Advice on manners and morals (June 12, 2008).

Advice on manners and morals (June 12, 2008).

Advice on manners and morals (June 12, 2008).

Advice on manners and morals.
June 12 2008 7:10 AM

Love-Child Etiquette

How to accept your cheating husband's out-of-wedlock kid, and more Father's Day tips.

1_123125_122976_2131188_dearprudence_ey

Get "Dear Prudence" delivered to your inbox each week; click here to sign up. Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. (Questions may be edited.)

Dear Prudence,
A few years ago, I found out that my husband got another woman pregnant when I was pregnant with our first child. Shortly after giving birth to our second child, we got a call from the woman saying my husband was the father of her child and that she wanted child support. My husband admitted it could be true. It was, and it took me quite awhile to get over it. I realized I either had to leave if I was going to remain angry, or forgive him and do the right thing. My husband had missed the first four years of this child's life, so we started asking to see him. Because of the legal hassles with the mother, that didn't happen. Now, the boy is 8, and the mother is going to allow him to start visiting. I want to add this child to our lives, but how do we tell our children and my family that we are going to accept him? I don't want them to hate my husband, because he and I have already resolved this.

—Trying To Do the Right Thing

Dear Trying,
I hope your husband appreciates this Father's Day how extraordinary you are in opening your heart and home so that he can be a father to all his children. The introduction of an 8-year-old is going to be confusing for everyone. Your family is going to have to follow your lead when you tell them you've known about this for a long time, you've forgiven your husband, and you don't want an innocent child to be punished for his mistake. Your children will be curious, resentful, excited, and perplexed. You have to be patient with them; the arrival of a new sibling is going to shake up their understanding of their little world. You only have to give them as much information as they need. Stick to the facts: They have a brother who has a different mommy, and he is going to be visiting from time to time because he is part of your family. Let your kids know they're allowed to ask questions, and answer them truthfully but succinctly. And be patient with the boy, who doesn't yet know what it means to have a father.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
Recently I loaned my cell phone to my 16-year-old daughter to text message her friends while we were going around town together. She usually deletes her messages and boyfriends' replies, but the next day I found something that shocked me. The phone allows me to keep a backup of the last few days' messages, and when I went to clear it out, I saw one of her outbound texts contained some X-rated material. Things like my daughter wanting to shower with this guy and other stuff you couldn't print! There were several items, but reading through one was enough, and I deleted them permanently. I get the fact that children seem to mature faster than they used to, but I was just stunned, and it still hurts. I haven't told my wife and am reluctant to, as she's pretty strict with our daughter. I feel like I should say something, but I don't want it to be said angrily or come across poorly and make things worse.

—Distressed Dad

Advertisement

Dear Dad,
Let go of your anger and your sense that she's hurt you. Don't make your goal a confession from her or punishment from you. But you have discovered evidence that your daughter is sexually active, or is preparing to be, and this is something you and your wife need to know about. Is she using birth control? Has she had the Gardasil vaccination? And, most of all, have you talked to her about the fact that while her boyfriend may say he loves her, you remember what it was like to be a pimply, horny 16-year-old boy praying a girl would take off her clothes for you. Sure, she probably doesn't want to hear any of this, and it's impossible to control your teenager fully, but you need to let her know that you want to know what's going on in her life, because she's going through momentous changes. If she is sexually active, punishing her will just drive her away. You and your wife need to do your best to reach out so you can help her safeguard her physical and emotional health.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie, 
I am 18 and recently moved in with my dad, his wife, and their two kids, who have all been perfectly welcoming. I left a difficult and emotionally abusive situation with my mom. My dad has a demanding job, but when he gets home, he walks in the door with a smile on his face. What bothers me is that his wife constantly harps on him. She complains about everything he does. She will go on and on to me about how he snores at night (even though they haven't slept in the same room for years) right in front of him, as if he's not even there. She disses him about his choice of music, how he mows the yard, his mother's personality. My dad is the kind of guy who would rather ignore her comments than start a discussion about it (usually because she flies off the handle). I do a lot to try to make his day go easier, like make him dinner and do everything I can around the house so she doesn't harp on him to do it, and they both appreciate it. I get along well with his wife, and I have tried talking to her about this, but she laughs it off. I don't think she truly realizes what she is doing. How I can show him I care and don't share her opinions? And how do I handle the situations my stepmom puts me in when she talks to me about my dad right in front of him?

—Daddy's Girl

Advertisement

Dear Daddy's Girl,
Your father has married two harridans. That's not a coincidence; that's a pattern. Something in your father's psyche seeks out women who like to shred him, and you can't fix this. You yourself had to flee an abusive household he created. It sounds as if with this wife, your father is able to tune out the insults and not up the ante, which is the best survival strategy for a problem he's decided to live with, not address. You are particularly vulnerable to feeling his hurt because you've been apart from him for so long, and his home is a haven. But stop feeling as if you have to try directly (talking to your stepmother about her behavior) and indirectly (doing the chores so he doesn't get yelled at) to make her attacks stop. (You should help around the house because it's the right thing to do, not because you're trying to save your father.) When your stepmother tries to engage you privately in her bashing, just say, "Barb, I'm uncomfortable talking like this about my dad." If it's in front of him, simply remove yourself from their confrontation. Since you're an adult, try to have some time alone with your father to talk about these issues. Not a gripe session about your stepmother, but a chance for him to address your concerns about him and about marriage. And as you go out and make your own romantic decisions, be very aware of not falling into relationships like his just because they feel familiar.

Dear Prudie,
My husband and I had an affair that broke up both of our previous marriages (which were horrible). My divorce ended quickly, while his ex-wife went beyond the norm for cruelty and revenge. His children are all grown. They all took his ex-wife's side and vowed never to speak to either of us again. When we do, by chance, see them, they turn their backs; and when they speak to other people about their dad, they don't even refer to him as their father but just call him by his last name. They refer to me as "the whore." Five years have passed since the divorce and our marriage. The youngest child is now getting married. My husband received a wedding invitation, but I was excluded and informed that I wasn't welcome because their mother wouldn't allow it. If my husband goes without me, they get their way by snubbing me as well as showing everyone there that I wasn't invited. If he doesn't go, then the other guests will ask, "Where is your father?" and he'll look like a jerk for skipping his own daughter's wedding. Should I encourage my husband to go without me?

—The Banned One

Dear Banned One,
I often wonder in cases in which the betrayed spouse carries on a permanent vendetta and injects poison into the next generation whether the kids don't sometimes think, "Hmmm, maybe there was a reason Dad left Mom." I can understand the anger of an abandoned spouse, but it is her obligation not to interfere with her children's relationship with their father. And it is the obligation of grown children to act like adults and to understand that while painful things happen in life, it's best not to spit on family members who don't live up to their perfect ideals. That said, your husband should go to the wedding. Yes, it's insulting that his wife of five years is not invited, but given the general tenor of family gatherings, would you want to be there? Your husband should behave with warmth and dignity, no matter what the provocation. Perhaps this will bring a glimmer of recognition on the part of the children that they're missing something by cutting their father out of their lives.

—Prudie