Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Uncensored: The Haircut

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

Nicole: Yeah, I have a one strike rule for racial slurs IN GENERAL but applied to SMALL BOYS over SOMEONE ELSE’s PIXIE CUT?

Frankly “no more weird doll photo shoots and you don’t get unsupervised time” is pretty chill.

Danny: yeah, using racial slurs to describe little kids because you’re mad they were in the same room when your granddaughter got gum in her hair?

it’s good she apologized, but that’s a serious enough act of racism and derangement that an apology is just the beginning of a serious probationary period at the very LEAST

Nicole: This is also very much about you and your wife

Danny: especially just the grossness of hurling racist abuse at children because you’ve fetishized the long blonde hair of a little white girl

Nicole: yep.

How much “bulldozing” is standard here?

Danny: RIGHT

Nicole: You’re not happy about it, stepping back briefly from this really bad final straw

so this is a good opportunity to sit down and talk about what role you want your mother-in-law to play in your life as a family

(getting baby, brb)

Danny: yeah and to start by acknowledging how hard and new this will be for your wife

because i think she’s going to want to buckle

and you need to just make it really clear up front that you know she’s had a hard time holding the line with her mom in the past, and you understand why

but you can’t just keep giving into her because you have a history of giving into her

Nicole: She absolutely wants to buckle

Danny: this would maybe be a good time for a few sessions with a couples counselor

since you can’t go to your family

Nicole: Absolutely

Danny: but i really think you’re right to ask this of her

and between the racial slurs and the fact that she melted down over a kid’s haircut so thoroughly that she made your kid start crying too

i think your MIL has demonstrated she’s not equipped to handle unsupervised time with kids

Nicole: There is SO MUCH WRONG THERE

Danny: and i think you can counterbalance your wife’s fear of “harshness”


Nicole: what would be TOO HARSH?

Danny: “I’m not excited to punish her, I’m worried about our daughter’s well-being and I’m also seriously concerned about her racism”

Nicole: your daughter will not be a blonde doll forever, either, and she will go BATSHIT the first time that girl gets whatever the future of a sidecut is

Danny: yeah i think it’s healthy to discourage this kind of identification/doll play from an adult with a toddler 

it’s about protecting your daughter and nephews

plus once you start ACTUALLY holding boundaries with difficult people

it actually gets easier

Nicole: It does

Danny: because you realize you can survive your mother’s anger

i’m sure growing up with someone like that was terrifying

and i hope you can offer your wife compassion and sympathy

but that doesn’t mean letting her fear of conflict dictate your actions

she called your nephews a racial slur for playing! you get to set huge, Sleeping Beauty-castle-of-thorns-style limits over that

Nicole: Man, I hadn’t even thought about whatever your wife went through growing up with that

Danny: i can only imagine what it was like!

no wonder she just flattens out at the first sign of steamrolling—she’s thoroughly demoralized

but you can help support her in doing something different now

Nicole: This could be a good turning point, don’t waste it by throwing up your hands, you definitely sound like you’re ready to change this dynamic

Danny: yeah and display patience with your wife’s fear of her mom, but don’t give in to it

ask her questions about what it’s been like dealing with her mom

what she’s afraid of, etc

but the photo shoots need to end, supervised time is reasonable, you need more time to gauge whether she truly repents of her racism, your wife may need support to get on board with all this so be patient with her—but she needs to get on board.