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. MIL Hates It When I Make Love to Her Son: My elderly MIL moved in with us after suffering chronic health problems. Since she came to live with us, I noticed she treats me with hostility every time I am intimate with my husband. Each "morning after" she will either refuse to look at me, make unnecessarily biting comments, or just glare at me when she thinks I'm not looking. I thought I was imagining it but after several months of living together, this is definitely the reason why. I've become paranoid about making love and we are very careful about being quiet—almost to the point of silence—but it hasn't helped. I feel terrible asking my sick MIL to move out because of this, and I'm too embarrassed to have a discussion with her. Is there any solution to our problem?
A: Your situation gave me the strong feeling that I would prefer to be in the situation of a previous letter writer, whose mother-in-law was poisoning her. What you describe is intolerable and a perfect illustration of the maxim, "No good deed goes unpunished." I'm almost always in favor of having a clear and direct conversation about an interpersonal problem. But you're right, there's really no way to say, "Dottie, when Larry and I make love, I notice the next day you're extremely hostile to me. I've tried being more quiet, but it doesn't help. Let's figure out how to deal with this." I'm actually having a hard time imagining feeling amorous in such circumstances, so I admire you and your husband for being able to be intimate. All of you are living in such close quarters that even without this problem, over the long haul you surely are going to want relief and privacy. You don't say this living situation is until your mother-in-law gets back on her feet. "Chronic health problems" sounds rather ominous. So if this is permanent, you either develop a thick enough skin that you can ignore and laugh off her behavior, or you realize this isn't working out and it's time to find a different living situation for her. Since you say you've become paranoid about your love-making, that seems like a pretty decent sign that it's time for mom to move on. That doesn't mean you toss your mother-in-law into the street, but that you and your husband explore all the potential options. You could hire a social worker to help you sort through this. If you want to keep her living with you, perhaps it's possible that you could all move to a place that has a mother-in-law suite, one that you make sure is thoroughly sound-proofed.
Dear Prudence: Evil Twin
Q. Income Gap and Kids: I was raised in a lower-middle-class home where money was virtually always tight. My oldest sister had a few children very young, so around the age of 8, I was expected to help out with infants, toddlers, and school-aged children. I went on to attend college and got a great job that I love. Right now I am at the stage in life where a lot of my friends and co-workers are having kids or have toddlers. A lot of their focus is on choices that seem, to me, a bit silly: organic cotton? Juicing? Dual language instruction from birth? I spent a good portion of my life around parents who had to make decisions like: How can I make sure I get to spend one waking hour with my child? Or, who should watch my kid—my stressed out mother with three teenagers, or my best friend who smokes constantly? I know that everybody has problems and there are people out there who had it much worse than me. But my nieces and nephews all turned out to be wonderful, smart, and caring people even though they didn't learn baby sign language. I try my best to keep a straight face when a friend brings up baby yoga (?!?) but honestly I find it hard not to tell these parents what a luxury these problems they cite really are. Can you give me some ways of looking at this situation that help me respond to them in a more empathetic way?
A: I'm finding it pretty hard to believe that in the absence of hand-loomed organic cotton onesies, or locally sourced kale smoothies, that your nieces and nephews turned into robust, productive people. The best thing for you to do when new parents go down this conversational rabbit hole is to keep a sense of humor and have a way to change the subject. There's hardly a more excruciating line of discussion than the minutiae of baby care, especially if you don't have a baby. By changing the topic to the government shutdown, you would at least keep thematically on track by talking about indulged, spoiled children. With people you know well, when things get to be too much, you could say something like, "Organic baby food and baby yoga? I'm lucky I wasn't arrested for child abuse. When I was helping to raise my nieces and nephews, I tossed them out in backyard to play then fed them Tater Tots and Oreos. The good news is that they're all really smart and have great jobs. But now I'm wondering if with a few kale smoothies we would have produced a Bill Gates or Sheryl Sandberg!"
Q. Need My Own Space!: I live across the country from my father, and I try to visit at least once a year. In the past, I used to stay in an extra bedroom in his house, but ever since my brother remarried a much younger woman eight years ago, I'll stay in a nearby motel if they are visiting at the same time. They are rather enthusiastic in the bedroom, and nothing weirds me out more than being at breakfast with my dad and hearing my brother and his wife thumping rhythmically in their room. My dad is either a bit hard of hearing, or I don't know what, but he doesn't even acknowledge that he hears it. The problem is that lately, Dad wants to know why I don't stay in his home. I'm honestly a bit embarrassed to have to tell him I don't want to hear my brother boinking his beloved, as it doesn't seem to bother him a bit. I've tried explaining that I sleep better in a quieter house, but he has begun to insist that when I visit this Christmas, that I stay in my old room so I can be around more. Gah! Please help me figure out how to give Dad a stronger "no" that won't be the most embarrassing thing ever!