Ask Athena: Healthy Headspace

Make room for each other’s memories and reveries. 


Dear Athena:

We recently moved to a historic block, where one of our nextdoor neighbors is a charming senior citizen who has lived in his house practically all his life. Problem is, he’s had quite a rough life – and isn’t shy about telling our children how poor his family was, and sometimes gruesome details, like how people would drown kittens back then, and how to wring a chicken’s neck for dinner. He also describes terrible fighting and racism. My kids can’t seem to get enough of his stories but I am worried they will be traumatized or psychologically damaged by these stories. What do you think?  — Rose Colored Glasses


We all want to protect children from trauma and harm. However, that does not mean that we totally shield them from reality. You walk a line and make judgments based on your children’s ages and maturity. If they are ten or older, nothing in this description is a problem. In fact, it ought to be required! For kids under ten, you probably should be there to gauge their reactions and gently let your neighbor know if they’re getting scared, confused or upset by his stories.

You might be surprised though at how much your little ones can absorb, and how thrilling it can be for them to hear tell of the guts and grit of days gone by. You might even use this interest as a springboard for exploring local history! Both Germantown and East Falls have Historical Societies, plus there are many neighborhood groups on social media where members share photos and memories.

Finally, make sure your kids understand that stories and impressions are not necessarily facts. Be ready to provide context and help them suss out takeaways that align with your family’s values and beliefs. Ask questions to encourage empathy and understanding. Let the old guy talk! He’s providing lessons your children will carry with them the rest of their lives.


Dear Athena:

I told my fiancé about a sexy dream I had about our dentist and it seems to have freaked him out. He won’t admit it bothers him but he’s been talking about my teeth a lot ever since, suggesting that I have gotten a lot of “work” done so I can spend time with my “boyfriend.” He insists he’s kidding but I feel like this is genuinely bothering him, which is weird because my dentist is quite elderly (that’s why I told him about the dream, I thought it was funny!). My sister says this is a red flag that he has possessiveness issues. I’m wondering if she’s making a big deal out of nothing. We’d both appreciate your thoughts. – The Andrew Sisters


First, get your sister out of your love life. I can’t stress this enough. Sharing intimate details between you and your fiancé opens the door for all kinds of meddling. While it’s harmless to talk about a sexy dream with your sister, when you offered your fiancé’s reaction for debate, that’s inviting unfair speculation – he’s not there to speak for himself. How would you like it, if he and his family discussed your behavior when you weren’t around?

You and your fiancé will be spending the rest of your lives together — here’s an opportunity to practice communication skills you are going to need for the long haul.  Tell him his reaction confuses you, and ask him to explain how he feels. It’s quite possible your sexy dream has turned him on, so he keeps alluding to it in the hopes that you’ll take a hint.  Maybe there’s some fun to be had! “Doctor, I have a cavity that needs filling…”

On the other hand, he might be genuinely threatened. If so, hear him out. Offer reassurance but don’t go overboard: dreams are silly, random things, completely out of our control. Your fiancé needs to understand this. If his possessiveness or insecurity remains an issue, perhaps you want to re-think tying the knot with this guy, or at least move your wedding date back till you can check in with a couples counselor.

Agree or Disagree? Please comment below.
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About Athena 45 Articles
When she’s not advising mortals, Athena spends her time on earth in NW Philly with her husband, two sons and a day job where she’s paid to tell important people what to do (naturally). Send your questions to

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