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. Help Me Tell Him!: I found out a few weeks ago that I'm expecting a child. My husband has two children from a previous marriage. About two years ago I got pregnant and my husband went into a violent depression. He didn't speak to me for weeks except to tell me how I had ruined his life. Then, when I miscarried he celebrated. I started bleeding in the grocery store, and he fell to his knees and "praised God" for this wonderful blessing. After months of therapy, we decided to try to make the marriage work, under the agreement that we would never have a child together. However, I now find myself pregnant again. And, I want this baby as much as I wanted the last one. The trouble is, I decided back then that I would never want a child with my husband. There is a very good chance that my husband will divorce me and leave a man-shaped hole in the front door as he grabs his two kids and runs as far away as he can. I am not ready for the end of the marriage I have put so many years and so much work into. But, I'm even more not ready to hear my husband try to talk me into an abortion—which is not an option. And, I think it would be traumatic for my stepchildren to watch me carry a baby to term and then put it up for adoption. They are well old enough to know what's happening. Plus, I could never part with my child. I have to tell him. But how?
A: The day your husband started praising God in the grocery store because you were miscarrying his child was the day the man-sized hole in your life should have opened up which you should have repaired with reinforced concrete. You say you put a lot of work into this marriage. But that's like saying you put a lot of work into building a house at the site of an annual mudslide and you're staying until the walls collapse around you. Instead of fleeing this awful man, you stayed, then didn't take the kind of precautions (sterilization of both of you, for example) that would have prevented another pregnancy. Unless you are fearful for your safety—which is a significant concern—you need to tell your husband you're pregnant. I don't know how you do it except to say, "I'm pregnant." If he reacts as you expect, your next step is to contact a divorce lawyer.
Dear Prudence: Wicked Widow-to-Be
Q. My 13-Year-Old Daughter Is on Lunch Strike!: My 13-year-old daughter has not eaten lunch since school started three weeks ago. I found out when I went to add money to her lunch account. When I asked her why, she said she isn't hungry, which I know isn't true because she rarely eats breakfast because we are usually running late in the mornings. When she gets home in the afternoon, she eats everything in sight and promptly falls asleep. As far as I can tell, she loves school and looks forward to going every day. She has tons of friends and never complains about school. She is very pretty and she knows this because people tell her all the time how pretty her face is and I have even caught her gazing at herself in the mirror. However, she is 5-foot-6 and about 50 pounds overweight. Last year she started wearing a hoodie to school every day even in 100 degree weather. She says it because the classrooms are cold, but she keeps it on during the bus ride home and the walk home from the bus stop which is at 10-minute walk. I think she wears it to cover up the extra weight she has around her waist. I have encouraged her to exercise and offered to put her in physical activities but she declines the offers. I sent her to school today with a packed healthy lunch and threatened to come up to the school and sit with her and all her friends if she didn't eat it. If it matters, I am about 100 pounds overweight myself. How worried should I be?
A: Mom, you were a 13-year-old girl once. Imagine how thrilled you'd have been if your mother showed up in the cafeteria, sat down next to you, and force-fed you until you had a clean plate. Worrying isn't the point, taking action is. Your daughter is significantly overweight and has a mother who is morbidly obese, so both of you need to address your eating issues. Instead of nagging your daughter about each meal tell her that it's obvious you have struggled with your weight all your life, and you don't want her to go through the same thing. Say you're obviously no expert in good eating habits and nutrition, so you're going to find one—for each of you. Talk to your daughter's pediatrician and get a referral to someone who specializes in teenage girls. You need your own nutritionist. It's possible you could both see the same person, although you each need private sessions. But it also would be helpful to have some joint counseling so that you and your daughter can talk about setting guidelines for how she can make the best choices about what she eats without it becoming a power struggle with you. Being 13 years old can be hard even for the most slender and confident kids. It can be miserable for kids who feel ashamed about their bodies. Stop nagging and micromanaging, Mom, and take steps to lay a healthy foundation for your daughter's life.
Q. Relationship: I'm a 28-year-old man who recently started seeing a woman. We have an understanding that what we have is casual, but she has a 6-year-old child, who I've seen a couple of times a week since we started seeing each other a couple of months ago. I don't do relationships, but work with kids, so I'm good with them. The other day, he told me he loved me. Now I haven't even said this to his mother and don't intend to. We have great passion and affection, but it's just physical for me. But I feel horrible as I don't feel that those words should be used unless meant, but this resulted in him saying "I love you" with it not being returned. What do I do? And if the child says it again, how should I respond?
A: You work with kids, so I wish it had occurred to you that showing up as a regular presence in the life of a vulnerable 6-year-old and "being good" with him was going to give this child a powerful sense of connection and longing. Your letter should also be a warning for single parents of young children. Those kids should be protected from the adults' social lives until the parent is in a relationship that is serious and established and it's clear that everyone’s getting to know each other makes sense. If you're going to continue to see this woman for uncommitted sex, then you two need to figure out a way to do this without passing through the life of her little boy. But don't just disappear. The next time you see him, you should have a private talk with him. You can tell him that you appreciate how strong his feelings are for you and that he could tell you. Explain that love is a really powerful emotion—and word—and that some people only say it when they know someone really, really well. You're one of those people. So tell him that you feel lucky you've gotten to know him, that you've enjoyed talking to him and hearing his stories (or whatever it is you've done together), and you like him so very, very much.
Q. Original poster about pregnancy: I am in my 20s and have never had a biological child. It is very hard to find a doctor that will do a tubal ligation for a woman with my stats. As for my husband, he had a vasectomy over a year ago—which I guess failed. Regardless, we DID take the precautions we thought were necessary. And now I'm stuck facing this horrible ordeal all over again. Worst of all, I can't celebrate my child!