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.)
Q. Daughter Is Left Out of the Gift Exchange: I was an unmarried teenager when I gave birth to my now 8-year-old daughter Mandy. I am now engaged to Peter, a wonderful man who loves me and adores Mandy. The issue is Peter's parents. This don't care for Mandy, and they don't think much of me because I was in a position to give birth as an unwed teenager. They have lectured me a few times about premarital sex and the like. Christmas is coming up, and my future mother-in-law has informed me that she and her husband will not be buying presents for Mandy, and neither will Peter's siblings. Mandy's not entitled to presents, but since Peter's family does a big Christmas get-together, Mandy will see a bunch of kids get presents while she does not. It's hard to explain something like this to a kid. Peter's pretty upset with his family, but they're still his family, and ditching them would be incredibly painful for him, obviously. Do you have any advice?
A: Peter may be a wonderful man, but I hope one of his good qualities is that he is capable of standing up to his parents on behalf of his future wife and stepchild. There are still a few weeks left before Christmas, so Peter needs to have a sit-down with his parents informing him that you and your daughter are going to be a part of the family and if his parents want all of you to be in their lives—and that includes the grandchildren to come—they need to stop making invidious comparisons among the grandchildren. Since Mandy is a new arrival it would be fine if they simply get her one thoughtful gift, but to deliberately leave her on the sidelines is unconscionable. If they back down, then you and Peter should each buy her a gift for under the tree so she doesn't feel left out. An 8-year-old is also old enough to be told that joining a new family can be a awkward and uncomfortable but that you and Peter will be looking out for her. If you go and Peter's family behaves dreadfully, you and he should have a signal that enough is enough and make an early exit from the nonfestivities.
Q. Bridezilla Buddy: My best friend from childhood is getting married in six months, and I am the matron of honor. I have been struggling with infertility, and was planning on trying in vitro in the spring. Well, to my surprise, I am unexpectedly pregnant. Obviously, my husband and I are thrilled. My family is thrilled. My friend is absolutely furious. She is angry that I will “spoil” her wedding pictures by being about eight months pregnant, and she is worried that I won't fit into any dress that matches her plan. She is accusing me of intentionally ruining her big day. I want to simply tell her to get lost, but her family is close to mine, there is a lot of history there, and I worry about the repercussions between our families if I was to cut her out of my life. Frankly, I wish she would just “fire” me as MoH, and make things easier. I have tried to explain to her, I didn't plan on this pregnancy, as I really thought I would never get pregnant on my own, and I had hoped she would be happy for me, as she knew everything we were going through. She just doesn't get it though, and continues to play the victim here. I could *almost* ignore her selfishness here, except she has started making comments along the lines of, “Well, you may not even be pregnant when the wedding comes. With all your fertility issues, you may just miscarry, so no big deal.” I almost lost my mind at that point. I am beyond stressed about her and this wedding after all of this. Is it too late for me to just say no?
A: Your best friend hopes you miscarry so that you can properly devote your energies to her perfect day and not to your impending motherhood. What more do you need to know? It doesn't matter that the two families are close, someone has to clue this bride into the fact that she's become a gargoyle. You inform her right away that because of your pregnancy you will not be able to attend her wedding, period. No excuse making for your thoughtless reproduction plans, no snide comments that you're thinking the wedding might not come off because you hope the groom realizes he's about to hitch himself to a lunatic.
Q. Battling Cancer, Who Should Watch the Kids?: I will soon begin chemotherapy to battle cancer. My husband and I have three children under 6, so we'll need child care help over the coming months. My parents, who live 30 minutes away, would love to watch our kids when I am too sick to or when my husband needs to work. I would prefer this arrangement. My husband thinks his ex-wife Madeline should watch our kids, since she lives 10 minutes away. He and Madeline have two teenagers together, so spending time with Madeline would mean receiving additional support from their older brothers. I enjoy a fabulous relationship with Madeline, and she is a fantastic mom. But I still want my parents to be our children's primary baby sitters while I'm undergoing chemo. Part of me selfishly worries that my kids will begin to prefer Madeline when my hair falls out and I'm kind of scary because of the drugs I will be taking. I also feel more comfortable with my parents for reasons I can't explain; I feel like I won't be as worried about being sick or having rough days in front of them. I could use some outside perspective on this.
A: I'm so sorry you are going through this and I wish you a swift and complete recovery. You are blessed with several people who can step in to help with the kids, run errands, cook meals, and otherwise keep life as normal as possible. However, not one of these people will replace you in your children's hearts, no matter how upsetting it is to see you ill. Please do your best to prepare your children in an age-appropriate way for what's ahead. (Readers, any book suggestions or advice on this?) You do not have to choose between caregivers, and your husband should be sensitive to your desires. But if your treatment is a long haul it sounds as if it would be good to organize shifts of your parents and Madeline. Keeping your kids active and happy and surrounded by the many loving people in their lives will be the best medicine for all of you.
Q. Haunted By My Mistake: Last year my friend's girlfriend disappeared with their two young children. He was desperate to find them, but he did not trust the police so he did not involve them. I saw his girlfriend a few weeks later when I went to visit my sister a few hours away from where my friend and I lived. She seemed to be working at a hair salon. I called my friend and told him I'd seen her and where. My friend tracked his girlfriend down, followed her home, and killed her and one of their kids before taking his own life. I had no idea his girlfriend fled because he'd been abusing her; nothing ever indicated to me that he was controlling or violent. Even so, I am haunted by my mistake. I have fallen apart over the past year. I cannot hold down a job or maintain relationships. Two innocent people are dead because of me, and a child will grow up an orphan because of me. No one knows my involvement in the case. I fear a counselor would push me to confess to the victim's families. Maybe that is what I deserve: to be hated by them. I do not know what to do with myself.
A: I can understand your agony. While it is too late for this tragedy, it's good for anyone concerned about a friend or family member's domestic crisis that if someone does not want the police involved when that is the obvious place to turn, alarm bells should ring. You need to start taking steps to get on with your life. Naturally, you are awash with guilt, but your own ruination will do no one any good. You know you acted in all innocence—there are plenty of cases in which one parent absconds with the children leaving a decent parent bereft. You obviously would never have tipped off your friend had you known he was a maniac. First, I think you should have a consultation with a criminal defense lawyer. I'm not saying you are criminally liable, but you need to get these potential issues resolved. Then you do need to talk to a counselor. You must figure out a way to deal with your guilt and rebuild a productive life. This event will always be a scar across your psyche, but being destroyed yourself only makes one more person a victim of that monster.