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 afternoon. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Co-Worker Red-Flagging the Office Newspaper: I work in a small office, with a staff of maybe 10. I have worked here for about eight months as in a low-level production-oriented assistant position. A week ago, I walked by the 2nd floor bathroom and saw a co-worker of mine bringing out the office newspaper. She put the office newspaper back on the bench in the first floor. Personally, I am kind of disgusted by her sense of entitlement in thinking that she had a right to treat the office bathroom and the office newspaper as if they were hers. I also am at the bottom of the totem pole, the only male in my office, and am extremely embarrassed to mention anything. The co-worker wasn't my boss, but she is a friend of my boss. How do I make it clear that this is an inappropriate thing to do in the office, not just because I have personal hygienic objections to it, but because I assume others would if they had any idea this happens?
A: Let's try to sort this out. You are disgusted that a co-worker felt a call of nature and answered it by using the facilities. I hesitate to inquire as to what purpose you think the office bathroom has if not for people in need to temporarily think of it as theirs. Additionally, if people aren't allowed to read the newspaper in the bathroom, subscriptions would plunge even further. I hope your plan is not to put a Post-It on the paper with the warning: "Marie was reading this while relieving herself. The EPA has been alerted and a removal team will arrive shortly." I'm sure you've seen magazine stands in bathrooms. I assume you don't think flipping through the Vanity Fair will result in life-threatening contamination. You now know that if you want to read the newspaper at work, you need to get your own copy. But don't mention your discovery to anyone else.
Q. My Son and My Granddaughters: I have two sons, Matt and Alan. Matt died five years ago, leaving behind his wife and their two daughters. Although Matt and Alan were close for most of their lives, they had a falling out shortly before Matt's death due to Alan's addiction to crack. While visiting Matt's home, Alan forgot to turn off the stove. He nearly burned the house down, with Matt's wife and daughter's sleeping upstairs. Alan was too high at the time of his brother's death to offer his sister-in-law or nieces much support. He did not attend Matt's funeral. Alan has been clean for three years now and has completely turned around his life. He has tried to apologize to my daughter-in-law, but she wants nothing to do with him. Although my husband and I see our grandchildren often, our daughter-in-law refuses to even consider letting Alan see his nieces. It causes considerable tension between us when my husband or I try to talk to her about Alan. Alan desperately wants to be a part of his nieces' lives, but none of us know how to make that a possibility.
A: There has been so much suffering in your family, but you have to let go of this situation. Alan almost killed Matt's entire family; he did not go to Matt's funeral. It's understandable that Matt's widow might find the universe a cruel place for taking her husband while her crack-addled brother-in-law lives. It's wonderful that Alan has gotten clean. I hope he's making something worthwhile of his life. Three years later it may not be entirely rational that Matt's widow won't change her mind about Alan, but nagging and cajoling her will only harden her resolve. Do not threaten your good relationship with her and your grandchildren by making this a wedge between you. I hope Alan has written a letter to his sister-in-law which acknowledges his horrible behavior and his pain at the loss of his brother. If not, then he should. He should not put in it a request to see his nieces. It should simply be an explanation that he will live with the effects of his previous actions for the rest of his life. He can add that fortunately he's clean now and able to take responsibility for himself. That might be a small opening that will allow your daughter-in-law to come to her own new conclusions about Alan.
Q. A Mother's Instinct: I come from a very large, close-knit family that loves to hold family events for the holidays. Recently, I've become alarmed by one family member's behavior at family gatherings. He's in his early 30s and still lives at home. He's immature, socially awkward, has trouble keeping a job, and has had problems with substance abuse. Most of us barely speak to him because of these issues. I've noticed that he is especially attentive toward the young girls of the family, and it's become troublesome. He follows them around, makes remarks about their clothing and how innocent they are. I don't know of any instance where he has done anything inappropriate, but I am on high alert with my own young daughter at family gatherings where he is present. I don't even allow him to be within a few feet of her without me or my husband standing next to her. Lately, he's been especially attentive with one young female family member, so much so that I reached out to her mother to ask if this alarmed her. Her mother assured me that they are never alone together, but that she has noticed this, too. Together we agreed to try and shepherd him away from the kids at future gatherings, but I'm worried that this may not be enough. I have zero evidence (gratefully) but I feel like I should do more. He recently mentioned that he's been hanging around with a neighbor's young son, sort of taking him under his wing because he's going through a lot and his mother is a single parent that doesn't have a lot of time to spend with him. It's been bothering me a lot and I don't know if I should report this to authorities.
A: I agree this is alarming and that also you have no evidence that anything has happened. But a young adult with social and substance problems who likes to follow children around should have anyone's klaxons sounding. If it's possible, talk to your relative's parents. I hope they have awareness of their son's problems and aren't simply defensive about it. You can explain that even if nothing happens, a young man who hangs around little children is setting himself up for dangerous accusations. I also think someone should contact the mother of the neighbor boy. She needs a heads-up that it just isn't a good idea for her son and a troubled man to be hanging around together. Even though your relative is an adult, there are still social services that are available to him. If his parents are overwhelmed, maybe the whole family can engage a social worker to help get him evaluated and make a plan for having him lead a more productive life.
Q. It's Mine, Mine, MINE!: I have a treasured childhood stuffed animal, one given to me by my older sister on the day I was born. I slept with it beside me every single night of my life, even through college, until I was married. For the last 27 years it's been on a shelf in my room, still offering all the emotional support it always has. My adult daughter, now pregnant with her first girl, has asked me to pass it down to her child, so that the legacy can continue. But I can't bring myself to do it. I keep picturing her dragging it, spilling food on it, sitting on it, etc. Kids play rough, and I know I was tough on it as a child. It is so old and fragile now. Is it so terribly wrong that I would prefer NOT to share? I feel like a petty kid fighting over my silly toy. The only trouble is, it's my grandchild who will be missing out. Still, Prudie, I don't think I can do it. Am I insane?
A: Fortunately, Boopsie is not the only magical stuffed animal in the world. When you go and pick out a brand new stuffed bear, kangaroo, pig for your impending granddaughter, it will become as dear and supportive a creature as your own talisman. You didn't even pass your darling to your own daughter, so it's not as if she experienced its enchantment personally. Just tell you daughter that Boopsie is so fragile it won't survive the first baby barf. Tell her you are going to get your granddaughter something new, sturdy, and wonderful.
Q. Ghostly Visitors: I have always been able to see ghosts. It's not a big thing, and it's not something I advertise—it's just something most women in my family are able to do and is accepted as normal. Now I have a 4-year-old daughter who can do the same thing; she chats about seeing my father, who passed away before she was born, as well as my husband's grandmother. The problem is my in-laws, who, like many people, think it's a load of hooey. My daughter will often sleep over there and tell them about the people she sees, and they say things like, "Oh, that's silly! There's no such things as ghosts!" Do I tell my daughter that I believe her, but that maybe we shouldn't talk about ghosts at grandma's, or do I tell my in-laws that this is something our family believes in and they should respect? (My husband is torn, too.)
A: I'm assuming your daughter thinks it's normal to talk about seeing ghosts because that what her mother, aunts, and grandmother do. Surely she is rewarded by all of you when she stars babbling about what her late grandfather is telling her. You need to examine how you are imposing this "gift" on your little girl. You also need to be aware that other people—like your in-laws—are going to find this strange and disturbing. However, if you get your own reality show and outearn the Kardashians, I'm sure the in-laws will come around.
Q. Letting Wife Know About Sperm Donation: My wife and I are very good friends with a lesbian couple who is trying to have a baby. They asked me to donate sperm to conceive the child. After discussing it with my wife, I declined. They were very understanding and we remain good friends. However, in the course of our decision-making, my wife commented how odd it would be for me to have a child "out there." I agreed with her out loud, but the truth is, I have donated sperm. (I stopped before I met my wife, however.) For all I know, I could have several children "out there." I never told her about it because I never imagined it coming up and when I donated it seemed like I would always remain anonymous. After doing some research, however, it seems possible that a child that resulted from my donation COULD find and contact me. Should I tell my wife about my donations, and if so, how?