Q. I Have Asked That He Relax That Rule for Me: You don't "ask" anyone if you can stop to go to the bathroom! You either refuse to get into a car with him, or you go to a therapist to find out what kind of person your husband is and how he will treat your child.
A: Agreed. This is the kind of father who demands the kid is toilet-trained by 3 months.
Q. Perverted Brother-in-Law: My husband is the legal guardian of his teenage brother. He's a typical teenager who grunts a lot and doesn't talk much, but I've always been fond of him—until now. Recently I noticed my underwear going missing from the laundry basket. I thought I was just going crazy and misplacing stuff. The other day my B-I-L was playing games on my cellphone and forgot to return it before going out. As I was searching for it, I found a stash of my dirty underwear hidden under his bed. I feel completely disgusted and violated. I've noticed him giving me strange looks and making odd comments but shook it off as me being silly. My B-I-L reluctantly apologized but it's clear he doesn't understand what a violation of trust this is. I feel like I can't live with him anymore, and there are relatives who would take him in if we asked. My husband is torn between his responsibility toward his brother and knowing how violated I feel. Is there anything you can suggest here?
A: A while ago I got a similar letter, only this one was about a father-in-law, which made it so much more revolting. If his older brother is this teenager's legal guardian, then obviously life has not been kind to your young brother-in-law. What he did is a serious violation and I can understand your desire to kick him out. But he's only a teenager and he needs help. Before turning his world upside down again, you need to get him some counseling—and some group counseling for all of you would be helpful to set some boundaries and give him insight into the consequences of his actions. Let's hope there's time to take some of the twists out of this boy's psyche.
Q. Husband as Self-Declared Boss: My husband and I are fortunate to work together in a nonprofit organization that we love and are extremely dedicated to. We've worked there for nearly four years and we've both always given the work our all. Our first child was born last year and since then, I've had to take a major step back from the work in order to care for her. I've recently begun helping my husband with the work more often now that we've found part-time child care. The problem is that my husband has become extremely critical of my work and how I use my time. If I don't finish a project by his deadline, he starts criticizing me and demanding to know how I've spent my time since I was assigned the project. I find myself accounting for every spare minute and justifying time spent with our daughter. By the way, he is not my boss. We have equal positions at the nonprofit, but no direct supervisor at the moment. I will be heartbroken if I must quit the job I love but I'm not sure I can stand my husband's dictatorial attitudes for one more minute! Today, he told me that he liked the job much better when I was absent. I'm afraid that working together is ruining our marriage. What should I do?
A: Ah, a theme: The person who has a dream that life should be as he or she dictates it, and damn what anyone else wants out of life. I think you should show this very eloquent letter to your husband. Tell him you are so frustrated by what's happening in your marriage that you felt moved to ask for help. Having a child is a huge adjustment, and your husband hasn't made it. He may be not only resenting that you can't concentrate full-time on your work, but that the attention that used to go to him is redirected to your baby. This can only be worked out if the two of you can talk without rancor about how to address each of your needs and expectations. And since it sounds as if you work for a flexible employer, it would be most instructive if you two took turns working part-time. Let him be the primary caregiver for a while and see how he does with deadlines.
Q. Re: Long Car Rides: My mother used to do the same thing, even to small children, which ended up in more than one pee accident in the car (I have since been diagnosed with a bladder problem exacerbated by years of trying to "hold it"). We took a long driving trip through California when we were teenagers, and fed her some Ex-Lax brownies. Every time she had to stop we very rudely reminded her of her rule and complained about the delays related to stopping. After the trip we told her what we had done and asked how it felt to need to use the restroom and get berated for it. The pee-break issue never happened again!
A: Thanks for this fantastic anecdote. I kind of love the idea of the pregnant wife saying, "I don't think we should even stop to eat. I've prepared some delicious brownies to keep you fueled, darling."
Q. Ex Won't Go Away: I'm a high school senior. Last summer I broke up with my boyfriend of two-plus years. I loved him and everything and he's a great guy, but I just wanted out—he could be kind of overbearing and I was starting to feel smothered. I just didn't want to be tied down anymore. But now my ex-boyfriend won't leave me alone. He follows me around at school during the day, stares at me constantly, and calls me almost every night, crying. He even cornered me in the hall on Valentine's Day and gave me a poem about how his life is basically over now that we're not together. I understand he's depressed, and I feel terrible, but I'm so tired of this. I've told him many times that it's over and he needs to leave me alone, but he won't give up on me. No guy in school will come anywhere near me because of all the stupid drama, and people who know nothing about our relationship are all telling me what a heartless, horrible bitch I am for dumping him. Even my mom isn't on my side, because he got close with her while we were dating and now she talks to him all the time and constantly tells me how depressed he is and how I should be nicer to him. I know this is just high school and it'll be over soon, but I don't think I can stand another four months of this. What should I do?
A: Your mother is wrong, wrong, wrong. High school romances end, and you ended yours for a very good reason. I'm really sorry your mother is not on your side, but you have to go to the school counselor right away and report this. No one should be harassed and stalked as you are, and if he's making even faintly suicidal remarks some responsible adults need to get on this. If your counselor doesn't act, pronto, go to the principal. Your last year of high school should not be about someone else's drama.
Q. Husband Died, Expecting Baby, Dealing With In-Laws: My husband succumbed to pancreatic cancer two months ago. I am now seven months pregnant with our first child and struggling to put my life back together. Thankfully, neither money nor my family's support will be issues for me. But his family might be. My sister-in-law and father-in-law are both alcoholics. My mother-in-law left my husband's father years ago and started a second family. They all want desperately to be a part of our baby's life, but of the three, the only stable one is my M-I-L, and she often cruelly criticized my husband. I have been keeping them at arm’s length and, for the moment, have denied their request to visit me in the hospital. Right now I'm having trouble handling the unpredictability of my F-I-L and S-I-L as well as the fights that explode when they spend too much time around my M-I-L. Am I being cruel? How can I navigate this situation? I do want to find a way for them to be a part of our baby's life.
A: I'm so sorry for your loss. You need quiet support now for your own sake and for that of your coming baby. If your in-laws cause distress, you have to limit your interaction. You can be honest without being cruel. Say you understand their desire to be part of the baby's life, and they will be, but right now you need a quiet space to heal. Then, when the baby comes and they visit, have some trusted relative with you who can be your enforcer. If they start misbehaving, have them shown to the door with an explanation that the histrionics aren't good for anyone.
Q. Pregnant Teacher: Thank you for your response. When I was in the fifth grade (20-plus years ago) my teacher was pregnant. Maybe she had a husband, not sure. We had a class shower for her and I remember being very excited that she let us be a part of her home life, even just a little bit. I don't recall wondering about her private life beyond hoping that she would still be my teacher, but then again, I am the product of an "unacceptable" single mother, so maybe my view is skewed.
A: Exactly. Few kids even imagine their teachers having a personal life. I remember being that age and running into a teacher in a grocery store and being astounded that she shopped for food like anyone else. The mother needs to stop trying to ruin her daughter's relationship with a wonderful teacher.
Q. Brother's Adoption: My brother and his wife are adopting a 2-year-old from a foreign country. They only recently told the family after starting the adoption process and are not far from bringing her home. The little girl already has parents, but they gave her up to an orphanage because they are so poverty-stricken. I am not really the type to comment or care about other people's business, but this situation breaks my heart. I feel like it's wrong to take a child away from their country of origin when she has healthy, living parents. I feel like it would be in her best interest if my brother simply sponsored the child so she could live in her own culture with her biological parents. I've even considered sponsoring her myself, which wouldn't make a big dent in my monthly paycheck at all. Should I say anything to my brother, or just butt out?
A: Go ahead and give money to organizations that help impoverished people. As far as your brother is concerned, butt out and shut up. Then, after your niece arrives, dedicate yourself to being the world's greatest aunt.
Q. Appropriate Sympathy Gift: Friends of mine suffered an awful tragedy. They were pregnant with twins. The twins were born prematurely and did not survive. They lived only a few days. We live far apart and are in touch a few times throughout the year. They had called me with the joyous news of their pregnancy, but I learned of the tragedy through a shared acquaintance. I would like to get them two trees to plant in memory of their children. Do you think that this is a thoughtful gift? Or do you think this is one that would be a painful reminder of their loss?
A: Nothing is going to make them forget their loss. Your gesture is a lovely one. In addition to this memorial, also write to them to express your deepest condolences, then follow up with a phone call.
Q. Mr. Degree and His Future Mrs. Degree: I think you let your own views on the roles of a husband and wife get the better of you (especially your sarcastic comment about Santorum). I would suggest that Mr. Degree look to social groups that would attract women who share his traditional values, such as at his church. There are lots of women who have decided that their children deserve their full-time attention without competing with a job and they will be eager to find a husband who supports their decision. He has decided what family arrangements work best for him and is right to try to find someone who shares those values. He didn't deserve your tongue lashing.
A: I agree that there are fruitful places for a guy like the letter writer to look for a potential spouse. I will not back down from my suggestion that it's best not to have completely decided views about what your nonexistent spouse is going to do with her life. As for Rick Santorum's beliefs that the way he lives is the way everyone should live, sarcasm seems like an appropriate response.