Here’s What Happens When You Give Unsolicited Parenting Advice


My husband and I visited our son’s family in another state. While there, I noticed my daughter-in-law treating their older son (17) almost cruelly. (She yelled at him for walking the dog when it was too hot outside!) After several instances, I said to her: “I’ve always thought you were a wonderful parent, but the way you’re treating your son isn’t right. Can we talk? I have some advice you can take or leave.” Now she won’t take my calls, even after several apology messages. My son won’t get involved. (F.Y.I., she doesn’t speak to her own family; she has “issues” with them.) What to do?


You mean, now that the horse is already out of the barn? You swooped in for a visit, criticized your daughter-in-law (whom you knew to be fractious with her own family), and now you’re surprised that she’s icing you out and your son isn’t backing you up. I’m not! Keep apologizing at regular intervals and hope for the best.

But a thought for my fellow take-charge types: If one person is treating another badly, the immediate need is comforting the victim, not asserting dominance over the aggressor. Better to have taken your grandson to a skateboard shop (or anyplace he likes), spoken to him kindly and let him vent. That may have done him some good and given you more context for understanding his difficulties with his mother, rather than starting a war with her that you can never win.

CreditChristoph Niemann

My boyfriend and I (both 30) have been together for four years. In January, we hit a rough patch and decided to take a break for a month. We both saw other people. At the end of the break, we decided to stay together and work through our issues — and we have been. Cut to: This girl I met once walks up to me at a party and tells me, all fake-concerned, that my boyfriend cheated on me with a friend of hers. (This was while we were on our break, but she didn’t know that.) So hostile! Can I tell her to back off?


Color me impressed! Most couples I know who “take a break” are really just splitting up, but too frightened to call it by its name. You and your boyfriend are the exception, and better still, you aren’t avoiding your problems — you’re working on them. Relationship goals!

As for the random woman at the party: Who cares about her? Maybe she’s a hard-core gossip or thinks of herself (incorrectly) as an angel of mercy. She’s irrelevant. Try to let her bad behavior go. (You certainly don’t owe her any clarifications!)

If you have to speak up, say: “If we knew each other better, I might be touched by your concern. But you seem like a pot stirrer. Let’s stay out of each other’s love lives, O.K.?”

I am 15 years old. My parents got divorced when I was 10, and since then, I’ve been alternating weeks with them. I love them both, but my dad’s house is 20 minutes farther from school than my mom’s — and from my friends, too. I would love for them to chill on the strictly alternating weeks, but I don’t want to hurt my dad’s feelings. (I’m pretty sure my mom would be fine with this.) Can I say something?


Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to save 40 minutes a day in commuting time? I applaud your sensitivity to your dad’s feelings, though. Talk to him. Say, “Dad, would you be open to relaxing the alternating weeks with Mom? Her house is much closer to school than yours. I could spend more time with you on weekends and school vacations — and a lot less time commuting during the week.”

He may consider it. He may also need to be reassured that this is about convenience and not your affection for him. But you seem capable of handling that. If your father gets on board, raise the issue gently with your mother. She may be fine with it in principle but may not want to upset the apple cart with her ex-husband.

A family friend who is gay requested an invitation to our wedding several years ago. He had never been to a same-sex wedding (like ours) and wanted to see what one was like. We invited him happily and have remained friendly since. Now, he and his boyfriend are getting married. We respect people’s right to invite who they want to their special day, but we’re sad (and a little annoyed) that we’re not invited. Are we being silly?


This is a super-sympathetic setup, but I’m afraid the answer is still: No dice! We are not entitled to attend other people’s weddings (or parties) simply because we have been generous to them in the past. Your feelings aren’t silly; they seem very natural. But if you really respect the couple’s right to make their own guest list, just congratulate them on their wedding and leave it at that.


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