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!
Q. I'm So Embarrassed ... In-Laws Saw Sexy Photos: A long time ago my husband and I took some, erm, "sexy" photos of ourselves. They were stored in our home PC and forgotten. Recently my mother-in-law asked us for a copy of our wedding photos and those of our 10-month-old daughter so she could make a family album. We haven't organized our photos on the PC, so I simply copied and pasted the entire "My Pictures" folder into the USB. After giving it to her, I was horrified to realize that the "sexy" photos would also be there. My in-laws haven't said anything to us, but I'm certain they saw them. I'm split between pretending nothing happened (but we know they know, and I feel embarrassed beyond belief) and saying something (but what do I say?). I don't think I could look them in the eye again.
A: My husband and I once took "sexy" photos of ourselves. I hid them somewhere then promptly forgot they ever existed. A few years later, we went on vacation and had a team of painters do the entire house. The boss said he'd take all the books off the shelves himself. When we returned, all our books were piled in the middle of the living room, and on the very top, taken out of the envelope, were our photos. It's very hard to say to someone, "Can you do another coat on the baseboards, please?" when you know he's looking at you and thinking, "I've seen you naked!"
I've never been happier to have someone leave my life than that painter, so I can only imagine what you are feeling about your in-laws. However, in this digital age, many family members, while using each other's computers, have stumbled on unfortunate knowledge about the sexual proclivities of others. Unless it is an issue of endangerment (child porn, for example), I think the best approach is to pretend you know nothing. In your case, this requires both parties to mutually, silently, agree that neither of you will ever mention the mortifying thing that has just taken place. Clearly, your in-laws are taking this approach, and you should follow their lead. Let's assume they're sophisticated people who once upon a time took their own sexy photos. Let's say after clicking briefly on an image, they said to themselves, "At least these kids are having a great time," and moved on. If you and your husband can find a way to laugh about this with each other, it will take away some of your anxiety.
So just sail forth acting as if you don't know they know. And, please, put clean out your files and put the photos in some encrypted place not even the NSC can access.
Dear Prudence: Giver's Remorse
Q. My Friends Look Down on Me Because I'm Not a Lawyer Anymore: Before having children I obtained a master's degree and worked for a well-known law firm. After becoming a parent, I fell in love with the role of raising my children. The legal profession, in retrospect, was not right for me anyway, and I happily became a stay-at-home mom. Now my children are in preschool. I started a part-time job as a secretary. I am happy in my job as I'm not looking for any career progression but simply some low-stress work to do in my free time away from the kids. It may not be mentally stimulating, but I like my co-workers and I'm having fun here. My problem lies with my friends and relatives. I regularly get comments that I "wasted" my degree and that I should look for a "real" job. They often look down at what I do and remark how awful I must feel that I sacrificed my career for my children. But, Prudie, I love my life exactly the way it is! It's so irritating hearing these demeaning and snobbish comments. What can I say? I have to restrain myself from rolling my eyes and telling them to shut up.
A: Apparently they haven't been reading the news that having a law degree makes you about as appealing in the marketplace as having excellent skills as a scribe. The issue here, of course, isn't the difficulty of finding legal jobs, but the fact that you don't want one. I assume you've told everyone that you don't want to practice law and you're happy doing what you're doing. If you haven't, say that in a simple declarative sentence. When they start with their insulting commentary, then you say, "I've told you the decision I've made for myself. I'm not soliciting advice about being a solicitor, so we need to close this subject. Thanks." If you keep getting harangued, cut short the visit or the call.
Q. Is It OK To Ask for the Baby Gift Back?: Upon hearing of my friend "Tina's" pregnancy, I bought an expensive baby swing as an early baby gift. Tragically, Tina lost her baby six months into the pregnancy. Tina comes from a superstitious family and believes all of her deceased baby's things should be burned or thrown away. I am pondering if it is appropriate to ask for the return of the baby swing rather than seeing it go to the bonfire. Since it costs $150, I'm unlikely to buy it again for my own baby, but I know she will love it. What do you think, Prudie?
A: When you give a gift you have to let go of it. It's unfortunate if your friend burns it, but that's her decision. Added to this is the fact that you simply don't intrude on your friend's grief by saying, "Since you're not having a baby after all ..." It would have been better if someone in the family had take over the task of returning gifts or offering to donate them, but no one did. It's also unfortunate that their decision is to destroy good items that could be passed on to a shelter, but you should not intrude.
Q. Breaking Bad News to Family: For years, I have hosted Easter dinner at my home. I find it a joy to cook for 12-plus people. The problem is this: I fell recently and fractured a bone in my elbow as well as severely dislocating the joint. I have the arm in a cast, and it will still be in the cast for Easter, leaving me with one functioning arm. I cannot make the traditional meal. How do I break the news to everyone that I cannot cook this year? I don't think anyone is in any position to cook for me.
A: Long, long from now, when your mortal body is no longer with us, I hope your family will not expect you to rise from the dead each Easter and continue to make them a meal because they have been rendered incapable of providing for themselves.
You break the news to everyone of your broken elbow by phone or email or Facebook or whatever is easiest for you to do one-handed. No one may be in a position to take over cooking for 12, but surely all of them are capable of providing one dish for 12. So you should suggest that in order for you to get together for Easter this year that it be potluck. You can even offer your home, with the understanding that family members will have to do all the set up and cleaning. It's wonderful that you enjoy your yearly duties, but you have more than earned the right to be waited on by them.
Q. I Don't Want To Raise My Nephews!: My husband has an alcoholic brother who can barely look after himself. He's been divorced twice, with a child from each marriage. Both mothers took off and my elderly in-laws have full custody. However, they are approaching a point where they can no longer care for them. (My MIL has always been unwell and FIL was diagnosed with cancer.) Recently they asked us to take full-time care of my nephews—but my heart drops at this thought. We have three kids who need a lot of attention. I don't have the energy or inclination to have two additional kids. If they come, I'll just be "ticking off the boxes" rather than being a good parent to tend to my own children's needs and spend quality time with them. My husband is a nice guy who'll promise to help, but he is pretty useless around the house and realistically all the household responsibilities will fall to me. Since there is no other family around, the only other option is foster care. Am I heartless to put my children's needs above my nephews?