Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online 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. Let’s get started!
Q. Want to Be a Stay-at-Home Husband: My wife has an annual income of more than $400,000. My salary is roughly one-tenth of that, with no prospect of going much higher for the rest of my working life. Both of us work equally long hours. Although we could live very comfortably on her current salary, she insists that I continue to work to contribute to family finances. We have two young kids who are cared for by a nanny, and another lady comes in regularly for domestic help. It actually makes better sense financially for me to be a stay-at-home parent, but my wife will have none of this. I don’t understand why she insists that I work when she has a stable and high-earning job, compared with my stressful long hours for low pay. Every week I’m tempted to just quit my job and let her deal with it.
A: Is she your boss or your wife? Having a more lucrative job does not entitle someone to dictate the terms of the relationship. I read some social policy critic (wish I could remember who) who made the point that in the matter of working versus child care, the couple should think of all the earnings that come in as joint income and all the expenditures for the home as coming from both parties. I don’t know what dynamic is at work here that has your wife so insistent that it would undermine your family if you stayed home with the kids. But you two have such poor communication skills that you need to take this to a neutral party to sort out. That will be a very worthwhile investment for you both.
Q. Mother’s Will: My sister recently came across a piece of my mother’s will (actually given to her as part of a larger packet) outlining the distribution of her trust. I am to receive 25 percent initially, another 25 percent in 10 years, and the remainder in 20 years. I am currently 46. My sister, on the other hand, is to receive nothing for 20 years. She is 44. We are both confused and hurt by what seems like an obvious lack of any faith in either of us (especially my sister) to be able to handle a significant cash outlay. We would like to talk to her about it, but we are both concerned about backlash. Any suggestion on how we should handle this would be greatly appreciated.
A: I agree the backlash might consist of, “So, you don’t like the terms of your bequests. That’s fine. I’m going to pull a Leona Helmsley and leave the whole pile to my dog—who never complains that she’s not getting enough from me.” You are not entitled to your mother’s money. That she has enough of it to make your lives more comfortable makes you and your sister very lucky people. Perhaps there’s so much of it that your mother is concerned about it destroying your incentives to remain productive citizens. Her goal is to make sure that after your working years are over, you will be able to retire in comfort. That’s her decision. If you can’t live with that and want to challenge her plans while she’s alive, you should be prepared to find out that she has other plans for the two of you when she dies.
Q. I’m a Nanny-Wife: Throughout college, I nannied for a widowed father. I came to love his young children as if they were my own, and shortly after I turned 22, my relationship with him became romantic. We’ve been together for four years now, and we plan to marry this October. The kids are thrilled; so are our friends. My parents, however, still see my fiancé as some sort of predatory monster. They’ve never been comfortable with our age difference or how I met him. I don’t have the energy to continue arguing with them about the healthiness of my relationship with my fiancé. And I really don’t want to have the kind of marriage where my parents think it’s OK to gripe about my husband. What more can we do to win them over or, at least, stop their bitching?
A: You are an adult woman on the eve of her marriage who is also about to become the legal stepmother of your fiancé’s children. Your parents need to recognize it’s way past time for them to stop acting as if you are a teenager who is sneaking out to meet a boy they disapprove of. You need to have a very clear conversation with them in which they understand the only relationship they have a chance of undermining is theirs with you. You explain that either they start acting in a welcoming and loving way toward their son-in-law and new grandchildren, or you will be forced to have, at best, minimal contact with them. You can end the discussion by handing them a copy of The Sound of Music and explain that there’s a history of relationships such as yours working out beautifully.
Q. Re: Stay-at-Home Husband: What will you do if something happens to your wife, your marriage, or her ability to support the family (death, divorce, disability)? Spouses who stay out of the workforce are ultimately hurting themselves and their families in the long run. I counseled some stay-at-home mothers who were widowed on 9/11, and they had no idea how out-of-date their skills were. Most of them were not able to get back into the workforce without great effort. Please think about this very carefully before pursuing it any further.
A: This is an excellent point for anyone, and any couple, to contemplate. I don’t think it should be a blanket policy, however, that no parent should make the choice to stay home with the children. One person staying home might be exactly the right choice for a couple. But the contingencies you raise have to be talked about in advance and over time. Since the couple in question apparently can’t talk about anything, they have to seek help before the husband quits.
Q. Unwanted Attention: I am a mid-30s, quite attractive woman who owns a multimillion-dollar company. I also am disabled, walking with one or two canes. I have become accustomed to the stares I receive, but in light of the ALS ice bucket challenge, I am now being approached by people telling me regularly how brave I am and what an inspiration I am. ALS isn’t even my affliction! The last time this happened, I was in a rather important business meeting at a local restaurant. How can I respond to these well-meaning but completely inappropriate dolts?
A: I wish there could be a general public service announcement that just because someone has a physical difference from the typical, it does not mean this person wishes to engage in highly personal discussions about it with strangers. Someone really does have to be a dolt to assume that anyone who has mobility issues has ALS. But it doesn’t matter why a stranger uses canes—it’s none of their business! You don’t need to respond at all. Silently moving on can be very eloquent. Other people in your situation have suggested saying something like “I’m afraid I don’t talk about personal issues with strangers.” If you are a captive audience at someplace like a restaurant, you can just say, “Please excuse me. I’m busy.”
Q. Re: Mother's Will: Agreed. I do this kind of work for a living, and it is none of the beneficiaries’ business why Mom has decided to do what she wants with her money. Key words: her money. Not yours. In addition to what Prudie wrote, consider also that you and your sister might be in different financial circumstances, and your mother thinks you will need money sooner than your sister; she still wants to make sure you both are provided for, but your sister doesn’t need assistance as soon as you do. Consider also that you and your sister might have proved yourselves incapable of maturely handling a windfall.
A: Clearly the mother has serious questions about what her offspring would do with her money. But you’re right—the key words are her money.
Q. Questioning Sexuality: I’ve always considered myself pretty straight since I was a teenager—I never doubted my sexuality. I was sexually abused as a child and have taken a long time to accept that it happened. I’ve recently gotten closer to a female friend who had a similar situation when she was a kid, and we’ve gotten very close to each other because of that. The last couple of times I’ve spoken to her, I’ve gotten an urge to kiss her and caress her cheek. I’ve never had a reaction to a woman like this before, and it’s making me question my sexuality. I’m not sure what to do, as all of this is very confusing and difficult to understand. What should I do?
A: I think you should tell her just the way you’ve told us. When you have this conversation, be prepared for what you are feeling to not be reciprocated. But maybe you are picking up signals from your friend, and neither of you is sure about what to do next. Tell her that her friendship is precious to you and that you feel that you’re good enough friends to be able to tell her something that’s confusing you. Then say what you’ve been feeling. If she says that’s lovely but she doesn’t feel the same, then let her know that you appreciate that both of you can be honest and respect each other’s feelings. If she does feel the same, then one of you has to lean in for that first kiss.
Q. Annoying Pet Names: My husband and I spend a lot of time with my close friend and her husband. We all get along great and have a lot of fun together. My problem is that they often speak to each other in baby talk and use an annoying nickname for each other (not a simple “honey” or “dear,” but custom-created and highly irritating). I love them as friends, but I really need the baby talk and cutesy names to stop when they’re in the presence of friends. How can I ask them, in the nicest way possible, to stop?
A: I understand that when you’re together and she calls him “Widdle Big Man” and he calls her “Poopsie BumBum” you start to lose your dinner. But I’m afraid if that’s the case, then you’ve got to have fun activities with your friends that don’t involve meals. This is how they interact. Demanding they cut the baby talk will make all of you horribly self-conscious and likely cut the time you spend together. Annoying as this is, it’s the kind of thing that makes for an amusing chat with your husband on the drive home. And consider that there may be annoying things about you two that Widdle and Poopsie talk about after you’re gone.
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