Care and Feeding

Good Ol’ Uncle Ditzy

My nephews call my husband by a terrible name! How can I get them to stop?

Middle-aged man in a sweater.
Uncle Ditzy. Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Thinkstock.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email

Dear Care and Feeding,
My brother-in-law taught his children to call my husband “Uncle Ditz” when they started to talk, and now at ages 9 and 11, they call him “Ditzy.” I am sure this was initially a playful insult to my scatterbrained husband. I’ve always found “Ditzy” disrespectful, given that the kids are now old enough to easily say his actual name and can understand the meaning of ditzy. My parents taught us to call adults by their title—uncle, auntie, Mr., Miss, or Mrs.—and I’ve explained my discomfort to my husband based on the values I was taught. He refuses to address this with his brother. I understand it’s endearing to have a special name from your family, but I still can’t help but cringe when I hear a child call an adult “Ditzy.” I do not want our child (due this spring) to hear this name. How do I approach this, as my husband doesn’t want to address this with his brother?

—I Hate Ditzy

Dear IHD,
Ditzy! Not even Uncle Ditzy! What a world. If my nephews and nieces were calling me Ditzy I would shut that down like a brick-and-mortar Blockbuster. With extreme prejudice. And if it was you the kids were calling Ditzy I would have the same advice.

However! Your husband, for reasons known only to himself, just doesn’t seem to care, and it’s been years. He is not going to start caring now. We cannot have values at other people on their own behalf, regrettably. I respect and agree fully with your feelings on this point, but without your husband’s buy-in, this is just going to be a parenting difference that drives you bananas. I’m so sorry!

I also wouldn’t worry about your unborn baby getting the wrong idea about honorifics. The world is full of dipshits behaving badly without consequences, often in our very own families. Your child can love and respect their cousins and aunt and uncle without thinking their actions are always above criticism. At an appropriate age, you have my very merry permission to tell said child exactly how you feel about the Ditzy nonsense.

Just so we’re clear, if this is part of a larger pattern of your husband refusing to get riled up over slights to your family from his, then that’s a bigger issue to take a good look at. If Ditzy doesn’t have your back in family drama situations, he needs to, and you can start that convo with a clear conscience. If it’s just the name, however, you’ll have to keep swallowing your tongue.

Dear Care and Feeding,
My 19-year-old son is converting to Judaism. He explored several religions and feels the Jewish faith is the one that speaks the most to him. My family is of the Christian faith (more on that in a second), but I’m personally not religious. My philosophy is that if your religion—whatever it is—gives you comfort, provides answers, or in any way fills a need in your life, then more power to you. (As long as you don’t force it down other people’s throats.) I’m in complete support of my son.

The issue is with my parents. They’re extremely distraught by the whole thing, which is a surprise, because they’ve never shown any strong religious beliefs themselves. We rarely went to church when I was growing up, and it’s never been discussed around the house. So not only have they never walked the walk, they don’t even talk the talk! Their negative reaction also feels hypocritical: They’ve never demonstrated any kind of faith, then take issue with someone else who chooses a “different” path.

I’ve voiced my support for my son and told them that I think it’s unfair of them to criticize him considering their example, or lack thereof. But that then leads into pained, guilt-ridden conversations about how they’ve failed us—while they change nothing in their actions or behavior. How do I tell my parents they don’t get to be total slackers about religion their whole lives, then get all high-and-mighty with my son as he’s finding his own way now?

—Interfaith Sandwich [is this too dumb?]

Dear IS,
The good news here is that you have a very clear path forward without any need to get involved in your parents’ slacker attitude toward their own faith! They could be running 19 megachurches and healing the sick with their tears, and that still wouldn’t mean they get free rein to get up in your child’s religious trajectory. That they are also loosey-goosey is for you to feel quietly annoyed about, but not really germane to the situation.

It’s not clear to me from your letter if your parents are rending their garments directly to your son or just blowing up your phone about their supposed failures of stewardship and religious duty. If the former, you can wade in with a good conscience and tell them the topic is 100 percent closed and they need to nut up or shut up. If the latter, you can just decide how much talking about it annoys you and proceed accordingly. A firm “Guys, I can tell this is a loaded topic for you, but I’m comfortable with Billy’s religious path, and I do not want to continue discussing my or his faith upbringing any further,” coupled with … three? … hang-ups should do the trick.

Of course, this is all about your parents and their insecurities about discipleship (and likely their own half-assed pursuit thereof), not about you or your son. Thank you for supporting him so firmly in his choice.

Dear Care and Feeding,
I live with my aunt, and she often tells me “funny” stories about her grandchildren. Now I’m very close to those children, who generally call me their aunt; I usually refer to the kids as my niece and nephews. Today my aunt was telling my partner and me a story about my oldest nephew, age 9. Let’s call him Sam. I wasn’t quite listening as I was in another room, but I did hear that Sam and his friends were making fun of another boy at their school for wearing baggy pants. Sam had told my aunt that he and his friends had gotten in trouble for it at school but that it was OK because the kid hadn’t worn baggy pants since.

We were so shocked that we weren’t sure what to say. My aunt clearly thought Sam’s story was quite funny. I followed up that Sam shouldn’t be telling others how to dress; my aunt countered, “Well, no one should wear baggy pants. They are stupid.” Now that I’ve had time to think it over, I’ve realized what was bothering me so much. My beloved nephew Sam and his friends bullied this poor other child because they didn’t like his clothes. And despite getting in trouble for it, Sam still thinks that what they did was acceptable, because his parents and grandmother think it’s funny.

What, if anything, can I do in this situation? I think it might be too late to bring it up again, and even if I talked with my aunt, she would simply be overly defensive and dismissive. And I’m not sure it’s my place to bring it up with Sam, since I don’t know all the details. But what will it be next time? Hair color? Skin color? Thank you for your help.

—My Nephew, the Bully

Dear MNtB,
Your nephew sure behaved like a real dick, and it’s very clear where that impulse is coming from (his Dursley-sounding immediate family). I do not think there is anything to be done about this particular situation. Going forward, though, I have two suggestions:

1. Keep an eye out to see if this is a one-off from a 9-year-old boy who got swept up in a moment with friends, or if it’s the origin story of a bully. If the latter, it will come up again, and then you could have more ammunition for a sit-down with your aunt (and never Sam).

2. It sounds as though you and Sam are very close, and he probably has a lot of affection for you. Without framing the conversation around Baggy Pantsgate, I think it could be extremely helpful for you to, in a month or so, just happen to talk to him about your own childhood experiences of being bullied for clothing or appearance-related differences. If you did not personally have such problems, I bet you know someone who did and can tell his or her story. If you are talking about your own experience rather than this specific incident, you can still communicate a vital message about bullying without sparking defensiveness and laughter. I sure wish you didn’t have to: Parents and caregiving grandparents have a responsibility to take this stuff very seriously, and they have colossally dropped the ball for Sam.

Dear Care and Feeding,
When I was 16 my mother was killed in a car accident. I have always been intent on naming my first-born girl after my mother. Nineteen months ago I gave birth to the sweetest, happiest girl and named her after my mother. I truly feel like it was one of the best decisions of my life. Whenever I say her name I am filled with happiness. Having her has truly changed my life; having children has really helped me heal. I can’t explain how happy I am to have her and my other equally wonderful children.

My youngest sister has apparently been telling everyone in my family she is angry with me for taking a name she believes is hers. My sister is currently pregnant with her first child (a son).
She has a history of being very angry with me over the years for things that are beyond my control: She was angry I was the first to get married, the first to move out, et cetera. My family has indicated through the years that they think her anger is unfair but also that they feel bad for her, because as the youngest daughter she never gets to be “the first” at anything. I think this is a poor excuse for allowing someone to behave badly.

Personally I think the name belongs to all of us, and it would be wonderful if everyone could have her own “Anna.” I wouldn’t mind if one or both of my sisters named their children after our mother. My older sister is done having children and never wanted the name at all. Who knows if my younger sister will ever have a girl. But it has hurt me deeply that she never brought her issues with me naming my daughter Anna to me and has instead taken to discussing it behind my back. My questions is: Was I wrong to name my daughter after my mother?

—Anna’s Mom

Dear AM,
You were not.