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. I’m Not Being Abused!: My new husband and I enjoy very rough sex. Unfortunately—in spite of efforts to keep quiet—my 12-year-old daughter overheard us. I got called in for a private meeting with her teacher outside of school hours. She told me my daughter heard her stepfather slapping me and was extremely upset. I was completely taken aback, not to mention embarrassed beyond belief, and couldn’t think of anything other than mutter that I was fine and everything was fine at home. Of course, this only made the teacher believe I was trying to cover up the “abuse” and told me repeatedly she was there to help when I was ready. I know I can’t just let my daughter continue believing her mother is being abused, and I really don’t want this kind teacher to be concerned over a complete misunderstanding. However I just don’t know how to begin. Please help.
A: I’ve got to admire your daughter’s self-possession and crisis management skills; that was a very difficult decision for her to make. She must have considered going to you, but then concluded that if you were being abused, you likely you would cover up for your husband. So instead of squirming every night about what was going on in your bedroom, she went to a smart place for help. Now it’s time for an honest, if succinct, conversation with your daughter. You should praise her for her concern for you and for making a tough choice. Tell her that you were surprised and embarrassed at the meeting—which is not her fault!—so you weren’t as articulate as you wished you had been. Say that you understand what she heard worried her, and it’s your responsibility for not being more discreet. But explain to her that everything that is going on is totally consensual, you love her stepfather, and you are not being hurt in any way. Tell her that now that you’ve aired this, you hope she will feel free to come to you with anything that worries her. You then can call the teacher and say that because you were taken aback at the meeting you were not as articulate as would have liked, but suffice it to say everything that’s going on in your home is between consenting adults and your daughter now understands that. Then get some sound-proofing, or a sound machine for when you and your husband have noisy nocturnal pleasures.
Q. My Sister’s Wedding or My Mother’s?: My sister and the love of her life are going to get married this winter. Our whole family is very happy about it, especially my mom. When my parents got married more than 20 years ago there was not much money. Everything was nice and happy, but nowhere near the dream wedding my mom always wanted. The family’s financial situation has improved significantly since then and it seems my mother finally wants the wedding of her dreams—even if it’s not actually hers. My parents are paying for everything, but my mom wants everything her way. My sister, who has a soft heart, is willing to let her have it her way. The future son-in-law is another story. He wants no part of what he calls “a Ken and Barbie nightmare” and thinks a wedding should first of all reflect bride and groom. He even went so far as to offer to pay all the bills out of his own pocket. Mom is furious, but he won’t back down. My poor sister is so upset about all of this, she’s considering canceling the whole wedding. I would be grateful for any suggestions to solve this mess and give my sister a wedding that doesn’t give her nightmares for years to come.
A: There are great lessons here for your sister and her husband. One, if you’re old enough to get married, you’re old enough to tell your mother, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Two, if someone is picking up the tab, they get to be in control. Three, if a bride is choosing between making her unreasonable mother happy and mollifying her groom, she needs to refocus her priorities.
It’s lovely if a couple’s parents can help them with wedding expenses, but not if the cost is that they are treated like pawns at their own event. Because people are getting married later, it’s increasingly common for the couple to pay for their own wedding, which I think is a good trend. Your sister may be soft-hearted, but she’s going to seem soft-headed if she can’t grow up enough to separate from her mother to be in charge of her own wedding. You can tell your sister you’re sorry to see her so miserable and help her in coming up with a road map for dealing with mom, taking charge, or eloping. But you don’t want to take over the job of imposing your own wishes on her. You want to support her in recognizing that she’s a grown up, and needs to start acting like one.
Q. House Guest Exhaustion: My friends and I went to undergrad in a small college town and have since all moved on to different cities across the U.S. Occasionally, we’ll travel to see each other and the time spent is a great way to strengthen the friendship bond that gets lost sometimes due to distance and just life in general. In previous years, it made good financial sense to extend our “weekend” visits to Thursday through Monday morning because those flights tend to be cheaper than weekend fares. This was a perfect set up while single and living alone. But, now that I’m married and have two toddlers at home, this is more than a notion when it comes to hosting house guests. I absolutely love the opportunity to spend time with friends, but desperately need to at least have my Sunday afternoons or early evenings to get prepared for the week. Continuing the hosting gig throws things into a bit of a tailspin, and I’m left feeling guilty that I’m doing a shoddy job of both taking care of my "home" responsibilities and being a good host. Is there any way that I can impress upon friends coming to visit that staying until Monday morning really isn’t the best idea anymore without causing hurt feelings?
A: If you’re at the age that you have small children underfoot, I’m surprised that your college friends themselves don’t need to get out of town on Sunday in order to be at work on Monday. You handle this by telling them you’re excited about the visit and you look forward to catching up Thursday through Sunday morning. If they say they need to stay until Monday you say that you can refer them to some low cost motel options for that last night, but you’ve got to attend to other stuff starting at Sunday noon. If this loses you your friendships, then I hope you are finding a community of people whose company you enjoy—but who know when to leave—where you are.
Q. Judgement About Roommate Choices: My sister and I are new college grads just starting out. We’ve decided to be roommates in order to move out of our mom’s house and get started. The both of us are used to being around each other obviously and have experience running a household together. My mother was very sick when I was starting out in college. People generally think I exaggerate when I say we ran the household for almost two years. But our friends think it’s somewhat weird for sisters to be roommates out in “the real world.” Personally I couldn’t think of a better roommate. I know I can rely on her and she feels the same about me. Is this really so weird for sisters to be roommates?