Q. Babysitters and Broken Dreams: I inherited an antique vase from a great aunt of mine who passed away within the past year. Recently, my husband and I went out for a date night leaving the kids with a babysitter. We came back to find my vase on the floor shattered into pieces. The vase is situated as such that it is out of reach from the kids unless they use a ladder. Neither my kids nor the babysitter are admitting what happened. I obviously was furious and heartbroken since this can't be replaced. The babysitter's mother is mad at us because we didn't pay their daughter for watching our children and have told them that they need to pay us for the monetary value of the vase. We didn't think we needed to pay her since she clearly wasn't watching our kids as closely as she should have and wouldn't admit how my vase got broken. Now the mom has taken her anger with this whole situation to a very popular social network. We have common friends on this site and they are now taking sides. I am at my wits’ end as to what to do. Now I feel like I am not going to be able to find a decent babysitter with all of the mudslinging this mother is doing.
A. Do you have a cat? If not, there is a conspiracy of silence about what happened to the vase. If your children are old enough to actually give you a narrative, sit them down and tell them no matter what occurred or what promises of secrecy were made, you simply need to be told the truth. Say that breaking the vase was clearly an accident, you're not going to punish anyone over that, but lying is not acceptable. Let's hope that shakes loose the truth. It could be the kids don't know because once they were asleep, the babysitter decided to get a closer look at the vase and—oops! I think you should have separated the issue of the vase from her babysitting and paid her but said you would not be using her services again in the absence of an explanation about your antique. You could then have brought the issue up with her parents since a teenager is not going to be able to replace an antique. But reimbursing for broken antiques is what homeowners insurance is for. Do not engage in the online mudslinging. Now that the vase has been dropped, drop the issue yourself. If one mother wants to engage in one-sided Facebook vendetta, she will end up looking crazy.
Q. Apologizing for Being a Love Child: I am the product of my dad's affair with my mom. As part of their reconciliation agreement, my dad's wife has always dictated how much he sees me. For most of my life I've seen him once a week and spent every third weekend at their home, where my older half-siblings also live. But twice my dad has stopped seeing me because visitations were too rough on his wife. Each time our visits resumed, I had to be very thankful to his wife, because she had the grace to allow her husband's illegitimate child back into their lives. I love my dad very much, but I've always felt like a source of pain when I'm with him and his family. I'm 17 now and at the point where I feel brave enough to talk to my dad and his wife about their treatment of me. I appreciate her pain, but I'm also tired of feeling like a cross to bear. Should I talk to them?
A: I understand you love your father, but what a little weenie he is. First he cheats on his wife and neglects to use birth control, then he caves to mistreatment of you because of the pain your existence causes his wife. I understand the wife's distress—yes it's terrible to find out your husband was unfaithful and you will never be allowed to forget it. But upon discovering that her husband had an out-of-wedlock child her choice was either to leave the marriage or to make sure the new child was treated lovingly (as hard as that would have been). Of course you are entitled to express your feelings! It's terrible if the lesson of your childhood is that you should try to make yourself disappear. But I think you should first address this with your father. Since you two have so little experience being honest with each other, tell him you would like to improve your relationship and that means you'd like to see a counselor with him. That will allow you to air your experiences and require him to hear them. A good therapist should help guide you two about how to change the dynamic in your father's home. It's very mature that you appreciate the pain of your father's wife, but it's not your job to make it go away.
Q. Re: 10-year-old prankster: Regarding the kids who were playing pranks on the neighbors, I'd like to say that I think his mom handled it perfectly. It wasn't right for the neighbor to hit her child, but it was obviously not a serious strike and the neighbor was provoked. Taking her son to apologize for his bad behavior and giving the neighbor a chance to apologize for HIS bad behavior was just right. And extra points for giving the neighbor a proper way to react when the local menaces are around again.
A: Thanks. Yes, it's amazing to me that someone would want to prosecute the neighbor and undo all the good lessons that the son has just learned.
Q. Conflict With My Polyamorous Sister-in-Law: My brother and his wife are polyamorous. They have people that they both date and people that they date individually. I have met some of the people they date, but usually not until they are serious with my brother, his wife, or both. My brother and his wife also watch my twin daughters often, allowing my husband and I to go out. A few days ago my sister-in-law offered to watch the kids so we could go to a friend's birthday dinner, and when we came back we found her cuddling on the couch with her new girlfriend, a woman we have not met before. We did not know my sister-in-law would bring someone over, and I think we would have been all right with that if she had told us beforehand and we felt comfortable with that person being around our kids. But that wasn't the case, and we asked her not to do it again. She accused us of being intolerant, and now she is mad at us. I don't believe we overreacted, but we want to mend our relationship with them. How much crow should I eat to make nice, and on what issues should I hold my ground?
A: You need to find some teenage babysitters who will break your valuables but not cuddle with their latest crush while watching your kids. Your brother and sister-in-law are entitled to their love life, but not while they are watching your kids. You can say to her you're sorry if you came off as intolerant. Your issue was not her personal choices, but bringing a stranger into your home while babysitting. But say you don't want this to become an issue between you and you'd like to call a time-out and drop it. Then turn down her future sitting offers, her free service isn't worth it.