Advice on manners and morals (April 3, 2008).

Advice on manners and morals.
April 3 2008 6:55 AM

My Niece Is Falling to Pieces

Should I take her away from her derelict mother and raise her right?

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Dear Prudence,
My older sister and I are very close and very much the opposite of each other. I am practical, organized, and always try to be a good role model. She is a free spirit, dressing in her teenager's clothes and just seeing how the cards fall. Her daughter is struggling, failing at school, and thinking of dropping out. She has been getting into fights at school and in trouble with the police. She also got pregnant but had a miscarriage. This girl is so smart and has such great potential but is making poor choices and crying out for attention. I would like to invite her to live with me, at least during the school year. My husband has agreed she is welcome to live with us and our daughter. I work during the day and am home every night and weekend. My sister works many evenings and weekends at a bar and is not home with her children often. She frequently goes out partying, and her drinking habits have many people in the family concerned. I am not trying to say that my sister is a bad mother or person. She is very loving and tries to give her children everything (material) that they want, which has also made them quite spoiled. Would it be wrong or offensive to invite my niece to live with me?

—Unsure Aunt

Dear Unsure,
You may not want to say your sister is a bad mother, so I will say it for you. What other conclusion can you draw about someone who is irresponsible, neglectful, indulgent, and drunk? Despite your closeness, you know your sister has made a hash of her own life and is doing everything she can to make sure the next generation does the same. It sounds as if it would be a blessing to bring your niece into your home and give her stability and firm, loving guidance so that she can graduate from school, instead of dropping out and giving birth to yet a third generation of misery. But if you do this, don't have any illusions about how hard it will be. Because of her lousy upbringing, your niece lacks control of her emotions and behavior; at the very least, you should seek assistance from people in the school system who can help give this girl the tools for successful functioning in life. You mention that while your sister is out partying, she leaves her children at home alone, which means there is more than one offspring at risk. Since your entire family is worried, all of you need to get together and get advice on working out a plan for interceding with your sister. Does she need rehab and parenting classes? Should social services be called in? Everyone needs to be less apprehensive about offending her sensibilities and more concerned about rescuing her children.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence Video: He Won't Dress Up!

Dear Prudie,
I am a twentysomething female engaged to a wonderful man. We have been together for five years, and I couldn't be happier. During the summer, he was gone for months on business, and I committed a very bad act. After a night of what I thought was harmless flirting with a guy at a bar, he invited me to crash at his place. I made the biggest mistake of my life and cheated on my husband-to-be. I'm not blaming the incident on too much alcohol (although that was a contributor) and fully accept the blame for what I have done. I am full of guilt and hate for myself. I'm afraid to tell my fiance because I know our relationship will end, but at the same time, I don't want to start our lives together with a huge lie. My parents' marriage ended due to my father's infidelity, and I swore I wouldn't be like that ... but here I am. To make matters worse, my best friend is now dating this person. She knows what happened and was disgusted by it, but a month later they were exclusive. I know she is disappointed in me, but she doesn't seem to be bothered by the fact that her boyfriend had a part in this, too. He has been sending me sexual text messages lately, and I know if she knew, she would blame me, although I've ignored the messages and have not welcomed this behavior. So, what do I do? Tell my amazing fiance what I did and hope he can find a way to forgive me, or keep my lips sealed?

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—Once a Cheater, Not Always a Cheater

Dear Once,
Your best friend knows and disapproves of what you did, and is now dating the guy you cheated with; and the guy you cheated with is trying to betray your best friend so he can have another go round with you. This situation is about as stable as taking Semtex on a bumper-car ride. Chances are, your fiance eventually will hear about this—and imagine the stress you'll be under hoping each day is not the day someone blabs. Yes, if you tell him, you run the risk of losing him, but at least you also have a chance to show you've come forward of your own accord, you are sickened by this single slip, and you pray he won't give up on you. It would be helpful if you could say you are so distressed by your own behavior—especially since you grew up under the shadow of infidelity—that you have already gone into therapy to figure out why it happened and make sure it never does again.