Q. Re: Family photo: I agree with your answer about getting a variety of shots with different groups of people, but—geez, she can't look at high school graduation photos because of the guys that are in them? Why can't she just look at them, laugh, and say, "Boy, was I young and stupid." Something's wrong if those reminders from long ago bug her that much.
A: I agree, they're just pictures! You can't get a guarantee from everyone who appears in personal photographs that they will forever remain warm presences in one's life or sweet memories.
Q. Fearing Baby Sitters: I am a mother of three children whose ages are 1, 3, and 5. I live in Texas where I have no family besides my husband and three children. Since we have had kids, my husband and I have not gone out by ourselves without the kids. I don't trust baby sitters. When I was younger, I was sexually abused by my older sister who used to baby-sit us. Also, since then, I have learned of many other instances of abuse where an entrusted family member or friend who baby-sat my friends and other family members were also abused by the aforementioned people. The fact is, I am almost certain that sexual abuse happens more often than is thought to be believed. My husband thinks that I am overly paranoid. I don't have hang-ups over my past abuse. I actually think I am being a realist in this situation. How do you trust someone with your kids and risk their safety for just a "dinner date"?
A: You know from your own horrible experience that sexual abuse happens more than is reported. But it is also true that blessedly the vast majority of people get through their childhoods without anything like this happening to them. The further good news is that national statistics show that abuse is declining, probably because of changing attitudes about the seriousness of it, and better awareness and reporting. Of course you want to take smart and sensible precautions. But I disagree about your reaction to your own abuse. Understandably, your trauma is informing your behavior now. But you don't want your past to dictate your life, the ability of you and your husband to have time together, or your children's attitudes toward the adults in their lives. The fact that you will never leave them alone with a baby sitter or friend is sending subliminal but powerful messages that grown-ups are dangerous. Please seek some counseling to help you process what happened and find ways to comfortably move on. With your therapist you can explore steps to find baby sitters you feel safe with, and start the process of liberating yourself from having to keep your children in your sight at all times.
Q. Newly Engaged/Ex-Fiancé?: I just got engaged recently. My ex-"fiancé"—who abruptly left me some years ago—now wants "to talk." I'm not sure about what. All of a sudden he decided he didn't want to be married to me anymore so we broke up weeks before the big day. I moved on with someone else. As far as I know he remained single. His friends tell me he is mopey, but I've done my best to ignore such comments. Now, after years of silence and no explanation, he wants to talk. Do I owe him anything? I thought about just not responding. There's literally nothing I can do for him. What do I owe my soon-to-be husband?
A: Lucky, lucky you that he left you at the virtual altar. Oh, poor widdle mopey boy! Tell your fiancé you've gotten this strange request from your ex that you plan to ignore—surely it’s prompted by his hearing you are engaged. I agree that not responding, and blocking his email, is the way to deal with the man you hope falls silent again.
Q. Secret Child: My husband had an affair a few years ago with a woman he worked with, and a child was the result. My husband and I stayed together, and are working through it, as difficult as it has been. However, I never told my ultraconservative dad about his tryst and resulting baby. I'm having a hard enough time coming to terms with the child myself, and I know telling my father would just complicate things, but everyone else in both families know, and it's just a matter of time before he finds out, and I'd rather he find out from me rather than through the grapevine. The child is now coming up on 2 years in just a few months—how do I break the news to my father?
A: "Dad, a few years ago Dick had an affair and the other woman had a child. The baby is now 2 years old, I've decided to stay with Dick, and I'm encouraging him to be a good father. This has obviously been very painful, and I know this news will be distressing to you, but keeping this child a secret is not a good idea." Then you accept your father's response is really not that relevant to your life with your husband. And I hope it is true that you are doing everything possible to make sure your husband steps up to his duties as a father. If you can't, then you need to re-evaluate your decision to stay in the marriage. It's just not right to make an innocent child suffer because of the father's misdeeds.
Q. Re: Fearing baby sitters: You are also giving your children the impression that it is perfectly acceptable to expect undivided attention from somebody else all the time. My ex's mother was similar and never allowed anybody to watch her children without her present. As an adult, my ex wanted the undivided attention of others quite often, when that simply was not a reality for us. It contributed to our divorce. Please consider what this decision might do for your child's ability to be functional adults who understand that people have more than one interest.
A: I agree this kind of hovering parenting is not good for the children. The mother needs help separating her past from her children's present.
Q. Alcoholism: My husband and I are contemplating kids. We live near his parents because his father is ill. Perhaps due to this, his mother is a high-functioning alcoholic. While he's driving, she will open a bottle of wine in the car. She has driven drunk at least once, when she backed into his car and blamed it on him for "parking in her way." She drinks several drinks a day. She was not able to keep commitments to him over Christmas because she was too intoxicated to follow through. Despite all this, he still refuses to believe that she has a problem. I know it's a little early to be thinking about this, but once we have kids, I want to make it clear to her I do not want her drinking even a sip when she is caring for my child alone. To him, all her behavior is completely normal because all her friends do it and she manages to keep her job. He thinks the "just one drink" rule is absurd and harsh. My MIL is a very wonderful and sweet lady, but I simply do not trust her to stop at "just one drink." Is there anything I can say to my husband to keep him from enabling her? Or am I the one who's overreacting?
A: If she's driving drunk I think you should report her to the DMV. Yes, it likely won't do any good, but they are supposed to look into alerts about impaired drivers. You do not have children, so there is no reason to fight this hypothetical fight with your husband. Instead you should be concentrating on opening his eyes to the fact that his mother is potentially endangering herself and others. When you do have kids, I disagree with your "no drinking on duty" command. If you think a caregiver has an active substance abuse problem, that person should never be entrusted with your child.
Q Re: Family photo. If seeing pictures of her exes is that debilitating, someone needs to introduce her to Photoshop.
A: I disagree. The ex should stay in the picture. She just needs to do some Mindshop.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Have a great week.
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