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 Writes: Good afternoon. Let's get to it.
Q. Baby-Trapper: Last night, I was browsing through different pregnancy Web sites, as I just found out I am pregnant with our first baby. I stumbled upon a message board and found my now-sister-in-law had been on this board about a year ago asking for advice on conceiving. A year ago, they were only dating and marriage was not even in the picture. She was actively trying to get pregnant without my brother-in-law's knowledge! (It's my husband's brother.) She has been pregnant twice this year but lost them both. I don't know what to do. Do I confront her with what I found? Do I tell my B-I-L? I'm not trying to break up their marriage, but this is disgusting! She tried to baby-trap him! I know he had no knowledge of this because of numerous conversations he and I have had on the subject. I'm at a loss for what to do.
A: Your conclusion that your now sister-in-law tried to "baby-trap" your brother-in-law into marriage is none of your business. As you point out, they did get married, and she hasn't had a baby. It's probably been a terrible toll on both of them that she's had two miscarriages in such a short time. I'm trying to imagine how you present your revelations without sounding like the nosiest, most destructive sister-in-law possible. Actually I can't come with up a scenario that doesn't mark you permanently as a noxious she-devil. Just concentrate on your own good fortune and your future family. And let me caution you against spending the next nine months strutting around and crowing about your ease at conceiving every time you see your sister-in-law.
Dear Prudence: Help! I'm Scared of Getting Herpes.
Q. Relationship Question: My hubby and I have been married for 11 years, more happily than not, and have two young children. When I was pregnant with our first child, he finally confessed to having prostate issues and went for testing/diagnosis. The biopsy was brutal and thankfully returned with nothing serious. But the problems have persisted and since the experience was so terrible for him, he refuses to go back for treatment. As a result, we have had sex exactly once in over six years, for the sole purpose of creating baby No. 2. I totally understand that he has a medical condition, and I cannot force him to seek treatment, but the celibate life is no fun at all. Yes, we've talked about it, rationally and calmly. For my hubby, it means turning off just about all physical contact because for him it's a slippery slope and he wants more but knows that it will be painful and therefore not any fun at all for him. Is there a middle ground that I am missing?
A: When your husband refuses all sexual contact except for procreation because touching you will be a slide down that slippery slope to intimacy, you need some new professionals to help your husband straighten out his head and other parts. I understand he was traumatized by his initial treatment. But the answer is not to suffer for the rest of his life, but to find a compassionate, competent urologist who can monitor his health and help him to get functioning again. Your husband might also be helped by talking this out in a support group in person or online for men with prostate issues. And at this point, it sounds as if he needs some serious psychological intervention—if his answer to prostate complications is to turn your home into a monastery, then he's got problems with his head, not just in bed. You might do the initial research and find a physician for him to see. It would probably be a good idea for you to go and talk to the doctor as a couple about your problems. If your husband refuses, explain, rationally and calmly, that this is not how you want to live and his getting treatment is essential to the survival of your marriage.
Q. Mother-in-Law Wants To Be Called "Mom": When I married my husband a few years ago, my in-laws invited me to start calling them "Mom" and "Dad" as opposed to their given names. I was uncomfortable with the suggestion for a couple reasons—I'm not that close to them (they've been distant—geographically, that is—our whole courtship/marriage) and it feels odd to call them such familiar terms, also it's a bit new to me (my parents always use first names for my grandparents, and my B-I-L, S-I-L refer to my parents by their first name). My husband and I both explained that I was uncomfortable with the suggestion and tried to move on. Now, however, I find myself in an awkward situation when the family gets together. I am the only in-law (out of five total daughters-in-law) who does not use the "Mom" and "Dad." I can live with that, but every time I call my M-I-L by her name, she tends to politely correct me with "Mom," even though she knows I am uncomfortable doing so. In fact the last time we were together, there was a church gathering, and after I called her by her first-name, she took me aside and told me it was inappropriate and I should either call her "Mom" or her titled church standing in front of the others. Is this battle worth fighting?
A: I'm trying to understand what her "titled church standing" means. If that gives you the OK to call her "Deacon Barbara," it would be hard to resist the temptation to do so. It's one thing to tell your son or daughter-in-law they can call you "Mom" or "Dad." It's another thing to insist. Sure, we all have to do things we'd rather not for the sake of family harmony, but you shouldn't have to choke this out to them if you feel those titles are reserved for your own parents. Since they live far away and you don't see them very often, when you do get together, you might just work at constructing your sentences so you don't need to use their names and you can get away with "you." They are unwilling to accept your reasonable demurral, so "You" or "Deacon" it will have to be.
Q. Discipline: My wife and I have been married for eight years, and we have three wonderful children, two girls and a boy. While we agree on most everything, the one thing that really causes trouble is our son, specifically how to discipline him. He is 6 years old and has mild CP and also very high functioning autism. Now my wife thinks that because of his "special needs" he should not only treated differently, but also disciplined differently. I say that consistency is the key and that the Bible says to "spare the rod, and spoil the child." Who's right?
A: I hope your son's special needs will be a special gift to your entire family and help you rethink your approach to discipline. I absolutely agree on the need for consistency, especially with a child dealing with autism. But all your children should have consistent, compassionate care, not consistent smacks to the backside. (And the Bible says lots of things I'm sure you don't take literally.) Lack of corporal punishment does not mean you allow your children to run wild; it means showing them there are better ways to get people to behave. Please talk to the professionals helping you with your son about the most effective ways to discipline him. I've recommended the work of Haim Ginott before, but please read one of his books. Even if you don't use all of his methods, he will help you see the world through the eyes of your children.
Q. Weird Verbal Tic: My fiance has this bizarre, annoying habit. Anytime I say something, he'll pick one or two words out of the sentence, and repeat them back to me as a sing-songy question. "I'm going to the grocery store." "GROCERY STORE?" "Can I grab you anything from the kitchen?" "KITCHEN?" It is even more irritating than it sounds. I've told him it's an annoying habit, but I truly think he can't help himself. "Please don't parrot words back to me, it's annoying." "PARROT?" Aaaaagggghhhhh!!!! Any suggestions? I've tried ignoring him, and I've tried telling him to knock it off. I'm being driven out of my MIND. (And, please, I beg you, no cheesy puns or sing-songing my question back to me. ... I get that enough at home, and you don't want to be responsible for my chucking my laptop at anyone's head.)
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