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My husband and I are at odds over our younger daughter and her "blankie.” My mother bought it for me when I was born and it's been loved so much for so long that it's completely see-through. I passed it to both of my girls, but only the younger has been attached to it. My daughter is almost 6 years old and my husband says she's much too old to be carrying around a "rag.” He also has a problem with her referring to blankie as "him" because it’s an inanimate object. My youngest talks with blankie and when she has tea parties she will "feed" blankie. (I was a similarly imaginative child.) My husband wanted to burn blankie or throw it away, but I got him to agree not to by saying I would make a bear and use blankie as stuffing. Blankie has been hidden from her for two weeks. Our daughter cries sometimes at night because she wants to cuddle with blankie, or she will say "I'm afraid blankie is going to die." I want her to have the blanket back, but my husband is adamant. Is there some way I can convince my husband that loving "blankie" is still OK no matter what our daughter’s age?
Please tell me your husband has some other redeeming qualities because as a father he is not only a wet blanket but cruel, punitive, and bizarrely literal. Over the years people (or their loved ones) who were embarrassed or concerned about their security objects, from blankets to stuffed animals, have written in asking whether their continued attachment was abnormal. When I’ve run these I’ve always been flooded with lovely replies from people who continue to have a special place of affection for an article that helped get them through some hard times, including being in a bomb attack in Iraq. In the psychological parlance things like blankie are transitional objects, and their use is perfectly normal and healthy. Given the paucity of blankies at executive committee meetings, most people make the transition and let them go. But giving up blankie could be years down the road for your still 5-year-old daughter—and if she holds onto this shred of assurance over the long haul, that’s fine, too. Your husband’s objection that your daughter calls blankie “he” because it’s inanimate makes me wonder if you’ve married someone who lacks the capacity to understand the minds of others, particularly children. I’m disturbed that in response to his daughter’s tears, your husband wants to incinerate this little piece of cloth. As far as blankie is concerned, you should tell your husband point blank that blankie is yours, and he’s not to get rid of it. But this conflict is not really about a threadbare piece of cloth; instead it’s about your husband’s capacity to be a compassionate and loving father. To address that, start by telling your husband that this issue has made you realize you two need to go to parenting classes together. As a start, hearing from a neutral party that your daughter’s attachment is typical might mollify your husband on this subject. Whether your little girl eventually consigns blankie to a special private place (highly likely) or continues to keep him within reach (possible, but less so), ask your husband this question: What’s it to you?
Dear Prudence: 7-Year-Old Holy Terror
A few years ago I got into an office romance. We were both single and in our mid-20s. It was alcohol- soaked and sex-filled and a hell of a lot of fun. About six months into it I realized this woman and I had virtually nothing in common aside from our penchant for work, sex, and booze. Then we found out we were expecting. We're still together (although no longer working in the same office), we have an amazing daughter, and are both loving and committed parents. The problem is that aside from our daughter, we still have next to nothing in common. I wasn't as happy as I could be, but I accepted this. I never knew my own father and had a chaotic early childhood, so I was willing to sacrifice my own happiness for my daughter's well-being and stability. Then a couple of weeks ago I went to a conference for work. On the first morning, I was seated next to a beautiful young woman and we clicked. We got to know one another during the downtime, and although there was quite a bit of tension, nothing occurred but flirting. Since coming home, I've been struggling. I’m not hung up on the woman from the conference, but I had forgotten how exciting and mentally stimulating simple conversation with someone from the opposite sex can be when you actually share common interests, experiences, and values. I realize that every relationship has its low points and requires a lot of work from both partners, but am I wasting my time? Could my efforts to look out for my daughter's best interests by staying potentially screw her up more than if I just ended things with her mother now?
—Bored and Confused
No, it is not going to screw up your daughter to have two committed parents devoted to making a stable, loving life for her, ideally in the same home. The way trends are going fewer and fewer children are growing up with a father in the house, and it’s admirable you want to keep your daughter from experiencing this, especially since you know the pain of lacking a father entirely. I assure you she doesn’t care that Daddy and Mommy aren’t soul mates. You may not be delirious, but you don’t sound miserable, either. The beautiful woman at the conference may have triggered your longing for all you're missing, but keep in mind that an alluring and fascinating stranger can have a powerful effect on even the most happily married person. You should acknowledge what an accomplishment it is that you and the mother and your child have made things work thus far. It’s worth trying to make a conscious decision with your girlfriend to do things as a couple that will build connections and conversation. You could volunteer together for a cause you both care about, take up running, or, given your mutual past pleasures, join a wine-tasting club. You two have also avoided the big questions, and it’s time to face them. You certainly don’t want to find yourself having another child with your girlfriend without ever really deciding to commit. Just learning how to talk to each other about what you want out of life—before deciding to find it elsewhere—is a good place to start.
I have a half brother from my father's first marriage. Recently my father's first wife revealed to my mother that my father is actually not the biological father of my half brother. It turns out my "brother," who’s almost 40, has known for 10 years. He even has his biological father listed on Facebook. So everyone knows this big secret, except my father. It's starting to cause problems between my mother and me because I feel my father needs to know, and she thinks it's best to keep it quiet because it will devastate him. My father always raised me to do the right thing no matter how difficult it is, but I don't think this is something I can handle. I can't stand keeping this from my dad, but how could I possibly tell him?
—No More Lies
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Dear No More,
Slate recently ran a story by my colleague Daniel Engber on genomic testing, which has been revealing that many men who think they’ve sired their children actually haven’t. But no one has to spend money getting their saliva analyzed to confirm that—just read this column. So your father is another one of the cuckolded men who’ve devoted their love and resources to raising the genetic offspring of someone else. But fatherhood is not just about DNA, and nothing will change the fact that your half brother is your father’s son. It’s unfortunate that your father’s first wife has loose lips as well as loose morals. I don’t understand the purpose of blabbing this news to everyone, apparently, except her ex. But once your father’s first wife decided to come clean with her son, one or both of them should have informed your father. I hope you have a good relationship with your half brother because it would be helpful for you to talk to him about this knowledge, why you think your father deserves to be told, and that he should be the one to do it. It could be he agrees with your mother that telling your father will only cause pain. You don’t want to tell, and I don’t think it’s your obligation. But it’s true that if the gossip mill is churning your father might find out. If he does and comes to you, you can let him know he’s always been a great father to all his children, and no paternity test will change that. I also urge you to see Sarah Polley’s extraordinary new documentary, The Stories We Tell.
My wife and I are in our early 50s and my mother-in-law died almost two years ago. My wife’s parents were married for 55 years, and as an only child she was close to both of them. The death was devastating for everyone. My father-in-law is a healthy and energetic 84-year-old with a comfortable retirement portfolio. Eventually he decided to try to find a companion and turned to the Internet. On his first try he found a woman with similar interests and they started dating. We met her and she has a nebulous life story. She’s not sure of the status of her previous husband (her fourth) because his family took him from her care and put him in a nursing home. Her grown children are constantly asking her for money, so she has very little. We did our best to be accepting of her, but our alarms were going off. Things progressed quickly and my father-in-law is now at the beck and call of his girlfriend’s children, but started to fall out of contact with my wife. He refused to let us take him out for his birthday—we invited his girlfriend—and instead went alone with her. Now her father called to say that he’s been feeling ill lately, with dangerously low blood pressure, and he thinks the cause is the diet pills his girlfriend convinced him he needed and purchased for him as a gift! Now this has become a health and safety issue in our minds, and we feel we need to speak up and voice our concerns to him. He says he intends to have her move in with him permanently by Christmas, but that neither of them want to marry again. We're becoming increasingly worried, but are we meddling or being justifiably protective of my father-in-law?
—What Do We Do About Dad?
You are not meddling by wanting to disentangle your father-in-law from the web of this black widow who is in the process of emptying his bank account and alienating him from his loved ones. Elder abuse can be insidious, especially if the victim apparently has all his marbles. But at this point your father-in-law’s relationship may be causing him to be roiled by a combination of attraction, fear, embarrassment, and powerlessness. I agree with you that it’s alarming this woman who’s not quite sure if her last husband is among the living, is now drugging a vulnerable old man. Read up on elder abuse at this government website, then find a specialist in elder-abuse law at the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. Your father-in-law may resist, but you two have to try to protect Dad.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“Skin Deep: Should a husband tell his wife how he feels about her physical flaws?” Posted March 22, 2012.
“My Gay Husband: He’s closeted, but I don't mind. Should I set him free anyway?” Posted March 15, 2012.
“Gastric Warfare: I fear my mother-in-law is poisoning me, but my husband doesn’t believe it.” Posted March 8, 2012.
“Smell Ya Later!: Should I break up with my fiance because he thinks I have horrible body odor?.” Posted March 1, 2012.
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“The Wrong Touch: In a live chat, Dear Prudence offers advice on a frisky roommate, felonious family members, and friends who become lovers.” Posted April 2, 2012.
“Whoa, Momma: During a live chat, Dear Prudence offers advice on having children after tragedy, elective surrogacy, and the demands of parenting twins.” Posted March 26, 2012.
“Should I Leave My Infertile Partner?: In a live chat, Dear Prudence advises a man who wants to bolt after learning his girlfriend can’t have kids.” Posted March 19, 2012.
“Sex Education: In a live chat, Prudie advises a student whose pregnant friend doesn’t know where babies come from.” Posted March 12, 2012.