Click here to read a transcript of Prudie's live weekly chat with readers at Washingtonpost.com.
I am a 38-year-old widower. Three years ago, my wife passed away after a long illness. Our son was not quite 4. Since her death, my focus has been exclusively on him and my work. I have had no social life. My mother-in-law helps out, but she is quite old. I recently hired a woman to take care of my son until I get home from work. The woman is 24 years old, and my son adores her. She has a boyfriend of several years who seems like a good guy. Here's the "problem." She just told me she has a serious crush on me and is restless in her relationship. She has also made feints into discussions about sex with me, which I've brushed away. She is very attractive, and I have been completely alone since my wife passed, so this is pretty awesome on about 100 levels. But, of course, there are also a number of complications. I will not do anything if she is still seeing her boyfriend. If she does break up with him, what are my options? I pay this woman to watch my son. Does that arrangement end if I begin seeing her? If we eventually break up, can I (gulp!) hire her back? Do I sound as creepy as I feel?
If your name is Von Trapp and hers is Maria, that would color my answer. But before you two burst into a chorus of "My Favorite Things," I'm afraid pursuing this young woman, awesome though it may sound, is a bad idea on about 100 levels. It is perfectly understandable that you are eager to fall into bed with her; it's about time you felt alive enough to pursue another woman. Since you're already wondering whether you can hire her back when things don't work out (answer: no), you clearly aren't interested in her as more than a jumpstart to your too-long-dormant sexuality. Hooray that your sap is running again. So use the motivation she's provided you to start looking for someone more suitable to date. This young woman has a pre-existing condition: She's your son's baby sitter. Both you and your son have been lonely and in pain since the terrible death of your wife. But he's now made an emotional connection to this young woman, and it would be unnecessarily confusing for him to lose her as a baby sitter because you started an affair with her. I applaud that your response to her feints has been to brush them off and not to ravish her. Since nothing's happened yet, keep it that way. You need to tell her that you appreciate the wonderful job she's doing with your boy, and you want her to continue, but you two must leave your relationship strictly as employer and employee. If she can't accept that, then you have to let her go. And now that you're ready, you must put out the word with your friends—who have surely been waiting—that you're in the market.
My mother-in-law is driving me crazy. My husband and I just found out that we are pregnant with our second child, and I heard she's pregnant, too. I cannot conceive of being pregnant at the same time as my mother-in-law! She has this notion that she is "too young" to be a grandma, and I am so angry with her for trying to take my spotlight. She is 44 years old, and it makes me upset that she wants to have children now (after already having three of her own) instead of just being a grandma. What should I do or say when she reveals her big news to us, which will likely happen when we reveal our big news to her?
Your mother-in-law may consider herself too young for grandmahood, but if your family runs a contest to find the most immature member, I'm going to put my money on you. Your mother-in-law's fertility is none of your business; you have no claim on what she does with her uterus. You say you "can't conceive" of conceiving at the same time as your mother-in-law. I'll assume that as intolerable as you may find this, you will not end your pregnancy to solve this so-called crisis, nor suggest that she end hers. You're not the only person to be in a family that finds itself welcoming infants born to mothers of different generations—take a look, or not as is your preference, at the Palins and the Duggars. When your mother-in-law makes the big reveal, you come up with a convincing semblance of an exclamation of joy. You express your eagerness that the soon-to-arrive little aunt or uncle and little niece or nephew spend happy childhood years playing together. And you work on realizing that you will be a better role model as a mother if you can accept that seeing life as a struggle to hog the spotlight is a sure way to make yourself and everyone around you miserable.
One of my friends, who has sterling credentials, took a job with a multi-national company located in an authoritarian country. I have politely informed her that the country's ruling family welcomes foreign talent because 1) career-minded outsiders create wealth for the rulers without posing a political threat, and 2) the phalanx of imported executives prevents the formation of an opposition class. This isn't my imagination; scholarly and journalistic articles have been written about the country's kleptocracy and human rights abuses. I'm on the verge of dropping this friend, because I think her conduct is immoral. Am I being a judgmental jerk?
—Thinking Globally, Acting Personally
If only this were a world in which all people lived in flourishing democracies. But it isn't, and that fact requires an ability to make distinctions. If your friend is working for, say, Robert Mugabe's monstrous regime, I would agree her moral compass is hopelessly smashed. But there are many unsavory governments with which the United States does business, and boycotting all of them would be impractical and probably counterproductive. Since this woman is a friend, go ahead and engage her in a conversation about the country where she's working. That means not lecturing her from a position of moral superiority but asking her about what she's found there and whether her company has made any efforts to try to influence the government's human rights policies. Even if her answers are unsatisfactory, before you dump her, do an inventory of your home. I would bet you have purchased your share of items made in countries whose human rights records are far from ideal.
I'm almost ready to settle down and have kids, but I have a bit of a problem. I was born with an extra toe on each foot and part of an extra finger. Surgery when I was 1 year old removed the excess appendages, however their code is still sitting inside my DNA and will probably be passed to the next generation. So when and how do I talk to my girlfriend about the fact that her future children will probably be born like I was? Should I suggest we both get genetic tests to detect potential abnormalities?
We all carry glitches in our genome, and it is up to each couple to decide how much they want to explore their genetic heritage before they potentially pass along any of these flaws. You have polydactyly, which means extra fingers or toes. (Polydactyly can also be a symptom of a number of genetic disorders, but these tend to have serious health consequences.) Polydactyly itself is a harmless birth defect, and one that is dominant, so you're right—your children would have a good chance of inheriting it. But so what? As your own experience shows, all it took was a few snips, and you ended up with the usual five digits on your feet and hands. I know a very attractive young woman born with polydactyly (she also got a surgical fix), and she would volunteer this information in the spirit of, "Here's an amazing fact about me." Since this is not a big deal, you shouldn't make it one. So next time you're drying your feet off after a shower, or putting on your socks, you can say to your girlfriend, "I've never told you this, but guess what, I was born with an extra toe on each foot. Look, here are the scars." Unless she's a nut, she's unlikely to run screaming from the room, and you can then explain you have a minor genetic fluke. Later, when you're married and actually contemplating children, you can jointly discuss seeing a genetic counselor to decide how deeply into your DNA you want to delve.