Dear Prudence

God Hates Nags

My 12-year-old kicks and screams his way to church. Should I stop making him go?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
Two years ago when my son was 10 he became very verbal about hating church and resisted going. My older son loves the teen group at Sunday school and assured his brother that when he made it out of the baby area, he, too, would love it. Well, he does not. Each Sunday morning he yells, pouts, and eventually succumbs to my threats. Then he takes his snarky and unhelpful attitude to Sunday school. He doesn’t believe in God, and his very cool Sunday teacher works with that. I hated my boring church as a kid, and looking back I wonder, had I not gone to church would I have been a worse person? My husband was forced to attend his church when he was little. Now, he sleeps late Sunday morning, then hikes and does other activities. He is supportive of the fact that both our sons’ spiritual development is important to me. Do I force my son to go or give up?

—Mad as Hell Mom

Dear Mad,
There are some people who believe that one’s degree of religious belief has a large genetic component. That means in societies in which everyone appears to be pious, many are secretly saying to themselves, “This is a crock.” Let’s say this genetic theory is true. That means you may have passed your blue eyes and devotion to your elder son, and your husband may have passed his brown eyes and lack of belief to your younger. You and your older son find spiritual and intellectual sustenance in the church, but your younger son finds the whole thing intolerable. You’ve been fighting this losing battle for two years, and if you keep going, your son will flee all observance as soon as he is able. I think you need to walk a more tolerant path. Tell your little atheist that you’ve been thinking about what he’s been saying about church, you’re tired of dragging him to Sunday school, and you’re reconsidering your stand. But before you do, you have a requirement he needs to fulfill. You want him to write an essay (minimum two typed pages) about the progression of his (dis)beliefs, and he must cite examples of people who have struggled with lack of faith—Biblical sources get extra credit. Then, if he takes this assignment seriously, release him. But say this doesn’t mean he gets to watch TV or play video games while his brother is getting religious instruction. Have your husband agree that Sunday will be bonding time for the two skeptics. Maybe when they hike to the top of a mountain one day, your son will look around and feel a spiritual awakening.


Dear Prudence,
My family recently learned that my wonderful father-in-law has a very aggressive, incurable form of brain cancer. He had surgery to remove the bulk of the tumor and has lost the ability to perform many basic skills like driving and reading. He is currently undergoing radiation and chemo, which the doctors say may give him anywhere from six months to two years to live. My father-in-law is 88 years old and has been very healthy and active up to this point. He says he has lived a good life and wants to have as much fun as possible in the time he has left. My in-laws live just a few blocks from us, so we have become very involved in their daily lives. My husband is very close with his father and is devastated by this turn of events. He immediately began researching various cancer treatments and has tried to convince his parents to adopt an ultra-healthy diet. My in-laws enjoy a nightly martini and eat white bread and prepared foods. Despite bombarding them with supporting evidence, studies, videos, books, and every other persuasive technique possible, they are adamant that the whole thing just sounds like hocus-pocus. My husband takes his mother shopping and scrutinizes every single item she buys. When we eat together, he says things like, “Mom, if you want to eat that, it’s fine, but Dad shouldn’t because it will kill him.” I tried to explain to my husband that his parents are adults and we cannot make them do anything, and he responded that he would never forgive himself if he does not “take this issue to the mat.” What should I do?

—End of Life Issues

Dear End,
If your husband forces these dietary changes on his parents, it will not prolong his father’s life, it will just make it feel that way to the poor man. There’s something profoundly disturbing at the heart of your letter. Your husband has parents heading toward their 90s but seems unable to contemplate their deaths. That means he has a lot of thinking to do in short order about the finiteness of life, and the fact that soon he will have to go through the rest of his without his beloved father. That is hard, but it’s also what’s known as “the natural course of events.” You have to use all your influence, because he is driving mad two old people he professes to love. He is not thinking about them, he’s thinking about himself and his overwhelming anxiety about the future. Tell your husband he needs some grief counseling right away because he is upsetting and alienating his parents. Explain you love your in-laws too, and you feel you must protect them from his harassment. Say you’ll also do everything you can to see your husband through this loss, and you hope that because he loves his father so much, he will honor that by letting the last days be filled with affection, calm, and gin.


Dear Prudence,
Years ago I was helping my family go through old boxes in our old childhood home. In one of the boxes were many old paintings, some that my parents had painted and some they had picked up over the years. I found a gorgeous pastel of a woman in this box. It turns out that my father himself received it as compensation for work he did many years ago. Upon further research, it turns out to be a fairly rare piece of art done by a famous artist and is worth a fairly decent amount of money. My siblings have since found out and want me to sell it and have us all split it. I don’t want to sell it! This is a rare piece of history. Short of having to buy a new kidney for one of my siblings, I don’t want us to sell this treasure. What should I do?

—Want It on the Wall

Dear Want,
The key phrase here is not “rare piece of art” or “I don’t want to sell” but “years ago.” I spoke with attorney A. Stephen McDaniel, former president of the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils. He noted that based on your description, it is not totally clear how your parents divided up their possessions. But it sounds as if they did what many people do—leave it to the kids to figure out among themselves. From your telling, you all went through their stuff, and your good eye led you to choose the pastel. You hint that once you got the picture, you did some research about your find, discovered it was valuable, then made the mistake of blabbing this to your siblings. If that is what transpired, the estate is long closed, and if there was no agreement at the time that you were holding the pastel on everyone’s behalf, then McDaniel has good news for you. It’s yours! There’s more good news: It’s illegal to buy kidneys, so if one of your siblings has organ failure, you can’t sell the drawing to purchase a new one. Your siblings should start frequenting estate sales themselves. Maybe they will find someone else’s overlooked treasure in another old box.


Dear Prudie,
I’m due to run into my ex at a networking event. She left me for another man and I have no interest in rekindling things with her. I don’t see the point of pleasantries either. Since we broke up, I’ve shut her out of my life, not returning her emails or texts. I’d love to tell her what I really think of her, but our bosses will be there and it isn’t the right time. The last thing I want to do is to give her the idea that she can somehow have friendly conversation with me, in person or by email. Is there a sure-fire way to keep conversation at a minimum but also to convey that she should get lost, and stay lost?

—So Done

Dear Done,
You may not see the point of pleasantries, but I do. You took a zero tolerance approach to her cheating, and that’s fine. I don’t know what her emails and texts entailed, but many people who have behaved badly try to feel less bad about it by getting the person they wronged to forgive them. But acknowledging her existence at this event does not mean anything beyond the fact that you are a polite grown-up. If you make an effort to avoid her, your whole evening will revolve around her, you’ll be miserable, and you will be giving her power over you. Instead, slap an insincere smile on your face and say, “Claire, good to see you, I hope all is well.” Allow her to spit out a single sentence, and then say, “Glad to hear it. Please excuse me, I’ve got to catch someone.” Then walk off, keeping up that smile. If she tries approaching you again during the course of the evening, just say, “I’m sorry, I’m parched, I’ve got to refresh my drink. Bye.” Your combination of cordiality and curtness will be confounding, which is much better than showing her how badly she hurt you and that you’re still licking your wounds.


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