Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. This week, due to technical difficulties, Prudie responded to submitted questions offline. The edited write-up 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. Should I Secretly Vaccinate My Grandson?: My son and daughter-in-law are well-educated, responsible people. But once they had their first child (my now-18-month-old darling grandson), they did their own “research” and decided not to vaccinate him for fear of “pumping poison into his body” and “risking autism.” My DIL has particularly strong views about this, and we’ve had many vocal arguments over the issue. Finally she decided she didn’t want to fight me anymore, and the last time I brought this up she refused to bring my grandson to see me for several weeks. I know that due to herd immunity the chances of his catching a serious illness is not high, but I am still appalled he’s exposed to risks unnecessarily. I am about to look after him for five days while his parents go on a trip and I am thinking I will just take him to the doctor myself and get him immunized.
A: I marvel with distress that in 2015 we are fighting the vaccination wars. It is deeply disturbing that people who should be able to weigh discredited so-called studies instead believe garbage, and so are willing to endanger their children and others. I sincerely hope this madness burns itself out before a lot more people get hurt. You’re right that herd immunity should protect your grandson, but that is fading as large numbers of people refuse to vaccinate. The only solution seems to be for government to toughen the vaccination laws and close the loopholes that allow people to opt out for philosophical and so-called religious reasons. The laws need to make clear: no shot, no school. In the meantime, however, you cannot take your grandson to be vaccinated. For one thing, you don’t have the standing to do this. For another, if it came out that you did, that would likely effectively end your relationship with your grandson. It’s just not worth it. Let’s hope this little boy does not get whooping cough, or measles or any of the other awful childhood diseases that medical science effectively wiped out, and misinformed parents are bringing back.
Q. Karma’s Not Quick Enough: I am engaged to be married to a wonderful man who has a 7-year-old son with his ex-wife. The ex-wife—let’s call her Sarah—also has a daughter with another man. She had her daughter when she was 22, and her daughter’s biological father was 16 years old. Regardless of the law, I think the age difference is abhorrent. A 16-year-old is a child, and she was unfaithful to her boyfriend in order to sleep with and become pregnant by this boy. The problem is that Sarah has never let her daughter have any contact with her biological father (she says horrible things to her daughter about her father), and her new husband has no clue what kind of mean, fake person his wife is. Would it be totally wrong to send an *ahem* anonymous letter to her husband so that he’s not in the dark about the monster he’s married to? Karma has not caught up with her yet.
A: Darn karma—where’s that falling asteroid when you need one? I’m afraid the purpose of your trying to blow up these impending nuptials eludes me. If Sarah is as abhorrent a person as you say, this either has or will reveal itself to her next victim, as it did for your own husband when he was married to her. But it is not your place to make the big reveal. The person who matters most here is the 7-year-old who has had a tough start in life. So instead of trying to be the hand of karma, be a loving, supportive stepmother to a little boy who will collect many more psychological bruises through his childhood.
Q. Parsimonious Twerp: One of my in-laws is a successful athlete who’s been paid over $150 million. My mother-in-law, this person’s grandmother, has spent all her savings. She lives simply, but can’t meet her expenses on Social Security alone. She’s applying for food stamps and can’t pay for all her medicines. The wealthy grandchild does nothing for her. Should I confront this young person? (I only see them at the holidays.) Or perhaps sell the story to TMZ?
A: Ah, another person who thinks she has been designated as karma’s agent. So if you get a nice chunk of change from TMZ, do you plan to apply that to grandmother’s meds, or perhaps you’re realizing all this family trouble means you could really use a trip to St. Tropez, courtesy of TMZ. If your mother-in-law is in extremis, it sounds as if you and your spouse should organize the family and see how all of you can ease Grandmother’s situation. Sure, it would be nice if Athlete Grandson kicked in some dough. But if you find him financially rich but morally bankrupt, you don’t right this by becoming a purveyor of sleaze.
Q. Caregiver/Lover?: My fiancée fell 35 feet and has a back fracture and major orthopedic surgery. Recovery is coming along, but, between her sleeping in the living room (she can’t do stairs) and all the “caregiving” I have become responsible for, I am having trouble feeling like a “lover” and not her “mother.” She was talking about all the ways we might be able to accommodate her injuries and still have sex, but honestly? I’m feeling like that’s the last thing on my mind! My workload at the house has doubled, my job is intense, and I have to keep it up because it’s our main source of income now. While I appreciate she’s been sitting around all day thinking up complicated ways to work around her disabilities, I am exhausted and really, all the medical stuff has made me not view her “that way” for the last month. How do I move from nurse to naughty nurse?
A: Thank goodness that she survived and in the long run will be fine. You are getting a real premarital test of “in sickness and health,” so I hope that despite the difficulties of caretaking—and it is one of the hardest things to do—this will eventually make you more bonded as a couple. Your fiancée is obviously deeply appreciative of what you are doing for her, and she both wants to thank you and to feel like your partner, not your patient. I think there’s a two-part solution here. I know money is tight, but check into whether insurance would provide some caretaking services. If you could get someone else in the house to attend to your fiancée’s needs—which include some housekeeping and errand running—that would mean you would feel less like her nurse. Maybe you are concerned she is too fragile for certain activities, but if her hands and mouth are available, both of you might enjoy her bringing you some well-deserved relief. That would be a pleasant change from bringing her trays of food. The way you get back to being a couple is by making space for treating each other as a couple. That would be therapeutic for both of you.
Q. Graduation Dinner: Who should pay for a graduation dinner? I’m graduating from school in Cambridge ;-) this May and I invited my divorced parents to come to the graduation. I was planning to pay for the graduation dinner to demonstrate that I was an adult. Plus, my family is staying in hotels and will be spending enough to come and support me on my big day. My dad went and invited 10 to 20 more relatives to come. These people are going to have to spring for flights and hotels. I don’t know how to say it, but do I have to pay for dinner? I don’t have that much money, but my dad has been known to get upset over bills. (He has the money.) What do I do?
A: I think the phrase is that you “go to school in Boston.” Picking up the tab for a dinner is a lovely gesture, but as you are about to see, adulthood just keeps rolling on and on and on and you don’t want to prove you are an adult by getting stuck with a bill you can’t pay. I don’t understand your father’s mass invitation. Any graduate is going to get only a small number of tickets. This may be good news for the folks in town to see you graduate either from Harvard or Lesley University, because as I’ve mentioned many times, sitting through graduation ceremonies is one of life’s drearier milestones. You need to clarify immediately with your father what his plans are for these relatives. Not only do you have no home at which to entertain them, you don’t have the money either. If it’s a fiasco in the making, it’s on Dad, not you. If your father wants to spring for a celebration that costs the equivalent of a semester of college, that’s his choice.
Q. Workplace Bully: A few months ago, a woman from a different department started using our department lounge area to talk loudly on her phone. I asked her to stop, as our work requires a quieter environment. (I was the agreed department emissary; my peers were frustrated as well.) She rolled her eyes and left but started up again a few weeks ago. I went to her today and politely asked if she would go elsewhere, per our previous talk. Much to my shock, she laid into me. I firmly told her she was being disrespectful and needed to leave. She’s married to a leader in the company, and I’m worried this will have long-term impact because she seems unafraid to make her opinions known. What can I do to protect myself? My boss is not a confrontational person, and I’m not sure he’ll stand up for me.
A: This shouldn’t require a confrontation with the spouse of a Mr. Big. It should simply mean that your lounge area is declared a quiet zone. Let’s hope your boss is able enough to get some signs put up—like those you see in restaurants and gyms—about no cellphone calls in the lounge. Then if this woman plops down and starts yacking, all anyone has to do is point to the sign and ask her to please respect your workplace. If she won’t, then HR should deal with someone violating company policy.
Q. Guest House Etiquette—Who Pays?: We own a house down the street from our primary residence, which we use for short-term rentals and for visiting family. After each stay we have it professionally cleaned (a requirement for short-term rentals). When we invite family to stay, we cover this cost. From time to time, friends coming through town (for reasons other than to visit us) ask to stay there. Is it OK to ask them to pay the cleaning fee? What’s a reasonable principle to determine when we ask someone to pay and when we don’t?
A: You make extra cash by renting out a house. But friends who are not visiting you and are simply passing through town think they should be able to crash at your place and that you should pick up the tab for straightening out the mess they leave behind. I think they should not think that. If you want to have a friends-and-family discount rate for such situations, fine. But you need to tell your friends that this is a business enterprise for you. If that means they’d rather seek professional lodging, that sounds like a good deal for everyone.
Q. Birthday Blues: I’m a man in his 30s. For the past 10 years or so, I have detested my birthday. It’s very nice that people want to wish me well and sing to me, and I’ve politely thanked everyone who’s done so, but I don’t enjoy any of it. How can I tell people that I don’t wish to celebrate or acknowledge my birthday at all anymore? If there’s no polite way to do this, should I just keep sucking it up?
A: Once your mother stops sending out invitations for your birthday celebration, I’m not sure how everyone knows it’s your birthday. If you’ve got it on your Facebook page, take it off. After you do that, surely only a dwindling band of people will consider observing your birthday on par with those of Christopher Columbus and George Washington. For those who do remember, yes, you have to suck it up and politely blow out the candle.