Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. Thanks for joining me at a new time.
Q. What’s in a Name?: My husband and his first wife named their son Adam. Their Adam is 25 and lives across the country from us. Now we are having a son, and Adam is my late father’s name and grandfather’s name. I always wanted to name my son after my dad. My husband says I can’t do that because of his firstborn son, and he can’t have two sons named Adam. But mostly, because it would upset his ex-wife. I don’t think I should have to forgo naming my son after my dad because of this. We rarely see his older son, so I don’t see what the problem is. My husband got to pick the name for our daughter and it meant a lot to him. This means a lot to me. His son said it would be all right with him, but his ex is livid at the idea.
A: Only three more sons to go—all named Adam—and your husband could tie George Foreman’s record for having sons who all share the same name. I hear from a lot of people who think other family members have “stolen” a name they wanted for their child. But while it doesn’t matter if cousins have the same name, it is bizarre to give more than one of your own children the same name. You husband already has a son named Adam. The older Adam may feel so disconnected (or is so laid back) that he says he doesn’t care that he could have a younger brother also named Adam. But your husband says he doesn’t want to give both his sons the same name. I agree the wishes of the ex-wife are completely irrelevant, but maybe your husband is trying to make her the heavy. You can honor your own family name by making Adam your son’s middle name. You could even flip your father’s first and middle names for your own son. I know Adam was the first man, but there have been many since them and you need to choose another name, because in your family, Adam is taken.
Dear Prudence: Porn on the Hard Drive
Q. Self-Centered Niece Drives Me Nuts: My sister and her husband had their daughter Abby after struggling with infertility for years. Now 13, Abby has been spoiled by being an only child. Since childhood she has always demanded the attention of whatever adult was in her vicinity. Her favorite phrases were, “Look at me!” and “Listen to me!” While I thought her antics were cute when she was 5 or 6, I know find them very grating. I am not the only person in my family who feels that way, either. Abby still interrupts conversations to show a new trick or tell a joke. At my daughter’s last birthday, Abby put on a concert while we ate cake and became upset when some people continued their conversations. My sister and brother-in-law are incredibly sensitive when it comes to any criticism of their daughter. I wouldn’t say anything to them about Abby’s behavior if I hadn’t recently passed the point where having her around annoys me. I love my niece, but I don’t like her very much. Should I talk to Abby or to my sister about how I would appreciate it if Abby didn’t demand so much attention? Or should I keep quiet and avoid Abby?
A: Abby’s been horribly spoiled, but please, it’s not a function of being an only child, it’s a function of being the child of your sister and brother-in-law. (I say this as the mother of a wonderfully unspoiled only.) Some people with enormous talent and drive take the internal imperative of “Look at me!” and turn it into a successful show-business career. Most people like this, however, are just obnoxious show-offs whom others—like their loving aunt—want to avoid. Abby’s road is going to be plenty tough when she gets out into the world and loses her captive audience. Some people in her situation find life to be a corrective when they realize the rest of the world is not interested in being part of “The Abby Show.” Let’s hope your niece learns from the cold water others are going to throw on her. As far as family functions are concerned, however, Abby is old enough that you don’t have to address her behavior through her parents. If she starts screaming, “Look at me! Listen to me!” you can say, “Abby, honey, I’m talking to someone else, so I can’t pay attention to you right now.” If she gets upset that her concert audience isn’t in hushed awe, that’s her problem—you can just keep right on talking.
Q. Sisterly Advice About Weight: I am debating whether to broach a very sensitive topic with my younger (and only) sister: her weight. She has been significantly obese since childhood (no thanks to our mother’s lack of supervision and predilection for fast food). I also struggled with my weight, but through diet and exercise I was able to lose 40 pounds a few years ago and have maintained the weight loss. Although only in her 20s, she is at least 100 pounds overweight, and we have a strong family history for Type II diabetes and heart disease. My sister has three kids already and during the delivery of her last child, she had a life-threatening complication that could be linked to her obesity. We live across the country from each other, but she recently told me that she intends to try for another baby this winter. In light of her last pregnancy (and she has gained even more weight since), I am very concerned for her health, but it does not seem to concern her at all. I don’t want my sister to end up leaving her children motherless. But, I also know my sister is very sensitive about anyone talking about her weight. A well-meaning relative purchased her a weight-loss system when she was a teenager and that seemed to throw her into a depression which led to more comfort eating. How should I go about bringing this up?
A: I’m so glad you came to me because I’ve been wanting to unveil my simple, fail-proof system for getting other people to lose weight. I think you know that this subject is a loser. Your sister knows she is obese, but she’s made the subject verboten. I agree it is alarming that someone who almost died during her last pregnancy is planning another one without having resolved any of her underlying health issues. I think the only way to broach this is in person. Set up a visit and before you come say that because of the complications of her last pregnancy, you are very concerned about the potential danger to her health of another. Say you would like to go with her to her gynecologist to discuss a future pregnancy and how to make it safe. If the doctor doesn’t mention weight, then you absolutely should. If she refuses this suggestion, you could try to have a private talk with her husband about your concerns. But if she (and he) are not responsive, just accept there really isn’t anything you can do. And be careful while your broach this subject that you don’t appear to be lording your weight loss over you sister.
Q. Re: Too Many Adams: What about using a different middle name? Adam Michael (older) and Adam James (baby). Or compromise with a variant name: Adam has 24 variant forms: Ad, Adamo, Adams, Adan, Adao, Addam, Addams, Addem, Addie, Addis, Addison, Addy, Ade, Adem, Adham, Adhamh, Adim, Adnet, Adnon, Adnot, Adom, Atim, Atkins, and Edom.
A: I’m against giving two sons the same first name, period. And somehow I think a mother who wants to name her son Adam is not going to go for “Adnot.” I’m sticking with finding a new name altogether, or flipping the first and middle names of the paternal grandfather.
Q. First Anniversary After Death: My sibling died recently after suffering through a long illness. While I am not close emotionally or geographically to the spouse, I do still care greatly for this person and imagine that the upcoming wedding anniversary will be a painful time. Do you have any suggestions as to how I can acknowledge this date without causing more pain? It seems like reaching out on the anniversary is just sending a reminder that my sibling is gone, but ignoring it seems even worse. Thanks.
A: People in mourning often say one of the hurts they suffer is that everyone seems to forget their departed loved one, when it turns out other people may be just trying not to “remind” them of their loss. No one is forgetting their loss. It would be lovely for you to call or send a card saying you are thinking of your brother or sister in law on this day. Say you know how much you are missing your sibling, so you sympathize with their pain. You can add that seeing your sibling in such a happy marriage was a great joy to all of you, and your sibling chose wisely.
Q. What’s in a (Sur)name?: After years of not being able to get pregnant, my husband and I adopted our son just shy of his second birthday. I vaguely knew the circumstances of his birth parents, a couple who died in a fire, and no relatives came forward to take guardianship. I knew about the fear that comes with adoption that your child whom you love and think of as “yours” will think of his birth parents as his “real” mom and dad, but our son really didn’t have much interest in discovering his roots growing up and even now I don’t think he is. He just graduated law school in the spring and dropped the bombshell that he wants to change his last name back to his birth father’s name. My husband’s last name is rather uncommon and easy to misspell and mispronounce, while I admit his birth father’s name is more common and nicer on the ear. He isn’t the first member of my husband’s family to change his name. As he put it to me, he didn’t change his name, but my husband and I did when we adopted him. I mentioned our future grandchildren not carrying his father’s name, and he pointed out (quite right) that if he was a girl, we wouldn’t have thought twice about our grandchildren not having his father’s name. I don’t know how to feel. As he pointed out, I kept my maiden name after my wedding. I guess I feel a bit hurt by his decision even though I know this seems more about professional choice rather than some reclaiming of his roots. Am I making too much of this in my mind? I haven’t really discuss this too much since I’m worried that I don’t really have a coherent argument to make beyond my vague feelings that comes with being an adoptive mother. (He is a lawyer after all, so coherent arguments are pretty important.)
A: The key here is that you haven’t really talked to your son about this. You need to do so. To his mind it may be just the most practical way of starting a career with an easier-to-spell name. Maybe there is a deeper longing he is feeling. He’s an adult, and a lawyer, so if his mind is made up you certainly have to respect his choice. But I think it’s fair that you say you’d like him to hear you both out about this. Then express—without tears and drama—that his decision does feel somewhat painful to you. Lots of people with names difficult to spell and pronounce anglicize them, so maybe that’s a possibility here, since you mention other family members have done something similar. But if he’s set on this, let it go and don’t let a name change affect that fact that he will always be your son.
Q. Parents Are Losing It: My parents seem to be losing their minds and I don’t know what to do. They are in their early 70s and get around fine. This past weekend when I visiting them, my dad grabbed a pellet gun and headed for the back door yelling “the eagle has landed.” Here’s the thing, there was no eagle, it was a blackbird, and he didn’t have any pellets. I tried to ask mom what the heck was going on with him and she just stood at the stove making tapioca pudding, like it was no big deal. My dad is not a joking type of person, so I don’t think he was just messing with me. During my visit I observed some other odd behavior also. I’m an only child so I don’t have a sibling to ask if they think there is a problem. I’m only able to visit them a few times a year and now I’m worried about what is going on when I’m not around. Do people develop these strange quirks as they age? Should I contact their physician? I’d never forgive myself if something happened, but I don’t want to mother-hen my parents.
A: It’s a good thing the eagle hadn’t landed and your father didn’t blow it away, because killing endangered species can get you in a lot of trouble. Your father needs a complete physical evaluation to find out why he appears to be losing contact with reality. And since he seems mentally out of it, his guns should be confiscated, too. Yes, contact their doctor immediately. If your father is trying to kill nonexistent birds, you need to step up and be mother hen.
Q. Re: Overweight Sister: In what world is it appropriate to ask to go to your sister’s gynecological appointment? If she invites you, sure. But asking to go on an extremely personal medical visit? How is that less of an issue than talking about family history and the need for weight loss?
A: I totally agree it’s an intrusive suggestion, but she says her sister almost died during her last pregnancy. That’s alarming, and being 100 pounds overweight has to be a complicating factor in pregnancy. I’m trying to come up with a way to make sure the overweight sister is actually addressing the medical issues involved in a potential pregnancy. If she won’t agree to let her sister go with her, that’s the end of that.
Q. Baby Drama: My younger sister and her husband are expecting a baby, due around Thanksgiving of this year. Most of us are extremely thrilled and can’t wait to snuggle the little bundle. However, my older brother and his wife have been nothing short of cold to my sister and brother-in-law since they’ve announced their baby news. My brother and SIL have been trying to have a baby for six years and have not had any luck. I understand that infertility is heartbreaking, but my sister (and everybody else in the family) have gone to great lengths to be aware of my SIL’s feelings during this time. Still, my SIL sent a scathing email to my sister accusing her of “throwing her infertility in her face” and claiming that since my brother is the oldest in the family, he should be the first to “give” our parents a grandchild. Prudie, I know this is crazy-talk but how do we handle this? My sister is so upset she doesn’t even want our SIL at her upcoming baby shower, which of course will cause more drama. Help?
A: Let’s hope that unless the sister-in-law can emotionally get it together, she declines to go. (She should be invited, however.) Of course I understand being unable to have a child is agonizing. But way too often I hear from people who think infertility allows them to behave in socially grotesque ways. Lots of people suffer in life, but that doesn’t mean they can take it out on others who are more fortunate. Your brother and sister-in-law have to wrap their minds around the fact that your younger sister is not usurping their child and their reproductive troubles have absolutely nothing to do with other people’s choices. Maybe you, as a more neutral party, can talk to your brother and sister-in-law and say that everyone understands their pain, but estranging themselves from your younger sister is not going to make things better. After that, f they want to remove themselves from family events because someone had the audacity to have a child, that’s their loss.
Q. Parents Shun Older Husband: My parents freaked out when I decided to marry my then 41-year-old boyfriend, because I was 24 at the time. Now, three years later, they still haven’t warmed to my husband, mostly because of his age. My parents have some prejudices about May-December relationships. I knew they would have concerns about the age difference, even though I assured them my husband and I had discussed the topic at length before becoming engaged. But no matter how well my husband treats me or how happy he makes me, my parents still treat him like he’s an untrustworthy pervert. Now I’m pregnant, and I want my parents to begin treating the father of my child with some respect. My husband has proved himself to be a good man. How can I make (or encourage) them to take notice?
A: You’re going to be a mother so handling irrational and obstreperous people is good training for you. Sit your parents down and say you know they have long disapproved of your husband, but you two have been happily married for three years and are about to become parents. Say you really want your parents to be part of this baby’s life, but how much interaction you all have is going to depend on how they treat your husband. Say their disrespect of him has become intolerable and that needs to change right away, because you’ve had enough.
Q. Baby Shower Etiquette: I didn’t have a baby shower with my first child because she arrived unexpectedly the day before my best friend scheduled a surprise shower. Now that I am pregnant with my second child, I’d like to arrange my own. I already have all the baby things I need—I basically just want an afternoon of fun with my girlfriends and a good excuse to indulge on cupcakes. My mother saw me writing out the invitations with a note indicating no gifts were required. She said even if I added that note, at least some guests would bring a gift anyway (either out of obligation or simply because they want to) and it would embarrass those who accepted my “no gift” request. She says if I really don’t want any gifts, I shouldn’t throw myself a baby shower at all. Is she right?
A: Your mother is right that you don’t throw yourself a baby shower, especially if you don’t want any gifts, which is the purpose of a shower. Get a new set of invitations and just let everyone know you’re hosting a summer party.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone!
Going forward, we’re spreading out the chat, publishing the transcript in a shorter, more digestible form. You will still be getting all the questions and answers (just not all at once).