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My husband and I moved to a city a few hours away from my family after we got married. Shortly before our first child was born, I bought an Internet-enabled video camera to use as a baby monitor. Out of guilt that my parents don’t live nearby, I allowed them to access the camera through their phones so that they could see their grandchild regularly. This turned out to be a huge mistake. Any time they see something on the camera that they don’t approve of, they let me know. I was endlessly harassed for not putting socks on my son’s feet while he was sleeping, for example. The camera has a feature allowing viewers to talk to us through the camera, so my parents randomly start talking to me or my son when we’re in his room. If my son is throwing a tantrum, they will come on and say, “Stop that crying!” I’ve told them that I don’t appreciate their interjections and criticism, but it has not stopped. My son is now 2 years old, and we have another baby, with another camera in the baby’s room, and I want to end their monitoring us. The problem is that if I change the password and prevent my parents from being able to access the cameras, they will be offended and it will cause World War III. What’s the best way to do it while ruffling as few feathers as possible?
—Living in Big Brother Hell
You say your parents will start World War III if you cut off their surveillance privileges. But although you have given them Dear Leader–type access, unlike Kim Jong-un they can’t back up their threats with nuclear weapons. Your parents need to be reminded that when they raised you, there was no technology to monitor your every breath, fart, and twitch, and this lack of constant scrutiny was probably better for everyone. It would be satisfying, the next time they start shouting admonitions at you, to look straight in the camera, wave goodbye, and toss it in the potty. But you can be polite enough to let them know this experiment has run too long, it’s coming to an end, and the password is about to be changed. Then change it immediately. If this results in your parents having a tantrum, because you are no longer connected through an electronic umbilical cord, you won’t be able to hear them pounding the floor. If they threaten to boycott your family because their unlimited access has ended, then that’s their choice to disappear completely from their grandchildren’s lives. Often when people have a child, they hear the voices of their own parents in their heads—but this is supposed to be metaphorical. No one wants the actual voices of their parents issuing from a speaker in the room.
My wife and I have been married for years. While things have not always been perfect, we’ve always managed to be a good team, seeing challenges through together. One such challenge was relocating frequently, and a little over a year ago, I started using the “strictly platonic” section of Craigslist to try and meet couples, looking for friends since we’d finally settled in one area. That led to my falling down a Craigslist rabbit hole where I would talk with women looking for sexual hookups, sometimes even arranging to meet, then canceling at the last second. I kept this hidden from my wife and, frankly, from myself. I found justifications for creating a fictional, less repressed, more attractive version of myself who could live out fantasies I was ashamed to admit I had. Then I forgot to log out of the dummy email account I used and my wife found everything, including some less-than-flattering descriptions of my fictional self’s fictional wife. I deleted the account, stopped all of that type of interaction, and am in counseling for this maladaptive compulsion. I know I’ve battered my wife’s trust and deeply hurt her feelings, even though she intellectually understands that none of my behavior had anything to do with her. How do I repair the damage from this indiscretion, and get things back on track, given that that’s what we both want?
Thanks for the insight, sort of, into how someone gets himself into an alternate sexual universe, even if yours consisted of playing cat and mouse with women who were probably also fictionalized versions of themselves. It’s good you always pulled out at the last second. Sure, meeting strangers on Craigslist for sex certainly can result in actually meeting them for sex. But it can also go very, even mortally, badly. You still seem torn about taking responsibility for your actions. Keep in mind the person lying to your correspondents about yourself, your wife, and your circumstances was not a fictional version of you, but you. The metaphorical rabbit hole you fell down was not one created by Lewis Carroll, or rodents, but by you. So face that everything that happened was a result of your actions, including forgetting to log out of your incriminating account. If you are telling the truth now, your Craigslist dalliance was a brief and unique lapse—and one you never consummated in real life. So continue your therapy and start taking direct responsibility. Everyone is entitled to a fantasy life, but it can be problematic when the fantasy becomes part of real life. You and your wife agree that you crossed a line in your marriage, so what you do now is continue to show her you’re back on the right side.
My mom passed away a year ago, just three weeks after being diagnosed with a very late-stage cancer. I dealt with the loss appropriately, sought therapy, and feel at peace with the loss and my wonderful relationship with her. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have a great relationship with my dad. The problem is I have no desire to meet his girlfriend of nearly eight months. Now that the one-year anniversary of my mom’s passing is coming up, both my dad and his girlfriend feel it’s time for me to bite the bullet, but I simply don’t want to. I have told my dad I’m happy for him, but will do this on my own terms and timeline. He will not stop bringing it up. He says that if he is willing to meet a new guy I am seeing, then I should be willing to meet his girlfriend. I feel that’s not only unfair but completely incomparable. Am I being unreasonable?
Your father paired off very quickly indeed after the unexpected death of his wife. That is his business, and you show a generous spirit by not making an issue of the speed with which he found a new love. But he needs to understand that you two are experiencing this loss in very different ways. He may have paired up again so soon out of a reluctance to be alone, and may consider himself lucky to have found someone. But for you, the hole your mother left cannot be filled. You can tell him that you don’t want to cause a fissure with him, but the more he pushes, the more resistant you feel. Firmly say he has to back off and try to understand this from your perspective. Explain that his wish that all of you get to know each other and get along is a reasonable one. But forcing you into socializing with him and his girlfriend before you’re ready will just delay all of you getting there.
My cousin’s young son was recently diagnosed with autism. She and her husband have signed up to participate in a local autism support walk sponsored by a big-name national charity. They have invited the rest of the family to participate by walking or donating. I’d like to support my cousin, but this charity just raises too many red flags. Until recently it has been one of the biggest voices spreading the quack “science” of the vaccines-cause-autism debacle. It spends 30 percent of its money on overhead, including a lavish salary for its president. There are several other autism charities that spend their money on science-based research that I’d happily give to instead. I don’t want to seem like I’m judging their choice of foundations, but would it be OK for me to respond by telling them I’d prefer to make a donation in their name to a better charity?
No one has to give to any charity whose work or mission they object to, no matter how close they are to the person doing the soliciting. Your cousin has gotten life-changing news, and it’s understandable that she has connected with a big, brand-name charity that on the surface appears to be doing good work for children like her son. You are free to ignore her entreaties, but I also think it would be valuable for you to inform her of the digging you’ve done. Find a few articles about the charity, and reply to her request by saying you understand that she’s committed to this organization for this year, but you wanted to draw her attention to some concerns about it for the future, and give her the links. Then say you know of some worthy organizations devoted to autism support and research, and tell her which one you want to contribute to in honor of her and her son. Let’s hope she responds to your reply in the well-meaning spirit with which it was sent.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“In Vino Coitus: My wife will have sex with me only when she’s drunk.”
“Dada Isn’t: How do I tell my 20-year-old son his dad is not his biological father?”
“Mind the Gap: My new guy has everything I want—except his front teeth.”
“Poached Eggs: My mom and stepdad say they can only have a baby with my help.”
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“Mrs. Doubtfire: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a man whose mother-in-law wants to test his children’s DNA.”
“The Cornered Cuckold: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a man who agreed to let his wife take lovers—only now she's pregnant.”
“She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a man with mild autism uncertain whether he is being flirted with.”
“Sore Issue: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a woman who finds taking her herpes suppressive pills annoying.”