Help! Should I Hug the Dirty Old Man Who Comes Into My Shop?

Advice on manners and morals.
March 26 2012 3:12 PM

Whoa, Momma

During a live chat, Dear Prudence offers advice on having children after tragedy, elective surrogacy, and the demands of parenting twins.

(Continued from Page 1)

A: This must be "I'm Smart Enough To Be a Senior V.P. But Too Dumb To Know Kids Need Time Attention and Love" Day. You don't have to say anything more. The arrival of two squalling infants will certainly be a lesson itself to your sister that no matter how "strong" a woman is, coping with a newborn set of twins is not something amendable to working out on a spread sheet. I assume she will quickly realize that newborns and 60-hour weeks are not compatible, unless she's strong enough to not sleep for the next few months. However much, in the weeks to come, you want to say, "I told you so," bite your tongue. Listen to her, help guide her, and suggest that if she doesn't want to cut back on her hours, two shifts of nannies will be a lifesaver.

Q. Boundaries: I recently married a widower and my stepdaughter moved out of her father's home shortly before I moved in. She's 19 and lives nearby. In the past six months we've been married, my stepdaughter has come over just about every weekend (her room is still here). Furthermore, I find her frequently in our home and she helps herself to food, moves things around the house, and takes various items she needs without saying anything. I find it unsettling to have a completely unexpected visitor at random times throughout the day. My husband and I work full time and would enjoy some quiet couple time in the weekend, but my husband wants to do things with his daughter. When I asked him to tell his daughter not to come around so much (and to call before she drops by), he said it's her home too and I was being unreasonable because she's my daughter as well, now. Am I really out of line here for wanting some privacy in my own home?

A: Your stepdaughter is a teenager who has lived with her father, coming and going, eating whatever she liked, and feeling the house is her home until you came along. That's what people do when they live someplace. I don't know if she moved out voluntarily or under duress, but she hasn't completely severed her link to the house or her father. I assume that if she were 16, you wouldn't be complaining that you have a high school student under your roof who is in and out whenever she likes and helps herself to the groceries. She has semi-fledged but not completely, and her life is complicated by the fact that her mother is dead so her father is her only parent. You also gripe that you don't like that your husband still wants to spend time with his daughter on the weekend. I'm wondering what your courtship was like—I'm assuming you picked up on the fact that your husband was a package deal and came with a daughter. I suggest you back off and change your tune. Accept that this house has been your stepdaughter's home a lot longer than it's been yours. It may be that the more welcoming you are the more comfortable she becomes in her own new home and moving on into her own adult life. In that case the problem takes care of itself. You may want to seek some counseling now to help give you a neutral party's perspective on dealing with your resentment. And if the therapist suggests you change the locks on the house to keep your stepdaughter out, find another one.

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Q. Re: Surrogate: I think your comment that the woman who hired the surrogate might not be truly interested in motherhood is very unfair. Men get to have children without any impact on their career if they so choose. Why shouldn't women be allowed to have that option as well?

A: How to share or provide child care is something for couples to work out between themselves. Pretending that children don't profoundly change the lives of both men and women seems ludicrous, even if one or both parents continue to have demanding careers. If you're seriously saying that more successful women should outsource their pregnancies as a way to keep motherhood from interfering with their client accounts, then I'm saying those women need to seriously think about how much they want children in the first place.

Q. Wicked Stepmothers: Every week there seems to be some woman writing in, upset that her husband's children from his first marriage won't disappear off the face of the earth, irritated that they won't clear out of the house they grew up in now that she's moved in, and all-around being hostile. Why marry a man who has kids if you can't stand said children? I honestly don't understand this...

A: And every week I get emails from stepmothers claiming I'm bashing them and don't understand how difficult their situation is or just what devils their husband spawned with his previous wife. I know blending a family can be difficult. But I agree, I just don't understand women who marry men with children who want to be women who marry men without children.

Q. I'm The Wedge Between My Mother & Her Parents: My husband and I were happily married a year and a half ago. When this happened, my mother's parents disowned me for marrying a Jew. Even though they are my only living grandparents, their disapproval didn't even make me blink. Since then, my mother has cut off contact with her parents. She couldn't accept that they wanted her to pretend, at least around them, that I didn't exist. Her decision has also strained her relationship with two of her sisters. (Only one of her siblings even came to our wedding.) I just found out that she even returns any of my grandmother's cards and letters unopened. While part of me is proud that she has chosen us over her parents' twisted world view, I'm also torn. Her parents are getting on in years and I don't want her to someday regret shutting them out. I know my outlook is influenced by the fact that my own father died too young and I miss him every day. What, if anything, should I say to my mother?

A: Your grandparents are pathetic people, and being shut off from a loving granddaughter and potentially their future great-grandchildren is a fitting punishment. I think you should tell your mother you really appreciate her solidarity, but you have accepted your grandparents are extremely narrow-minded and their choice does not actually hurt you. Say that you are concerned she will be cut off from her parents for your sake, and you don't want that burden. Explain you will not feel she is disloyal if she makes a rapprochement with them. Then she can more freely decide what her relationship with these bigots should be.

Q. My Boyfriend Is a "Winker": My boyfriend constantly winks at waitresses or people in service. When I point this out to him he tells me it's a sign of appreciation. I don't see it that way at all. If I was a waitress and a customer winked at me, I would take that as a flirtation. When I pointed this out he told me that a wink can be interpreted in many different ways and it's the intention behind the wink. His intention is to say, "Thank you, keep up the good work." I'm sorry, but if I want to show my appreciation for the waitress or waiter getting our meal to our table in a timely manner, I would verbally express my gratitude. Am I overreacting?

A: Since you mention "waitress or waiter" it's a little unclear if your boyfriend is an equal opportunity winker. Maybe he's of the Sarah Palin we're-all-just-folks school of winking. He already acknowledges a wink can be interpreted many ways, and usually from male to female it's interpreted as flirting. So tell him whatever his intention is, this ambiguous non-verbal communication is making you, and the service people, uncomfortable. If he continues then you have to decide if this is so minor you can turn a blind eye, or so major you don't want to be out with him in public—or in home with him in private—anymore.

Q. Abortion: While I agree with your advice to the first letter writer, I object to your claim that abortion is "inevitably a sad and painful choice." I know a woman who has made that choice and did not find it especially sad or painful. While many women may find the decision sad and painful, there are also a substantial number that do not, and there is nothing wrong with this. Pretending otherwise just marginalizes them.

A: You're right about making blanket statements. But surely very few women think, "Well, oops. Don't want this kid so thank goodness I can get this taken care of in an afternoon." Finding yourself with an unwanted pregnancy is a difficult discovery—and not wanting to be in that situation should encourage more people to be scrupulous with birth control. But I do know many women who made the choice to have an abortion, and felt then, and forever afterward, that it was the right one and they are grateful it could be done freely and safely.

Q. Surrogate Issues: Your advice was appropriate about how to treat shower guests, but how dare you give judgment about a woman choosing to use a surrogate?! As a mother who had a perfectly normal pregnancy with no complications I am absolutely indifferent to that phase. It wasn't joyous, it wasn't horrible—it was a necessary process. If I could skip it and just get on to having my child—all the better. It is not a reflection at all about the type of parent one is, nor about the love one feels for their child. When you then consider that even a pregnancy where there weren't issues involved monthly, then bi-weekly, then weekly, then twice weekly appointments ... there is nothing wrong with seeking a surrogate vs. being forced to use one. And if this woman heard half of the horrific stories I did about pregnancy …  I would avoid it too if I had a choice. Luckily mine wasn't horrible. But geez—because a woman chooses not to go through pregnancy but wants to be a parent—you come to the conclusion that she's probably not ready to be a mother. Really?! I'm highly disappointed.

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