Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Question: My sister-in-law is very overprotective of her year-old son. There's already a long list of places she won't go with him because of germs, foods she won't let him eat because of alleged health risks, etc.

The other day, I offhandedly mentioned that maybe our sons would play sports together when they're older, and she replied that there was "no chance in hell" she would allow her son to play sports because of the risk of injuries.

Is there anything I can or should say or do to get her to relax a bit and understand that children aren't quite as fragile as she thinks they are?

Answer: It would be nice if you could productively say, "Protecting kids from everything has a much bigger risk: that they'll be emotionally stunted and afraid of their own shadows. I know you mean well and you're being the best mom you can, but I think the healthiest thing you can do for both of you right now is to seek treatment for your anxiety."

Because I know how powerfully that can backfire, though, I'll suggest instead that you talk to the family member between you (her spouse or yours) to plant the seed that there's serious trouble brewing in her protectiveness and that a mental-health screening would be an excellent idea.

Your reach is limited, as it's not your spouse or child, but you can sound an important alarm. You can also recommend one of a depressing array of books begging parents to unclench enough to let their kids be kids. Good luck.

Question: I was recently at a very fancy dinner with my fiancé, and we were seated at a table in the back near the desk where waiters run checks. I asked the hostess whether we could sit somewhere else. She didn't have another table, and I said we wouldn't mind waiting at the bar until one became available. About 10 minutes later, we were seated at a much nicer table. I found out later that my fiancé was mortified - was I rude?

Answer: Nope. It's your night out and your prerogative to request the experience you'd prefer, within the limits of what the restaurant can reasonably provide. That can mean waiting for a window seat, choosing not to shiver under the AC vent, or putting as much distance as you need between your too-rare, no-kids date night and the party with three kids under 6.

I'm more interested, though, in the gap (or two) between your comfort level and your fiancé's. He doesn't know you're assertive like this? He doesn't advocate for himself likewise? Are there other areas where you're mismatched and/or this unaware of each other's natures?

There may not be too many very fancy dinners in your future, but his discomfort exposes something that's consequential to your daily life together. If simple assertiveness is just how you roll, both of you will want him to be OK with that. Not just OK - you want a life partner to embrace the qualities that are germane to who you are.

Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at