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. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Want to Go Alone: Four years ago, my birth control failed. I never wanted kids and was set to have an abortion, but my husband convinced me it’d be different with our own. It’s not. I’m glad my husband bonded with our daughter, because I wish her no harm but do not love her. My unwillingness to spend time with her made me take on long hours at work, and I am being rewarded with a promotion and raise that requires a transfer to a city 1,000 miles away. I accepted as soon as it was offered. I’m now wondering how to tell my husband that this is a done deal and also that I’d prefer that he and our daughter stay behind. Any thoughts?
A: I hope you watched the season premiere of Homeland last night. You would have really related to spy Carrie Matheson who maneuvered a posting to Pakistan in part to get away from her infant daughter. (Although, I hope you would have been horrified to watch Carrie, in the course of the single day she spent taking care of her child, contemplate drowning her.) This is a very sad letter, and does represent the dark side of being “convinced” into having a child. But I’m going to take this opportunity to say I’ve heard from far more people who found themselves in your position, had the child, and adore being parents. You also need to acknowledge that while your husband argued in favor of having your daughter, in the end the choice was yours. I do wish you would have recognized your inability to love your child in any way as a sign that you needed to make an effort to address this with a professional. However, it doesn’t sound as if you have much love for your husband, either, if you accepted a job 1,000 miles away without even contemplating discussing this with him. My thought is that you’re out of this marriage, you’ve never been into being a mother, and now you need the guts to say you want a divorce. If you are simply going to walk away from your child, I hope that your husband in due course finds another wife, one who can be the mother to your little girl that she deserves.
Q. Pot + Pregnancy + Pals: A dear friend and her husband recently announced that they are expecting their first child. They’re both college-educated, steadily employed, own a home, and are thrilled to become parents. I have no doubt that they will provide a loving, stable home for their child. They also occasionally smoke pot. She hasn’t touched it since trying to get pregnant, but he still indulges from time to time. They do not take any other drugs. However, a mutual friend mentioned to me that due to her job, she is a mandatory reporter, and if she hears anything about drugs after the child is born, she’ll have no choice but to call Child Protective Services. Frankly, I’d be more concerned about a heavy drinker than an occasional pot-smoker, but mandatory reporting doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room (usually with very good reason). Do I owe my friend a heads-up and risk putting myself in the middle, or sit back and let this play out?
A: Oh, great, so you have a busybody friend who thinks she’s society’s mandatory reporter. My understanding is that a mandatory reporter is a teacher, school administrator, physician, etc. who, if in the course of their work finds that a child is being abused or exposed to other dangers, must report this to the authorities. This does not mean that this person has a mandate to snoop in the sock drawers of friends to see if anyone is doing anything she doesn’t approve of. Ms. Mandatory sounds like a serious potential hazard to your friends, and I think you should give the couple of heads up that this woman is prepared to call the cops and say the new parents are potheads. They need to be warned that this “friend” has the potential to make their lives very miserable and they may need to put her outside a cordon sanitaire.
Q. DS Pregnancy: I am seven months pregnant with a Down Syndrome baby. Partly to avoid awkward questions later, I am open with this fact. Lots of people are supportive, but I’ve had many negative encounters too. I’ve had several acquaintances, co-workers ask directly why I did not have an abortion. I know people are entitled to their own views about what they would do if they were in my position, but it is hurtful having to defend my decision to people who remain judgmental. How do I deal with such negative comments?
A: This is a case where just shaking your head slightly and walking away is the best answer. You are having a much-welcomed child. You do not have to prepare others about the fact that you baby has Down Syndrome. I also recommend you connect with a Down Syndrome support group so that you can talk through these issues with people who have been there.
Q. Conversation Interrupter: My mom lives with me, so we talk to each other often. She has a conversational habit I find very annoying: She finishes my sentences or even entire thoughts. I’ll start talking and once she picks up the gist of what I’m saying, she’ll chime right in with concluding words or sentences. She claims she does it to show that she understands what I’m saying, but I think she’s just impatient and rude. I don’t feel heard when she does this and feel like I’m being pushed to talk faster or to stop talking entirely. I’ve told her that I don’t like this behavior several times, but nothing has hasn’t changed. Any advice?
A: Try this, “Mom, actually, I wasn’t about to say that I discovered I love Nutella but that I realized I have a worm fetish,” or “Nope, I wasn’t going to ask how you were feeling, I was going to suggest that you need a facelift.” You are living with your mother, so presumably you are well acquainted with this trait. But if you are going to keep from going out of your mind, you need to curb this habit of hers. I suggest that when she starts doing it, you fall completely silent. When she gets to the end of what she thinks you were going to say, just shake your head and say, “No, that wasn’t it. Excuse me, I’ve got things to do,” and walk away. You can’t change her, you can only change how you react. And once she realizes that you are not going to interact with her if she treats every conversation as a round of Jeopardy!, she might start acting differently.
Q. Re: Mandatory Reporting: I wouldn’t be so hard on the busybody friend who’s a mandatory reporter. She’s trying to give the pot smoking pals a heads up to keep her out of their private smoking habits. In some states, not reporting as a mandatory reporter can cost you your job, any professional license you may hold, and in Florida, it’s a third degree felony. This is regardless of where the alleged abuse takes place and exposing children to drug use or excessive alcohol use is considered abuse.
A: As described, the future father sometimes smokes pot, the mother is not smoking it now. Maybe Ms. Mandatory missed the news that marijuana is being decriminalized, even legalized, around the country. I assume she wouldn’t plan on calling CPS if dad liked to end the day with a martini. Nothing in the original letter described any danger to a child. A person who would threaten a friend’s parental rights over nothing is the danger.
Q. Should I Help My Sisters Financially?: My husband and I are near retirement and have a substantial portfolio. About half of it is due to my husband’s insistence, since our 20s, that we save and invest 10 percent of our income, and the other half is an inheritance he received from a family business. We will have a very comfortable retirement. He has no siblings, but I have two 60-ish sisters, both divorced with adult children. Neither have any assets. One lives with one of her own adult daughters, and the other care for our mother, who has dementia. If I did not send an allowance to my mother every month she would have lost her house years ago. I will continue to support my mom as long as she lives, but when she passes away, my sister will have nothing and nowhere to go. My husband is generally not that sympathetic to my sisters. Taking on a sort of annual gift is a huge responsibility and could last a very long time (as I’ve already discovered with my mom.) I don’t think I could enjoy my own now-privileged life if I knew my sisters were struggling and had fallen out of the middle class and into poverty. Any thoughts?
A: This is a conversation you need to have with your husband now, before one or both of your sisters faces penury. On the one hand, you and your husband benefited from his ant-like insistence on saving. On the other, he can’t take credit for the wisdom of being born into a family that provided a substantial inheritance. Since you two have a significant estate, you must have used the services of an estate planner, so whether you want to provide some financial floor—and how much—for your sisters is something you can discuss with that person. Your mother’s house is paid for, and you are paying to keep it up, but presumably that is a significant asset. You don’t need a share of it, but when your mother dies, maybe your sister who lives in the house and other sister can sell the house and split the proceeds. You also need to make sure both your sisters are taking advantage of all the social services available to them. For example, the sister who is caring for your mother should be able to get reimbursed for that care-taking (I believe!) through Social Security or Medicare. Help them investigate what’s available so you don’t feel the full burden of their well-being.
Q. Re: Want to Go Alone: Yeah, because men can’t be great single parents, better find a wifey to take care of that kid when she moves 1,000 miles away. Good god, Prudie, get your head out of 1960.
A: Oh, please. Of course any person, male or female, can be a great single parent. But any child who has been abandoned by a parent, of whatever sex, will be lucky if a loving stepparent comes into their lives to fill this void. I don’t think it’s hard to fathom that having more loving adults in a child’s life is a good thing. And a husband who was married to a woman who takes a job 1,000 miles away without even talking to him about it deserves to find a second wife who has a different view of marriage and childrearing.
Q. Swastika: I am a Hindu from India who moved to the U.S. 15 years ago. I recently bought my first house and now I am receiving well-meaning home decoration gifts from my friends and family in India. This includes items featuring the Hindu swastika. Until now I had never considered displaying the traditional Hindu swastika in my home out of concern for how it is interpreted in the U.S. But now that I have my own house I wish to decorate it more traditionally. I also have elementary school kids to whom I struggle to explain the two different images of the swastika. It is an ancient and harmless symbol in Hinduism meaning good luck. It predates Nazis by centuries. At the same time I am aware that it was corrupted into a symbol of hate and is used to hurt people. My question is: Do I display swastika symbols within my home and hope that others visiting my home will not interpret us as hateful bigots?
A: Of course you are entitled to decorate your home as you wish. However, you have to be aware that very few people are going to know that your religion used the swastika long before the Nazis. When you have non-Hindu visitors, either they will silently gasp, or you will feel obligated to explain in a way that is going to seem odd and defensive. To avoid this, perhaps a compromise is to display your traditional swastikas in the bedroom and other more private areas of your home. As for your children, you give a good explanation here of the hideous corruption of a lovely symbol, so explain this to them and tell them someday they will see these symbols, maybe when they study World War II in school, and you want them to know the more complicated story.
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