's middle name. You could even flip your father's first and middle names for your own son.  I know Adam was the first man, but there have been many since them and you need to choose another name, because in your family, Adam is taken.

My sister and her husband had their daughter Abby after struggling with infertility for years. Now thirteen, Abby has been spoiled by being an only child. Since childhood she has always demanded the attention of whatever adult was in her vicinity. Her favorite phrases were, "Look at me!" and "Listen to me!" While I thought her antics were cute when she was five or six, I know find them very grating. I am not the only person in my family who feels that way, either. Abby still interrupts conversations to show a new trick or tell a joke. At my daughter's last birthday, Abby put on a concert while we ate cake and became upset when some people continued their conversations. My sister and brother-in-law are incredibly sensitive when it comes to any criticism of their daughter. I wouldn't say anything to them about Abby's behavior if I hadn't recently passed the point where having her around annoys me. I love my niece, but I don't like her very much. Should I talk to Abby or to my sister about how I would appreciate it if Abby didn't demand so much attention? Or should I keep quiet and avoid Abby?

Abby's been horribly spoiled, but please it's not a function of being an only child, it's a function of being the child of your sister and brother-in-law.  (I say this as the mother of a wonderfully unspoiled only.) Some people with enormous talent and drive take the  internal imperative of "Look at me!" and turn it into a successful show business career. Most people like this, however, are just obnoxious show offs whom others -- like their loving aunt -- want to avoid.  Abby's road is going to be plenty tough  when she gets out into the world and loses her captive audience.  Some people in her situation find life to be a corrective when they realize the rest of the world is not interested in being part of  "The Abby Show." Let's hope your niece learns from the cold water others are going to throw on her. As far as family functions are concerned, however, Abby is old enough that you don't have to address her behavior through her parents. If she starts screaming, "Look at me! Listen to me!" you can say, "Abby, honey, I'm talking to someone else, so I can't pay attention to you right now."  If she gets upset that her concert audience isn't in hushed awe, that's her problem -- you can just keep right on talking.

Dear Prudence, I'm a bit uncomfortable even asking this question but here we go. I met the man I am currently engaged to over two years ago and we have been great together. Our children are all adults (he has two and I have one). I liked the idea that our children were grown, but we were still young enough to enjoy life with out the issues that come with younger children (I'm 44, he is 40). The problem is he still wants to "father" the son of his former girlfriend. He dated this lady for almost eight years and it was tumultuous at best. Her son is now 14 and he still wants to be dad to her son. The son is a nice boy and pretty low impact but I still have problems with the continued relationship. He still converses with the ex GF, but knowing I don't really like it, he does not tell me when he speaks to her. His actions when he picks up her son for father/son time implies he would like us to act like a happy family together. I just don't feel it. I get along great with his children and I try very hard not to give his ex's son any impression that I don't really care for the association. I pep talk myself the entire time during his visits but it bothers me. What is the best way to be ok with this situation. The fiancé says this relationship with the child is important to him because he made a promise that he would be his father, when the child asked years ago.

Your fiance  was involved with a woman for eight years so he was the de facto stepfather to her son for most of his young life. Instead of disappearing, your fiance wants to honor his connection and committment to this boy by continuing to be a fatherly presence. How admirable! I would think you would find your boyfriend's relationship to this teenager  one of the reasons you love your fiance. But here you are, making your boyfriend sneak around when he talks to the mother of his "son" because he knows it upsets you.  In essence you are planning to marry a man with a 14 year-old boy. If you wish the kid would just go away, ,  then you have to realize you're the one who needs to take a hike. I don't care if you're "not feeling it." Fake it, and get to know this kid or break off the engagement.

Hi Prudie! I have am debating whether to broach a very senstive topic with my younger (and only) sister: her weight. She has been significantly obese since childhood (no thanks to our mother's lack of supervision and predeliction for fast food). I also struggled with my weight, but through diet and exercise I was able to lose 40 pounds a few years ago and have maintained the weight loss. Although only in her 20s, she is at least 100 pounds overweight, and we have a strong family history for Type II diabetes and heart disease. My sister has three kids already and during the delivery of her last child, she had a life-threatening complication that could be linked to her obesity. We live across the country from each other, but she recently told me that she intends to try for another baby this winter. In light of her last pregancy (and she has gained even more weight since), I am very concerned for her health, but it does not seem to concern her at all. I don't want my sister to end up leaving her children motherless. But, I also know my sister is very sensitive about anyone talking about her weight. A well-meaning relative purchased her a weight-loss system when she was a teenager and that seemed to throw her into a depression which led to more comfort eating. How should I go about bringing this up?  -My Sister's Keeper

I'm so glad you came to me because I've been wanting to unveil my simple, fail-proof system for getting other people to lose weight. I think you know that this subject is a loser. Your sister knows she is obese,  but she's made the subject verboten. I agree it is alarming that someone who almost died during her last pregnancy is planning  another one without having resolved any of her underlying health issues. I think the only way to broach this is in person. Set up a visit and before you come say that because of the complications of her last pregnancy, you are very concerned about the potential danger to her health of another. Say you would like to go with her to her gynecologist to discuss a future pregnancy and how to make it safe. If the doctor doesn't mention weight, then you absolutely should. If she refuses this suggestion, you could try to have a private talk with her husband about your concerns. But if she (and he) are not responsive, just accept there really isn't anything you can do. And be careful while your broach this subject that you don't appear to be lording your weight loss over you sister.

Hi Prudie! My daughter Bella has a great playgroup that meets once a week after school. We were REALLY lucky to get into this group! The girls come from some of the wealthiest families at the school, and since our family is more working class, we love that Bella is able to see how the other side lives and maybe even look for something to aspire to one day!  So far Bella has had so much fun with all the girls! But last week I got a nasty email from one of the mothers. I sent some home-made cookies and store-bought veggies and dip for the snack last week, and apparently this was not up to snuff! The mothers said that my vegetables were clearly not homegrown and organic and that they could taste the pesticides and preservatives on them. They asked if I knew that ranch dip is high in cholesterol and saturated fat which leads to heart disease.  I was in tears reading this e-mail. Their assumption that I had no idea how to feed my daughter was so insultinge! I emailed them back saying that I was unsure what particular brands of veggies, dip, and baking items to buy, and received another email suggesting I start a garden. Prudie, we live in an apartment complex!!! I am unsure how to respond. I really really want my daughter to be happy and have friends with the right values and aspirations. But I have no idea how to make these women happy! I went to the Farmer's Market an hour away last weekend to look for some appropriate items to send for next week, but the market was so expensive! I don't want my daughter to get kicked out of this playgroup, especially now that she's so happy.  How can I handle these clean-food moms?  ~Ashamed Mom

These moms should register themselves with the FDA -- just think, they have a bionic ability to detect chemicals at parts per billion! If you want to have your daughter hang out with friends with the right values, you should consider finding another play group.  You simply want your daughter to get along with nice friends, so please stop injecting your own social anxiety into what should be a carefree time. The other mothers have demonstrated that their values include insults and superiority. Ignore their jibes and skip the farmer's market -- carrots are carrots. And if your vegetables aren't good enough for them, their group isn't good enough for you.

What about using a different middle. Adam Michael (older) and Adam James (baby)...(of course supply your own middle names. Or compromise with a variant name: Adam has 24 variant forms: Ad, Adamo, Adams, Adan, Adao, Addam, Addams, Addem, Addie, Addis, Addison, Addy, Ade, Adem, Adham, Adhamh, Adim, Adnet, Adnon, Adnot, Adom, Atim, Atkins and Edom.

I'm against giving two sons the same first name, period. And somehow I think a mother who wants to name her son Adam is not going to go for "Adnot." I'm sticking with finding a new name altogether, or flipping the first and middle names of the paternal grandfather.

Dear Prudence: I live with, and care for (cook, clean, drive) my nearly 90 year old Grandfather. He spends a few hours a week with his girlfriend, who joins us for lunch occasionally, plays cards with him, and generally seems to enjoy his (and my) company. It's good for both of them to have companionship around their own age (I can't relate that well to him, I'm more than 60 years younger than he is), and all three of us get along really well. My problem is that recently, and unexpectedly, the girlfriend asked me to refer to her as "Grandma." I think I understand why. She lives in a retirement home, and her kids and grandkids don't visit her, where I am one of the first people to show up at the home if she's having a bad day. I genuinely like this woman, and I am glad she's a part of my grandfather's life (even if I am grossed out what I know of their sex-life), but her request makes me uncomfortable. Since her request, I've found it tougher to talk to her. I do talk to her, but for some reason, it no longer feels the same. I also haven't called her "Grandma" yet, even though she introduces me to other people as her Grandson. Is there a way to politely, and without upsetting her, explain that while she is absolutely a wonderful person in my grandfather's life, and mine, I don't think I can go along with this? -Caregiving Grandson, NM

How lucky for these two old people that you are in their lives. (And I understand your own distaste, but I'm charmed to hear that your 90 year-old grandfather is still getting it on!) I agree that his girlfriend has made an awkward request, but it's a simple thing for you to do to make an old woman happy. I have a suggestion for a compromise: I bet it would be easier if instead of calling her "Grandma" you called her "Grandma Mildred." And when she introduces you as her grandson, just smile and go along. As the letter about the 14 year-old boy shows, family feeling doesn't require shared DNA.

Dear Prudie, My girlfriend and I are about to start our junior and sophomore years at college, respectively. She's a wonderful girl, full of life, funny, and very intelligent. We've even discussed the possibility of getting married in a year and a half or so when I'll be close to graduating. The problem is that my girlfriend skipped a couple of grades in school and graduated high school pretty young, so she won't be 18 for another three months. She's still a virgin, while I'm a bit more experienced, and being celebate since last fall hasn't been easy for me, but I love my girlfriend so it's worth it. The thing is she's starting to get really frustrated at still being a virgin even after being in a steady relationship for a year. She really wants to have sex, but since she's still a minor and I'm not, I'm afraid I could get in trouble for statutory rape. She said if I don't show her I both love and trust her by sleeping with her, she might leave me and find a boyfriend that will meet all of her needs. I can't imagine life without her, and I really don't want to let her go so easily. I'm really sure neither she nor her parents would ever report me for stautory rape, but it's still a risk I would rather not take. Should I give in to save our relationship, or should I just keep trying to convince her that after all the time and effort we put into our relationship, waiting three more months isn't such a big deal and hope she doesn't leave me?

Check out the age of consent in your state. If she can consent, and does, and her parents are not crazy, your fears are unfounded about prosecution. However, please put aside thoughts of marriage.  She's still a teenager and you two haven't had sex. She's threatening to find another boyfriend because you won't deflower her. You two are way too young and immature to be talking about the rest of your lives. And if she won't respect your unease about waiting a few more months until she's legally an adult,  then maybe you two just aren't meant for each other.

Mom didn't say how old Bella is, but the environment seems ripe for the making of some "mean girls." If the food she sends isn't good enough for these wealthy moms, chances are eventually Bella is not going to be good enough for the girls. I agree with you, find another playgroup, fast!

Great point. "Oh, Bella, you don't have a Kate Spade tote bag, that's so sad!" "Bella, what's a 'thrift shop'?" "Your mom shops at Walmart? My mom calls it Mall Wart!"  Bella's mom, get out!

After years of not being able to get pregnant, my husband and I adopted our son just shy of his second birthday. I vaguely knew the circumstances of his birth parents, a couple who died in a fire and no relatives came forward to take guardianship. I knew about the fear that comes with adoption that your child who you love and think of as "yours" will think of his birth parents as his "real" mom and dad, but our son really didn't have much interest in discovering his roots growing up and even now I don't think he is. He just graduated law school in the spring and dropped the bombshell that he wants to change his last name back to his birth father's name. My husband's last name is rather uncommon and easy to mispell and misprounce, while I admit his birth father's name is more common and nicer on the ear. He isn't the first member of my husband's family to change his name. As he put it to me, he didn't change his name, but my husband and I did when we adopted him. I mentioned our future grandchildren not carrying his father's name, and he pointed out (quite right) that if he was a girl, we wouldn't have thought twice about our grandchildren not having his father's name. I don't know how to feel. As he pointed out, I kept my maiden name after my wedding. I guess at feel a bit hurt by his decision even though I know this seems more about professional choice rather then some reclaiming of his roots. Am I making too much of this in my mind? I haven't really discuss this too much since I'm worried that I don't really have a coherent argument to make beyond my vague feelings that comes with being adopted mother (he is a lawer after all so coherent arguments are pretty important).

The key here is that you haven't really talked to your son about this. You need to do so. To his mind it may be just the most practical way of starting a career with an easier to spell name. Maybe there is a deeper longing he is feeling.  He's an adult, and a lawyer, so if his mind is made up you you certainly have to respect his choice. But I think it's fair that you say you'd like him to hear you both out about this. Then express -- without tears and drama -- that his decision does feel somewhat painful to you.  Lots of people with difficult to spell and pronounce names anglicize them, so maybe that's a possibility here, since you mention other family members have done something similar. But if he's set on this, let it go and don't let a name change affect that fact that he will always be your son.

Dear Prudence, My husband and I have a three-year-old daughter going into her last year of preschool, and we're starting to think about kindergarten for next fall. I went to private school from kindergarten through high school, and my husband went to public; each of us is adamant that our experience was the better one. I loved everything that my private school experience had to offer --  more than the academics, I appreciated the extra enrichment that my school was able to offer, and I would love to give my daughter that opportunity. My husband insists that his education was just as good at his public schools, and that she'll learn more independence with a higher teacher/student ratio. (I know that there are of course brilliant people who graduate from publics, but my husband happens to be terrible at writing and grammar despite insisting that he's great at it. I don't correct him for the sanctity of our marriage, but to me, it's not helping his argument and I don't want to bring it up.) Our city has good public schools --far from failing, but not spectacular either. It's not a hometown for either of us, so there's no school allegiance to consider. We can afford private school, but it would mean less money for other activities. How do we settle this? Neither of us wants to give in!

Instead of fighting about recapitulating your own childhoods, start doing research about your daughter's.  You two need to agree you will both look at all the possibilities for her with open minds. It could be that there's a lovely neighborhood public school that's in walking distance that would be great.  Or maybe when you check out the kindergarten you see the kids are stuck in chairs being drilled for tests and you both realize it's not for her.  Same thing with the private schools.  Keep in mind that you may find what you think is the ideal private school and she doesn't get in. Also, don't feel you are making the decision now about what high school your daughter is going to graduate from.   My daughter has attended both public and private schools, and each were right for her at different points in her childhood.

Age of consent in my state is 18. I just want to avoid breaking up with her.

Thanks for the clarification. Still, if a 17 year-old consents to have sex with her boyfriend and her parents aren't wackos, it's unlikely you'll end up in the justice system. However, if she insists on losing her virginity now, and not to you, that may indicate  she's not the love of your life.

In what world is it appropriate to ask to go to your sister's Gynecologists appointment? If she invites you, sure. But asking to go on an extremely personal medical visit?! How is that less of an issue than talking about family history and the need for weight loss?

I totally agree it's an intrusive suggestion, but she says her sister almost died during her last pregnancy. That's alarming,  and being 100 pounds overweight has to be a complicating factor in pregnancy. I'm trying to come up with a way to make sure the overweight sister is actually addressing the medical issues involved in a potential pregnancy. If she won't agree to let her sister go with her, that's the end of that.

Hi Prudie, My younger sister and her husband are expecting a baby, due around Thanksgiving of this year. Most of us are extremely thrilled and can't wait to snuggle the little bundle. However, my older brother and his wife have been nothing short of cold to my sister and brother-in-law since they've announced their baby news. My brother and SIL have been trying to have a baby for 6 years and have not had any luck. I understand that infertility is heartbreaking, but my sister (and everybody else in the family) have gone to great lengths to be aware of my SIL's feelings during this time. Still, my SIL sent a scathing email to my sister accusing her of 'throwing her infertility in her face" and claiming that since my brother is the oldest in the family, he should be the first to "give" our parents a grandchild. Prudie, I know this is crazy-talk but how do we handle this? My sister is so upset she doesn't even want our SIL at her upcoming baby shower, which of course will cause more drama. Help?

Let's hope that unless the sister-in-law can emotionally get it together, she declines to go. She should be invited, however.) Of course I understand being unable to have a child is agonizing. But way too often I hear from people who think infertility allows them to behave in socially grotesque ways. Lots of people suffer in life, but that doesn't mean they can take it out on others who are more fortunate. Your brother and sister-in-law have to wrap their minds around the fact that your younger sister is not usurping their child and their reproductive troubles have absolutely nothing to do with other people's choices. Maybe you, as a more neutral party, can talk to your brother and sister-in-law and say that everyone understands their pain, but estranging themselves from your younger sister is not going to make things better. After that, f they want to remove themselves from family events because someone had the audacity to have a child, that's their loss.

My parents freaked out when I decided to marry my then forty-one-year-old boyfriend, because I was twenty-four at the time. Now, three years later, they still haven't warmed to my husband, mostly because of his age. My parents have some prejudices about May-December relationships. I knew they would have concerns about the age difference, even though I assured them my husband and I had discussed the topic at length before becoming engaged. But no matter how well my husband treats me or how happy he makes me, my parents still treat him like he's an untrustworthy pervert. Now I'm pregnant, and I want my parents to begin treating the father of my child with some respect. My husband has proved himself to be a good man. How can I make (or encourage) them to take notice?

You're going to be a mother so handling irrational and obstreperous people is good training for you. Sit your parents down and say you know they have long disapproved of your husband, but you two have been happily married for three years and are about to become parents. Say you really want your parents to be part of this baby's life, but how much interaction you all have is going to depend on how they treat your husband. Say their disrespect of him has become intolerable and that needs to change right away, because you've had enough.

Dear Prudie, My parents seem to be losing their minds and I don't know what to do. They are early 70s and get around fine. This past weekend when I visiting them, my dad grabbed a pellet gun and headed for the back door yelling "the eagle has landed." Here's the thing, there was no eagle, it was a blackbird, and he didn't have any pellets. I tried to ask mom what the heck was going on with him and she just stood at the stove making tapioca pudding, like it was no big deal. My dad is not a joking type of person, so I don't think he was just messing with me. During my visit I observed some other odd behavior also. I'm an only child so I don't have a sibling to ask if they think there is a problem. I'm only able to visit them a few times a year and now I'm worried about what is going on when I'm not around. Do people develop these strange quirks as they age? Should I contact their physician? I'd never forgive myself if something happened, but I don't want to mother hen my parents. Worried Daughter

It's a good thing the eagle hadn't landed and your father didn't blow it away, because killing endangered species can get you in a lot of trouble.  Your father needs a complete physical evaluation to find out why he appears to be losing contact with reality. And since he seems mentally out it, his guns should be confiscated, too.  Yes, contact their doctor immediately. If your father is trying to kill non-existent birds, you need to step up and be mother hen.

Dear Prudence, In my town,you cannot build any structures on property boundary lines. Anything but a thin wire fence is outlawed. So to keep some privacy and beautify our yard, my husband and I planted a 40-ft row of concord grapes along the side of our property. The vines are beautiful and finally we have some delicious grapes. The only snag is, the neighbors regularly pick the grapes. I'm not talking a handful or so. They have been picking large bunches! Out of the 20+ bunches, we only have 2 unripe ones left. We are in our early 30's and they are in their early 50's so we know that they know better. They are otherwise friendly people. How do we get them to stop?

Buy a bottle of wine, and knock on their door. Say you all are grape lovers, but the arbor is yours and you were planning to enjoy your own fruits of the vine. Say during the season, you would be happy to make them a gift of some grapes, but you're distressed to find that your orchard has been stripped. Tell them you have plans for what's left of your grapes and you'd appreciate  a hands off policy from them.

Thanks, everyone! I'll be away for the next two weeks, but will see you all again on Tues. Sept. 4.

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.

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