Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Nov 18, 2013

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 takes your questions on manners, morals and more.

Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.

I have a 19-month-old son who is an all around joy! He has taken to the habit of putting on the nearest pair of shoes, grabbing his diaper bag and my keys, and pretending as if he is about to go bye-bye. He usually puts on my shoes because my husband's big shoes are much too heavy for him to walk in. My husband has taken issue with him wearing my shoes (generally ballet-style flats) because he doesn't think that a little boy should play dress up in women's shoes. I don't care if he plays in them, and although I don't believe at this age he knows the difference in gender-bearing apparel, I would not care if he did. My husband, however, makes him take them off, often prompting an emotional response from my son. My son's hysterics then cause my husband to make him sit until he calms down. We've argued about this issue so much. I see no harm in letting a child explore his curiosity and imagination in this non-harmful way. My question is how do I get my husband to lighten up about it? He is from a culture where males are supposed to display typical male gender roles and characteristics only. -Shoeless Mommy

Please enroll together with your husband in a parenting class  -- many YMCAs have them. You want this to be a joint experience for the two of you. You want to avoid sounding as if you are sending your husband alone to the dunce's corner, no matter how much he may belong there. I totally agree that your 19 month-old is doing what every toddler is programmed to do, that is imitating his parents, the most important people in his life. Your husband's overreaction to his son's sweet and charming behavior is crushing and confusing.  Since this is a recurring problem, look with your husband at the  Gesell Institute website which has lots of material about children's developmental stages and what to expect. I also will reiterate my recommendation of  Haim Ginott's Between Parent and Child, a book that really helps a parent understand a child's mind and respond with compassion. You do not want to set up a dynamic in which you attack your husband's culture -- you married him knowing what it was, and presumably that he embraced some of the tenets. Instead you want to examine how some of these beliefs affect your family, and work together so that all three of you treat each other with gentleness and respect.

Dear Prudence, My sister and brother-in-law struggled for infertility for about the past four years. In this time period, I had my second child and two of our cousins had children. My sister made it clear that baby-related parties and activities were hard on her and her husband. We all appreciated this and tried to limit our baby conversation in her presence. She also did not attend baby showers and baptisms for me or our cousins. We made a conscious effort to have adult-only dinners with our parents where we all paid for a sitter. A few weeks ago she announced that the last round of IVF was successful and she was about 12 weeks along. We were all ecstatic for her. But then she started emailing us instructions for what she expected: gender reveal party, elaborate baby showers, and explicit instructions on hospital visitation times. We understand that she is excited, but what she wants us to host for her is above and beyond what we did for our own pregnancies and above and beyond what I can afford in terms of both energy and money. I am hesitant to bring this up to her because I know she has suffered a great deal of heartache. Should I go along with her plans, taking into account how sensitive she can be over this issue? 

People in difficult circumstances deserve understanding. But your family has been trying to hide the fact that there is a next generation because of volatile sensitivities of your sister. Of course it is painful for people struggling with infertility to attend celebrations of births. But life doesn't stop for others because of one's own problems. I always applaud the people with fertility issues who manage to have joyful relationships with the offspring of their friends and family. Three months is a point at which many people announce a pregnancy because they are past the point of highest risk of miscarriage. But declaring the  hospital visit schedules is getting bizarrely ahead of the action. It's also simply rude to announce a list of social events that must be carried on in one's honor. All of you adopted a code of silence about your children for the sake of your sister. So now go ahead and express your ecstatic congratulations on her pregnancy.  But unless she has announced such specifics as, "Donna, you will be hosting my shower on February 16, and here's the guest list,"  just just ignore her list of expected social events. If she then asks which of her parties you are going to put on, you can properly say it's not the place of family members to host showers -- but that you eagerly look forward to attending hers. 

Dear Prudie, I am a 24-year-old female that changed jobs six months ago. Since my first month in the new company, a co-worker has been persistently trying to ask me out. He let me know early on that he has a girlfriend, but things are not going so well between them. I already told him that I like him as a friend but nothing more. We used to hang out a lot earlier, but after this exchange, we have slowly stopped hanging out and talking as much. I recently told him about how addicted I have become to the website reddit and have been enjoying my conversations there. I have a common username that I use on all social networking sites. Last night, he sent me an email quoting a comment that I made on that website specifically about how I am annoyed by my coworker's advances. I don't know how to deal with this situation. On one hand, I feel stalked and harrassed. But on the other hand, I also don't want to make things any more awkward between us than they already are. Signed, Harassed

Firt of all, get a new username that hides your identity. Unfortunately, you tipped off this guy to one of your pastimes and presumably your username is close enough to your own that he was able to discern you went on-line to complain about him.  He is not your friend. You need to make explicitly  clear to him that you are co-workers and you want to get along in that capacity, but that he has been crossing the line and it has to stop asking you out. Then stop all conversation with him about your personal life.  Keep the email he sent and any others and if he continues to harrass you, go to HR. Explain you've tried to deal with his advances yourself, but this has become a workplace problem that they need to address.

My sister and her husband will be flying across the country to stay with us for the week of Thanksgiving. The problem is, my car is a two-seater. I suggested to my husband that we should pay or at least chip in for a car rental since we can't pick them up from the airport nor drive them around during their stay. We do not live close enough to the airport for a shuttle. He says that since we are giving a comfortable place to stay and free food that it is enough. I really don't know what is right. Any suggestions?

You are not obligated to provide your sister's transporation. Since she and her husband will have long treks to and from the airport and will need a car to get around while visiting, you need to tell her because you've only got a two-seater that if she hasn't booked a car rental yet, she needs to do so immediately to make sure one's available during the holiday.

How do I tell my mom that I'm dating a transgender man? I'm an adult, but I still live with my parents, and she has made some jokes about people that are transgender and has said that they don't know what they want. I know that it's within my right to not say anything, but I am very close to my parents, so I hate keeping things from them. She's met the guy in question, so I can't just not mention that he wasn't identified a man at birth. How should I handle this?

Since you're an adult, you start working toward being able to live in your own place so that your social life won't fall so directly under your parent's purview. I don't think you should say anything to your parents at this point. You're dating someone who identifies as a man and that's all your mother needs to know. She's met him and didn't have any questions about his gender. If you two decide to marry, then yes, this would be something to discuss with your parents, but that sounds as if it's not now on the agenda. If your mother talking about transgender people is a constant theme, then you should do some educating -- and you can make it general for the time being.  If she just makes an occasional remark that is not offensive, you can ignore it or address it as the situation demands.

In my family (and many others, I think) it is not all that uncommon for a cousin or sister to throw a shower. I actually have no problem throwing my sister a baby shower and I am genuinely excited for her. But the type of shower she wants is on a much larger scale then I can afford. I want to tell her that we would all be happy to celebrate with her, but we need to take it down a few notches. I don't know how to explain this to her given her sensitivity. Thanks!

The etiquette rule about family members not throwing showers for relatives is based on the perception of it being rude to ask for gifts for people you are related to. I agree that this is falling by the wayside and that's fine -- loved ones are often the ones most available for these duties.  How you explain to your sister that you can only afford the size party you can afford is to say exactly that. People in your family have been tiptoeing around her for far too long. It's time for her to join reality land and not demand you all live in her reality distortion field. If she flounces off and says she doesn't want the smaller shower you envision, you've just saved a lot of time and money.

I found out recently that my co-worker is a white supremacist. He had never brought it up at work, but after a couple of beers at a happy hour, he asked me if I'd be interested in coming to one of his meetings. This was after he ranted to me for fifteen minutes about how all of the minorities and women in our firm get promotions and raises without deserving them. This guy doesn't know that I'm Jewish, another group of people he's directed his hate toward (they pull all of the levers in Washington and are keeping white Christians from getting ahead). Is this something I can bring to the attention to my boss?

Tell your boss It may be that this co-worker is undermining other people at the company in a way you aren't aware of. He revealed to you his insane beliefs and that he is profoundly hostile to his co-workers. He eveb tried to recruit you, although it's probably a good idea you didn't say you were unable to attend because the  meeting conflicted with Shabbat. If he is publicly involved in white supremacist activities and this is linked back to your company, that's something the people in charge need to know.

My brother is 10 years younger than I am and he practically worshipped his big sister. He used to put on my actual ballet shoes, and other various items. He also once stuck a sanitary napkin in his pants. Today he is a macho masculine guy and not one person would ever consider him even remotely effeminate. But he does respect women and knows how to treat them properly.

I love the image of a sister-worshipping boy wanting to use a sanitary napkin! I am hearing from a lot of readers whose sons and daughters behaved similarly. Wherever a child ends up on the gender identity scale is fine. But a toddler trying on the clothes of mommy, daddy, sister, and brother is not indicative of anything but loving the big people in his or her life. The father described in the letter needs some serious education on child development and sexual identity.

Dear Prudence, Our son has a friend, "Matt." Matt's parents are very religious and have a lot of rules about what Matt isn't allowed to watch or read. He is not allowed to play video games, period, and wouldn't be allowed to watch a Harry Potter movie or a superhero movie. He is not allowed to watch most cartoons and can only listen to radio stations with religious programming. Our son hardly ever goes to Matt's house to play, but Matt comes over here a lot. The boys play board games or play with Legos, but Matt sure would like to watch movies or cartoons or listen to the radio -- I've "caught" him reading my son's Harry Potter books . My husband says we should just let him watch and read the stuff and that his parents' rules can be for their house, but we don't have to follow them. While I agree the restrictions put in place by Matt's parents are ridiculous, I would be very upset if our son went to stay with a friend and was allowed to watch or listen to something that we didn't want him seeing -- like something with excessive violence or sexuality. Matt will be staying with us this weekend and my husband wants to take the boys to see a movie of which I know Matt's parents wouldn't approve, but one that is age appropriate for 11-year-old boys. Is my husband right? Can we disregard Matt's parents' wishes or should we follow them as they seem to trust us to do? Signed, Mom in the Middle

This is sad and disturbing and I wish the parents understood they only make all the forbidden fruit that much more delectable.  I'm assuming that Matt's parents have given you their list of forbiddens and if you've signed off on them then it's not right you do something you know is verboten. However, these boys are 11 years-old and that means you don't sit in the room and monitor them. If Matt picks up a copy of Harry Potter or plays a video game while you're in the other room, so be it.  But taking him to a movie when the parents have explicitly forbidden such evil entertainment is a violation of their trust and will only smash the relationship of the two boys. Discuss with the parents what your plans are and see if you can get them to sign off. If you can't, come up with some other entertainment. I do wonder why parents think they make their restrictive beliefs more appealing by trying to keep their child from experiencing the world.

I am a new teacher and I love my job! I have two wonderful hard working assistants. However one gets jealous of the other than reverts back to childish behavior (silent treatment) and it will build up for days and explode. This individual also will hear things that weren't said and blow it up! I literally do not know how to fix it because its her own issue. She is wonderful at her job 99% of the time. That 1% is the only time I dread going to school. I am getting married in the near future and will be inviting one of my assistants but not the other. I want advice on how do I face the backlash when she realizes she is not invited? I know there will be backlash but I rarely do for myself and this one day I want to be peaceful.

This is not a question about wedding invitation, it's about managing an employee with a serious problem. I wonder if you're teaching math, because I get the feeling your percentages are way off. If your assistant  goes cuckoo only one percent of the time, that would hardly be noticable at this point in the school year. But what you describe sounds like a running theme. Yes you're new and inexperienced, but your assistant's personality problem is affecting everyone and needs to be dealt with. If you have no idea how to handle this,  go to your administrators, describe what goes on, and ask for their input. As for the invitation dilemma, of course you are entitled to invite whomever you like to your wedding. But if you include only one of two people you work closely with every day and who hold the same position, surely you know this exclusion will get out and you'll just have to deal with the subsequent bad feelings.

We're expecting our first baby together. I very much want to include my stepchildren in the naming process because they are also gaining a new baby. The problem is that they keep vetoing all of the names my husband and I find to agree on. My husband prefers new trendy names like Riley, Ava, etc. and I like classics like Eleanor, Alice, etc. We were thrilled to come to a compromise with Violet! But my stepkids, stepdaughter mostly, said she simply hated it! I want to give her and her brother the connection to the baby by helping is choose a name, and being involved in this. Would it be terrible of we can't find a name that all 4 of us love?!

Thank you for being someone who wants your stepchildren to feel no distinction between themselves and their new sibling. However, naming the baby is a parental decision. If you want to involve your stepkids in things involving their little brother or sister, have them chose between your three favorite paint colors for the baby's room, or the pattern for the car seat. Baby naming is for parents. And most people will tell you it's a good idea before the birth to keep knowledge of your choice limited to a small circle. A baby's name is not a matter for a plebiscite.

Dear Prudie - my younger sister is engaged to be married to someone she only knows from online and has never met. They're planning on meeting when she drives out east to move him to her apartment on the west coast and marrying around the holidays. We know nothing about this guy. No facebook, nothing. But, she is very trusting and gave me his name and birthdate and I know which state he lives in. Should I have a background check run? I am willing to take the risk that she'll hate me forever if I can at least check out that he's not a criminal or already married. Signed, Worried big sis.

Time for an intervention with little sis.  It just can't be that the only evidence that she is troubled and unable to make good decisions is this engagement. This is a potentially very dangerous situation. She is leaving her home to drive across the country to have sex with a man  she's never met. Unless she has a substantial bank account he can tap, I'm doubting a marriage is going to ensue. Yes, your sister is an adult, but I'm hoping she has good enough relationships with her family that she will be willing to listen to reason, and even talk this out with a professional. It's fine for you to check out this guy. But do it quietly and hold the information in reserve until you try to get your sister to reconsider. Even if he's a registered sex offender, people like your sister tend to believe the accounts from their beloved that it was all a terrible frame-up.

I agree with your answer, but not necessarily this principle. I mean, if I'm kosher, I'm not going to let my children eat pork or allow his friend's parents to serve it to him, to the extent I can control it. What's wrong with keeping my child from experiences I truly believe are wrong? I may be making the forbidden bacon more delectable, but if it's conflict with my religious beliefs, what else can I do?.

Not eating pork (or being allergic to peanuts) is very different from saying virtually all the existing culture is evil and corrupting -- and making it almost impossible for your child to negotiate the world you live in. 

Hi Prudie, My elderly mother-in-law lives in our town in a very nice senior community. Our toddler grandson lives three hours away. My husband and I are old enough to be great-grands (well, at least HE is) but we have only the one young grandbaby. Now that we are retired, we would like to move close to the grandchild so we can be actively involved for as long as we have some energy left. 90-year-old+ MIL does not want us to move. She thinks we should just drive back and forth to see the baby. This is (1) tiring and (2) does not allow us real involvement. We don't see MIL that often, even though we are in the same town. My husband does not feel close to her (never has, as she is a pleasant but emotionally chilly person). How awful would it be to move anyhow?

I can understand that your mother-in-law wants you around for her last years, but your grandchild will quickly pass through toddlerhood and if you want to be there to help be part of his life now (and the parents of this grandchild are on board with your move) you should do it.  This will just mean that the three-hour trek will be to see your mother-in-law. Given your current visiting schedule, it doesn't sound as if coming every two weeks or so will be that much of a difference. Make a committment to come on a predictable schedule and call frequently so that all of you are as comfortable as possible with the new arrangements.

Thanks, everyone. Have a great 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.

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