Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the 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'm looking forward to your questions and to my mother-in-law's fabulous meal on Thursday. She's still making the turkey at age 93.
Q. Daughter Excludes My Wife From Her Wedding: I married Kate, my second wife, 10 years ago. My teenage daughters were 17 and 19. I had been divorced from their mom for five years, and Kate had nothing to do with our divorce. My daughters never warmed to Kate, and in fact, they have always treated her rudely. Kate has been excluded from all of their major milestone celebrations: birthdays, graduations, etcetera. Kate always encouraged me to attend without her, because she has always wanted me to have a relationship with my children. Kate and I now have two children, 6 and 4, and my eldest daughter is marrying. Children of all ages are welcome at her wedding—but not Kate or her younger half siblings. I think I have reached the end of the line, and so has Kate. My daughters want nothing to do with my wife or my children. I am so exasperated with my daughters, and I don't know what to do. They say I always need to choose them over Kate, because they are my children, and until now I always have. But now I'm actually considering missing my daughter's wedding.
A: I often hear from children of first families whose fathers have married women who campaign to erase these children from their lives. But Kate sounds like a generous, patient person—how exasperating to be excluded from events for all these years and how kind of her to encourage you to go. I don't think your daughter's wedding is the place to draw the line in the sand. It is beyond outrageous that your daughter is not including her stepmother and half siblings at this event, but this pattern was set long ago. You should have a private talk with your daughter and explain that her exclusion of your wife and your children has been painful for everyone. Say you cannot force her to invite your wife and her half siblings, but as she herself is creating a new family, it would be a lovely gesture of reconciliation on her part. If she refuses, attend by yourself. You want to be able to have a connection with your future grandchildren, however tenuous. But after the wedding, invite both your grown daughters out to dinner and explain that they are adults now and need to start acting like it. You can say you haven't chosen Kate and your new family over them—they have chosen to make it impossible for all of you to have a relationship. You have endured years of insults because you love them and kept hoping things would get better. You still do, but they've got to realize there are consequences for striking out for no good reason.
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Q. Am I Intruding?: My brother and his wife's unborn baby has serious medical problems and is not expected to survive more than a few hours after birth. My brother told us that my SIL wants privacy after the birth and does not want anyone to come over, except for her parents and sister. I know my grief does not even compare to their loss but I feel devastated I won't be able to meet my niece when she is alive. My parents are pretty torn up about this, too. I know it will be a very emotional time for both my brother and SIL and I can see why she doesn't want to endure such a raw experience in front of her in-laws, whom she does not know very well. My brother said his wife might be OK with us coming after they say their farewell but by then it might be too late. Is it totally inappropriate for me to ask them to reconsider?
A: You need to recognize that experiencing the near-simultaneous birth and death of a child does not leave room for your emotional needs. If your parents want to be able to say farewell to their grandchild, they need to have talk with your brother and see if his wife can accommodate their wish. Maybe your brother can arrange for your parents to spend a few minutes alone with the baby. But you do not belong in this equation, especially since there is something bizarrely selfish about your need to "meet" your niece before her death. I'm sure you know that lots of things are not about you. The profound loss your brother and sister-in-law are about to experience is just about the definition of something that's not being about you. Please have the decency to stay out of the way.
Q. Maybe a Not-So-Happy Thanksgiving?: I am recently married, and will be spending Thanksgiving with my new in-laws. They are a very, ultra conservative group and dislike our president. I, however, voted for him, and have tried to stay away from the political banter. My sister-in-law recently sent my husband a message asking if I was a "closet" Obama supporter. Quite honestly, it's none of her business, but I took it upon myself to respond to her directly instead of through my husband. I know she has told his family that I support Obama, and I know it will be an issue at Thanksgiving (we live four hours away from them). Luckily, my husband is amazingly supportive and has stated that he will stand by me no matter what. I'm just not sure how to handle his family. Thank you, I don't want a fight.
A: The answer to are you a "closet" Obama supporter is no, because you are a proud and open Obama supporter. You are also right that your political views are none of their business, unless they want to make it so. You and your husband need to plan this out before the assault on mashed potato hill. If you start being goaded you can say, "I know it's painful when your candidate loses, so let's talk about more pleasant things." Or, "I'm happy to discuss the issues, but probably everyone's digestion will be better if we don't." Ignore the random Obama put-downs—during them you can recite to yourself, "Yeah, and that's 332 electoral college votes for my guy." If it becomes intolerable your husband should be prepared to interject that it's time the subject got changed, and then ask what teams people think are going to the Super Bowl.
Q. Re: Am I Intruding?: I have nothing to add to Prudie's response except, AMEN! Though this is terrible and sad for everyone involved, your feelings do not even come close to those of your brother and his wife. Busy yourself thinking about ways you can help them and make life easier during what I imagine will be a long and painful grieving process. And try to do things that don't involve a lots of face time with the grieving parents, since it sounds like they mostly want privacy. Rake leaves, shovel snow, drop off dinners/groceries and understand that they aren't going to be the "same" people they've always been; things will be different and you need to support them through all of it. Surprisingly I think you'll gain the most comfort by offering it to others and putting them first during this hard time.
A: You're right that quiet, unobtrusive, behind the scenes help might be welcome. And I hope the sister-in-law doesn't need a warning to keep all this off her Facebook page.
Q. Illegitimate Half Brother's Inheritance: Five years ago, my sister and I discovered the existence of our father's biological son from a secret second family. By this stage our father had already passed away and we decided to meet him. He and my sister have developed a close relationship, whereas I didn't really click with him and I consider him more of a distant relative than a biological sibling. Recently our paternal grandmother passed away, leaving her home to me and my sister. She knew we had a half bother but never met him or spoke to him. We decided to sell the home and divide the money. Here's where we clash. She thinks we should split the money in thirds and give our half brother a portion. She feels particularly strong about this because he's a single father. As for me, I am not especially close to him, our grandmother knew of his existence but chose to include only me and my sister in her will, so I don't see why I need to give up my portion for a man I barely know. I told my sister if she feels so strongly about this she can halve her share with him but she says it's "not fair." If we split the money 50-50 instead, it will mean I can pay off my mortgage and retire early. I'm reluctant to delay the two for this half brother, who might as well be a fourth cousin to me. Who is in the right here—me or my sister?
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