‘Mommy’? But I Barely Know Them!

I was watching my boyfriend’s two children (ages 7 and 9). My mom was there to help. She started referring to me as “mommy” to them. (“Mommy’s making you a snack now.”) I’ve only known these kids for a year, since dating their father. They like me, but their mother is very much alive; they spend half the week with her. When I challenged my mother later, she said she’d “try to remember” not to do it again. What’s to remember? I am 40 with a Ph.D., and I don’t want children of my own. I think she was punishing me for not having kids. You?


You may be right. But here’s another take: As a terribly self-centered child myself, it took me ages to realize that not everything my parents did was about me. Here, for instance, your mother may long for grandchildren and simultaneously support your decision not to bear them. Resolving her disappointment may take a minute, but why assume that she’s punishing you (or even judging you)?

Referring to you as “Mommy” was clearly inappropriate. She may have been trying it on for an afternoon or working out her relationship to these kids. (Odd? You bet.) As you point out, these children have a mother, and she and your boyfriend would likely be upset if they heard about your mom’s nickname for you.

As for you “challenging” her word choice, I hope you did it by explaining the trouble she may cause for you with your boyfriend. You could also remind her gently that you understand her desire for grandchildren but that your life has taken you in another direction that you really like. Of course, you know her better than I do. But don’t rush to judgment. She helped you babysit, after all.

Not Him Again

My wife and I give an “orphan’s Thanksgiving,” inviting friends and colleagues who don’t have another place to celebrate the holiday. It’s usually wonderful. But last year, I had a terrible time, arguing with one guest for most of the afternoon about politics. Now I’ve learned that my wife mistakenly invited this guy back again. Is there any way to rescind this mistaken invitation?


You twice refer to the invitation as a mistake, James. But I wonder: Did your wife use the wrong list, or was she simply hewing closer to the spirit of your kindhearted gathering by including those without another place to go? In either case, taking back an invitation seems at odds with the event’s origin story.

If you’re worried about spending another afternoon feuding with this fellow, call him and say: “I’m glad you’re joining us again. Can we agree to steer clear of politics this year? I found it upsetting last time.” Either he will, or he can find someone else to debate over dessert.

No Petting!

My partner and I have a very cute Brussels Griffon dog. The breed is uncommon where we live, so he attracts a lot of attention. Many people are eager to touch him, which our dog doesn’t like. When people ask to pet him, we say he’s not friendly or joke that “he doesn’t like people messing up his hair.” Still, people try to touch him anyway, and our dog growls or snaps. Then they’re upset! Should we train our dog to be friendlier with strangers or be more direct with them?


Assuming your adorable dog is on a leash and doesn’t snap without provocation, no need for further training. Simply amend your response to include the word “no.” (May I touch him? “No, he snaps.”) Skip the cutesy grooming talk; it minimizes the danger.

For the rest of us: It can feel great to smile and nod at passers-by on the street. But that doesn’t give us license to touch them, their dogs or their children, or to tell them that they’d be prettier if they smiled. It’s called personal space, people.

What About My Boo?

My (same-sex) girlfriend and I are sophomores in college. We’ve been going out for over a year. She’s close to her mother, so she goes home for Thanksgiving. And I’m close with my family, so I take a bus home to see them. But this fall, my (straight) sister, who’s still in high school, just started seeing a boy, and he was invited to Thanksgiving at our house. And he’s coming! This seems unfair to me. What do you think?


The world is rough enough without shopping for grievances. If I understand you correctly, you and your girlfriend are both happy traveling home to celebrate Thanksgiving with your respective families. Neither of you was slighted, or asked your family for an invitation that didn’t materialize.

As a high school student, your sister probably lives closer to her boo (and asked your parents if it was O.K. to invite him). Also, he wanted to come; that’s the main difference. No foul here! But if you like, invite your girlfriend to spend another weekend with your family. It feels good to know that we’re supported in our relationships.

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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