Our 14-year-old child has a great circle of friends. I am often their chauffeur. The kids and I have friendly conversations in the car. Recently, one of them informed the group they would like to be called a different name — one that is typically associated with a different gender. The kids have obliged their friend, and I would be happy to, as well. But my wife told me that the child’s mother said she wasn’t going along with this request, though she didn’t say that other people shouldn’t. How should I proceed? I don’t want to alienate anyone or damage friendships.
I get your reluctance to come between parent and child. Here, though, it seems pretty low-risk to skirt the culture wars on transgender issues and chart a path of kindness. As a young teen, this friend is still a child — but not a baby. We don’t know whether the requested name change came after years of suffering or as an experiment. And the mother didn’t ask anyone to adhere to her position. So, I would respect the child’s wishes and create a family car in which everyone feels accepted.
Now, let’s acknowledge that we know nothing about the child’s mother other than what your wife reported to you. She may be working hard to accept her child, rejecting her child or waiting to see how things play out. Let’s have compassion for parents who fall short — every one of them does — and for children who may be hurt by them.
As for you, be an ally. You are so peripheral to whatever drama is unfolding here that it’s nearly impossible for you to go wrong. Be warm to the child when loved ones may not be. And be supportive of the mother as she processes what may be distressing news for her. Let’s hope she rises to the challenge. If she doesn’t, and you feel well placed to intervene, get back in touch.
Whether Hapless or Heartless, No Good Explanation
My boyfriend made an offhand remark that if I had looked the way I look now when we first met (a year and a half ago), he wouldn’t have been interested in me. I was hurt and shocked. Initially, he made excuses, claiming that he was talking about my lifestyle since I started working long hours at a big law firm and that he was trying to motivate me to be healthier. But his remark was about how I look, and he knows I’m well aware of the five to 10 pounds I’ve gained. Eventually, he apologized. Still, I’m having a hard time getting over this. It shook my sense of security. He’s usually a thoughtful guy and tells me I’m beautiful. Should I try harder to let this go?
Honestly, I don’t see how you can let this go. Either your boyfriend’s remark was true (and he is suggesting a weight cap for you regardless of the circumstances of your life) or it was mean (and meant to throw you off balance). It seems highly unlikely to me that he landed a direct hit by accident.
So, that leaves his apology — which had better be good. Unless he is able to communicate how and why he hurt you, promise it will not happen again and ask sincerely for your forgiveness, dump him and don’t look back. Many of us say hurtful things to our partners. When we do, it’s on us to restore their faith in us. If your boyfriend can’t do that, this relationship is unlikely to be a healthy one.
I Hugged Someone I’m Meh About: A Story of Survival
I am a grandmother who moved to be closer to my son, his wife and my grandkids. When we greet each other, we do so with a hug. When parting, we often say, “I love you.” The issue: My daughter-in-law’s mother, who lives nearby, is not the sort of person I like. She has a victim mentality and no life. She greets me with hugs, too. She thinks we’re family. I think of her as someone to be tolerated. How should I handle her icky greetings?
The audacity of this woman, playing the victim card when you are the true victim here — forced to treat an extended family member like everyone else in the household!
You are in charge of who hugs you, of course. But are you really willing to create awkwardness and hurt feelings in your son’s home for what seems like a “Mean Girls” flex? You’re not under oath here! Maybe if you treated this other grandmother more kindly, she would feel more secure and act less like a victim.
Thank Goodness (And Nobody Else)
I keep granola bars in my car to give to people who are begging at stoplights. Often, the recipients say, “God bless you.” As an atheist, I grimace. Religious people don’t have a monopoly on acts of kindness. I would like to respond, “Let’s leave God out of this.” Can I turn this into a didactic moment?
Your gesture with the granola bars is so lovely and generous. Can’t you let the needy recipients thank you in their own way and leave it at that? Also: Look up “didactic” in the dictionary. It often conveys a heavy-handed, patronizing manner that’s better avoided.
For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.