Dear Prudence

My Dad’s a Self-Absorbed Libertarian Dating Someone Half His Age

How do I get through holiday visits without seething?

Photo illustration of a woman screaming wearing a Santa hat.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by SebastianGauert/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Daniel Mallory Ortberg will return next week.

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Dear Prudence,

My dad has just bought a house with his girlfriend, who is half his age, and moved in with her and her two elementary school–aged children. I have not met them, as they have been together less than a year. I will meet her over the holidays (while thankfully staying at my mom’s). I do not have a great relationship with my dad, but I love him and want to preserve the relationship we have, especially for the sake of my own young children.

My dad is not great at interacting with adults. He’s a libertarian (as is his new partner), an ideology I find loathsome, and he’s extremely self-absorbed. I know I need to be gracious about the new partner (and I will be!), especially since I’m likely to only interact with her in front of our children, but I’m so unhappy about this. I’m unhappy that my dad has quickly ventured into his fourth marriage/partnership. I’m unhappy about her age and her apparent lack of sense. I’m perpetually unhappy about my dad’s politics, which he is incapable of keeping to himself. I’m worried about their financial future. But I do want him to be happy, I recognize that I’m not in charge of his life, and I just want to get through the holidays without seething. Do you have any advice about how I can feel OK about this?

—Ugh

You’re not staying at his place, you’ve never met the girlfriend you are champing at the bit to dislike, he and she can engage in whatever homeownership situation they want, they actually seem to be doing fine for money, and you have different politics.

As mentioned, you are only interacting in front of your kids, and this is a great opportunity to practice dealing with difficult people who are not your responsibility. Ask her a bunch of questions about her kids, and tell her about yours. Ask if she has pets. If they want to talk politics, say, “Never on holidays, my new pledge!” and offer to do a run for more eggnog.

None of this is yours to fix. It’s actually not that bad. Do not go in prepping for war.

Dear Prudence,

I am 10 years older than my half-siblings. Our dad peaced out, but I have tried to stay involved. My 15-year-old brother and I have a bond as the oldest and the only boys. My brother is obsessed with expensive sneakers. He works part time, but his mom takes most of his money. He was in danger of failing a few subjects, and his mom asked me to get him back on the right path. I made a deal with him: He keeps his grades up and saves a third of the cost, and I would pony up the rest for his sneakers. He agreed. He kept his side of the bargain. I bought the sneakers for Christmas, and I told his mom. She basically verbally stripped my skin off—I was indulging my brother, times were tough, and I wasn’t spending nearly as much on my sisters. She crossed the line when she told me I was acting exactly like my father. I told her she wanted me to have a brother-to-brother talk and get his grades up, it happened, and she needs to shut her mouth about it. Her response was if she saw the sneakers, she would throw them in the trash. I don’t know what to do. If I give the sneakers to my brother, it is going to spark a fight. He has complained about his mom before and has threatened to run away. I am much closer to my brother than my half-sisters, who are still little girls, but I still love them and want to be in their lives. Being compared to my dad is a major trigger. I am not him, and my stepmom knows I hate being compared to him, but it is her favorite insult. I want my brother to know I am good on my word. Our dad was the king of broken promises. I feel stuck. What do I do?

—I’m Not My Dad

Well, you are a little stuck. But you’re a great brother and a good person. Your stepmom is being unreasonable, so this is a good time to be sneaky. If I were you, I would keep the sneakers at your place, give them to him in private, and tell him to keep them in his school locker so they aren’t trashed. Explain to him that a good person keeps their promises, and this is you doing your best to show him the importance of that value.

Don’t get into fights with your stepmom. He’s 15, so you don’t have that much longer of a time when she’ll pull his strings, but you also have two little sisters in your life, and I want you to keep your relationship with all of them strong. Put in more time with the girls. Girls are great! Your stepmom may be a total douche, but she is probably also expressing concern that you focus too much on your brother, and she wants you to spend more of that focus on all your siblings.

I’m so sorry she pushed the exact button she did. I can tell from your letter that you couldn’t be less like your father, and your siblings are lucky to have you.

If you or your brother get caught with the slick kicks, we never had this conversation.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From Nicole in Care and Feeding

My 7-year-old daughter loves Christmas. She’s been looking forward to it all year, it seems. I love to do Christmas things as well—we decorate the house, we go to holiday events each weekend. The one thing I can’t embrace? Elf on the Shelf. I curse the folks who came up with this stupid tradition. We’ve avoided it for such a long time, but last year, my daughter said she felt left out because apparently, kids in school discuss where their elves appeared each morning and what they were doing. Now that this holiday season is upon us, my daughter again asked, “Is the Elf going to visit our house this year?”

Do you have any good answers as to why the Elf doesn’t visit certain households, or do I just suck it up and get the stupid Elf and hopefully remember to move it around before I go to bed each night or wake up at 3 in the morning and move it in the dark? I certainly cannot do the Pinterest creative ideas, so moving Elf is about all I could do.