An unhealthy obsession, spoiled kids, difficult mothers, bowing down at the altar of De Beers and more advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

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Emily Yoffe
Monday, January 3, 2011; 1:00 PM

Live discussion with Slate advice columnist Dear Prudence, a.k.a. Emily Yoffe.

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Emily Yoffe: Happy New Year everyone! And what are we calling this decade? The Tens? The Teens?

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An Unhealthy Obsession: Dear Prudie, I never suspect I would turn into a superficial, sex-obsessed teenager -- but that is where I find myself. My loving partner is in good shape, but doesn't have the physical attributes I always fantasized about. My mind drifts to other women all the time, despite her meeting all of my emotional needs, and our active sex life. I've been trying to ignore the disquiet, but as the New Year has arrived, I find focusing on the positives in our relationship is increasingly tough. Clearly, I need a wakeup call before I ruin what, up to now, has been a storybook romance. Any advice?

Emily Yoffe: It sounds as if your girlfriend is a great person and match for you. But if you can't feel committed to her because she doesn't meet some Barbie-doll ideal, then either you need to seriously grow up, or stop wasting her time.

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Mom thinks my kid is a spoiled brat: Dear Prudence,I love my mom and she is a true mentor to me. She is smart, intelligent, caring (almost to a fault), and doesn't overstep boundaries. She has been helping with childcare lately and I find myself butting heads with her on my older toddler who just turned 3. He is of course going through the 'evil threes' - tantrums, defiance, etc. Being very strong-willed (like my husband), I take a 'pick your battles' approach with him (with a strong dose of patience) when it comes to sitting at the table for dinner, getting dressed, etc. The problem is, his verbal communication is very advanced for his age. My mom speaks to him like an older child (which is fine), but she tries to use rational arguments and expects him to comply with her immediately when she requests that he do something (he often needs some time and a few gentle reminders to transition between activities, which he will then do willingly). The result is a lot of tantrums and comments from my mom about how he's used to getting his way, he's spoiled, etc. I tried to remind her that he's only 3, but she's helping out again this week and I know we have more battles up ahead. I am grateful for her help so I try to keep my mouth shut, but my husband is also very bothered (as well as my son) and it's putting me in an uncomfortable position. How do I talk to her without telling her how to parent my kids, or making us seem ungrateful for her help? How do I get her to realize that it's not my child who is 'spoiled' or 'bratty', but her techniques in dealing with a defiant 3-year-old that might need some fine-tuning?Sincerely,Grateful but Anxious

Emily Yoffe: Tell her having her in your and your son's life is a great joy, but that you know from experience your 3 year-old does best with patient, understanding, understated handling. (Readers -- any books to recommend on dealing with a 'strong-willed' little one?) If she can't adjust, then you should adjust your child care situation. Sure, it's economical to have grandma pick up the slack, but it's really not worth it if it's making everyone miserable. That doesn't mean cutting her out of your son's life, but it does mean not making her the primary care-giver for now. It's likely that in a couple of years when your son's emotional maturity catches up to his verbal ability, he and Grandma will be much more in sync.

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Difficult mother: My mother is a walking, talking poke in the eye. She's alienated most people in her life including my sister so the only place she has to spend holidays is with my family. She's critical and negative and my husband and daughter are tired of having her be a black cloud on every holiday. But if I don't invite her she'll literally be alone in her apartment eating a can of beans--she hates to cook. I feel guilty no matter what I choose. Help, please!

Emily Yoffe: You might have to explain to her you're going to be limiting your contact because her negativity is so draining. Then she can make the choice whether to be someone people want to spend time with (it's unlikely, but possible) or not. So when the holidays come around, if she findes she's alone with her can-opener, it won't be a shocking eye-opener to her.

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Facebook friending an Ex: I have a Facebook account on which I have friended mostly people I went to college with or worked with, and I still see most of these people socially from time to time. I probably have fewer than 40 friends on Facebook. However, I was recently notified that an old boyfriend wants to "friend" me. We dated in high school and it did not work out. About twelve years ago, we got back together, and lived together for about three years before we broke up abruptly and rather badly, after an incident of bad behavior on his part. I have since married and continued my life, and have not heard from this person or thought of him since the breakup. Part of me wants to just hit the "ignore" button, but I also wonder if I'm being petty and should let bygones be bygones (I have a history of holding grudges). My husband says he doesn't care whether I accept this person's overtures or not. What do you think?

Emily Yoffe: You are not interested in news of his random thoughts and vacation plans, and you certainly don't want him to be privy to yours. "Ignore" him with abandon!

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Kids on property: On Christmas day, we noticed sledriding tracks all over our backyard, with footprints clearly leading to our neighbor's home. Their kids had been sledding in our backyard without our permission (we have a bit more of a hill in our backyard than they do). If these were neighbors we were friends with, I wouldn't be happy that they did it without asking. But these are neighbors who have been very unfriendly since we moved in over a year and a half ago. If their child got hurt on our property, I would have little doubt that they would sue us (I am a lawyer, so no need to get into the legalities of such a situation). How can we politely tell them that we do not want their children playing on our property, when we don't even have their phone number? If I saw them doing it, I would just talk to the kids out the back door, but we didn't see them.

Emily Yoffe: Maybe relations will improve. If not, the next time it snows, shoo the kids off when the sleds arrive.

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Rockville, MD: How important is it for spouses to do special things for each other? I'm not talking huge gestures, expensive jewelry, regular flowers, etc. I'm talking about occasionally picking up a special food you know your spouse likes or maybe a nice little shoulder rub at the end of a rough day, things like that. I do this stuff for my husband quite often, and it occurs to me that he doesn't really ever do stuff like that. The kicker was over the holidays, when we were talking about another couple and he indicated to me that women who are past a certain point in the marriage shouldn't expect any romance. I know he loves me, but he never really does any real relationship stuff. I usually have to plan my own birthday dinners, for example. We've been together over a decade, so maybe it's too late in the game to change the rules. I guess I should just learn to live with it.

Emily Yoffe: Tell him you've been thinking about what he said about romance dying after a certain point in the marriage and it seemed as if he feels you've reached that point, but you strongly disagree. Explain what he said hit you hard and made you realize that while you don't want flowers and jewelry, you are missing the little gestures that make partners feel they are cherished. If he prides himself on his "rationality" you can tell him it's in his best interest to pay more attention to his marriage.

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To the parent of the "spoiled brat" : Have you read the "Love and Logic" books (Jim Fay and Foster Cline)? - I see they even have a book out for grandparents now. They emphasize 1. letting kids make decisions whenever possible, and 2. letting children experience the natural consequences of their choices (which is great for non-confrontational people like me!) Sounds like your mother would approve of their calm, rational style, and they include practical methods for dealing with preschoolers.

Emily Yoffe: I don't know this series, but I like your summary of their philosophy.

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Why should I care??????: What would you say to a person (moi) who is in a constant state of worry over what people think? "Do they think I look old", "Do they think my son isn't friendly enough", Do think think my husband is overweight, Do they think I should be smarter" "Do they think my jewlry doesn't match my outfit"..and on and on and on...

Emily Yoffe: You might also benefit from pharmaceutical intervention.

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Wedding question: My husband's brother is getting married in the spring. His bride-to-be seems like a lovely person. However, my brother-in-law (the groom) is telling us that they plan on having an open marriage. Since I do not know the bride-to-be well, I don't know if I should ask her if she knows about this, or keep it to myself. Also, am I a prig if I decide not to attend the wedding? My husband is the best man. Thanks!

Emily Yoffe: But why skip this wedding? Maybe the groom will demonstrate how open his marriage is by kissing the maid of honor instead of the bride! This could be a memorable event you don't want to miss.

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Inside Jokes and who 'owns' them: This summer, I went away for an amazing weekend with newly-rediscovered friends and had a blast. Like any good weekend, several inside jokes came out of the experiences we shared. When I got back, I told a mutual friend, "Suzie", about the weekend. The problem is that "Suzie" now drops references to these jokes to me and the rest of that weekend's attendees more than we do! I know it's silly, but it makes me want to scream "You weren't there!" everytime she references someone we met or a conversation we had that she was never in attendance for. She's been going through a rough time lately with family issues and is rather lonely, but her constant reference to events she was never part of is cheapening what was a very rare and special time for me. Do I just let it slide, knowing it makes her feel more connected? I'm afraid I'll snap at her someday if it catches me in the wrong mood and that's not fair to her. Is there anyway to keep these memories special to me without screaming "Mine!" next time she brings it up?

Emily Yoffe: Your memories are your memories, and Suzie making occasional references to inside jokes is not sullying them -- this isn't "Inception," after all. When she does it just shrug and change the subject.

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Unwanted family history: Hi Prudence. My mother-in-law is a semi-professional genealogist, and she's taken it upon herself to research my family. At every visit she pulls out her laptop and show me new documents she's found concerning my relatives, many of whom I remember being alive.The trouble is that my family life has been far from happy. In particular, my grandfather molested several generations of children (my mother-in-law wouldn't have learned of this, since it was never reported to police). There were other problems and conflicts too, less spectacular than that, but still painful. I live thousands of miles away from my relatives for a reason, and I don't enjoy hearing about them.Is there a polite way that I can ask my mother-in-law to stop, without telling her sordid details that may traumatise her (or change her opinion of me?).Thanks very much.

Emily Yoffe: So I'd rather not talk about what you've found out about my family, but I appreciate your taking the time to look them up."But why shouldn't your mother-in-law know that you come from a painful family background? Surely she understands there are such things as unhappy families, and perhaps she will have admiration for how you've coped and turned out.

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Mothers and Mothers-in-law: Hi Prudie,For all the griping about Mom's and MIL's (and grandmas) on this chat... I want to remind each and every reader, that there is always a way to work around differences. I was fortunate to have a wonderful relationship with my Mother and Grandmother (maternal) while they were alive. I miss them every day. No mother in law yet (gay and single)... but I have seen the devastation in others when they lose a loved one and cannot reclaim the time to make up for (often) petty arguments and foolishness. Not a question, just an observation.

Emily Yoffe: I would amend this by saying there is often a way to work around differences. You were fortunate to have a loving mother and grandmother, but not everyone has this. And sadly, sometimes the best course is to cut a destructive person -- and this can be a parent -- out of one's life.

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Fading Friendships: Dear Prudence,I am reaching my mid 20s and I have a "real" job in my chosen profession as well as a part time job on the weekends. A friend of mine from high school is going back to school to get his Master's, but he's still living the college life. When he comes home for the breaks--he's ready to party every night. It was fun when I was still in school, but now I'm all partied out. However, not only do I not want to party hard, but he's starting to get on my nerves. He calls me CONSTANTLY, begging me to go out, which is really starting to bother my boyfriend. When we do hang out he makes very inappropriate comments/jokes. I really feel like I've outgrown the friendship and I just don't want to hang out with him anymore. How do I let him know that I want to move on with my life and not be friends anymore without sounding too harsh?

Emily Yoffe: I wish you the best for the new year."

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RE: Unwanted family history: My husband's family is very fair-haired and fair-skinned, and most of the older relatives are rather racist. Imagine the reaction when my husband discovered through US Census records that one of their ancestors was a freed slave in the South following the Civil War. Now the relatives are taking sides between those who are fascinated, and those who are in denial and angry at those who are interested in learning more. Should we who are fascinated just drop it in the interests of family peace till the racist elders have died?

Emily Yoffe: Those of you who are fascinated should feel free to pursue this. But as with the letter writer above with the genealogist mother-in-law, those who are not interested in their forebears should not be forced to hear lectures about their origins.

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Racism: How should I respond to racist comments made by childhood friends and relatives?

Emily Yoffe: This is when it would be great to whip out a family tree and say, "Well look here, seems as if you're talking about yourself!" If it's bad enough you might have to excuse yourself from the gathering.

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Bowing down at the altar of DeBeers: Dear Prudie,I am seeing a wonderful woman and I love her very much. We have reached the point in our relationship where marriage comes up as a regular topic of conversation. During one of these discussions, I shared with her the exciting (to me) news that my parents' have saved an engagement/wedding combination ring for me to give to my future bride. It is a lovely ring and has a fair amount of familial history. While my girlfriend has no qualms with the style of the ring, she objects to the metal of the setting. Traditional gold is evidently out for her; white gold or platinum only will do. I have further been informed that as I go out and purchase a new ring, a "three-months worth of your salary" standard is now appropriate.Given that I already have a lovely ring in my possession, the purchase of such an extravagant piece of jewelry rubs me the wrong way, particularly when the "tradition" of diamond engagement rings was created by DeBeers within the past century to begin with. I don't want to disappoint the woman that I love but the thought of spending the money I could use towards our future together on a piece of compressed carbon is objectionable. Can you offer any advice on how to handle this situation?

Emily Yoffe: come up in your marriage.

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Emily Yoffe: There's no such thing as a conflict-free new year (and there would be nothing to chat about) but let's hope for a good one.


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