Dear Prudence

Help! I Think I Need to Come Clean to My Sister About What Really Happened to Our Brother.

Read what Prudie had to say in Part 2 of this week’s live chat.

Woman looking worried with her hands crossed and a report card next to her.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Stockbyte/iStock/Getty Images Plus and PeopleImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.

Q. That Wasn’t Worth It: Years ago my brother missed a week of school, struggled to catch up, and then committed suicide. In a note, he explained that he got a zero on a test because it was on him to make it up, and he didn’t get around to it in time, as he was overwhelmed with make-up work. For the most part, I don’t think my parents are to blame here; they were not very strict about grades, though they did insist that we do our homework.

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My niece is about to start kindergarten. I told my sister that if her daughter ever falls behind, it would be best to get her out of the regular classroom until she can get totally caught up (I don’t know to what extent this is actually an option unless you homeschool). My sister thought this sounded odd; I realized then that she likely didn’t know what led to our tragedy, as she was in college at the time. I have not yet told her. I’m worried that she will blame our parents, or even try to track down the teacher who gave our brother the zero; I guess I could leave that part out and just say that he was overwhelmed with make-up work. Should I tell my sister now? Maybe wait a few years, or until I hear about a problem involving school?

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A. I am so sorry to hear about what happened to your brother. If your sister ever expresses any curiosity about the circumstances of his death, you should feel free to tell her what you know. But she was an adult when it happened and hasn’t asked, which makes me believe she doesn’t want to know any details. You can keep the story to yourself for now.

I also want to say that focusing on falling behind in school as the cause of his death may be missing the mark. It sounds like that incident was so unbearable for him as the result of an underlying mental health issue. Instead of protecting your niece from academic struggles, your sister—and all parents—should keep an eye out for depression or outsized anxiety, and seek help for kids who seem to have a hard time managing the normal ups and downs of childhood.

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How to Get Advice From Prudie:

• Send questions for publication here. (Questions may be edited.)

• Join the live chat Mondays at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the discussion.

Q. Watering Woes: At the start of the summer, we paid a neighbor’s teen to water our small garden and fruit trees while we were away. All went to plan: he watered, the garden flourished, and we paid the kid handsomely (think $150 for two hours of work total). Then, the parents of this boy suggested that my son, age 8, might like to do the same for them, but under adult supervision. I was happy to oblige. We didn’t discuss money, but my child was excited at the prospect of having his first paid “job,” and anything around the $5 mark would have been just fine! They were away for a week and we watered five times during that period. To note, their garden is 10 times the size of ours. It was actually a lot of work! Anyway, they get back and… crickets. Not a thank you, not a word. And my child is sad that they did the job and it’s not being acknowledged. What should I do? Is it worth saying something and risking damaging an otherwise friendly neighborhood relationship?

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A. Next time you see them say something like: “Hi neighbors! How did all the plants look when you got back? We didn’t over-water or anything, did we? I loved spending time in your beautiful garden supervising everything, and my kid was so excited to do his first job.” If they don’t say “Oh my God, did I forget to Venmo you?” just leave it. Give your kid a few dollars and congratulate him on his hard work and his first paycheck. He doesn’t have to know exactly where the cash came from.

Q. Not (Quite) My Name: I am in a relationship with a truly amazing guy. I’m also an immigrant, and he slightly mispronounces my name the way all American English speakers do. Think pronouncing the Hungarian name “Kristiàn” (Kris–ti–ahn) as “Christian” (Kris–chun). We’ve been together for about 2 years, so it’s definitely too late to casually correct him. He also deals with social anxiety, and I don’t want to make him self-conscious or uncomfortable in a way that prevents him from saying my name at all. But I’d like to find a way to say, “Hey, can I teach you how to say my name correctly?” that won’t be hurtful or stressful for him. The longer we’re together, the more it bugs me that he can’t get my name “right”—through no fault of his own. Should I just let it go in favor of our otherwise wonderful relationship? It’s not like I correct any of my long-time American friends who make the same mistake, but it just feels different coming from him.

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A. “Hey now that we’ve been together for a while, I want to teach you how to pronounce my name the Hungarian way—I think it would be really cool to hear you say it the way my family does and it would make me feel even closer to you.”

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Q. Can’t Bear the Suspense: My husband’s sister has been married to her spouse for nine years. In the course of their relationship, my SIL has shrunk and dimmed and accommodated her husband in countless ways. The foremost is her concession to have a child when she wasn’t sure she wanted to, as well as riding the waves of his alcohol abuse, drunk driving, and recent sobriety. When he isn’t in on some big, unsustainable self-improvement kick, he’s a black hole of self-pity and “I’d be happy, if only I had…” While we used to be close (we were roommates at one point), we now only hear from her when we initiate or see her in person, and she describes herself as having no friends where she lives. She has talked off-and-on for most of their relationship about ultimatums for leaving, but the goal posts of what she’ll accept keep moving, based on his happiness and health (never her own or her daughter’s).

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At a family vacation this summer, she was very forthcoming about her new hopes to legally separate or divorce him eventually, but she’s planning to take it slow. Her idea is that he can get himself a support system (including a recovery group) and they’ll amicably split eventually. She seemed more self-possessed and alive than I’ve seen her in years.

To be honest, my husband and I just can’t stand her husband and would be thrilled if they separated. I have encouraged my SIL throughout her whole relationship to not martyr herself to a relationship that she makes very clear she is barely tolerating.

My blunt question is how much longer do we—her extended family—have to gather for celebrations and vacations with this guy? How much can we openly root for her to leave? I am tired of trying to be subtle in my encouragement of her to “care for herself” when I really want to yell, “JUST LEAVE ALREADY!”

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A. The difference between “Great, I want you to care for yourself,” and “Just leave already! I can’t stand that dude!” is going to feel like a lot to you but it’s not going to change a lot about how quickly she ends things. I guarantee that as she’s considering her emotional investment, her children, her finances, her misplaced sense of responsibility for his well-being, and her search for a good attorney, “my sister-in-law’s opinion” barely registers as a factor. In fact, I think remaining neutral (about her husband) and keeping your focus on her well-being is a much better way to remain close to her. Keep gathering for celebrations. Keep telling her you’re there for her and you’re excited about her plans to create a better life for herself. And you and your husband should rant and rave to each other all you want in the meantime.

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Q. What?: I have a lot of trouble understanding people with (some) accents on the phone. I am neither a bigot nor a xenophobe, nor am I one of those “Hey, if they’re in this country [the United States], they should learn to speak English” people. (In fact, they are speaking English, and they’re not necessarily in the United States.) The fact that I have a significant hearing deficit doesn’t help—I don’t read lips, but I can understand people, even those with accents, much more easily if I can see their lips moving. What is the polite/correct thing to do in this situation? The people on the phone are speaking the way they speak; it would be pointless, as well as rude, to ask them to speak differently.

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A. “I’m hard of hearing, do you mind speaking very slowly for me?”

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Q. Re: Watering Woes: Seems like a good opportunity to teach your son (and remind yourself) not to agree to paid work without confirming everyone’s on the same page about the pay!

A. Sure, that is one lesson to take from this.

Q. Re: Not Quite My Name: Consider teaching him your name in bed. Trust me, this will work.

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A. How to Do It is a different column! This is a family-friendly chat! Kidding, we’re open to all ideas and well, whatever works.

Jenée Desmond-Harris: Thanks, everyone. We’ll wrap it up here! Remember to have eight-year-olds provide estimates and enter into contracts when they do chores for neighbors. And let happy brides be happy!

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More Advice From Slate

I’m 30 years old and very much feel physically, emotionally, and financially ready to start trying to have a baby—understanding that it could take several years to happen. My husband says he’s about 70 percent on board. His hesitation is about the way our lifestyle will change with children. He is a good person at heart, super kind, and wonderful with children. Up until recently, I thought having kids with him would be amazing. But the more I’ve examined our lives and started planning for the realities of having a baby together—the more I realize that my husband is truly incompetent and unfit to be a parent.

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