We moved to a new neighborhood more than a year ago and have been friendly with all of our neighbors. Our kids (ages 6 and 9) have made friends with several neighborhood kids. One neighbor is very religious, but we are not religious at all. My daughter is over at their house for an extended period probably once a week or so, and their daughters also play at our house. I always thought that we would just discuss religious, mythological, and spiritual matters openly and honestly with our kids, and as they grew older, they could make their own choices. I’ve told my kids about the different concepts people have of God and that I don’t believe in a God that is a supernatural person. Recently, though, my daughter came home from the neighbor’s with some very specific religious claims—creationist myths about the age of the Earth, and a claim that God is proved because of some very specific prophecies that “came true.” All of a sudden, my daughter wants to get religious jewelry and go to their fundamentalist religious school because “they learn about God.” It seems my choices are to confront my neighbor, make playtime at their house off-limits, aggressively educate my daughter that our neighbor is full of crap, or just passively trust in my current “the truth will set you free” approach. I don’t want to make any enemies in the neighborhood, but I don’t like the level of brainwashing that could go on while I am trying to play fair.
—Raising Kids, Not Disciples
First try talking to your neighbor. Invite her over for a cup of coffee while the kids are elsewhere and explain that while you have great respect for her religious views, you are asking that she respect the fact that you’re raising your children differently, and you prefer she not discuss her beliefs with your children. If she backs off, fine. If she sees this as a sign that she must rescue your children from Satan’s clutches, you have to take more aggressive action. Shift the majority of play dates to your house; have your daughter play with other girls who are more interested in dress-up than in proselytizing. In response to your daughter’s new religiosity, calmly explain that people have different religious views and you don’t share your neighbor’s. Show her a book on dinosaurs and explain that many people who believe in God also know that dinosaurs lived millions of years ago. Also recognize that in comparison to your lack of faith, it’s probably thrilling for your daughter to encounter someone who speaks about angels and miracles. Since your daughter is interested in God, why don’t you take charge of her religious education? Get a children’s Bible, and read and discuss the stories with her—knowing Bible stories is part of being an educated person. That’s what you’d do if she developed an interest in Greek mythology. You say you want your children to grow up and make their own religious choices. Does that mean it really would be all right with you if they end up believing in God?
My husband and I were married a year and a half ago, and my father gave us $20,000 for the wedding. My relationship with my stepmother is polite, and we have generally enjoyed each other’s company. She was not too thrilled with the monetary gift, but that was between them. My husband and I wanted to get him a gift after the wedding for his generosity, something that they would both enjoy. She has grown children of her own, all of whom were at the wedding. So, we got them a framed family portrait taken at the wedding with all of us. She refuses to hang it up because her one son, who is a framer, did not frame it, and she says we are insulting her by not paying him to frame it. Honestly, we can’t afford him! The framing is lovely even though we got it at a discount place. My father refuses to stand up for me and says that it’s her house, she’s his wife, and he needs to agree with her. The betrayal I feel is unbelievable. My husband wants to take back the portrait and I agree. It’s been sitting in their basement for months, and we have barely spoken with them during that time. We both love my stepsiblings and would like to continue to enjoy time with them, but I’m not sure that we can be in the same room with my stepmother or my father without this hurt rising to the surface.
—Dazed and Confused
What are you going to do, break into the basement and run off with the picture, like the thieves who grabbed Edvard Munch’s The Scream? Yes, it would be nice if your stepmother was gracious enough to display your gift, but she isn’t. Her lack of graciousness does not change the fact that the picture is now hers to do with whatever she likes. Launching your married life by jointly stewing over your snubbed gift is not a propitious way to begin. Nor is ruining your relationship with your father, stepmother, and stepsiblings, as you apparently are on track to do. Your father wrote you a check for $20,000, put up with a lot of nagging from his wife for it, and has wisely decided to move on from the wedding and its aftermath. You need to do the same.
My husband and I are young newlyweds who frequently socialize with another couple, “Mark” and “Anna,” who are also young newlyweds. My husband and Mark have been good friends long before we were married and love to make plans for us all to get together. I enjoy hanging out with them, but am frustrated by trying to build a friendship with Anna. Anna is obsessed—and I mean obsessed—with weight and weight-related topics. We are all active and quite fit, but she insists on constantly talking about fattening foods and commenting on where every calorie might be going. When she and I have one-on-one discussions, she tells me about how skinny her friends and family members are or aren’t. I have always been athletic and shapely, but I suddenly find myself quite self-conscious about my figure. I hate the negative effect her obsession has on me. How can I build a positive friendship with her that does not leave me feeling inferior, insecure, and hungry?
—I Like Brownies
When Anna makes a remark just as you put that piece of brownie in your mouth, look at her and say, “Mmmm, I’m sorry Anna, this brownie is so delicious, I couldn’t concentrate on what you were saying.” Anna’s obsession is not about you, it’s about herself—so please, don’t let her problems affect your self-image. Sadly, as nice as Mark might be, for some reason he has married a colossal, though thin, bore. Sure, you can try to deflect her: “Anna, let’s discuss something besides fat grams.” But if she won’t be moved off her favorite topic, explain to your husband that he and Mark will have to spend more time as a twosome than you are willing to spend as a foursome.
I am a sophomore in college, and have been in a relationship with a senior for the past six months. We embarked on a whirlwind romance, completely obsessed with each other, knowing that what we had was truly unique from the typical sexual quests of college students. I never doubted how much he cared for me, and knew that he was quite possibly the one. As his graduation approaches, we’ve been more actively engaging in conversations about the future, whether we can have a long-distance relationship, etc. Recently, though, he told me we shouldn’t stay together because he wants to experience and enjoy single life. I was heartbroken. I thought his words were especially selfish and contradictory to all that we had declared over the past six months. We are still together as graduation approaches. Should I break up with him, even though he insists that he still loves me and this breakup will be just as hard for him? Or should I simply enjoy this time together, even though I’m consumed with the idea of him being excited at the prospect of this new single life?
—Torn and Ripped to Pieces
Whether or not you decide to break up with him, hasn’t he just broken up with you? Sure, he’s still enjoying the unique thing you have that is nothing like those typical sexual quests. Except that I assume you’re having sex with a guy who’s just told you he’s really looking forward to bidding you farewell and having sex with other people. It’s perfectly fair that at his age, he’s not ready to commit to “the one” and that’s he’s straightforward enough to tell you. But now that you know, stop listening to how painful it will be for him when he starts dating, and let his pain start immediately.