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.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions!
Q. Blabbermouth Assistant: My husband and I recently found out we're pregnant with our first child. We're thrilled, of course, but we decided to wait to tell anyone outside our immediate families for a few more weeks. I teach art at a large school, and I decided to tell my teaching assistant, the mother of three teenage boys, so she'd know why it seemed like I was feeling under the weather. She was elated but completely ignored me when I asked her to keep the news to herself. Within moments of me telling her, she had (literally) shrieked the news to several other staff members, and she brushed me off when I asked her to be quiet and noted that I especially didn't want my students to find out. When I returned to work the next day, I found that she had hung a banner over my door that read, "Bun in the Oven." I was mortified and furious. When I spoke to her about it, she insisted that miscarriages are caused by negativity and that if I act like it's a secret, I'll cause one. In addition, any time I mention feeling tired or nauseated, she rolls her eyes and tells me that I need to enjoy my pregnancy. I am enjoying it, but I'm not enjoying the fact that half the school knows at such an early date or that she has no empathy for how difficult the early stages of pregnancy are on my body. Any tips for dealing with this? She's otherwise a wonderful assistant.
A: She may be a wonderful assistant, but she violated your privacy, your express wishes, and she's also crackers. It's true that you took her into your confidence, which always comes with potential peril, but usually not of the kind that results in literal banners over the door. What you do now is develop a completely professional relationship with her—no intimacies, no sharing pregnancy stories. If you're tired or nauseated, you deal with it as you would if you had a bug. If she acts put out that you're refusing to share, or if she offers some of her cockamamie theories, you say, "Shelly, let's just stick to professional issues." If that makes her hard to work with, then she actually isn't wonderful.
Dear Prudence: Way Too Candid Camera
Q. Frivolous Spending of Donation Money: My brother-in-law became permanently disabled after an accident nine months ago. He now works two days a week but obviously has a much reduced income. My husband and his three siblings all pulled in and gave him and his wife a large amount of money. None of us are well off, and the money came from our own savings for retirement, children's college, etc. My elderly mother-in-law sold her home and drastically downgraded to give money. As a result, my brother-in-law and his wife had their mortgage paid off and have some to spare for whatever expenses they have. (My sister-in-law works a much lower-paying job, so without our help, they would have struggled significantly.) Then, recently, I found out they are planning on enrolling their kids at an expensive private school. Maybe they think now that they don't have a mortgage, they can afford some "luxury" expenses. (They live near well-known, excellent public schools). I do not begrudge giving up our savings so they can continue living in their home and paying for living/medical expenses, but paying for a private education seems unnecessary and even unappreciative of the sacrifices other family members have made. How can I approach this topic tactfully?
A: In one way, this is entirely none of your business. One of the worst things that can happen to a family happened to them, and all of you gave out of a spirit of concern and generosity. I hope they showed their appreciation, but they are adults able to make what they think are the best decisions for their family. However, a legitimate concern among all of you could be that if they go through with this "trust fund," they will inevitably be turning to their family members again. I am no financial planner, but I do wonder about the choices they are making. I'm not sure paying off the mortgage was the wisest thing to do with a lump sum that's supposed to help keep this family afloat. You don't know about the decision-making that went into the private school choice. These kids have just been through a trauma, and it may be that the parents know the smaller classes and closer attention is what they need. But it's true that private school tuition is a large and recurring expense, one that could eat up a lot of this family's nest egg. I think the best thing you can do as a family is designate a kind, nonconfrontational member to talk to them about the need for a reputable financial adviser. They need someone who knows what services (Social Security disability?) should be tapped and how to safely invest for the long haul the money they have. If they are agreeable, then as a family you should find someone for them; they already have enough on their plate. If they are offended or unresponsive to this suggestion, then back off. You can decide down the road what you want to do if they come asking for a refill of their coffers.
Q. Hot Co-Worker Makes Me Uncomfortable: I just started a new job—my first in a leadership position. Although I am in charge of my department, my position requires close interaction with the director of another department. My problem is that the director makes me really uncomfortable. I am fairly sure he finds me attractive—I've caught him looking at me in meetings, he finds reasons to stop by my office, and his body language seems to confirm it. I don't think it would be an issue, except I think he's ridiculously handsome, and I feel nervous around him. I am happily married, so I'm definitely not interested in pursuing a relationship with him. I've never had this experience with another co-worker before, so I'm not sure how to handle it. I want to get over my schoolgirl crush and make sure we have a successful professional relationship, but I'm not sure how to go about that. Any ideas?
A: Your letter took a left turn because I expected it to conclude with a question about how you deal with a creepy colleague. Instead it's about what you do about the fact that the two of you are acting like moony middle-schoolers, and although you don't raise the issue, I can assure you others have noted the body language and the lingering glances. What you do is act like the professional you are. When he comes to your door, you glance up and say, "Hi, Channing, can I help you?" and when you're done with the business at hand, you say, "I don't want to be abrupt, but I'm swamped." No hair-tossing, lip-parting, eye-lingering subliminal messages. There's nothing wrong with an office crush or noticing there's some eye candy down the hall—it can help get you into work early. But it's up to you to keep your thoughts encased in your personal hard-candy shell.
Q. Re: Blabbermouth Assistant: Don't just let this lady off the hook. What she did is a huge breach of trust and should be brought to the principal of the school (or whoever supervises the teaching assistants). This goes beyond just blabbing—she seems obsessed with it! In many states, pregnancy is a "protected characteristic," and what the teaching assistant is doing could be considered harassment that could potentially put the school on the hook for her actions, so they should know about it in order to put a lid on it. The school should, at the very least, discipline this woman. The original poster shouldn't have to suffer in silence on this.
A: Good point. She absolutely should bring this to the attention of the principal if this continues and she feels it's necessary. The banner is beyond belief. But it's also a lesson in not telling co-workers secret, private information unless you are ready to make it common knowledge.
Q. Worse Than Husband's Cancer: I care for my 38-year-old husband, who has cancer. We know there isn't much hope. I love him, and I consider it a privilege to look after him throughout his sickness. But what causes me more stress and anxiety is his mother. If I ever shop for my husband's food at a regular supermarket (as opposed to an organic store), she treats me like I committed murder and screams abuse at me. We once went out to a restaurant to celebrate our wedding anniversary, and she became hysterical toward me. She doesn't trust any food that she doesn't personally make herself. When we're at the hospital together, she interferes and nags with everything—including the thickness of the socks I brought him. How can I get her to cut me some slack without fighting? I don't want my husband to stress out over this issue.