Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of this week’s chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Emily Yoffe: Good (sweltering) afternoon. Let's get to it.
Q. Stopping Former Nanny From Sleeping With Other Dads: My children attended a wonderful preschool until they turned 5. When our youngest child left the preschool my husband and I hired their favorite caretaker, twentysomething Kate, to be their part-time nanny. Over the past three years, Kate has practically become part of our family. Last year, I wrote her a recommendation that helped her gain entry into a prestigious special-education college program. Last week, I found out Kate and my husband have been carrying on an affair for two years. I don't know yet if my marriage will be salvageable, but Kate is no longer working for us. I know Kate wants to continue to work as a child care provider. I think that if most moms and facilities knew about her past, they wouldn't give her the time of day. I'm also worried she'll betray other families the way she betrayed mine. I'm not sure how to make sure she doesn't work in a child care setting without going down a seriously psychotic path, like mass-emailing every day care in our city. Should I do my best to forget about Kate? Or is there a sane and justified way I can keep her from hurting other families?
A: How horrible to find you've brought such a viper into your home. The pain of this infidelity is magnified by the intimacy Kate has been granted to your family, and by finding out you are living the most tawdry of domestic clichés. You have a lot facing you. You must deal with this betrayal, decide the future of your marriage, and look out for your children's emotional well-being. That means there's no room in your life for Kate. (Remember the real miscreant here is your husband. He either initiated the affair or came hither in response to her come-hither glances.) Of course you'd like to have a disclaimer follow Kate for life: "Hire her and she'll screw your husband." You'd probably like to see it posted on the entrance gates to her college. But you need to focus on what you can control, not how to exact revenge against the babysitter. However, if she works her way through college by working for other families, and one happens to call you for a reference, you can succinctly explain the reason you had to let Kate go.
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Q. Baby's Name: My husband and I have been married for two years, and had a baby six weeks ago. I am a professional with a good job; my husband works in a small family business owned by his father. When we married, I kept my maiden name; when we chose our baby's name, we agreed on a hyphenated last name. When the baby was born and my in-laws found out about the baby's name, my husband was fired from his job (via telegram!). Last week he informed me that he had spoken with his father and got his job back, but he had told his father that we would change the baby's name. While I understand his motivation, I cannot fathom living like this. I told him that I would not agree to continue to jump through hoops for his family, that I would not agree to the name change, that he couldn't expect to be able to trick them indefinitely, and that someday they would learn that their grandchild has a hyphenated last name, so he'd better figure out how to get other employment. I also told him that they are no longer welcome in our house. Had I known from the start that the name would be such an issue, I would not have suggested hyphenating the name, but now that it's done, I can't imagine bowing down to their demands. My own family thinks I am wrong. What do you think?
A: Maybe the most shocking revelation in your letter is that it's still possible to send a telegram. Okay, back to your father-in-law. When something like this happens, I always assume that this can't be the first hint that the perpetrator is off his rocker. It's hard to believe that your father-in-law up to this point has been a wonderful boss and your son feels as if he has a good and happy future working for him. I agree that with a father who can pull a stunt like this, it's dangerous to have your husband's financial future wrapped up with him. But now that you're parents, you need to make some calculated decisions about what's best for all of you. Now is not an excellent time to be looking for work, especially having just been thrown out of the family business (by telegram). I think your husband should go back to work with his father with the idea that he will begin the search for non-family employment. To allow this to proceed in the most efficacious way, I don't see anything wrong with a little white lie. So you tell your in-laws, "Oh yes, your grandson is now Nimrod Lee, not Nimrod Lee-Shapiro." If your father-in-law asks to see the birth certificate, push back by saying that changing it is a complicated legal process and what with breast-feeding and not sleeping no one's had time to get to it. It's pretty rare for grandparents to even see forms which would have their grandchild's full name. Nimrod is years away from bringing home a report card. And by the time he gets one, your husband should be climbing the ladder at a company that doesn't care what his kid is named.
Q. Family Party: My brother and sister-in-law both work office jobs and her family is pretty well off. My sister-in-law's family likes to have very formal celebrations—neckties for even a toddler's birthday. We were invited to our niece's first birthday party and the invitation indicated business casual. My husband is in the medical field and wears scrubs all day, I am a stay-at-home mom, and my three kids under the age of 5 do not have much in the way of formal wear. What does business casual mean when applied to a child's birthday party? Am I really expected to purchase new wardrobes for my entire family to watch my niece cover her face in cake?
A: Are the ties for the toddlers? Given how toddlers play that would seem to present a strangulation hazard. In this context, take "business casual" to mean something between a tuxedo and sweatpants. I'm sure all of you have items in your closets that would fit those parameters.
Q. In-Law Relations/Engagement Ring Drama: My fiancé and I got engaged over Christmas while we were visiting his mother in a different country. He gave me a beautiful heirloom ring that had been his maternal great-grandmother's. It was much too big and we quickly got it sized after returning home. However the ring ended up still being a bit too large. It stayed on but felt a bit loose. One day in February, I was taking off my glove in a busy metro station and it fell off. I didn't notice for a couple of minutes. When I returned, horrified, the ring was long gone. My fiancé took it well (he's sad and disappointed but doesn't blame me) and has seemed to let it go. I'm having a harder time. It makes me sick when I think about it and I usually end in tears. We haven't told his mother yet and I don't know how. I'm so afraid she'll hold this against me. My fiancé thinks we should wait until she comes to the States for our wedding, but I hate waiting that long and want to get it over with. What's the best way to tell her? Also, how to tell friends when they've seen a photo of the old ring and ask why I'm not wearing it now? I've gotten a new, more modest ring that looks nothing like the previous one. In fact it's hard to not feel bitter when I look at my new ring because it only reminds me of how I lost the old one. Help!
A: I've been at busy metro stations when the reason the train doesn't come is because what's fallen onto the tracks is a passenger. You are young and in love and about to embark on a life together. Life will throw many loops your way, and when you look back years from now, if the worst tragedy to befall you was losing a dear heirloom in the metro, you will be among the luckiest people on earth. It was an accident, it happened, the ring is gone. You have another one to mark your betrothal. I think the mother should be told before she arrives for the wedding. I don't know if that's a year or a few months away, but she should at least be prepared to not see the ring. If you don't know her well, it's fine for your fiancé to let her know that even after having the ring sized, it was too big, and that you're heartsick about the loss. Sure, it will sting, but let's hope your mother-in-law also knows that even irreplacable things are just things.
Q. My Stepson Took My Panties, Help!: Without being too graphic, lately several pairs of my underwear have gone missing. I am married to a man with two teenagers from his first marriage; my stepson and my stepdaughter stay with us each weekend. I am in my early 30s. Some relatives visited my husband and me for the holiday weekend, and some stayed in my stepson's room. While cleaning his room in preparation for their arrival I discovered several pairs of my underwear crammed into a "secret space," as well as some pictures of me in a bikini. I'm trying not to feel weird around my stepson, because I remember the unpredictable crushes I developed as a result of my hormones. But I buy nice underwear, and I would like him to stop taking mine. I'm not sure if I should tell my husband about his son's crush and ask him to deal with this or if I should casually ask my stepson to stop. What do you think the least embarrassing option is?
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