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My wife is planning to attend a professional conference in a few months in a warm location while I stay at home with our two young boys. In years past I have gone with her, but this year one son is in school. As much as I'll be frazzled by five days alone with them, I'm happy that my wife is able to build her reputation. But she will be attending the conference with a guy I don't care for, because he acts like he's my wife's best friend. They worked together for several years, and he was essentially her "work husband"—lunches together, drinks after work with their co-workers, texts and calls at home, inside jokes, birthday presents. I've tried to explain my belief that a man should not be "buddies" with another man's wife, but my wife doesn't see it and says they’re just pals. At the conference my wife will essentially be "dating" this guy for five days. I do trust my wife completely. But this guy is single and would, I'm sure, like to get involved if the opportunity were available. I’m annoyed that I will be home with the boys while she is on vacation with another man. I can't ask her not to go, and I can't join her. What can I do?
What you shouldn’t do, once you tuck in the kids, is watch the movie Cedar Rapids. In that convention story, the insurance agent played by Anne Heche looks forward to the annual blowout so she can get away from her dutiful marriage, swim naked in the hotel pool, and get laid. Poor you, five days alone with your own sons, while your wife goes someplace warm (the nerve!), sees old colleagues, makes professional connections, and has some fun (bad Mommy!). One paragraph of your self-pity and bluster makes me want to pull up a lounge chair, order a pitcher of mojitos, and drown out the lectures on proper relations with the opposite sex. You’re right that some people have office spouses. This can be tricky because while it doesn’t offer conjugal privileges, it also doesn’t include such romance killers as wiping the kids’ noses and hauling the groceries. But you say you trust your wife completely, and during the years she worked with her office husband, they did not have an affair. I agree that if her relationship with her former colleague had been intruding on your time together, you would have been justified in asking for fewer happy hours and a moratorium on home phone calls—but they’re not even co-workers anymore. Stop harping on this conference, which is months away. When it rolls around, wish her a great trip and say you and the boys will enjoy doing guy stuff. That way, instead of thinking about what a relief it is to get away from her jealous prig, she will feel that no office husband measures up to the real thing.
Dear Prudence: Repulsive Co-Worker
I was raised in a family where we were teased to the point of ridicule. Consequently, I acted that way to my children before I figured out what I was doing. By the time my son was about 11 years old, I started offering positive comments and not berating him. There were times, though, that I did fall back and make awful remarks. Since he has become an adult, I have apologized for the way I mismanaged my anger and the hurtful things I said. His response was to shrug it off. I recognize that he created boundaries because I hurt him. My son is married and just recently had his first child. He lives a long car ride away, and his father and I don’t see him often—when we do he makes no attempt to greet or hug us. He rarely calls but comes for Christmas every other year. After I had surgery recently, he did not call to inquire how it went. I have become discouraged because he rarely takes a genuine interest in me. If he won't talk with me about this, how do I handle the discomfort when we do visit?
—Sadder but Wiser
I appreciate this letter, because while I often hear from the grown children of abusive parents, I rarely hear from the parents themselves. It is not usually in the abusers’ bag of tricks to recognize the damage they’ve done and its life-long consequences. You sound about halfway to understanding the situation. Read over your letter—while it starts off strong, it ends up being all about you. The lack of hugs you receive, your surgery, your feeling shut out. Instead of nursing your wounds, cast your mind back to your son’s childhood, and remember just a few of the many instances of your rages and cruel remarks. That might help you understand that despite your attempts to reform, and even apologize, you were a miserable mother. Some children grow up and forgive such parents, some children just tolerate them, and some cut them off. Be grateful you still have a thread of a relationship, and be aware that telling your son how much he hurts you could snap it. Now that he’s a father, it’s a good time for you to write him a letter telling him you admire what he’s made of his life and regret not giving him the start he deserved. Acknowledge that you know your relationship will always be strained. But say that you love him, his wife, and their baby and you hope they will let you be a loving grandmother. Then accept however much you get.
I've been working at a large company for nearly two years, and I hired a new assistant on a six-month trial period. Unbeknownst to my boss, I plan to quit my job and move to another state this summer. (If the company found out, I would be fired on the spot.) Before I leave, I have to evaluate my new employee's work and decide whether he will be hired permanently. Though he tries, he is socially awkward, incapable of working independently, and lacks several skills necessary to do the job well. He has told me many times that he is struggling financially and helps support his younger siblings, so he needs this job. If he doesn’t improve enough by the end of his trial, should I recommend him, since it won't be my problem anymore? Is it better to help someone who’s struggling financially or look out for the company, even though I feel no loyalty?