Advice for a woman who is a tentative godmother.

Advice on sticky friendship dilemmas.
July 27 2010 10:02 AM

Wary Godmother

Does it make sense to remain a child's spiritual adviser when you barely speak to his parents?

Illustration by Jason Raish. Click image to expand.

Dear Friend or Foe,

Lucinda Rosenfeld Lucinda Rosenfeld

Lucinda Rosenfeld is the author of four novels, including I'm So Happy for You and The Pretty One, which will be published in early 2013.

Four years ago, a former co-worker ("Angela") and her husband ("Steve") asked my husband and me to be godparents for their baby, "Leo." We were friends with Angela and Steve, but not especially close. I'd recently told Angela about my husband's health problems—we can't have biological children of our own—which might have prompted the gesture. Even so, my husband and I were surprised. They are religious, and we are emphatically not. But they assured us that our being secular was not an issue. So we accepted and were happy to participate in the christening. We looked forward to building a closer relationship with them and their son.

Shortly after the christening, however, they moved two hours away. Four year later, we have only seen them six times—mostly at parties for Leo—where we are both the only nonrelatives and the only people without kids. I think their boy might be autistic; at the very least, he has development problems, and Angela and Steve are having a hard time with him. But all our offers of support have been batted aside, and they won't discuss the situation with us. What's more, we always send birthday/Christmas/Easter presents, which aren't acknowledged. The check for their son's saving account actually went uncashed!

If we were just friends, I'd readily let this friendship drift. But I feel that our godparent status obligates us beyond that. Should we carry on maintaining the relationship from our side, or should we just let it go? I'd be interested in trying harder if Angela hadn't repeatedly made cracks about our childlessness.

Sincerely,
Wary Godmother

Dear W.G.,

Due to the formal nature of your relationship with Angela and Steve, I think the situation calls for a formal response. Which, in this era of three-key texts, means an old-fashioned, paper-and-pen letter. Tell them that you were honored at the time to have been made godparents and will always have deep love for Leo. But you wonder if something is wrong, as you've noticed they've pulled away. You also sense that they've grown closer to others since his birth—others who, owing to proximity or lifestyle, have gotten to know their son better than you have—and that you won't be offended if they reassign the title. Let them protest that, in fact, they regret not including you in his life and want to make more of an effort in the future—or not. But I have a funny feeling that they're going to be even more relieved than you are after the letter is opened and acknowledged.

At that point, feel free to stop sending the monogrammed toddler-sheet sets. Never mind the uncashed checks. As for Angela's biting remarks about you being childless, no doubt a part of her envies your relatively carefree existence. Coping with a child with developmental delays is among life's greatest stresses. Moreover, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that Steve and Angela have retreated from others, too. Possibly they feel ashamed of their son's learning difficulties and, rather than be open and honest about it with friends who might actually help them cope, their instinct has been to hide it (and him) from the world. If so, it's doubly sad, since it sounds as if Leo probably already struggles to make social connections and would probably benefit from one with you.

In any case, you guys have lost the thread. Time to put the needle away, too.

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

Dear Friend or Foe,

My BFF, "Gretchen," and I met in college 17 years ago. I became a stay-at-home-mom, and she became a dentist (and stayed single). Over the years, she also became our school-age son's surrogate aunt. Yet Gretchen and my husband, "Pete," were never particularly close. Then I got really, really sick. During six months of treatment hell—during which time Gretchen helped take care of my son—she and my husband grew close. After I began to heal, she and Pete continued to have "hang-out nights," with which I was fine. But while Gretchen and I were at lunch one day, she said something that made me realize she and Pete had been on the verge of a full-blown affair.

To this day, Gretchen and Pete swear that they would never have crossed "that" line. (They insist they never kissed, just held hands a few times—and that most of what they had in common was me.) But I felt betrayed, and Pete moved into a guest room for many months while a therapist helped us "reboot" our relationship. Gretchen and Pete also agreed not to contact each other. Angry and jealous, I froze Gretchen out, too. In time, however, I reached out to her. I also let her back into my son's life—and apologized for my behavior.

But despite several long and frank conversations—and large margaritas—our friendship didn't fully recover. Gretchen is too angry and hurt at how I exploded at her after "all [she] tried to do was help." She also claims that Pete built a fantasy on what was normal platonic behavior on her part. (Pete, in turn, is pissed that Gretchen won't own up to her part in their "relationship" —i.e., the initiated texts, the drink invitations, the confessions about how she missed sex.)

Gretchen is now moving to Philadelphia, 1,000 miles away, to marry an old boyfriend. Hearing the news, my son and I both cried. For a couple of weeks before she left, she tried to reassure him that she'd always be there for him. Well, I just received a group e-mail, inviting us to her civil wedding ceremony on the very day of my son's birthday party! Pete and my therapist both feel I need to walk away from Gretchen—and also start separating my son from her. But I don't want to lose my BFF; I want to let go of what happened and rejoice in her new life. I also want this drama to be over with. What should I do?

Sincerely,
Wishing My Husband Had Kept His Hands in his Pockets

Dear WMHHKHHIHP,

Wow. It sounds like you've been through quite a year. After illness threatened your life, I don't blame you for freaking on Gretchen, who appeared to threaten your marriage. I don't blame her for resenting you, either, since it sounds like she tried hard to do the right thing, and did (or mostly). The truth, I suspect, is that both of you are a little bit right.

Pete and Gretchen's relationship was always (mostly) about their mutual love of and concern over you. It's also probably true that Gretchen was lonely and attracted to Pete, who—worried that he was about to lose his wife—reached out for the closest thing he could find (Gretchen) to fill the void. It's also true that Gretchen needs and deserves to get her own life and family. On that note, I actually think it's a good thing for both of you that she's moving a plane ride away.

This way, you can keep up (limited) contact without constantly reminding each other of the recent trauma. With time, hopefully, the memory of that trauma will fade. Then maybe you two will be able to make a fresh start of it. In the meantime, definitely don't cancel the cupcakes and bouncy castle on behalf of her nuptials. But if I were you, I'd send her a nice present and a "Wish I could be there!" card—in which you also send her much happiness in her new life.

As for your son, I suspect his tears have as much to do with the memory of temporarily losing his mommy as contemplating Gretchen's move away. That said, maybe you can organize a yearly visit for the two of them—or three, if you're feeling differently next year.

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

Dear Friend or Foe,

A few years ago, a friend, " Bill," who is an executive in his family's successful company, married an acquaintance, "Jill," who considers me a good friend, even though we disagree about everything. This would be fine if our differences revolved around movies or cuisine or other matters of taste, but they go far deeper. Jill prides herself on working 60 hours a week for a nonprofit and frequently criticizes her coworkers for leaving at the end of their contracted hours. At the same time, she believes herself entitled to an army of indentured servants.

When she goes back to work in a few months—she's currently on maternity leave—Jill's plan is to import a nanny from Asia or Latin America to whom she'll pay a measly $15,000 a year, plus room and board. To me, it's a gross violation of the labor laws to pay someone that little for the number of hours she'll be expected to work. I also think it's immoral to bring someone from abroad to undercut the already low wages in the child care sector. Jill is also homophobic and supports tax cuts, despite our relatively generous social-safety-net here in Canada.

Is there any way to remain friends? In case you couldn't guess, I'm a socialist (not a dirty word up north), and she's a conservative. We're also friends with a lot of the same people, so it will be impossible to avoid her completely.

Sincerely,
Egalitarian and Expect Others To Be That Way, Too!

Dear EAEOTBTWT!,

I'm with you: The way a friend treats her "help" says a lot about her as a person (not just her politics). If Jill can't be bothered to pay minimum wage to the woman (it's almost always a woman) who is going to essentially raise her child, it's hard to imagine her being generous with her heart. It sounds as if she and Bill make a ton of money. So you have to boil it down to plain old greediness, cheapness, the desire to game the system—call it what you, but it's unsavory.

It was a little surprising, of course, to hear Jill works at a nonprofit. But then, one possible right doesn't count for another, far more egregious wrong. If Jill wants to work 60 hours a week, that's her business. Exploiting young women from the developing world is everyone's problem. Or, at least, it should be. By the way, where is Bill in all this? Does he just sit back passively while Jill posts her "Great Opportunity" ads? You say he's the original friend here. Maybe you need to examine his worthiness, too. It's high time that daddies realized that organizing child care is their problem, too.

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

Please send your questions for publication to lucinda@imsohappyforyou.com. (Questions may be edited.)

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