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Should I Pay My Sister-in-Law for Helping With Child Care?

In January, my husband’s sister drove cross-country to help care for our two young sons while my husband was deployed in the armed services. When I proposed the idea, I asked her to think about the pay she would like and the services she would provide. I told her we would cover her room and board. She never responded. After she arrived, I asked her several more times about pay and duties. She said she preferred an informal arrangement. Since then, she has helped out when she liked. Now, she is ready to drive home again and has asked for back pay. We are so grateful she came, but if I’d known I was paying her, I would have formalized her duties instead of accepting piecemeal help. What should I do?

SISTER-IN-LAW

Short of telling your sister-in-law at the outset that you were uncomfortable with the “informal arrangement” she preferred, which may have made you seem demanding, I don’t see how you could have averted your current fix.

In your sister-in-law’s (meager) defense, it can be awkward to ask family members for payment, especially in the context of a sibling’s deployment. She may also have felt guilty about putting a price tag on minding her nephews, whom she probably loves. Talk to her again. Before you do, though, decide how much you feel comfortable paying her. (Covering the cost of cross-country travel seems like a no-brainer, along with a reasonable estimate of her “piecemeal assistance.”)

Say: “Your brother and I really appreciate your help! Now, let’s talk about payment.” Share your proposed sum and how you arrived at it, then ask her what she’s thinking. (If necessary, ask her to show her work.) For good will, I’d skip the fact that she raised the subject only after it was too late for you to bargain for services. I get that this is not what you wanted, but it’s what you got. And in the family context, it’s probably better to pay up.

Credit…Miguel Porlan

No Body Talk!

Two months into a new job, I got engaged. Since then, my diet and exercise habits have been scrutinized by the men in my office. I’ve known for years which foods and exercise programs work best for my physical and mental health, and I haven’t deviated from them. So, for these guys to suggest that I’ve changed my patterns to get “wedding-body ready” is extremely insulting! The wedding is still 10 months away. How do I address this?

S.

Call out the obvious sexism here. But remember that everyone makes mistakes. (And you still have to work with these guys, right?) Say: “My diet and exercise routines haven’t changed for years. And if I were a man, I doubt you’d be focusing on my ‘wedding body.’ What’s up with that?” It’s a legitimate question.

They may apologize, squirm or defensively give examples of women who obsessed over their bridal appearance. By asking the question, though, you put these men on notice that you won’t tolerate sexist stereotypes — not to mention harassment — from co-workers.

Pearls for My Girls?

I have three teenage daughters and two heirloom pearl necklaces. I don’t wear them. My youngest daughter (the fashionista) asked me if I had pearls. I showed her the simpler necklace and told her she could wear it when she liked. When her eldest sister came home from college, she was angry that I had “given” it to her. I hadn’t! The other necklace is a fancier triple strand. I could always have that one restrung as two necklaces, so each of the girls could have one. But so far, our middle daughter hasn’t expressed any interest. Help!

LAURIE

For now, why not tell your daughters they can borrow the necklaces when they like? If they have trouble creating a sharing schedule, you can help them. In my experience, teenagers may be a bit young to understand the sentimental value of family heirlooms. So I wouldn’t ask any long-term questions yet.

If I’m wrong about your daughters, or when you decide they’re old enough, ask them if they’d like an heirloom pearl necklace. If all three say yes, remake the triple strand into two necklaces. If your middle daughter remains indifferent to pearls, give her first choice on another piece of jewelry to be claimed after you die.

Then let the girls take turns choosing from the remaining items in your jewelry box and keep a list. It may sound macabre, but letting heirs pick from personal property can be a sensible way to allocate it, in advance and without conflict.

About Your Future Wife …

What is the etiquette of telling someone you saw his fiancée on Tinder when you don’t know what their situation is? They may be open or poly. We’re not super close — more like acquaintances on the friendship scale. I considered swiping right to see if we match so I could ask her directly!

J.J.

I would keep quiet here. Your question seems to be fueled by idle curiosity (with maybe a splash of attraction for the fiancée) rather than a desire to help your friend. That’s no reason for butting in.


For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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