Dear Prudence

My Husband Wants Us to Host His Violent and Voyeuristic Brother for the Holidays

Prudie’s column for Nov. 22.

Photo illo: A Thanksgiving dinner scene is broken down the middle. On the left side, a man carves some poultry. On the right, a woman can be seen seated at the table.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by gpointstudio/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence,
My husband has three brothers, and his parents passed away a number of years ago. We rarely see his brothers because they all live far away. This Christmas, one of the brothers is flying in from out of the country, and my husband now wants to invite the other two as well. The problem is that over the years, the oldest brother has had a number of incidents involving verbal abuse with family members, including one with me in which he threatened me with physical violence. He has also had anger management issues in which he became physically abusive toward people and had to pay damages or has lost jobs due to his temper. The most concerning of his issues has been several accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior toward girls in their early teens.

This one is a game-changer for me because we have a 14-year-old daughter. Though there were several accusations made against him, one of which was investigated to the point that his computer and hard drives were removed from his house, none have ever materialized into formal charges. However, he has had to change jobs many times, and two girls he adopted left him abruptly when they were 15 years old. They chose to live with another family and refused to speak to him or his wife afterward. Soon after that, he was at our house and made several remarks about how he would make efforts to walk in on the girls, who were 14 at the time, in various states of undress because he enjoyed seeing them like that. It was then that I decided that I didn’t want him around my family anymore. My daughter was very young then, and I was worried that as she became a teenager, she would be a possible target.

I was completely on board with the other two brothers but refused to allow the oldest to come. They would be staying at a hotel, but I still did not feel safe with him around my daughter. I felt that with him coming to the house every day for 10 days, with him near her all the time, there might be some unguarded moment where something could happen. My husband is very hurt by this and doesn’t understand my decision. It’s causing a lot of strife between us, as well as between him and his brothers. I feel my first job is to protect my child, but no one else seems to understand my concerns and treats me like I am crazy whenever I talk about this. Because he has never been officially charged and convicted, I am treated like I am blowing everything out of proportion. I am constantly asked what could possibly happen and asked to detail the scenario. When I do, I am given ways in which they would prevent that from happening. It is the situation I cannot see that scares me. Am I overreacting?
—Out of the House

This is absolutely jaw-dropping. You’re talking about a man who has threatened you directly with physical violence, who’s been fired more than once for his uncontrollable rages, who’s been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior toward young girls, who has admitted to you that he went out of his way to watch his own daughters getting dressed—girls who fled the house at 15 years old and no longer speak to him. And your husband thinks you’re “crazy” for not wanting the brother within a mile of your own teenage daughter and sees nothing wrong with having him spend 10 days in your home with her (to say nothing of the danger he poses to you, since, lest we forget, he’s threatened to hurt you in the past, and it doesn’t sound like he’s ever apologized for it)? You are not overreacting. Your husband is underreacting to the point of seeming comatose.

You have every right to be frightened for your own safety and the safety of your daughter, especially since your husband has made it abundantly clear that he’s uninterested in keeping you two safe. If you can’t count on your partner to help you protect your child from someone who’s admitted to watching 14-year-olds get dressed, then what earthly good is your partner to you? How can you trust him? How can you rely on him? Why does he seem to think that the only way you two can take reasonable precautions is to wait until a court of law has convicted his brother? This is worth holding firm over, even if it means making separate holiday plans with just you and your daughter—anything to make sure you don’t have to be in the same room with a man who threatened you and that she doesn’t have to be in the same room with a man who tries to catch teenage girls undressed. Please look after yourself and your daughter, because it doesn’t sound like anyone else in your family is willing to do it.

Dear Prudence,
My daughter-in-law enjoys knitting and crocheting. For her birthday, my husband and I gave her a generous gift card to a local yarn store, for which she thanked us and seemed very pleased. Imagine my dismay, however, when six months later for our anniversary she gifted us with a lovely bedspread, which she told me she made with yarn purchased from the gift card! I told my son that we’d in effect paid for our own present and that he needs to communicate to his wife how improper and stingy this move was. He refuses, saying that her labor and time were also part of the gift. We haven’t spoken much since except to discuss our grandchildren, and our DIL has been outright cold. I’m considering writing her a letter directly explaining why this was an improper gift and expressing my sadness that her own parents didn’t teach her gift etiquette. My husband wants me to drop the whole thing and pretend like it never happened. Prudie, I don’t like the idea of moving on as if nothing happened.
—The Gift We Gave Ourselves

But nothing did happen. You received a thoughtful gift that cost more time than money. That’s it! If someone gives you a present you don’t like, you smile and say, “Thanks, how thoughtful,” and then stash it in the back of your closet. You don’t ask your kid to complain to the gift-giver via backchannel. It’s fine if you like to give expensive presents—and can afford to do so—but that’s not the only way to show someone that you care. Even if you don’t like knitwear, your daughter-in-law spent countless hours over the course of a half-year working on something very detailed for you, and you say yourself it was a lovely bedspread. Whether she got the yarn with the gift card you gave her or spent her own money is beside the point; you’re acting as if she re-gifted something when that clearly wasn’t the case. Your daughter-in-law’s gift was thoughtful and intricate; yours was financially generous and relatively generic. There would be no reason to compare the two if you hadn’t insisted on doing so in the first place.

You are grown adults with plenty of money; if there’s something you want for yourself, go ahead and buy it—this kind of petty scorekeeping around gift-giving is barely excusable when little children do it. Writing her a letter to express “sadness” that her own parents didn’t teach her proper etiquette would be wildly inappropriate, out of line, and an unnecessary nuclear option. And it’s a guaranteed ticket to make sure you see and hear about your grandchildren way less than you do now. You still have time to salvage this relationship—don’t die on this hill. Let it go, apologize for your churlishness, and take yourself shopping if you want a pricey gift this year.

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Dear Prudence,
I am divorced with one daughter (she’s 9). I live two hours away from her and her mother. My ex immediately remarried a man with two other kids, had twins, and is currently pregnant again. We had had to go to court twice for violations of the custody agreement (she didn’t want to drive to the drop-off point and was constantly late) and other matters. We are trying to get our co-parenting back to a good norm. My family and I are completely focused on my daughter. She gets lost in the shuffle at home—there’s never enough time or attention. I am not blaming my ex, but it is the truth. My ex claims I “spoil” our daughter by taking her to the movies or ice skating or getting her a second winter coat. It makes it hard on her “other” kids; she has put a ban on “excess” gifts for Christmas. She will be the bad guy and get rid of them if she needs to. I don’t want to go back to court again, but I am not telling my parents they can’t give their granddaughter a tablet because her mother will throw it away. How do I get through to my ex?
—Generous Family

I think there is more opportunity for compromise here than in, say, the last letter. Is it possible for you and your ex to have another conversation about how many gifts you and your parents will send home with your daughter before Christmas? Even if you have to meet in the middle, it may help to have an agreed-upon number of presents (and ballpark budget) in advance so that everyone’s clear on the situation. You may also agree to keep your daughter’s tablet at your house so that she uses it when she’s with you and doesn’t have to worry about sharing with the rest of her siblings. You’ve already been to court twice with your ex, and I don’t think you’re likely to get much satisfaction from a judge if you try to ask one to adjudicate the number of Christmas presents each side of the family is allowed to give your daughter. If your little girl feels lost in the shuffle at her mother’s house, the best way for you to counteract that is to spend as much quality time with her as you possibly can, not showering her with presents. Tell your ex that you want to work together to make the holidays as stress-free as possible, and figure out a number somewhere in the middle. And if your parents just can’t help themselves and go a little overboard, keep the surplus presents at your house.

Dear Prudence,
My older sister and her three kids (ages 4 to 9) got kicked out of her boyfriend’s house. They moved in with me in my two-bedroom apartment. Our mom died last year, and we are all the family we have left. I felt responsible. I work 10- to 12-hour days at least six days a week. It killed my last relationship—I come home and crash. The kids will not shut up, and my sister is shrill, expecting me to play dad and demanding I take on everything she won’t deal with. I have to call the super or pick up groceries or discipline her kids or do the laundry. I am not asking for rent; I am asking for a decently clean apartment and for her to take care of her own kids. She has a job. She gets “headaches,” so I will come home after a double shift to some screaming kids. My neighbors have complained me to twice. My sister and I fight when I get into her “business,” like whether she is demanding child support from her two exes or what she is saving from her job.

This has been going on for months—I am this close to letting the lease lapse, leaving, and calling CPS. I do love my nieces and nephews, but I am not their dad. I have a plate-load of issues to deal with on my own. How do I get through to my sister? I don’t want it to come to that.
—Not the Father

I can understand your wanting to make plans to move out and live separately from your sister, but I think your desire to call CPS stems more from a sense of frustration and a desire to retaliate than a genuine belief that your nieces and nephews are in danger. The kids sound rambunctious and undersupervised, and your sister seems incredibly trying, but nothing you’re describing feels like serious neglect or abuse. (And although your sister is demanding an unreasonable amount of commitment from you, her headaches may very well be headaches.) You’re well within your rights to either give your sister notice that she needs to move out in 30 days (or whatever your state requires) or make plans to move yourself. You don’t need to “get through to her” in order to do so. Simply tell her your plans and stick to them.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“You are acting like a villain in an O. Henry short story.”

Daniel Mallory Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe discuss this letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,
I was close friends with “Cara.” She called me crying, saying her car was broken in another city and she needed over $500 to fix it. If she lost her car, she would lose her job (there are no buses in our area). I was once homeless and used to live in my car, which Cara knew. My heart bled for her, so I sent her the money, telling her to pay me back when she could.

It was a lie. Cara never had a car problem; she was out partying. All our friends apparently knew this. I confronted Cara, and she laughed. She said she doesn’t have to pay me back because I turned “psycho.” I have gotten no sympathy from any of our friends. I get lectures about not loaning money you can’t afford. If Cara had actually been in trouble and couldn’t have paid me back, I would have forgiven the loan. She wasn’t in trouble; she lied, she stole, and she leveraged personal information I’d shared with her in order to do so. If Cara stole money out of my purse, everyone would call that a crime. But since she relied on my trust, apparently it’s my fault for being a fool. I am taking Cara to small claims court. I guess I am looking for some understanding—am I am unreasonable for thinking like this? I would have never done this to a friend, even at my lowest.
—My Friend’s a Thief

This is exactly the type of situation small claims courts are designed to address. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the court will rule in your favor (or if it does, that you’ll actually be able to get the money back), but given that you’ve attempted to appeal to her sense of honor and friendship and gotten nowhere, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to consider your legal options. I’m sorry that so many of your friends seem to think you were unduly naïve for not assuming a good friend was lying to you when she called you weeping and on the brink of financial disaster. It doesn’t sound like she had ever done or said anything prior to that moment that would lead you to think, “Oh, right, Cara occasionally fabricates crises in order to chisel hundreds of dollars from her friends.” Of course you assumed she was really in trouble—generally, people don’t think that their close friends are trying to cheat them. I hope you get the ruling you deserve, and I hope you can find friends in the future who don’t think you’re a fool for being lied to and defrauded.

Dear Prudence,
I have a problem with people not taking me seriously. I am a short woman in my mid-20s. I am usually pretty laid-back and don’t always have a lot to say in larger social groups. When I say “no” or push back on someone else’s comments (usually when someone crosses the line while teasing or says something sexist), some people don’t seem to believe I’m serious. They make jokes and carry on or go, “Aw, you’re so cute when you’re mad,” which makes me go from “calmly setting boundaries” to actually mad. I’m so annoyed that I can’t say “no” without seeming “cute” or angry or a weird mix of both! I generally just stop associating with such personalities, but I can’t always avoid them. How do I push back against this attitude?
—Not Taken Seriously

It’s unendingly frustrating to be in such a position because it’s inevitably infuriating, but any signs of anger are seen as further cause for celebration by the troll who considers it “cute.” If you’re talking to someone you think is still capable of experiencing shame, there’s always the confused-question route: “Why would you say that?” [Because it’s funny when you get angry.] “Why is it funny when I get angry?” [Because you’re little.] “Why is it funny when someone little gets angry?” [They’re forced to articulate a prejudice they may be unwilling or unable to defend in front of others.] If that doesn’t appeal, or if you believe the person in question to be incapable of embarrassment, you can push back with, “I’m not sure if you think my anger is funny because I’m short or because I’m a woman or both, but you’re not the first person who’s tried to dismiss me on those grounds. When I say no, I mean it, just like everybody else who says no to you—or tries to.”

Classic Prudie

“My boyfriend warned me ahead of time that his family was a handful, but nothing could have prepared me for Thanksgiving. N-words and gay slurs and an uncle who referred to Secretary Clinton by the worst word toward women imaginable. I talked to him about the outright bigotry his family embraces, and he is both embarrassed and nonapologetic. He’s a great, decent guy, but his family is not one I would want to be a part of, and I’m having a hard time reconciling the two.”