Dear Prudence, I am fortunate to have a large extended family living in close proximity, including four grandparents. My mother-in-law sees my children regularly and never forgets their birthdays, which is wonderful. Traditionally, our families gather the weekend before Christmas for a gift exchange. We always have a nice time. This year I discovered, through a conversation with my niece, that Grandma travels to their home on Christmas morning to cook them a special breakfast and celebrate what my niece describes as "real Christmas when Grandma brings our big gifts." This year, my niece explained, she expects some expensive electronics and gift cards from my M-I-L in addition to the gifts she'd opened that day at our gathering. My feelings were hurt, and I told my husband. He admitted that he knew about these other Christmas celebrations but sees no need to confront his mother about them because "our children don't need those gifts."Â I agree that we do not need any more gifts, but this "secret Christmas" celebration seems wrong and hurtful to me, and I worry about what might happen when my daughters are old enough to feel left out if they discover them, too. Should I confront my M-I-L? If not, what do I tell my children when they inevitably hear about this? --Not Grandma's Favorite
Dealings with your mother-in-law are the territory of your husband. He seems completely untroubled by his mother's extra time with his sister and their kids, and you should follow his lead. You don't explain it here, but perhaps your sister-in-law and her family are in the kind of financial straits that your family fortunately is not. So Grandma does something extra for this brood that yours does not need. You seems to have no other complaints about your mother-in-law and say she's an excellent grandmother to your children. Leave this alone. An important lesson for children to learn is that fairness does not dictate exact equality. If they find out about about Grandma's special visit, you just shrug it off and point out some wonderful things in their lives that their cousins don't have. If you want your children to have more time with your mother-in-law then faciliate that -- just don't make it about material possessions.
Dear Prudie, A few months ago I joined an online group of like-minded people where we often discuss personal relationship problems. I have found that griping about my husband to anonymous people online is a lot better than venting my frustrations at him. Lately my husband has also been really good at changing some of the behaviors that have always driven me up the wall, and now I know why. While using his laptop, I happened to notice him logged in as one of the members of my group! He created a fake persona and has seen every gripe I ever typed about him! I haven't confronted him on this, and to be honest it has been a convenient way to indirectly communicate my frustrations to him. So should I tell him I know who he is, quit the group, or just let this be?
I'm sure my husband would love me to follow your lead and post my complaints on-line instead of expressing them directly to him. Then he'd follow your husband's example of not discussing any of this with me. Where he'd differ is the part where he logs on and reads my nagging then dedicates himself to meeting my standards of the perfect husband. Your situation sounds like a variation of that dreadful Pina Colada song. But I'd find your version more believable if it turned out your husband was remaking himself to please you in order to divert you from exploring the fact that most of his time on-line is spent looking for kinky sex partners. It's also possible that you haven't paid enough attention to the male poster on this site who complains that his hyper-controlling witch of a wifedoesn't even appreciate when he makes the changes she wants. I suggest to get back to face to face communication that you tell your on-line audience that your husband has undergone a remarkable transformation and you're so moved by this that you're going to let him know how much his efforts have meant to you. Then do so, in person, including letting your husband know he's a member of your rant group.
Dear Prudence, My mom has always been an animal lover. Growing up, we had seven birds, five cats, two lizards, two snakes, various hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs and fish. Currently, she has four dogs, three cats, a bird, a turtle and she's fostering two other cats. She doesn't abuse the animals, and they all go to the vet regularly, eat well, and have clean water. The problem is that the house is disgusting. The 19-year-old cat who she refuses to euthanize, despite the fact that he is very ill, uses the guest bathroom as his own personal litter box, so no one else can use it (and the only other bathroom is in my mother's room). All of the carpets have various animal stains on them, and the hardwood floor in part of the dining room is so saturated with cat urine that it needs to be ripped up and replaced. There is animal hair all over everything, and it's getting to the point where my husband and I don't want to go over there because of the stench. In fact, her own sister recommended that we all come to Maryland this year for dinner the Saturday after Christmas, and she confided in me that it's because the house is disgusting and full of animals. My mom continues to take on animals, despite not having a full-time job. She lives in a single-family home (1600 square feet) with a small yard, but it's certainly not a farm or anywhere close to big enough for all of these creatures! What do I do about Christmas Day, when my husband and I have to go over there, and how can we get her to fix this and stop her before she's a hoarder, if she isn't already?
You say the animals are well-cared for and the numbers you cite are not at the hoarding level, although I agree this is something that needs to be monitored. But this situation sounds awful. So tell your mother you're not going over there for Christmas, you're going to take your sister up on her offer to have a family dinner at her house on Saturday and you hope she will be there. You explain you can't be going to her house regularly because the smell and the filth makes a visit too uncomfortable. For visits, ask that she come see you -- although you should drop by briefly and occasionally to keep your eye on this. If you feel she's reached a tipping point, you tell her you're going to report her to animal control because she has too many animals to care for properly and you're also worried the property is going to be condemned.
I am 40 years old and eight months pregnant. It is my first child after spending most of my life thinking I won't have any. I am happy to report it has been a generally comfortable pregnancy and my baby and I are healthy. The only discomfort I must endure on a regular basis is comments from various family members, friends, coworkers, and even total strangers. I've had so many people ask me if I've had IVF, or people assuming IVF and asking what the process was like. Although the baby was conceived the old fashioned way I do not feel comfortable discussing my fertility with others. Had I actually gone through fertility treatments, it would have been something intensely personal and not something I'd announce to the world. Either way, I certainly don't feel like explaning to strangers, "Oh no, I actually became impregnated by having unprotected intercourse with my fertile husband." Many people ask me if there is anything wrong with my baby, or become offended and outraged I didn't terminate. My boss yesterday even remarked, "I don't know how you justify to yourself having a baby at your age," after ranting about a friend's daughter who was born with Down's Syndrome after her mother gave birth at a later age. I'm sick and tired of justifying my pregnancy to others. How can I politely steer myself away from these questions?
Wow, you know a lot of dreadful people. I, too, had a baby at 40 (the regular way, not that anybody asked me) and I can't recall one person saying anything but how happy they were for me. Fortunately, in a few weeks the pregnancy questions and remarks will end, and you will have a beautiful baby. For now, just smile beatifically in a way only pregnant women can, and say in response to these idiot remarks, "Thank you for your good wishes." If after the birth this crowd keeps up their nasty commentary, stick with the non sequiters and say, "Yes, I have blessed with a wonderful child, now please excuse me,"
When I'm around my MIL, it is a constant barrage of criticism about my house, my taste in clothing, certain facial features, etc. Last night I had a crying breakdown, tightness in chest and double nosebleed after she left. After spending 15 hours this week trying to make my home cute and Christma-sy, nothing was good enough. Food was gross; need better rugs; Tree too small; too many penguins used in the decorations; etc. The most neutral thing she said was "Well isn't that interesting"Â about a couple of things. I usually smile halfheartedly and say "well it was the size tree we wanted," "well, I like that wall color actually," etc. The problem is my husband is happy to defend me, but he has been around her negativity and critical self for so many years that it doesn't even faze him or occur to him to step in. He tunes her out; it's like he doesn't even hear it, and it's only after she leaves and I list the 62 criticisms that he realizes it's a bit much for his new wife. I can't change her. How can I change my response so that I am not having physiological, emotional meltdowns after being around her. I have tried just "tuning her out"Â like my husband, but when a woman is attacking her daughter-in-law's tastes, decor, home, food, and appearance, that cuts to the core of a woman's identity and insecurities.
At least your husband isn't defending her and he is coming to understand how awful her visits are for you. You are right, she is not going to change. So all you can do is change your response to her, or limit the time you are required to respond to her. Explain to your husband that you just aren't as tough as he is and having someone attack everything from your "facial features" to your Christmas decorations is too much. Say you want him to have a relationship with his mother, but much of it will have to take place without you -- he goes to visit her privately, or visits are kept short. Then you need to stop responding to her except to say, "Thank you!" So she says, "That hairdo makes you nose look so big." You respond, "Thank you, Hortense!" She say, "I can't believe how many penguins you used in the decorations." Again, you say, "Thank you for pointing that out!" Stop taking her sickness personally. Think for a moment what it must be like to go through life stewing in such vileness. In this season of counting your blessings, be grateful that you are not her, and that somehow she raised a wonderful son with whom you'll have a great life.
Hi Prudence, Thanks for chatting today! My mother and mother-in-law buy way too many presents for our kids. The kids are young enough that we just tend to donate most of the gifts before they aren't even opened, and my daughter who is old enough to notice disappearing gifts tends not to like what either grandma buys her (though is very good about covering it and sending thank you notes), so she's fine with donating the gifts. We've tried asking both grandmas to stop buying so much, but since I have been reading advice columns for some time, I don't think there is any way to get them to stop. My question is, do we ever need to tell them what happens to most of the gifts? Thanking them profusely and then donating the gifts seems deceptive, and there's no telling if we'll be able to keep the charade up as the kids get older. Should we fess up or wait until we're caught?
You and your husband should have a talk with each grandmother and explain how much you appreciate their generosity, but that it is too much. You can say since they are so generous you'd like them to consider cutting back on the presents and perhaps making a contribution to the kids' college funds. That way down the road, your children will know their loving grandmothers helped pay for their education. Then once you've spoken, that's all you can do. Keep a few gifts and donate the rest. If the grannies ask where the missing toys are you say they were lovely but that your family's tradition to spread your good fortune and you dropped the extras at Toys for Tots.
My father's family will be visiting from the 27th to the 31st. I love them deeply, but they are from a small town in Alabama where there is no expectation of privacy. Everyone tells everyone everything. I have OCD and do not want it broadcasted to all of St. Clair county. Prudie, I have enough trouble remembering people's names and enduring hugs from strangers. I don't need everyone to be asking about how often I'm washing my hands the next time I visit. How do I keep the conversation away from my diagnosis?
"Oh, it's flu and cold season. I've got so much work after the holidays that I can't afford to get sick, so I'm just staying on the safe side!"
An ex, now a good friend, from several years ago, recently came out to me as a transgender person. He has not undergone any of the transition, but has confided in me that he has always thought he was female, including when we were together. I am supportive of my friend. During our relationship, we planned on getting married and having children. We broke up due to an unrelated reason, and grew up a lot. We have recently talked about our relationship. I love him very much, but I am afraid of what may happen if we were to reconcile. I now have my own child, and I want to be married and have more subsequent biological children. What do I do?
If I understand your question you're asking me if you should pursue a romantic relationship with your male ex who is becoming an female ex. If he's going to make a transition, even if he doesn's choose surgery right away, surely he's going to be on enough female hormones to render him infertile. You want more children, so that makes this a non-starter. Unless you are bi-sexual, I don't understand how you will find yourself attracted to a transgendered lover who is now female. You can remain dear friends, but even if you "love" your ex, the time for an intimate relationship has passed.
Dear Prudence, My lovely boyfriend -- cute, smart, warm, loving, devoted -- has about the worst manners, especially at the table, that I have ever encountered in my life. He doesn't know how to hold a fork, he wraps his left arm protectively around his food and hovers his upper body over it, he uses his left hand to help food onto his fork or spoon, he slurps soup and spaghetti loudly and sloppily. I've tried to bring it up in lighthearted way, especially in the context of meeting my parents, and he doesn't get it. I do not want to insult someone I love, and by proxy, his parents, but I couldn't in a million years bring him to a dinner party, a nice restaurant, a family gathering, basically anywhere outside of the confines of my apartment. The one time we had a full meal out people did stare and I've steered us into drinks or a movie rather than dinner ever since. I'm not just embarrassed, I'm also concerned for his reputation in his line of work and in his peer group. When he eats, he looks and behaves like he's at a Renaissance Fair. How do I address this with the man I love without hurting his feelings?
You address this directly, factually and unemotionally. You say he's probably completely unaware but his table manners are not standard and they unnecessarily detract from people's impression of him. You get him a basic book on etiquette and and ask him to read the portion on dining. If he doesn't crack it open, ask him, for the sake of your relationship, to go to a short number of etiquette classes. I'm sure you can find an expert in your area who will work with an adult one-on-one. If you are in love with a man who you could never go to a dinner party, a restaurant, or a family gathering with, and he won't change that, then you're involved with a guy you're soon going to have to dump.
Dear Prudence, My parents encourage my brother to be verbally and physically abusive toward me. When we gather at my parents' home for the holidays, my brother tends to become physically violent if we are ever at odds with one another, even over very innocuous things (for example, earlier today, he jerked my arm and hit me in the face when I sat down in his place on the sofa when he got up to get something from the kitchen). My family does not tell him to stop or say anything to him, and when I protest, they yell at me and tell me it is my fault for "frustrating" him. My brother and I are not children; we are both in our 20s and are much too old for the sort of hitting and physical fighting that sometimes happens between young siblings. We are also part of a culturally conservative Asian family that places a high value on sons and comparatively little value on daughters (I am a woman), and my parents have always preferred my brother to me since we were very young. Short of calling the police, which I do not want to do because it would cause a serious rift in our family, how should I deal with this when it happens? -Abused During the Holidays
It's very sad to have to estrange yourself from your family, but that may be your only recourse. You could, if you're willing to have a next visit, announce to everyone you will be calling 911 if your brother lays a hand on you, and if he's verbally abusive, you will leave. You may not want to charge your brother with assault, but that's what you should do with someone who's assaulting you. If for your entire life your brother has been exaulted and you've been denigrated, then exempting yourself from family gatherings may be liberating for you. Please also seek out a support group for people who have been abused or a therapist -- this is a tough legacy to overcome and can lead to you're choosing abusive partners. The only way for your to "deal with" this kind of abuse is to make sure it never happens again.
Dear Prudence, I have a wonderful three-year-old son, and tonight was his first Christmas pageant. He's a very loving child, but, unfortunately, he has a pretty severe case of ADHD, diagnosed by three different pediatricians). Boy, tonight was quite a show! If he wasn't tearing feathers off of the angel's wings, or attempting to "battle" with the child playing Joseph, he was doing "the worm" across the stage! (Yes, I got this on video.) None of the teachers made any attempt to get him to behave, and I was instructed to "leave him be and let the play finish" when I snuck around the side to get him off of the stage. What made things worse were the comments I overheard from parents after everything was done. Of course there were the parents who blamed "that brat" for "ruining their baby's moment;" we live in the deep south and people here tend to automatically assume that any child that isn't acting correctly is either "spoiled" or "special." What I wasn't expecting were the "the boy can't help it because his mom must be a single mother and they never raise their children right." Prudie, I was only at the pageant by myself because my husband was at work and we live far away from our other family! Thankfully, our holiday vacation starts tomorrow, and we won't have to see these people until Thursday. I realize that my son is only three, and he hasn't had the experience to learn skills to control his impulses, but I'm not sure what to do about everyone else. Do I need to address the pageant once school resumes? Do I apologize to the directors of the play or bring up the snide comments I overheard? Thank you.
How unfortunate that people don't have enough of a sense of humor or an understanding of 3 year-olds to have been amused by all this. You forget about this silly pageant and just be an advocate for your son. He's going to need one because unfortunately school is becoming more and more a place where children are supposed to sit quietly and fill out test papers. You may need to find a nursery school, and then an elementary school for your son that understands young children have to move around. You should also make sure you have a pediatrician who is in tune with your son's needs. If anyone says anything disparaging to you about the performance, don't apologize just say with a smile, "The whole thing was quite a hoot!"
Hi Prudie- This letter may be too late for this year's Christmas, but perhaps you can help me for the future. Do all gifts need to be addressed from Santa for a 6-year-old girl? I met my boyfriend's daughter for the first time earlier this year and I bought her two Christmas gifts that I'd like to give her personally. I leave town on the 21st and would like to see her open them. However, my boyfriend feels it will ruin the idea of Santa for her because he is planning to let her open all the gifts from his side of the family on the 23rd before he takes her back up to her mom's house. I never intended to address my gifts as coming from Santa - especially since we are building our relationship right now. I also didn't grow up this way. I believed in Santa, but also knew that other loved ones gave me gifts. Growing up, this was a lesson on how to be thankful and appreciative. My parents always asked me to thank someone before I could play with the gift they gave me. What are your thoughts? Our holidays won't be ruined over this, but I'd like to know if I'm justified in wanting to address this gift from me. For a child that believes in Santa, is it all that bad for a couple gifts to be opened early because someone special wanted to give them something?
I agree with you that children are able to believe in Santa while also knowing Aunt Agnes sent the sweater. Make your case to your boyfriend that you think it would help your connection with his daughter, which you want to nurture, that she knows some special gifts came from you. But don't fight him on this. If everything comes from Santa, the let it go. Presumably there will be many more occasions for you to forge a relationship with his girl.
Regarding the person whose mother loves animals too much, my parents are the same way. They have 6 dogs and 2 cats that run the house. The dogs are left in the house while my parents are away and urinate and defecate on the area rugs. They also sleep in any human bed in the house and the sheets are filthy. One of the cats is nearly feral in the house. When my parents send gifts for holidays, any clothing or permeable surface smells of animal filth. However, the animals are well taken care of, licensed and vetted. I have broached the subject with my parents and even offered to purchase crates for crate training. They view the animals in an odd and unhealthy way and will not crate them, confine them outside (even for short periods) or "overly discipline" them by house training. In my case, my mother is mentally ill (borderline personality disorder) and my father is her enabler. When we go to visit, we stay at a hotel and limit our time in their home. When I visit without my husband and child, I clean their house and take the rugs to the laundromat. As long as they are adults, lucid, not abusing the animals and not in violation of local animal laws (which your mother may be), there is no professional intervention available. It stinks (no pun intended), but that's the way it is.
As you wisely point out, some things just can't be changed. All you can do is do what's best for you (and make sure innocent creatures are safe).
Dear Prudie, One of my most painful and reoccurring childhood memories is of getting tearfully and terrifyingly ripped from my father's arms by a police officer at the age of 4. My mother was dealing with complicated grief over the loss of my youngest sister, and for reasons no one understands, she accused my father of horrible abuse. My surviving sister was 2. We spent a few weeks in the care of other family members until my father was cleared, and then by some miracle, the family was patched back together and we went on with our lives. My sister and I are now in our early 30s. I thought her too young to have any recollection of the events, and have silently nursed the trauma, slowly and privately dealing with feelings ranging from rage at my mother to (unfounded) doubt of my father's innocence. I fought myself over it. And then my sister reached out to me, asking about her own, shadowy memories that match mine. She wants to know what happened. I do not want to tell her. I want to spare her the years of complicated emotions I've dealt with, and let her go on knowing with no doubt that both of our parents are loving, if flawed and complicated, individuals with no secret histories. Except that they do have those secret histories. Do I owe her the truth as I understand it? ~Loyal, Silent Sister
Obviously, there is a whispered family story here because it seems unlikely a 4 year-old would have been privy to, or understood, the kind of accusations you say your mother made. Since your sister has picked up on some dark family history, I think you should tell her the truth. Say your mother had a breakdown after your sister's death and in her grief and temporary insanity blamed the death on your father. Fortunately, she got help and as your sister knows, your family healed and went on. You say your mother suffered from "complicated grief," which is is the inability to move on after a loved one's death. You sound as if you're suffering from your own long-running version of it over this childhood trauma. Please seek psychological help. It's time you were freed from these continual thoughts.
Hello Prudence, I'm 52, well-educated, financially secure, single with no dependents, own my home, have multiple pursuits and passions and am happily employed part-time. I'm independent, self-reliant and have been single with no relationships the last many years. I met someone who I share many interests with and he's a vibrant, athletic, intellectual and intelligent....72-year-old. I am really torn. Very drawn to him, but the age difference is an obstacle. Do you have any advice for me? Should I forget the age difference and enjoy the relationship? I have no interest in his money or anything like that - I have my own. I like him for himself. I am looking for a way to think about this but it clearly bothers me or I would have cut ties or plunged in. Help. Thank you.
Sure, you don't have an endless timeline when you fall for someone in his 70s, but you've been alone for many years, are comfortable in that, and have suddenly found yourself happily spending time with a vibrant man much your senior. I say go for it and see where this unexpected connection leads.
Where does this woman live and work? The 1960s? She's getting more grief than my mother got when she had her first child at 43, back before there was any IVF. Of course, there was also no legal abortion and reliable birth control was a new thing, so no one expected her to have had any control over the situation. (Her doctor refused to believe a woman could have a first pregnancy at 43, wouldn't perform the "rabbit test," and prescribed tranquilizers for the next couple of months. I'm lucky I wasn't born with flippers.)
I agree the whole thing sounds bizarre. And indeed you are lucky you weren't damaged by your mother's doctor's ministrations!
When we got engaged, my boyfriend and I agreed we didn't want anyone to pay for our wedding. Partly because I think, as a self-sufficient adult, I should pay for my own event - and secondly, because I know how people can be as soon as money is involved. He and I have both turned down his mother's offers to pay for various things multiple times. She keeps insisting and has firmly told us she will pay. No surprise - she's added 10 of her friends to our guest list. When my boyfriend asked who they were - a hint - she replied, "My friends." I'm not inviting any of my mother's friends, and this is a very small event - about 70 people without her friends. Frankly, I don't want people I barely know at my wedding, or my mother-in-law's money. is there a kind way to settle this with someone who's absurdly headstrong? I imagine she will just put the money in a card anyway and be offended if we don't invite her friends, as she will still have 'paid' for some of the wedding.
Another in-law question, another time for the son to step up. No hints with this woman. Your fiance should say, "Mom, we know our wedding is a big deal for you and you would like your friends there. But we are having a small ceremony we are paying for ourselves and we can't expand the guest list. But after we're married and back from the honeymoon, we would love to have a party at your house where we see your friends and celebrate." Then the subject is closed. Both of you learning to stand up to an "absurdly headstrong" woman will make the next several decades more pleasant.
My family is convinced that my smart, hardworking, caring boyfriend of nearly two years is a deadbeat because he has a disability. Nothing I say will convince them otherwise. They declared him persona non grata after just one meeting, so there's nothing he can really do to change their minds either. I hoped that time would soften them up a little, but we are living together and nothing has changed. At this point, we are talking marriage and kids. I guess what I'm asking is for advice on how to be the black sheep of the family. On the one hand, I wouldn't want our future kids to spend time with people who can think such hateful things about their dad. On the other hand, I don't want to burn any unnecessary bridges. What do other people do in this situation?
Who are these people? Parents who let their sons beat up their daughters. Mothers-in-law who mock their daughters facial features? People who suggest abortions to pregnant women? And now an entire family who wants to shun someone with a disability? You are not the black sheep. Your family is a flock of them. You don't have to announce, "We are now officially estranged." But you do have to say that you and your boyfriend are a couple and either he is welcomed as your partner, or you won't be able to attend future family events without him.
I just discovered that my husband has been having an emotional affair with his ex-wife. They have two children together, and have always been incredibly close. I have always chalked up my misgivings about their closeness to my insecurity. Throughout my relationship with my husband, I've worked hard to become friends with his wife and to learn to trust her. From what I can tell, if there has been going on for several months, and it's not yet been consummated. I plan to confront my husband about the affair, but I'm not sure whether I should confront him before or after the holidays. If I wait until after Christmas to confront my husband about his affair, I'll have to spend a good deal of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day around his ex-wife. As detestable as this sounds, I don't want to ruin the holiday for my stepchildren. I don't know if my marriage will survive the affair, because his ex-wife will always be in our lives. I won't know until I speak with my husband about the affair. What do you think I should do?
At this point, hold off until Wednesday. Good for you for thinking about the kids. You don't say what evidence you've found, but I assume it's more than just their usual "incredible closeness" and your feelings of insecurity. After the holidays you sit him down and tell him you are concerned that their relationship has crossed a line and their escalating emotional intimacy is undermining your marriage.
Small town folks do have manners, actually. Just because your in-laws tell everybody in town doesn't mean anyone will mention it to you. That's why the murder rate is so low. Everybody knows everybody else's business, but they know when not to let on. They also won't be asking "what's wrong with her?" when her OCD symptoms show during a visit. Embrace the freedom. (I used to cringe hearing my aunt on the phone telling everybody else my business, but no one ever mentioned that business to me.)
That's a good point to keep in mind. The letter writer shouldn't add to her anxiety thinking she'll have to explain herself. People may just be blessedly polite
With Christmas tomorrow the question of personal gifts has become a sticking point. My boyfriend and I exchanged highly personal "adult" toys for christmas this year. What do I say to people that want to know what he got me? I've tried the "oh its personal" but they still push for details. Any ideas?
Jeez, who pushes for details of someone else's Christmas gift once you're older than 10? Just say your favorite gift to each other is to go out together to a fancy restaurant and have a blow-out meal -- and enough batteries for your toys.