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I am the mother of 14-year-old twin girls. It took three torturous years of infertility treatment for me to get pregnant. Then my husband and I were told that I was carrying quintuplets! We explored all the ramifications of this pregnancy and got wise counsel from our doctor and our spiritual adviser. Because we feared total miscarriage or severe disability for one or more of the babies we decided on selective abortion and reduced the number of fetuses from five to two. This too was a torturous process emotionally and physically. Our families were very supportive and after our daughters were born we asked them not to share the fact of the selective abortion with them. Everyone agreed except my father who says family secrets are unhealthy. I told him that whether to tell the girls and when was up to my husband and me. He responded that he couldn’t promise that he would not tell, which is typical of his insensitivity and arrogance. He lives quite a distance away and I’ve had limited contact with him ever since. Now he plans on moving closer and the issue has come up again. I don’t think the girls are ready to hear this, and part of me doesn’t ever want to tell them. They do know I had infertility treatments. What should I do?
—Enraged Daughter, Protective Mom
For every (Jon &) Kate Plus Eight with their thriving sextuplets, there are terrible stories about the consequences of "high order" multiple births. You made a painful but medically sound choice. As far as family secrets are concerned, often the corrosive nature of keeping them can be as damaging as the secret itself. However, your father sounds like a selfish blowhard whose motivation is not that he fears an important truth is being withheld from the girls, but that he enjoys the power to make you squirm. Refuse to squirm, but reiterate to him that the medical issues around your pregnancy are a matter for you and your husband to discuss with your children. Say that since he doesn’t trust your judgment, you can’t trust his. So despite his moving closer, you’re going to keep your distance unless he accepts he’s not entitled to overrule your parental prerogatives. I understand your feeling that this news would deeply distress your girls to no good purpose and that you want to wait, perhaps until they are young adults. (I know you’re considering not ever telling, but since a number of people know, it’s probably better for you and your husband to be the ones to inform them some day.) You must be prepared, however, for your father to carry out his threat. If your daughters come to you having heard this revelation, put aside your rage and be calm and factual. Tell them what their grandfather said is true, and that you’re very sorry they found out this way. Say that and you and their dad have discussed telling them many times, but concluded that this hard and sad fact is a burden you didn’t want them to bear right now. Since they do know, say you are ready to discuss the reasons you made the most agonizing decision of your lives, and that you want to hear how they are feeling. Tell them that if you could have safely carried more children you would have, but that every day you are grateful that you were able to become mother to the most precious people in the world to you.
Dear Prudence: Litterbug Smoker
My husband had an affair with a crazy woman. When he left her she began harassing me with mean emails, phone calls, etc. Eventually this escalated into vandalism. She keyed my car and broke some of my garden statues. Once I caught her in the act, and in her attempt to get away she hit me in the face and the back of my head with a large rock. Thankfully, I wasn’t badly hurt. I called the police and she was arrested. If convicted she could face several months to several years in prison; this isn't her first brush with the law. The issue is she has two elementary-school-age children. If she goes to jail there is no one who can or is willing to take them in. There's a possibility they could end up in foster care. For that reason, my mother and some friends (though not my husband) have been pressuring me not to press charges. I feel for these kids. I am a mother myself. But it makes me sick to think this awful person might walk away from her crimes without punishment. What should I do?
I’m surprised you didn’t come home one day to find this unhinged woman in the kitchen making a sous-vide preparation with the family pet. Your husband is lucky that as an anniversary gift you didn’t give him a video box set of Play Misty for Me, Fatal Attraction, and Obsessed. Your husband’s former lover could have killed you. So not only have you apparently forgiven you husband for cheating (with a lunatic, no less), you are now being pressured—by your mother!—to forgive your potential murderer. I hope you have some people in your life who are not trying to jeopardize your safety and sanity. There seems, however, to be confusion about your role in what happens next. By appropriately calling the police after this assault and filing a report you have done your part to help the government press charges and what happens to the perpetrator is now a matter for the criminal justice system, not you, to decide. I assume your mother and so-called friends simply don’t understand this, and aren’t in fact asking for you to get yourself in legal trouble by refusing to testify or somehow trying to undermine the case. Of course it’s terrible that this woman’s children could find themselves wards of the state if their mother ends up in government-provided housing. But it must be equally terrible to be raised by someone so dangerous and unstable. Getting away from their mother could be the best thing to happen to these children. They, like you, are her victims. You only mention him in passing, but I hope your husband has taken the blame for his horrendous behavior and judgment and is trying every day to make you feel loved—and safe.
I have a haunting problem. My father-in-law brought back two unusual souvenirs from his WWII days: two Japanese skulls. After he passed away we ended up with them. I refused to have them in my house, so my husband and I gave one to a friend, and the other to our brother-in-law. We feel guilty about this and would like to send these "guys" home for a proper burial. Also, since coming into possession of the skulls, both of these people and their families have suffered bad luck and ill health. I feel they are being stalked by vengeful spirits! Should I risk being thought crazy and tell them my concerns? And if I do get the skulls back, how do I send them home? My husband is worried about any legal ramifications of having them, and he doesn't want to damage his dad's reputation. What should we do?
—Skulls in the Closet
As the World War II generation is passing and passed, you and your husband are not the only ones to find yourself with gruesome relics disinterred from a veteran’s attic or basement. As Jack Shafer writes, many such souvenirs made their way here from the Pacific theater, despite our military’s orders against such desecration. You’re right to want to return this pair to their homeland. Instead of mentioning to your friend and brother-in-law that you’ve cursed them with your largesse (which you haven’t), show them this article about a similar situation. Say you want to take responsibility for the repatriation of the skulls and you will contact the nearest Japanese consulate to get things started. Certainly, this can be handled quietly and the skulls eventually buried, along with the story of how your father-in-law came to possess them.
Two of my dear friends from college got married to each other last weekend. I haven't seen them in four years, but we communicate from time to time on Facebook. I can think of three possibilities why I wasn’t invited: 1) My invitation got lost in the mail. 2) They forgot to invite me. 3) They chose not to invite me. I feel stung, left out, and hurt. Thanks to social media, I have seen photos and video from the rehearsal dinner, wedding, and reception. The event was not small; there were banquet tables for college classmates. For nearly two years, the bride and groom and I were among a tight-knit group who spent hours working together on the college newspaper. Outside of school we had parties at each other's apartments and long conversations over pitchers of beer. Is there were a tactful way to find out why they didn't include me?
When Facebook was first introduced I wondered what it would be like for young people to go through life tethered electronically to almost everyone they’ve known. Now it’s clear that for some being connected forever via social media can be like hauling around a box of childhood stuffed animals. There’s no room for them, but they have too much sentimental value to discard. However intense your time on the college paper was, I’ve got to break the news to you that people have moved on. The reason you weren’t invited is that for years now your interaction with this couple has been perfunctory. Please don’t ask them to spell this out to you. I have qualms about the constant display Facebook engenders and the imperative to publicly document every social event. But ultimately it’s your problem if you feel you were robbed of a slice of the wedding cake. Sometime after this couple gets back from the honeymoon (try not to monitor their updates about it) send a private Facebook message saying you heard the wonderful news they’ve tied the knot. Add you’re delighted to have witnessed the beginning of this great romance and you wish them all happiness.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“My Twin Sister Says I'm Fat: Prudie offers advice on twins entangled in family rifts, rows, and rivalries.” Posted Aug. 25, 2011.
“Give Grandpa a Kiss-Off?: A creeping suspicion tells me to keep my father-in-law away from my kids. Should I listen to it?” Posted Sept. 1, 2011.
“Longtime Companion: Is it OK to hide my gay affair since my wife doesn't want sex anymore?” Posted Sept. 8, 2011.
“Deadly Family Secret: My mother-in-law hid a life-threatening condition that could strike my child. How can I forgive her?” Posted Sept. 15, 2011.
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“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.
“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.
“Am I Dating a Swinger?: Dear Prudence advises a woman who craves a monogamous relationship but can't seem to find one—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Sept. 12, 2011.
“He'd Like a Virgin: Dear Prudence advises a woman who lied to her fiance about her sexual past—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Sept. 19, 2011.
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