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My husband and I have 7-year-old twins. For the first few years I was a stay-at-home mom, but I rejoined the workforce about two years ago. My husband and I decided to hire a nanny instead of sending our kids to day care. After a diligent interview process, we chose “Gretchen.” She was an outstanding candidate with great experience and references. My children adored her and I did, too. Unfortunately, about five months ago I discovered that Gretchen and my husband were having a sexual affair. In my shock and anger, I fired Gretchen and kicked my husband out of the house. He begged me to reconcile, but I have decided to divorce him. As the months have passed, though, I realize that I regret firing Gretchen. My friends and family think I am nuts, but I want to rehire her! She is no longer in a relationship with my husband, and no one I have interviewed comes close to her references, education, or flexible schedule. My kids are now stuck in a day care they hate. Am I crazy for wanting to take back my nanny and not my husband?
—Needs a Nanny
In an episode of HBO's Girls, sexy Jessa gets a surprise visit from the woman she’d been working for as a nanny. That job ended because Jessa and the father were seriously sniffing around each other, although they never ended up in bed. The mother tells Jessa that she’s had a dream in which she kills, eats, and defecates Jessa, then she asks Jessa to come back to work for her. I found the scene unbelievable, but you’ve proved me wrong. Sure, good help is hard to find, but I’ll join your friends and family in being baffled by how the affair between your husband and the nanny is a marriage-destroyer but not an employment-ender. It may be that the violation of the sanctity of your home and the image of Gretchen and your husband locked in an embrace has made it impossible for you to continue your marriage. But if that’s the case, I do not understand how you can contemplate looking at her every day in the flesh. This is also going to be profoundly confusing for your children. They’ve just gone through the trauma of their family coming apart. Surely even at their tender ages they’ve picked up that something was amiss with Daddy and Gretchen. You can’t then expect them to make sense of Daddy being gone and Gretchen coming back. Try to imagine explaining this in years to come when they explore the reason for the divorce: “Your father and Gretchen had an affair. Someone had to leave, and I decided it should be Daddy.”
Since you’ve shown yourself to be the pragmatic type, instead of putting your efforts into re-engaging Gretchen, I hope you will consider giving your marriage another try. Your husband and Gretchen aren’t lounging by the pool at their new love pad; they’ve realized the mess they’ve made and broken it off. (And it’s fair if right now your most fervent wish about your husband is to break his off.) Ending your marriage will have far more significant and long-lasting effects on your entire family than having to find a new baby sitter. Your husband has begged you to reconcile, so before you take further legal steps, agree to a limited number of counseling sessions. At the least you will have the satisfaction of a forum to make him hear how it feels to find yourself living the most humiliating domestic cliché.
Dear Prudence: World’s Worst Hostess
First of all, I'd like to thank you for your earlier advice about my mother and plastic surgery. In the end, I couldn't stop my mother, and I had to go get my nose done. No one really notices much difference, thankfully, but I still think she was wrong for making me do it. My therapist advised me that after college I should probably get away from my parents. My issue is that I currently go to a very expensive, out-of-state college. I feel guilty for imagining severing ties from my parents and going against their wishes when they're footing such a large bill. I was raised in a strict, traditional family, and usually speaking my own mind would lead to me being punished. My dream is to become an English educator in a foreign country, but my parents don't want me to get a job outside of our home state, much less outside of the country. My question is, should I pay back my parents? Should I mail them money little by little? I feel if I don't, then I will be saying I was ungrateful to them for paying my tuition.
I am so distressed to hear that you gave into your mother’s bullying and had a nose job you didn’t need and didn’t want. I understand that you are a psychological prisoner in a disturbed family, but I reiterate my suggestion that you find a new therapist. In your previous letter you said your therapist didn’t see a way for you to avoid the knife. You need someone on your side who can help you understand such choices are yours to make and who can give you support in separating from your butcher of a mother. I do agree with your therapist’s conclusion about getting away from your parents. Your idea of teaching abroad sounds wonderful, and you should take classes that will help you pursue this dream. As you prepare, do not say a word to your parents about your plans. You are too fragile to withstand the coercion you will endure if they know that once you’ve got a diploma, you’re going to leave the country. Do not feel guilty about their paying for college. Parents who can afford it are lucky they can give their children an education and a debt-free start in life. Use your school’s counseling office to find the therapist who can help you discover the strength to make your escape, before your mother’s poisonous guilt gets you locked up back in your old room while your mother plans her next surgical improvement.
My husband and I have an ongoing dispute I hope you can resolve. I would like him to give me a little present once a month. Nothing elaborate—a pair of earrings, a blouse, a trip to the spa. If he were to do this, it would make me feel special and appreciated, but he says that if he's expected to give me something according to a schedule, there's nothing special about it. He does give me spontaneous gifts from time to time, but I think it would be more romantic if he did it regularly. It would tell me that he's always thinking of me. My father has always done this for my mother, and they've been happily married for 46 years!
Fortunately for your mother, you cannot marry your father. That leaves you having to make a brand new marriage with your own husband, which is better than fruitlessly trying to recapitulate that of your parents’. I agree with your husband that if “romantic gift time” comes around with the regularity of the gas bill, it’s unromantic. You also fail to mention what you plan to do to make a concrete demonstration of tender feelings for your husband. Perhaps you envision not an exchange, but a one-way sign of appreciation. Yet what you desire is more than simple recognition. You want evidence that your husband is always thinking of you. Normally, someone thinking of nothing but you is cause for a restraining order. You need to figure out why you are so insecure that your husband is required to constantly prove to you that you exist. I don’t know if your parents’ marriage is healthy or sick, but you are unlikely to get to 46 years of bliss if you don’t stop making stupid demands about what should be going on in your husband’s head.
I know that it is common behavior among women that if one needs to use the restroom in a public place, other women in the group suddenly go and join her. However, I have always considered that what one does in the restroom should be private, and it makes me uncomfortable when someone is talking to me during the act. This most recently occurred at dinner at a restaurant with my husband's family. I excused myself from the table when my sister-in-law exclaimed, "Oh, I have to go too!” The restroom was for a single person, so I went in first. I thought my problems were solved, but then my sister-in-law started talking to me from the other side of the door. I was mortified. How do I deal with awkward conversation during what should be, in my opinion, a time of privacy? Can I try to fend off others from joining me in the restroom?
—Restroom, Party of One
It’s true that in social settings when it comes time to relieve oneself women suddenly resemble a herd of female elephants setting off to the watering hole. This is a hardwired behavior, and though you may want to go rogue and take a solo trip, as soon as you get up, a fellow female will jump to accompany you. Once in the stall you only need to make a feint at conversation—a “Really” or “Hmm” is as articulate as you have to be. Watch this ladies room toilet-bowl battle in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle to reassure yourself that it could be worse.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“Past Imperfect: I want to bury my wretched childhood, but the new in-laws insist on a rehash.” Posted Aug. 18, 2011.
“Fibber McGee Comes Clean: Prudie advises an elderly man consumed with shame over his chronic lies.” Posted Aug. 11, 2011.
“Take My Wife, Please: I convinced her to bed another man, and now I'm insanely jealous.” Posted Aug. 4, 2011.
“A Minor Flaw: I'm dating a man who was charged with soliciting a teen for sex; I wish I'd never discovered this!” Posted July 28, 2011.
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“The Nudist Next Door: Dear Prudence advises a reader whose new neighbor needs better curtains—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Sept. 6, 2011.
“Type "R" for Revenge: Dear Prudence advises a woman who got her cheating ex fired by sending a nasty email—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Aug. 29, 2011.
“Sexy Cougar or Dangerous Predator?: Dear Prudence offers advice about a May-December encounter that the victim deems harmless—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Aug. 8, 2011.
“Baby Blues: Dear Prudence advises a woman who regrets adopting a child—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Aug. 1, 2011.