Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Uncensored: The Family Portrait

Every week, Danny Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe discuss a Prudie letter. This week: the family portrait.

Nicole: Well, tough shit for stepdaughter, who had her shot. But I am not thrilled your reaction is to want to slap “this brat.”

Danny: yeah that was the flag for me where it felt like maybe the author could spend a little time being uncomfortably honest with herself about her own motives

Nicole: Let’s just start by dialing down our emotions!

Danny: because while I agree that you worked hard to get her to send you a picture

if you KNEW she and her stepmom had a really fraught relationship

I feel like you had to have made some sort of decision at some point: “now that I’ve established she didn’t get back to me in time, it’s okay for me to exclude her from a family portrait” as if it were, like, a down payment on a vacation rental

when you HAD to know that would exacerbate family tensions

which, if you are giving a friend a gift for their birthday, you should definitely not give them a gift that you know will exacerbate family tensions!

Nicole: What do you think she should have done instead?

Like, scrapped the painting plan?

Danny: oh, asked one of the other siblings for a picture of her

or honestly looked her up on social media?

Nicole: Yeah, that seems totally right

It’s 2019, you got photos out the wahzoo.

Danny: if she’s a family friend you probably have a few instagram or fb or whatever friends in common, I don’t think it would have been hard to find a picture of her


I just think at the point you realized you weren’t hearing back from her you might have possibly reassessed your options and made a different choice

but that’s not to say you’re a jerk for painting a picture!

Nicole: I still do not think the stepdaughter has grounds to be pissed, but I agree completely that the OP should have taken a different path for the family’s happiness as a whole

Right! And the friend loved the painting, which is something.

Danny: yeah I mean we only have secondhand information about how she reacted; she may have behaved petulantly but I can also imagine how that might have brought up painful stuff for her

and I really don’t think slapping would be good for her?

Nicole: Absolutely. We don’t know the deets of why they had a difficult relationship, and obviously the OP is on her friend’s side

Danny: maybe she is absolutely exhausting and terrible, but she’s also not your kid and you don’t have to worry about her so much

Nicole: YES

VERY much so.

Danny: like, I get that she obviously created this scenario by not getting back to you sooner, but I can imagine feeling a little avoidant about sending in a picture for a family painting when I already have issues with my place in that family and then feeling upset on seeing the painting even though I didn’t take part. People can feel conflicted about something like that; that makes sense to me, and the obvious pleasure you take in the idea of slapping her gives me a little pause

Nicole: Right, and it makes me see the rest of the letter through that lens

So, I do not recommend starting over from scratch.

Bc that’s a LOT

Danny: I think you can talk to your friend as well as her husband about this

and oh gosh yes

you definitely do not have to re-do the painting

it is TOTALLY FINE to say “I’m sorry, I don’t have the time and the supplies to start a project of this scale again, but I understand if you decide to move the painting and wish you the best in talking about this with your stepdaughter”

Nicole: Right, because you need to back out of your friend’s extended family drama

Way out

And I’m sorry if that means dumping it in the lap of your friend! But you can tell her what you told us (about how you requested numerous times, how she said she would get around to it, etc) which is info that is good for her to have.

Danny: yes

Nicole: And also say “if I had a do-over, I would have sourced a pic elsewhere, and I regret that”

Danny: yeah, she and her stepdaughter can hash through more of the specifics of it if they need to

Nicole: Exactly

Danny: right but you don’t really need to go into a lot of detail with her about your process

like, I think it’s worth investigating some of your own motives internally for the sake of honesty

Nicole: True

Danny: but I don’t think you went out of your way to create this scenario

I don’t blame you for it

and I certainly don’t think you have to, like, say, “I must have unconsciously engineered this”

Nicole: And it’s a birthday present, which ideally should not be accompanied by a long talk about how the birthday present was a lot of work and her stepdaughter messed it up and is now pissed

So, keep it short and simple and then probably do not ever again feel the need to engage w her extended fam

Danny: yep! and next year get her some cute shoes or something

Nicole: Now, the other thing we haven’t mentioned is that her friend’s husband wants her to “fix it”

Which you will just have to politely decline

Danny: oh yes sorry that’s what I meant by the “it’s totally fine to say ‘i’m sorry i don’t have the time’ ” bit

and to say that to both your friend and her husband

Nicole: Yes! You already spent plenty of time on this.

Danny: also?

I want to see this painting

Nicole: So much

Please request a photo of the painting

Which we will never post, obviously

Danny: no of course not

Nicole: but I am desperate to see

Danny: but I want to determine if it’s worth all this

Nicole: RIGHT

Danny: like, I need this family to be Borgia-level well-dressed and powerful

Nicole: A Holbein Henry VIII wife painting

Danny: so mote it be!!!