My 25-year-old sister announced to the family not long ago that she is pregnant. Normally such news would be celebrated, but I've been doing nothing but stressing out since I heard. My sister is a drug addict and mentally ill. She’s never been able to hold a job and continues to smoke like a chimney. She married the father, who she met in rehab. He’s cleaned himself up and joined the military. I have no doubt that the government will eventually have to remove the baby from her custody because she's simply not capable of caring for someone else. My entire family agrees. Last week, my parents mentioned that if that day comes, my wife and I should take the child. We are successful professionals who live in New York and make a decent living. We've worked hard to get to where we are and don't plan on children anytime soon. My parents are elderly and couldn’t raise a newborn. My brother says he wouldn’t consider it. My only hope is that the father will man up and become a decent parent, but that would require his leaving my sister because I can’t imagine her ever being responsible enough to care for a baby. What responsibility do I have to this child? I want to do the right thing, but I'm not sure what that is.
—Confused and Worried
Your sister needs a social worker if she doesn’t already have one. If your family finds one for her, try to convince your sister to give permission for her immediate family to have the right to discuss her case with the social worker. Your sister is in urgent need of prenatal care. If she is taking drugs and possibly drinking during her pregnancy, she may have already caused the child serious harm. This must be evaluated, and if the baby has been dangerously exposed, all options, including termination, need to be discussed. If the pregnancy continues, your family should be in as close touch with the father as possible, and your family should make sure your sister is helped—and supervised—when the child is born. Beyond that, there are just too many unknowns for you to be planning who might get custody. Your sister may be unfit by any standard, but the child has a father and he may rise to the occasion. He may also have a family who could help in caring for the child. There’s no point now in your dwelling on scenarios of being pressured to take in an unwanted niece or nephew. Nor do I think you have a moral obligation to do so. If this child ends up being put in foster care, or made available for adoption, let's fervently hope he or she goes to competent people who are ready and eager to have this child in their lives. And after the birth, try to get your sister to agree to a form of long-term birth control so this sad situation is not repeated.
I have an embarrassing question on bathroom etiquette. My wife, who is normally not a neat freak, insists that I scrub the toilet after I go number two to prevent unsightly streaks on the bowl. She claims that I'm the only person she's known who leaves such marks. To keep the peace at home, I use a toilet brush and spray to clean the bowl after use, which seems to me a reasonable courtesy. Recently, we went to a friend's house for a party and during the night I had to relieve myself. My wife used the bathroom after me and later confided she was horrified to see I had left marks in the bowl. There was no toilet brush available, so I didn't feel obliged to scrub afterward, but did flush twice. She now insists that I have a problem, is shopping for a portable brush to carry when we go out, and is encouraging me to change my diet. I think our friends are adults, and can be expected to know that sometimes toilets get dirty. I'm starting to dread getting invited for parties, as I know my wife will be giving me the evil eye whenever I make a move toward the bathroom.
In the movie The Madness of King George, some royal physicians attempt to diagnose the increasingly strange behavior of their king by studying his stool. A doctor who doesn’t believe in such methods remarks, “One can produce copious, regular, and exquisitely turned evacuation every day of the week and still be a stranger to reason.” I believe the same thing can be said of your wife. If she’s never seen a toilet-bowl skid mark until marrying you, then she has never used a public restroom. Your eliminations may have more traction than hers, but if you are in good health an overhaul of your diet is unnecessary. I agree that when you leave a fecal signature, a quick scrub is the polite thing to do. But I don’t want to contemplate your showing up at the next dinner party with a bottle of wine in one hand and a toilet brush in the other. I have a suggestion. The next time nature calls during a social event, and there’s no bathroom brush, first lay down a toilet paper raft prior to sitting, to ease the departure of your discharge. If this isn’t good enough for your wife, I’m not suggesting you dump her, but you might be moved to offer a few scatological remarks about her putting her nose where it doesn’t belong.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“The Story of Oh, No: My boss walked in on me touching myself, and now he won’t stop flirting. What do I do?” Posted May 24, 2012.
“A Touch Too Long: My mom let me play with her breasts for years after I stopped breast-feeding, and now she’s doing it with my sister. How do I stop it?” Posted May 17, 2012.
“A Dirty Debut: My 19-year-old niece just confessed to me she's made a porn film. Should I tell the family?” Posted May 3, 2012.
“Honeymoon, Interrupted: My new wife postponed our tropical getaway to comfort her “best friend.” What gives?” Posted April 26, 2012.
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“Backup Plan: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman who just found out her fiancé originally wanted to date her best friend.” Posted June 4, 2012.
“Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s in Her Bed: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman whose nanny had an affair with her husband.” Posted May 29, 2012.
“Don’t Feed the Baby: In a live chat, Dear Prudence offers advice on a vegan infant, a no-child prenup, and whether a brain tumor is a good excuse for adultery.” Posted May 21, 2012.
“Guys and Dolls: In a live chat, Prudie offers advice regarding a boyfriend whose “other woman” is a mannequin.” Posted May 14, 2012.