Dear Prudence

My Mother-in-Law Insists on Cooking—but She’s Awful at It

If I try to offer advice, the other dinner guests mock me.

Bowl of tomato soup with a shadowed hand adding spices.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by sara_winter/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Prudence,

My husband and I are planning a lovely weeklong staycation with his relatives—eight adults in total, all from the same bubble. My mother-in-law loves having meals together and usually makes the food, but she’s a terrible cook, bless her. She tries, and we get by with basic staples like tacos and prepackaged lasagna. But I really love good food, so it’s a real shame to do that for a week. I politely eat at these family gatherings and have even offered to cook. Cooking for a large group is fine one or two nights, but not for the whole trip. To add to the issue, if I offer even light advice like, “I bet that some fresh basil would be amazing in this delicious tomato soup,” even when my mother-in-law welcomes the change, the rest of the dinner guests make comments like, “Oh, there Wendy goes again, wanting to make things fancy! She can’t just leave it alone,” which really dampens the mood. My husband loves my food and is very supportive of me, but if I let him, he would unleash. Am I destined to eat boring basics in exciting food cities? Are there other ideas I could suggest?

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—Group Meals Are a Chore

Split the difference as often as you can, and make things easy on yourself wherever possible. It may be that your husband’s relatives are used to sharing every single meal together for the entire duration of any family trip, but group vacations often run a lot more smoothly when one or two nights are given over to something more flexible. You don’t need to persuade the others to join you in making their own separate plans, either, although they might end up following your lead and enjoying it someday. If you and your husband have one night where you know you’ll get dinner on your own, one night where you cook for the family, and one night when he does, that’ll go a long way toward making those other mostly bland but serviceable meals easier to muddle through.

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Beyond that, if you know the family doesn’t react well to your suggestions, I’d recommend you stop offering even “light advice” about how your mother-in-law could have prepared a dish differently. And if you really want some fresh basil on her tomato soup, go ahead and strew a few ribbons over your own bowl.

Help! My Partner Isn’t Realizing Their Full Potential.

Danny M. Lavery is joined by Sarah Jaffe on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.

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Dear Prudence,

My ex-wife and I divorced after it came to light that she was having an affair with one of her therapy clients. This affair was reported to the licensing board (not by me), and she had her license to practice suspended. I have discovered that she subsequently received a large Paycheck Protection Program “loan,” which is essentially free money, based on income she made from her therapy business prior to suspension. I do not want to report her because I want her to be financially solvent so that she can continue to support our children. However, it seems to me that her receipt of the PPP loan was fraud, and it feels unethical not to report her. I do not harbor ill will toward her, but the lack of ethics is really troubling me. What do I do?

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—Worried About Fraud

If your ex has been reported to the licensing board and had her license to practice suspended, then there’s likely a well-documented record of the proceedings. Whether her PPP loan is “free money” is questionable; she’ll either have to repay the loan or document exactly how she spent it in order to petition for loan forgiveness. (Not to mention there’s a Department of Justice unit dedicated to prosecuting PPP fraud.) And while your ex lost her income for cause, she still needs money in order to live and help support your children; whatever consequences may be appropriate for violating ethical standards and sleeping with a patient, I don’t think destitution is one of them. None of this is to say that your ex has acted rightly here. But I don’t know when her license was suspended, the duration of that suspension, whether she’s begun the process of reinstatement, and so on—all of which are factors at play. Let the government and her lending bank worry about the money they gave your ex-wife, and let your ex-wife worry about documenting how she used that money or figuring out how she’s going to repay it. This is not your responsibility to manage, and you don’t have enough information to mount an intervention of your own.

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Dear Prudence,

While writing an academic book, I’ve come across another scholar’s book that has proved really important and influential for mine. I realized the author in question works at a nearby university. I was about to email her to discuss our shared research interests, when a glance at her Twitter feed revealed that she’s a transphobe. I’m disgusted and no longer plan to reach out to her. However, I still feel like I need to cite her work in my book because she’s the primary expert in the extremely esoteric area that I’m writing about. But I also don’t want to give her a platform larger than the one she already has. How do I handle this? Give her a passing footnote but avoid an in-text citation? Avoid referencing her entirely? I realize this is a small potatoes problem in the grand scheme of things but I want my work to be trans-affirming and citing her seems like implicitly endorsing her bigotry.

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—Over-Cite

When it comes to another scholar’s research, the question of citation is straightforward: If you reference it, incorporate it, analyze it, or take it as a foundation for your own research, cite it. You may decide you do not want to build upon her scholarship as a result of learning about her transphobia, especially if it’s relevant to your subject, and choose to seek out other influences; that’s a legitimate option, albeit one that might set your publishing schedule back. But don’t try to split the difference by downplaying her work if you do incorporate it, burying references in your footnotes and hoping nobody notices. The point of citation is to acknowledge prior scholarship and the collective archive of knowledge that your work builds upon, to ground your own claims within an identifiable scholarly tradition, to avoid plagiarism, and to provide your readers with an opportunity to independently review and verify your arguments. If you use her work to do any of those things, cite it.

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A scholarly citation is not the equivalent of a personal endorsement, nor is it a “platform” in the same way that, say, inviting her on campus to address a group of students about her transphobic beliefs would be. That’s not to say that personal or ethical considerations should never affect a decision to cite someone else’s work, but the practice and scope of scholarly citation is necessarily specific and limited to the arguments, interventions, and claims being proposed in the work at hand.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From Care and Feeding

My younger sister just had her first child. She and her husband did not find out the sex of the baby prior. I have two girls, and my older brother has one girl. Upon receiving the group text from my brother-in-law that they had a healthy baby boy, my mother immediately texted back that she was hoping for a boy. That hurt. Are her three granddaughters not good enough?

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My husband—who was really hoping we’d have a boy, but is still smitten with our two girls—is really upset about the comment. I’m not sure how my brother or his wife took the comment. My sister is already the favorite with my parents, and my husband is convinced that she will now get even more favoritism. We have plans to visit my parents later this summer (we live across the country from my sister and parents), and now my husband no longer wants to go. My husband and I are both excited and very happy for my sister and brother-in-law, but this is just one more thing my mom has said to take an apparent dig at us. I guess my question is, would it be inappropriate to call my mom out on this inappropriate comment? How would I go about doing that?

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