Dear Care and Feeding,
I am getting married soon. My family asked me to make my cousin one of my groomsmen, so I did. But the truth is that we have never really gotten along. At every family event I can think of, he has gone out of his way to put me down (even if I’ve agreed with something he’s said, or tried to give him a compliment!). He is a PhD candidate in engineering and is very loud about that. On the night of my bachelor party, I was talking to some of my friends about an interesting article I’d read, and my cousin immediately joined the convo, telling me I had no idea what I was talking about, which infuriated me. The article in question was about data science! I have a master’s degree in that field! But he is evidently an expert in everything under the sun and I don’t know anything. (I actually backed down at first, as usual, and apologized for my reaction—but he very loudly didn’t accept my apology, so I lost it. I told him an engineering degree doesn’t make him an expert in data … or miscarriages or climate change or pretty much anything.)
The whole thing was very unpleasant, and it ruined my bachelor party. And it took him three days to make a proper apology to me (and even then he blew it off to just drinking too much). I don’t want him to be a groomsman anymore. He can still come to the wedding, but I don’t want him in the wedding party. I know this will make my mother angry, but I think this incident is a line he’s finally crossed. What should I do?
For heaven’s sake, you are a grownup person. This is your wedding. If you don’t want your know-it-all, annoying cousin whom you’ve never liked to be a groomsman, don’t make him a groomsman. You should not have said yes in the first place. Tell your mother that—that you failed to stand up for yourself when she (and others?) demanded that he be a part of your wedding party. You are at a point in your life when you will have to make more and more of your own decisions, and decisions in concert with your soon-to-be spouse. Consider this moment the start of your new life, taking charge of yourself. It’s time to stop worrying about making your mother angry when you make your own decisions for your own reasons . She’ll get over it. (If she doesn’t, your relationship with her has bigger problems than this particular instance suggests, and it’s time for you to deal with that.)
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From this week’s letter, “My Sister Is Running Our Aging Parents Ragged”: “She often drops her kids off at their house to be babysat, despite the fact that my mom can barely lift the baby.”
Dear Care and Feeding,
Ever since our adult daughter was diagnosed with ADD, she’s been playing the victim of the whole world. We used to have conversations with her; she now says she doesn’t understand us when we speak to her and gets us to repeat phrases. She’ll even say, minutes after we’ve said something, that she just “processed” what we said. She has always been sensitive, but now any time we make a comment about her, suddenly it’s OK that she’s sensitive and “needs time to deal” with her hurt feelings. Every fault of hers is because of this illness, which means she has no faults: there’s an excuse for everything, including things from her childhood.
Suddenly my husband and I are villains because we disciplined bad behavior and basically parented her instead of letting her do whatever she wanted. No parent makes perfect choices all the time, but we were never cruel or unreasonable, and the parenting choices she points out are all normal ways to train children not to throw tantrums or be lazy. She also has not been a child for many years, so I don’t see the point of her being angry with us for actions we took years ago. This sort of thing comes up constantly in casual conversation, both when we’re reminiscing, and she feels the need to point out what she considers our failures, and when she gets “overwhelmed” out of nowhere and starts acting like a child. It seems that she is regressing back into the child she would have been if she’d had parents who didn’t care about her, and her hurt feelings are being enabled by the psychiatrist who diagnosed her and is treating her.
What’s most jarring is that this is coming out of nowhere. She used to be normal, but now she gets emotional like a child, or acts like she can’t do things for herself. We are tired of this new behavior and victim mindset, but anything we say about it just reinforces the idea in her head that we didn’t try to understand her “different” way of doing things. The “difference” seems to be putting all the responsibility on everyone else to follow her random demands (if we don’t, she asks us all to stop what we’re doing so she can do her ridiculous exercises to “regulate,” or she simply leaves). It’s impossible to talk to her anymore. It seems like we raised her right, but as soon as she found someone to validate her victim complex it has undone everything she’s learned. We’re at a loss, and would appreciate any advice on how to talk to her, since the way we’ve been doing it for decades is apparently unacceptable now.
—Mother of the Victim of Parenting
Your defensiveness about “normal ways to train [emphasis my own] children,” your (smug) certainty that you “raised her right” despite her attempts to let you know what troubles her about her childhood (about which, by the way, there is no statute of limitations), your referring to her efforts to take care of herself as “ridiculous”—and a whole host of other things I will not repeat back to you, but I urge you to reconsider—suggests to me that if anyone is “playing victim” in this relationship, it’s you. Stop talking. Start listening. If you don’t, you are going to lose your daughter altogether.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I am a college student. I live on campus, but my family lives 10 minutes away and I go home often. My family consists of my mom, my 12-year-old sister, and my 10-year-old brother. My mom is generally a great parent, especially right now while the family is going through a tough time following my stepfather’s death, but I’m worried she’s picking the wrong battles and letting important things slide without a fight. My sister has been wearing glasses since she was a baby. Early in the summer, she got contacts and she was really excited to wear them. But when school started this year, she decided she was just going to stop. And my mom let her. Now she doesn’t wear glasses or contacts—she just goes through life not being able to see. Her legs are bruised from walking into things! (I’ve been told that she can’t make out the top letter on that big vision chart!) I’ve asked her repeatedly why she won’t wear either her contacts or her glasses, and she refuses to explain. My mom says she has talked to her, but since my sister is too stubborn to listen, she’ll just have to “learn the hard way.” I know my mom is in a pretty bad head space right now, but I’m concerned for my sister’s safety. What can I do to help?
—A Concerned Brother
Try asking her again, but in a different way. Don’t demand an answer; don’t spring the question on her. Have a more general conversation with her about how things are going—maybe several such questions—until you get to the bottom of it. You’re in a good position to do this, I’m guessing, if the two of you are close. (And I wouldn’t be so quick to blame your mother for “letting things slide.” If your sister doesn’t feel comfortable telling her what’s going on, what is it you would like Mom to do? Even if she insisted your sister wear her glasses when she left the house for school, wouldn’t she take them off the instant she was out of your mother’s sight?)
Obviously, I don’t know what’s causing your sister’s intransigence, although one not-at-all-farfetched possibility is that she is self-conscious about wearing glasses, and she finds contact lenses extremely uncomfortable (some people do—and yes, even the lenses that are supposed to be utterly imperceptible). If gently asking her about what’s going on doesn’t work, I would float my theory aloud to her, and offer your sympathy on both fronts. And if she reveals that she hates the way she looks in her glasses, helping to boost her confidence—paired with helping her get some new glasses that she thinks are cool and pretty—would be a reasonable response (and in that case, you may have to enlist your mother’s help; if Mom objects to the expense when she has already paid for contact lenses, be prepared to present a reasoned defense, but also be ready to figure out another way to pay for new glasses).
If a conversation with your sister reveals some deeper problem—if, for example, you learn that she doesn’t want to be able to see—you should talk to your mom about getting her into therapy. And if there is a serious physical issue (if suddenly neither her glasses nor her contacts are actually correcting her vision, suggesting that it has abruptly deteriorated), she should be seen by a pediatric ophthalmologist. The final possible explanation, that your sister is “just being stubborn”—as you and your mom both seem to think?—which seems unlikely to me but I’m willing to entertain it, should only be assumed if everything else has been ruled out. If this is a case of pure stubbornness, then I suppose your mom is right, and natural consequences will prevail. Your sister will eventually get tired of bumping into things, not being able to recognize friends at a distance, etc. But in my experience, people rarely put themselves in a position to be harmed only because of stubbornness.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My spouse and I each kept our names when we married: Mr. X and Ms. Y. We recently had our first kid, to whom we gave both names: Kid X-Y. We used this full name in the birth announcement and ever since, so we know our families are aware of it. But they seem to mostly use the father’s surname—they call our child Kid X. I am annoyed that they can’t be bothered to learn something so basic about her. It’s not like we went Elon Musk and named her after a math formula! It’s just both our names divided by a hyphen (is that so hard?). What I want to know is: Should I think of this as just a minor annoyance? After all, they’re sweet on the kid, whatever they think her name is. Or should we insist they learn and use her correct name? I’m trying to think of some situation where they would need to know her actual name, like in an emergency scenario or something. I can’t decide. Is this a big deal or not?
—As Sweet by Any Other Name
I would gently remind them once (or once more) and then let it go. If they can’t or won’t get used to using the last name you chose for your child (the sort of name a great many people choose to use), I would put it in the category of Life’s Little Annoyances, more trouble to try to fix than to live with. You won’t have to live with it forever, though, because once your child is old enough, she will correct them, I assure you. And that’ll likely be what shames them finally into using her correct last name.
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I have a supremely low-stakes question that has nonetheless been bugging me for a while. What is a good way to refer to one’s daughter’s, well, crotch? I tried to teach the use of “vagina,” but despite my prolonged efforts, it just hasn’t seemed to stick. I don’t know if it’s just too odd a word for them or what. Besides, it’s anatomically incorrect anyway, which just kind of irks at me. In the meanwhile, they’ve somehow formed the unshakable belief that this area is called their “booty-butt” (?) which … is both incorrect and confusing. What should I do?