Q. I am a mother of twin 5-year-old boys. My sons play together really well with our neighbor's same-age son, at his house and ours.
Three weeks back I learned the family owns guns, which the mother claims are stored properly. I could not gather the courage to request further details as I feared sounding impolite and inappropriate. But ever since, it has been eating me up and I end up visualizing all the possible scary scenarios whenever my boys play at our neighbor's home. What do I do? It's soon going to be winter and playing outdoors in subfreezing temps won't be an option.
A. People who keep guns in the house and take the responsibility seriously enough to host small children safely will welcome a fellow parent's inquiry about the precautions they take.
People who get offended by your inquiry about precautions are not ones you want hosting your kids.
The gun question is tidy that way, if awkward. The qualities you want in someone watching your kids are honesty, humility, and appreciation of the sacred trust you're placing in them. If she's more concerned with defending her choices than informing yours, then that indicates she is her top priority, which means your kids' safety can't be; such priorities are mutually exclusive.
This is true of anyone watching your kids, not just your gun-owning neighbor, and defensiveness is a liability across the board, not just on the subject of guns. A hot-button issue merely has a way of burning faster through people's wishful thinking and polite deflections.
So ask your questions. Or just say you're not comfortable having your kids play in a home where guns are kept, if that's how you feel, though my vote is for educating yourself before you make up your mind.
Either way: You're a parent. You no longer have the luxury of worrying whether your due diligence on your kids' safety is "impolite and inappropriate." Mom up and say what you want to say.
For anyone who overrides self-preservation impulses out of fear of appearing rude, "The Gift of Fear" and "Protecting the Gift" by Gavin de Becker are required reading -- since I doubt you'd literally rather die than offend.
Q. My brother and new sister-in-law are very religious, not to mention very conservative. My boyfriend and I are agnostic and progressive. However, I was raised in a very religious household, and growing up I attended church every Sunday and wasn't allowed to miss unless I was ill. At 18, I decided organized religion was not for me and have not been inside a church since, except for a wedding or funeral.
Whenever we go out as a family, my brother and sister-in-law insist on praying out loud, whether we are in public or at home. When my mother is there, I indulge the practice, but when it's just the four of us, I prefer not to and I am uncomfortable when this occurs. I have asked twice if we could all just say a private prayer to ourselves rather than have a group prayer, but I'm overruled.
I feel strongly that I shouldn't have to partake in their prayer ritual. How should I address this?
A. You shouldn't have to partake in their prayer ritual.
And they shouldn't have to partake in your moment-of-silence ritual.
So you have in fact addressed this: You suggested saying a private, silent prayer instead of a group one.
Your brother and sister-in-law simply overruled you, as they had every right to do. Likewise, you have every right to opt out of the group prayer and remain silent as you prefer.
If they object, then explain: "I respect your right to pray as you choose, and ask that you respect mine." Decline to argue this point.
Tell your boyfriend your intentions ahead of time, by the way, so he knows what he's walking into -- and assure him his conscience is the only thing he need answer to with your family.
Q. I became friends with a woman six years ago through other friends. We hit it off right away. We don't socialize together but speak on the phone occasionally because we like each other.
To avoid parking fees when she travels, she asks others to drive her (in her car) to and from the airport. She has started asking me -- several weeks before her trips -- before asking people she's closer to.
I don't enjoy spending three to four hours fighting traffic. Even though I don't have many events on my calendar, I've had to turn down things I really would have enjoyed doing because of the long-term "obligation." Is there a tactful way I can get out of my chauffeur role?
A. Yes: by saying no.
You can do that.
And you don't owe explanations for not doing favors, but, "Driving to the airport is stressful for me," has all the tact you need.
By the way, this friend? Holy cheap.
• Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 11 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.