Help! I Discovered My Mother-in-Law Breast-Feeding My Baby.

Advice on manners and morals.
July 9 2012 3:18 PM

A Breast Too Far

In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman who discovered her mother-in-law suckling her newborn son.

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A: Good points, thanks. Also some people are simply not that interested in their roots, whatever they are.

Q. Married a Mental Child: Last year I met a wonderful woman who was smart, funny, attractive, and we both shared a lot of interests. One of the things she occasionally talked about was that she liked cartoons. I always figured she meant she liked them as a kid, but after we married and moved in together I found out that this wasn't the case—she has a shelf FULL of DVDs for cartoons—a lot of them are the Japanese anime type, but there're some American cartoons in there as well. I was hoping this was just a collection, but she still watches them. I don't understand—why would a woman in her 20s still watch cartoons meant for kids? I love her a lot, but I never signed up to marry someone who shares the same interests as a 5-year-old. I told her that she should really think about getting rid of these little-kid shows, but she gets angry at me whenever I bring it up. Should I just shut up about this, or just try and ignore cartoon ponies on my TV whenever I can?

A: I'm not necessarily a big advocate of living together before marriage. It can be the right thing, but it can also leave two people stuck together who haven't figured out what they really want out of the relationship. But it sounds as if you married someone whose apartment you never even visited, let alone spent time in. Your wife gave you a heads up that she likes cartoons, so you sound like the immature dope for not understanding that she likes cartoons. If after a long, stressful day, she wants to watch a little anime instead of pouring a martini, that shouldn't bother you. If she won't come to bed because she wants to see little ponies all night, that's one thing. But if it's just an eccentric hobby, stop being a big meanie.

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Q. Unwelcome Self-Invitation: My husband's ex-wife has custody of their daughter, but she comes to us during school vacations. Because of the limited time we have together, her father and I put a lot of effort into making it a fun trip for her. We're planning a skiing trip to Europe around Christmas and I've been emailing the ex-wife back and forth about the arrangement. In her last email, she dropped a bombshell by asking if my husband and I would also take her younger daughter—my stepdaughter's half sister. The half sister's father doesn't exactly earn a lot of money. Apparently the younger daughter has been asking why her older sister gets to go to Disneyland and frequent overseas trips, and comes back with a bag full of new toys and clothes. There's no way my husband's ex can contribute to the skiing trip, so the implication was that we should pay for all the expenses for her younger daughter because my husband and I earn more than she does. My husband is balking at the idea. We don't want the additional responsibility of caring for another child we barely know. I know she's a significant person to our daughter but she's barely a relative to us. Although we make more money, it's not like we're Tom Cruise, so the airfare and extra food/accommodation/everything else is still a lot of money. We're happy to make the expense for my stepdaughter, but not her half sister. I'm amazed that their mother even had the audacity to ask. How can I tell her no politely as to avoid damaging our delicate relationship, yet still convey how inappropriate her request is and that she isn't to ask us something like this again?

A: A little while ago I had the flip side of this letter. It was from the less-wealthy mother who was concerned about the extravagant parties and gifts her husband's ex-wife showered on her stepson, things she couldn't afford to do for her own kids. I understand that you don't want to take your stepdaughter's half sister. This would be especially inappropriate if it intruded on the only time your husband had with his daughter. So your husband should say to his ex that he understands the two girls are sisters, but he has so little time with his own child that he wants to just spend it with her. But I think you two might reconsider your whole approach to parenting. Sure, trips to Disneyland and Europe and bags of toys and clothes are thrilling, but that is not what being a parent is about. It would be far better for your stepdaughter to simply become a member of your household for the time you all are together. How much nicer for your daughter if instead of a princess whirlwind, she helped with the cooking, walked the dog, went to the neighborhood park. I'm not saying there should never be a special event or purchase, but such fantasy trips probably make it difficult to have the moments of everyday connection she needs with her father. It's probably easier to fill her visits with big events because she is such a stranger. Quieter times will help all of you know each other better.

Q. Bethesda: My wife gave birth to our first child about a month ago. Her mother came and stayed with us for two weeks, and I stayed home for two weeks and a day (so her first day without mom wasn't completely alone). I then eased back into the workweek. Now, I'm working full-time. However, my wife still expects the same level of support—specifically nighttime support—that was provided during those first couple weeks. Waking up with feedings, changing him before feeding, swaddling him after, putting him back to sleep, etc. I just can't do that AND wake up and go to work full-time. I know being a mom is hard work, but she can nap during the day; I can't. She doesn't have to worry about falling asleep at the wheel on a commute. How can I gently raise the issue that she's going to have to do things on her own those five weeknights (four, actually, as I work from home one day a week so it's not as big an issue) so I can be somewhat functional at work and not kill myself while driving?

A: Forget opening with, "You can nap and I can't." When our daughter was born, after my husband went back to work he moved into the guest room to be able to sleep through the night. I called it his "bachelor pad" and eventually our daughter started sleeping through most of the night, and he returned to our bedroom. You need to tell your wife that you've had some close calls on the road with driving while sleep-deprived—that's dangerous. Say until your daughter starts dropping some of the nighttime feedings, you need to work out a system so that your wife is getting support and you're not falling asleep behind the wheel. Do it in the sense of helping each other, not justifying who has it harder.

Q. Re: Mental Child: Just thank your lucky stars that if you ever have kids, she'll be enthusiastically watching The Little Mermaid for the 100th time in a row alongside them while you can occupy yourself with more important adult things.

A: Exactly!

Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone. And I salute the Pepco crews (not their bosses, but the people out repairing the lines) who kept the power on through the chat.

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column.