Dear Prudence

Throwing the Brakes on the Gravy Train

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My wife’s sister, husband, and unruly children just emigrated from Mexico and now live here in the United States. We make a substantial income each year ($500,000), and it’s fairly obvious from the way we live. Her sister and family are taking advantage of my wife’s gentle nature and financial status. On top of which they are continually barging in and inviting themselves at some inopportune times. My wife does not want to hurt their feelings or speak truthfully about their misbehaved, destructive children. I have no problem telling them, but my limited Spanish complicates this. We have given them thousands of dollars to help their transition and have only received guilt trips in exchange. They would not wait to let us secure an apartment for them prior to their arrival, so consequently they ended up in a dump. Please advise, and I will break it to my wife gently. Thank you!


Dear Des,
Ah yes, it’s true: No good deed goes unpunished. There is no need, however, to be held hostage in the rich relative standoff. You have already demonstrated willingness to be helpful, so do not feel shy about laying down some rules. This may sound crass, but they need your good offices, not the other way around. The fact that you do not wish to be discombobulated by them and their unruly niños (or niñas, as the case may be) is not an issue you have to tiptoe around. Prudie would ordinarily suggest YOU talk turkey to the rellies, but since you need a translator, your wife will have to deliver the message, en Español. If she is more comfortable saying the “revised rules” come from you, that’s fine. The new arrivals need to be told that visits must be arranged in advance—just as with your other family and friends. As for the “misbehaved, destructive children” wreaking havoc in your house, that also goes on the list headed “No More.” Tell your wife that tough love is in order. She is doing them no favor by pretending their behavior is acceptable. And the “dump” can serve as exhibit No. 1 of how they are clearly not in the habit of listening, to their own detriment. Buena suerte.

—Prudie, certainly

Dear Prudie,
This morning on the subway I noticed a man, seated diagonally from me, staring at me. A couple of stops later, I noticed that he was rubbing his groin through his pants—partially hiding this by holding his knapsack in front of him. Not long after that, I noticed that he had his hand inside his pants, his legs straight out in front of him, and very obviously leering at me. At the next stop I got off, making sure he did not follow me. My boyfriend, however (who gets points for wanting to protect me), said that it would have been a better idea to use the emergency stop because “people like that” have to be stopped. Although the experience alarmed me, stopping the train seemed a little extreme. What do you think?


Dear Com,
Tell the boyfriend, sorry, Prudie is with you. While it may be true that “people like that” have to be stopped, an entire train does not. Those emergency stop devices are meant for dire situations. There are no signs saying, “In case of masturbation, pull this cord.”

—Prudie, safely

Dear Prudence,
My 8-and-a-half-year-old daughter thinks she is fat and ugly, when in truth she is very skinny and quite beautiful. When I ask her who is telling her this, she says no one has to tell her. She made a comment to my mother about wanting plastic surgery when she gets older. I don’t know where she is getting this from. I have always told her she is pretty but too skinny, and she needs to eat. I am amazed that someone so young would have such a complex. Please help me deal with this. I have no idea what to do.

—Desperate and Concerned

Dear Des,
How sad. Unfortunately, we are seeing eating disorders earlier and earlier. According to Prudie’s favorite kiddie shrink, Dr. Elizabeth, if your daughter is restricting food in order to lose weight, this would be a sign of trouble in someone so young. Just the concern about body shape, however, would suggest psychotherapy is in order, preferably with someone expert in child and adolescent eating disorders. This could be coordinated with the child’s pediatrician. In someone this young the etiology of the body distortion could come from many things … family strife, peer problems, or depression … and alas, the media. Magazines and entertainment push the thin-and-gorgeous button, and who is more impressionable than a pre-adolescent girl? The sooner you involve professionals, the better, and try not to push too hard or overemphasize the problem with the child.     

—Prudie, therapeutically


When I read the letter from “
Just Wondering,” whose wife told him that she’s “in love” with another man and only “loves” him, I thought that maybe I had written it and forgotten. My wife did the exact same thing, and when she left me for him, this fellow realized that now he had a girlfriend with two children instead of the affair he thought he was having (i.e., no morning breath, no dirty dishes, etc.). Well it didn’t take him long to find the door, and though my wife and I tried counseling, she was “not ready” to give up her independence. Taking a page from your book, I decided to start to see others and found a truly wonderful woman who is about to move in with me. My children adore her, and I am happy again.

But—and there’s always a but—my wife/ex-wife/separated wife thought she could take her time and perhaps fall in love with me again—and now can’t believe I have moved on and recovered from my broken heart. My advice would be for him to start again and see that there are not just other fish in the sea but millions who would jump at the chance to find a great guy like he seems to be. Don’t settle for playing second fiddle because there’s always the woodwind section.


Dear Liam,

Your imagery is wonderful, and everyone is no doubt visualizing a jumper salmon about to play his clarinet. Have a great new life!

—Prudie, laughingly