Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up below 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.)
Q. Parents Moving Closer: I am in my early 30s, and after college my wife and I moved to another state. Good news, my parents are moving not only to our location, but have purchased a house in our neighborhood. While I’m looking forward to seeing them more, I’m not sure how to handle their “stopping by.” Is it too much to ask them to call before they head over, or should I be open to them ringing my doorbell with no warning?
A: I accept that their moving into your neighborhood is good news. I know lots of people who live very close to parents or in-laws and it has been great all around, especially since the parents want to take an active role as grandparents. But what’s crucial in these situations is having some clear boundaries particularly when there aren’t so clear geographic boundaries. I assume your parents wouldn’t want you showing up at the door when they’re in their jammies and settling in to binge-watch Orange Is the New Black. So you need to tell your parents that as thrilled as you both are that they are nearby, that makes it more imperative that all of you respect each other’s sense of privacy and autonomy. That means no drop-bys. “Call first” will make this new arrangement better for everyone.
Q. Out of Sight Out of Mind Grandparents: A few years ago my husband and I moved cross-country with our young son for work. He is the only grandchild on both sides. We offer to pay for the grandparents to come as often as they like, as we know money is an issue. They don’t come. In fact, they rarely bother with us at all. We visit them at least once a year—a trip that is costly, exhausting, and consumes much of our vacation time. I’m tired of trying to force a relationship between my son and his grandparents. When is it OK to throw in the towel?
A: And here’s the flip side of the nearby parents and in-laws, and this is just as bad. How strange that both sets of parents would be people who say to each other: “There was something we were meaning to do, what is it? Oh, yeah, see the kids and the grandson! Oh, well, now’s not a good time.” You say that your parents are each financially strapped, but that doesn’t explain why they wouldn’t take you up on an offer to pay to fly them out. You each have to deal with your own parents separately and explain that you want them in your lives and that of your grandson. Say that you need to find a better way to do this than your always flying across country because you want to see them without it taking up all your vacation time. Then get out the calendars and see if you can get each pair to commit to a separate visit over the next six months. If they won’t, then explain that your visits back home are going to become every other year affairs.
Q. Promotion Question: I love my job and I love my boss. I’ve been working here for a year, and for a very low salary, which I accepted without negotiating since it was my first job and I didn’t know any better. Since I started, however, my job description has changed rapidly. I am no longer just doing entry-level work but am working with the CEO and leading teams. However this isn’t reflected in my salary or my title. I understand I am new and need to climb the bottom rungs before I can reach the top, but I am also unsure about how to tell when someone is taking advantage of me. I am borrowing generously from my savings to have my dream job, but I can’t see this as being sustainable. I have a one-year check-in coming up but am unsure of what’s the best thing to do. Do I stick it out? Or do I bring this up and start looking for another job just in case?
A: Make an appointment to talk to your boss now. Say how grateful you are to be working for her/him and this company. Say that one thing that’s so extraordinary about your office is that if people have the skills and ambition, they can quickly rise from an entry-level position to one of high responsibility. Tell your boss you appreciate your own rapid rise, then tick off some of the things you’ve done to earn this. Then say that your salary and title do not reflect where you are now in the company, and you are asking for a substantial change in both. Have a figure in mind, but before you put one on the table see what your boss has to say in response. The amount of your raise may be a separate discussion. But what’s not under discussion is that your work should provide you with a wage that allows you to increase your savings, not drain them. And if a significant raise is not forthcoming, you should be forthgoing.
Q. Re: Grandparents …: Have you asked the respective sets of grandparents why they don’t take you up on your offer? Some people reach an age where travel becomes very unpleasant—or maybe they feel uncomfortable having the trip paid for. Another option is to see if they would be willing to Skype with you and your son once or twice a month. It’s a way to maintain a relationship without the disruption. If they’re not willing to try that, then I’m with Prudie and you can’t force the issue.
A: I agree about exploring their reasons for not visiting you. And thanks for the good suggestion about seeing if there’s a technological way that can keep everyone in closer touch.
Q. Re: Parents Moving Closer: Phone first! Please get this laid out up front. We went from being thousands of miles away to being just minutes. I really hated that someone might just walk in the back door at any moment. That’s when I started locking the doors. Now we live a couple hours away. It works best.
A: As I say, I know families who are geographically close, but it works because they aren’t always bursting through each other’s doors. Before you have to change the locks, a discussion is necessary about ground rules so that you can enjoy your closeness without wanting to build a bomb shelter.
Q. My Mother’s Getting Too Much Plastic Surgery: My mom is a vibrant, beautiful—inside and out—middle-aged woman. What started out as a few plastic surgeries here and there several years ago (a boob job/lift, a tummy tuck) has become a habit, with face fillers, Botox, etc. I’ve never confirmed this with her, I’m just guessing based on appearances. I’m not against plastic surgery per se and have even had a little work myself. But when I see photos of my mom she is starting to look more and more “strained” and fake looking. Is there a polite way to mention this? Or do I just tell her “You look great!” like everyone else does? I don’t want to hurt her feelings.
A: It sounds as if you don’t have the kind of relationship with your mother in which she talks to you about her procedures. If she did, you could say that you think she should stop tweaking because she’s in danger of entering the Joan Rivers category. (I miss you, Joan!) There is something sad about older women who stop looking like themselves and end up with a strange, off-the-rack face that has a perpetual expression of immobile surprise. If you think she needs your advice, then speak, and accept this will be an awkward conversation. But it sounds as if both of you would be more comfortable silently accepting that she’ll continue her quest to look like your sister.
Q. Re: Promotion Question: Couple of things:
* Be sure to include specific examples of your work.
* When asking for this, have in mind a specific title for your position and frame it as a promotion. Some workplaces are strict about annual raises (limiting raises to 3–4 percent a year), but they will be more flexible about a raise if there’s a promotion involved.
* Ask for a specific amount as your new salary. That amount should be above what you want/need, on the assumption that they will counter with an offer somewhere between your current salary and the amount you name. However, try to keep the amount in line with what can be expected at other companies in your industry for somebody with similar responsibilities.
A: Good advice, thanks.
Q. Whether or Not to Take Time Off Work for My Mom’s Knee Surgery: My mom is scheduled to have knee replacement surgery next month. I live in another state and work full time for a tiny nonprofit. Mom says she doesn’t want me to come, but my aunt is insistent that I take a week off work to be there. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough paid time off, and it’s very short notice. Nobody (even my boss) has ever taken off an entire week straight. It could be an expensive trip and, since it would be unpaid leave with no time to save, I really can’t afford it. My aunt says my mom actually wants me there, but Mom claims she’d rather have me visit when she’s well. When I told my aunt that this could put my job at risk, she scoffed and called me selfish. What do I do? It’s possible my mom is “lying” to save me trouble (she’s done such things before), but she told me directly not to come. My aunt, however, is upset at my lack of caring and spreading that around the family. Help!
A: You need to tell your aunt to back off. If she’s so concerned about her sister, I hope she’s arranged to take a week off to help her. You have discussed this directly with your mother, and she’s told you to stay at work. So that’s that. Sure, she may wish you could be there, but she recognizes your difficult work situation. Let’s hope she has the ability to get the kind of assistance she needs for her recovery. But for the long term, I hope you move on from your current organization. A place where no one can take more than a long weekend off is not one that’s well run.
Q. Re: Out of Sight Grandparents: We had this problem with my parents who only lived three hours away. We were going to see them several times a year, and they weren’t visiting us at all. My husband finally put his foot down in a rather dramatic fashion—refusing at the last minute to drive to their house for a birthday dinner they were making for him—and while it caused some tension at first, it sure drove home the point and they started visiting us.
A: I’m hearing from some grown children who had such similarly dramatic, “This is coming to end” discussion with their parents, who then stepped up and started visiting. Indeed, not driving to one’s own birthday dinner does drive the point home.
Q. Is Desmond Really a Horrible Name?: Everyone in my immediate circle hates the name we gave our son. Even four years after he was born people still criticize it. They say it’s not an ethnically appropriate name. It’s too long. It’s ugly. But I love it! I think it’s beautiful and unique and gives cute nicknames. Now that he’s older people are saying, “Please tell me you won’t give the next one a stupid name too.” Makes me so sad! And I don’t want my boy to feel badly about his name. What do I say to get people to quit talking about it once and for all?
A: You need a new circle, pronto. Desmond is a beautiful name, and it sounds as if your nearest and dearest are in a strange hazing conspiracy to make you and your son feel bad. Desmond is two syllables, so I don’t understand their length argument. I also don’t understand their ethnicity argument since this list of famous Desmonds show they come in many nationalities. And there’s something extremely disturbing about supposed friends making judgments about which ethnic groups gets to be named what. However, we shouldn’t even be discussing other people making arguments about the name of a 4-year-old! Next time someone puts down the name Desmond, you look that person straight in the eye and say, “I don’t ever want to hear another critical remark about my son’s name.” And as I say, expanding your social circle to include nonjerks is something you should be doing right now.
Q. Re: Parents Moving Closer: My husband and I live one block away from my parents and three blocks away from his parents. We maybe see both sets once a week max. We were nervous when we bought a house close to them it would be an all the time visiting thing but both sets of parents have a bigger social life than we thought.
A: And here’s how it goes when it goes well, thanks!
Q. Re: Parents Stopping By: Even if you do suggest phoning first, sometimes they just don’t do it. One time I was cleaning out litter boxes in the driveway when the car came up with the in-laws while my husband was at work. I told them it really wasn’t a good time and please to at least text next time. Next time I was cleaning the bathrooms. One time we were having sex. We are moving across the country and she has no idea yet, and I agreed to let him tell her when he wants to, which will probably be when she calls to find out why someone else is living in our home.
A: And here’s how it goes when it’s going badly!
Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone. Have a great week.