Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. An edited transcript of this week's chat is below. (Read Prudie's Slate columns here.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. I look forward to your questions.
New York City: I am a father of two beautiful daughters, ages 1 and 4. We spend a lot of time outside, in parks, museums, and restaurants. And, of course, they often have to go to the restroom accompanied.
I often wonder whether to take them to the men's or women's restroom. I used to always go to the women's—it's cleaner, and they don't see men peeing.
I am always apologetic if there is a woman in the restroom, but it is honestly never a problem, and they always say, "Oh, never mind, that's normal"—the several frowns and protests always came from men. This really led me to think about it.
I still think that we should go to a ladies' room. I mean there is really nothing to see there, is there? And after all, my daughters are young ladies, so why should they not go to a ladies' toilet? What do you think?
Emily Yoffe: Dad, you need to get out of the ladies' room. It is cleaner and nicer, but even though you're accompanied by your little girls, you are going to freak people out. I also agree the men's room is not ideal. But you can quickly glance inside, make sure there is no one at a visible urinal, and whisk the girls into a stall with you. Ideally, you should get in the habit of anticipating toilet needs so that before it's an emergency, you have a chance to see if you can locate single-stall facilities that allow you to lock the door. Sometimes there are special handicapped or family toilets at museums, etc., that would work. In a year or so, when you feel your older daughter shouldn't be entering the men's room at all, you can stand outside and wait for a mother and child and ask the mother if she will keep an eye on your little girl while she does her business. And thank you for a toilet question that does not involve the country-dividing issue of toilet seat up or down.
Washington, D.C.: I need a rudeness check. Here is the situation: My husband and I used to be friendly with a couple and our connection was through my husband. However, neither recognizes me when I am not with my husband (despite the fact that we have seen each other on numerous occasions—even dinner at their house). My acknowledgments of them were met with blank stares (this has happened more than once) when I was by myself. Because of this (and because we don't have much in common with them anyway), the friendship has faded. I think it is sort of amusing and am not hurt by it. However, sometimes I see the husband at the gym I go to. I don't acknowledge him, and he doesn't acknowledge me when we pass each other. But then I might walk by with my husband, and they will stop and talk. Then I feel weird/rude for not acknowledging him. Am I being rude?
Emily Yoffe: Since you don't mention they have only seen you in a niqab, this is utterly bizarre. When you socialized with these people, did they address your husband as "Bill," and you "Mrs. William Knickerbocker Jr."? It must make you feel weird to pass an acquaintance at the gym and have to pretend you don't know him because of his rudeness. I say stop pretending and when you see him just say, "Hi, Dick! It's Linda Robinson, I've noticed we were both members of this gym." Then just give him a little nod and smile when you see him. You will feel better for not buying into his rudeness.
Chicago: I am a finalist for a great job that would begin in several months. The first two interviews, which were over the phone, went really well. I have a half-day interview in person next week. I feel like I am a really strong candidate, but there is one issue: I'm pregnant. Let me rephrase that, I am very noticeably pregnant. The baby is due 19 days before the job will begin. I have a lot of help from my husband and family, so I won't require any maternity leave. (In fact, my current job is offering me two weeks of maternity leave.) Plus, since it is a university teaching job, I will have plenty of flexibility to nurse. How do I reassure my possible future employers that I will be able to fulfill the job responsibilities? And when and how do I bring up the obvious?
Emily Yoffe: It would be illegal for your potential employers to pass you over because of your pregnancy. (Of course, how would you ever prove that case?) And—readers, correct me if I'm wrong—I don't even think they're allowed to ask your post-pregnancy plans at a job interview. But your stomach will be the elephant in the room, so I think you should acknowledge it. Be confident and totally nondefensive. You can bring it up lightly by saying, "As you can see, in a few weeks, I will be occupied with pressing matters." Then explain you have a very good support system in place and your intention is to be available to start teaching when the semester begins. (And, readers, start whacking away if I've gotten this legally, and otherwise, wrong.)
New York: Re: The bathroom question. I wonder if you would have given a woman the same answer, to let her son go in with a strange man and his son, while waiting outside.
Emily Yoffe: I realize I sound sexist, but I think little boys can accompany their mothers to the ladies' room a lot longer than little girls can accompany their fathers—there is no equivalent of a urinal in the ladies' room.
Detroit.: How do you nicely call out someone who lies constantly? And should you call that person out if the person is in a position of authority over you?
Emily Yoffe: How do so many crazy people get to be bosses? "Liar, liar pants on fire!" is all-purpose, but not going to work here. What you need to do is document things. Let's say the boss is in the habit of giving assignments and then saying, "That's not at all what I wanted," when the assignment is turned in. So when you get the assignment, just send an e-mail saying you're confirming what you'll be doing, so that you can refer to it later. But if you're working for a compulsive liar, and it's hurting your career, escape might ultimately be the best option.
Akron, Ohio: A year ago, my father admitted that he is gay, confessed to numerous extramarital affairs, separated from my mother (his wife of more than 30 years), and immediately began a cohabitous relationship with a chronically unemployed alcoholic 30 years his junior. My father's relationship with this man is clearly pathological—my father himself has admitted as much. But, even after a series of hospitalizations for stress and other ailments related to the relationship, my father refuses to call things off with this man. Frustrated, I have cut off all communication with my father and haven't spoken with him in more than three months.
In the last week, my father has been readmitted to the hospital, and several members of my extended family have expressed disgust that I haven't so much as called him. I doubt they know how dangerous my father's domestic situation really is, and I assume they regard me as a narrow-minded bigot who won't accept her father's homosexuality rather than as a deeply concerned daughter who refuses to support her father's self-destructive choices. I'm torn about how to proceed—whether to stick to my guns and withhold support from my father until he begins to make healthier choices; whether to call him in his hospital room, knowing he may misinterpret my call as support for a relationship that I believe is slowly killing him; whether to explain myself to the members of my extended family, knowing they are likely to learn things about my father (and about the man he is living with) that he does not want them to know. Please help!
Emily Yoffe: You can make clear to your father that you think (as he does) that's he's in a very destructive relationship that you don't support, while not totally cutting him out of your life. A call or visit to see how he's doing is not support of his choices; it's just showing that you still love him. There's a whole continuum of distancing yourself from him without declaring him persona non grata. You might need to accept he is going to make horrible choices and there is nothing you can do about it, but you don't want to cut him off. If you feel you want him out of your life unless he changes his, however, just tell other family members this is a very painful time for all of you, and you appreciate their looking in on him, but you cannot support him making the kind of choices that keep landing him in the hospital.
Re: Chicago: If this is your first child, do not underestimate how long your recovery might take. I had a super easy birth and likely could have gone back to work in 19 days, physically, but emotionally? I was a basket case. No sleep, couldn't think straight, emotional at the drop of a hat. And, if you have a C-section, you may need longer to recover.
I also interviewed up until my 39th week of pregnancy (thanks to a pink slip at 36 weeks), and really good places to work who value employees long-term will work with you. I ended up working part time when my baby was 10 weeks old and then ramped up to full time a couple months later. If they are not accommodating to you now, it's probably not a good place to work long-term, so you can use this process to weed out. Don't be afraid to talk about it, but know what you want and don't be afraid to ask for ramp-up time.
Emily Yoffe: Excellent points. All sorts of unforeseen events can take place, and I agree two weeks is not a long enough maternity leave. However, this woman wants to get the job, and I don't think she should be laying those out at this interview. Once she gets the job, she can start talking in more concrete terms about planning her teaching schedule that first semester, and figuring out possible contingency plans.
Anonymous: I am a young, female law professor, and students frequently call me by my first name. This isn't part of the institutional culture of the law school—thus far, I have not heard other professors being called by their first names. Being that I haven't told anyone to call me by my first name, my assumption is that they do so because I am a young professor (and perhaps gender is coming into play as well). I don't think of myself as a title-oriented person, but I am still bothered when this happens. First, it is hard enough to maintain a sense of authority without the distinguishing gloss of age. (I might switch to telling students to call me by my first name after I am tenured and established, but for now, it would be too risky.) Second, students who freely use first names are likely setting themselves up to inadvertently insult others in their professional lives (judges come to mind)—and it is my job to provide a foundation for professional success. And, last, I do feel like my professional credentials are being impugned when this happens. Perhaps this last point indicates that I am more title-oriented than I like to think, but I think there's a difference between choosing to dispense with titles (which I may eventually do) and having others take that liberty based on your age and gender.
This all brings me to my question: What to do when a student calls me by my first name? Thus far, I have not reacted at all because there seems to be no good response. It seems like any corrective statement would come across as arrogant and vain. I need to figure out how to deal with this in person and via e-mail. (Sometimes students address e-mails to me by my first name; I always sign my e-mails to students with my signature block, which includes my full name, followed by my title and contact information, but this does not appear to hint strongly enough for some.)
Sincerely, Professor Blank
Emily Yoffe: I assume these students, once they graduate, if they appear before the Supreme Court would not refer to its newest member as "Sonia," so insisting that these students acknowledge your rank is only helping to indoctrinate them into your profession. The next time it happens, just say, "At this law school, professors aren't addressed by first names. So please call me Professor Blank." If they keep doing it in e-mails, start your answer by saying you need to be addressed by your title in the future.
Chico, Calif.: I teach at a university. Our human-resources rules are that you get six weeks maternity/paternity leave starting from the first workday after the baby's born—which for your pregnant LW sounds like it would be the first part of the new semester. Other schools in other states probably have a similar deal. If the LW turns out to be the No. 1 candidate, the university is shooting itself in the foot if it chooses not to hire her based on a short inconvenience. LW might want to check on the university's leave policy. I would advise against offering to forgo leave to try to be a more attractive candidate: She may not be allowed to do that, and with two babies myself, I wasn't ready for work after 19 days!
Emily Yoffe: Thanks for the excellent information and good advice.
Atlanta, GA: I am in the process of divorcing my wife. I have just discovered, via a DNA test, that my 9-year-old daughter is not biologically mine. Should my daughter ever be told the truth and, if so, at what age? Thank you.
Emily Yoffe: There's a lot more story here than you're telling. Even fathers in bitter divorces don't routinely get DNA tests in the hopes they can prove the kids aren't theirs, so obviously you've had your suspicions for a while—or your wife has thrown her infidelity in your face. I'm glad you continue to call her "your daughter" because that's what she is, and I hope that's how you plan this to remain (and courts have found, in these situations, the father who raised the child remains legally and financially obligated). I am generally in favor of people knowing the truth about their origins. But there is so much upheaval in your daughter's life right now, there's no reason to drop the DNA bomb on her, too. In a few years, as she is reassured that despite the divorce you are still her dad, then she can be told.
Alexandria, Va.: Right to the point. My wife and I (no kids) split all the household bills but make personal purchases separately. We keep separate accounts to ensure we don't have to justify the cost of clothes, cell phones, etc., to one another. Problem is, my wife makes nearly double what I do. I'm no bum, but following my passions hasn't led me to a big payday. So when all the bills are done with every month, she has enough to get designer this and that, whereas I am scrounging the clearance racks. Is it unfair to ask her to pay a higher percentage for bills [for things] we use evenly simply because she makes more? I'm starting to resent how freely she can use her money while I have to scrimp.
Her solution: Save up for what you want. But, boy, if that doesn't make me feel like a child.
Emily Yoffe: Does she let you use the car on weekends if you've done all your chores? This sounds less like a marriage than some other kind of arrangement (roommates, mother-son). It's fine for married people to have their own bank accounts, but what kind of marriage is it if the couple are leading parallel financial lives based on their income? "Ours" should be the concept behind your finances, unless one of you is untrustworthy. It's time to take this one to a third party—not a loan officer, but a marriage counselor.
Atlanta, Ga.: Yes, I love my daughter very much. She will always be mine. I was thinking that in the future she may need to know her biological father's medical history, that kind of thing.
Emily Yoffe: Good for you, Dad. Medical history is probably going to be less interesting than the fact that someone else is her biological father. Yes, in the long run she should be told—with a lot of reassurance that love is much more important than DNA.
Professor Blank: Needs to stop caring if she sounds arrogant and vain. It doesn't matter, and pretty certainly her male colleagues do not care if they come across as arrogant.
Emily Yoffe: Ain't that the truth!
Thanks, everyone, and I hope all of you get the respect you deserve this week.