Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up below 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. Happy summer, and I look forward to your questions.
Q. Sperm Donor Child: My wife and I (both female) are getting ready to have a baby this year. She is white, I am African American, and for health reasons she will carry the child (so he or she will be at least half-white). We will use a sperm donor, and I think that we should use a black sperm donor. I think it will be nice if our child isn’t obviously biologically one of ours and not the other’s and we don’t have to field so many questions about that. However, I’m flexible on this and just excited to be a mom. My wife has a different opinion. She says, adamantly, we should try our best to use a white sperm donor. My wife isn’t racially prejudiced at all, but she makes the point that it is a known fact that in this world, especially in Texas where we live, it is a lot easier to be white. Especially if we have a son, it is factually safer to not be black. I see what she means but I really think that’s reducing African American history to a statistic of violence, and it makes me think we really should use a black sperm donor if only to contradict that statistic. Which one of us should relent?
A: I think you two should put on pause the search for a sperm donor, and instead go to a counselor. I agree with you that there’s something deeply disturbing about your wife’s implicitly adopting ambient racism, thus rejecting your heritage. She could equally well argue that until all sexism is eliminated from society, you two should make sure that she only carries a boy. I also don’t like that you say she is “adamant” on this subject. It’s one thing for you two to talk openly about the societal reactions your family would face. It’s another to bow to society’s assumed worst potential prejudices. So instead of one of you giving in, both of you should talk this out more fully, and also look at how you two function as a couple.
Q. Working With My Husband’s Affair Partner: Last year my husband had a two-month affair with someone he met through work. It was devastating and we broke up for a few months before counseling and getting ourselves in a way better place. The problem is I now work with my husband’s affair partner as she recently got a job in my company. We don’t work directly with each other and it’s a big place, but I can see her across the office. I do blame my husband for the affair, but the fact she’s never apologized and yet I have to see her every day is driving me insane. Should I confront her or just keep up my silence?
A: You really don’t want her to come over to you in the cafeteria, sit down, and say, “Look, since we see each other across the office every day, I just wanted to apologize for banging your husband during February and March of last year. He’s an attractive guy, I was lonely, we were really hot for each other, but it was wrong. And now that we work for the same company—what a weird coincidence, huh?—it makes me feel bad, so I wanted to let you know I’m sorry.” Nope, you don’t want to have that conversation. You two want to have mutually assured silence, which will carry over in case—let’s hope this never happens!—you both have to work in closer proximity. She was wrong, but the violation was primarily your husband’s. You have forgiven him and are going on with your marriage. So hold your head high and ignore this new employee.
Q. To Move or Not to Move?: I am a single mother of a smart, funny 8-year-old girl who suffers from mild developmental delay and vision impairment. Intellectually, she is on par with the children in her class. Socially, she is very awkward and behind the other kids. We live in a poor neighborhood and she attends the public school. The school itself is very low performing in test scores, and I dislike the area; however, my daughter excels and has plenty of friends. She has a personal aide to assist her in getting around (due to her vision impairment), and it took her years to develop a routine. I have the means to move to a nicer area, with better schools, but my big fear is for her new peers will have trouble accepting her and the transition will impede her slow development. The new move will be closer to my job (I currently commute over 1½ hours each way), and I will be able to spend more time with her, but I’m so afraid of disrupting her routine. Any guidance would be appreciated.
A: Think of the hours each day you will save in a grinding commute that you can spend with your girl—that alone should be enough to prompt the move. I understand that she is thriving in her current environment and you don’t want to disrupt that. But she is also going to have to learn how to face new circumstances in her life. If you move over the summer, you will have the opportunity to talk to the guidance people at her new school before the year begins. Presumably, she has an individualized education program, and the IEP will carry over to her new school, so she will also get the kind of assistance she receives at her current one. Since you will spend hours less a day on the road, you can be more actively involved in getting to know other parents and helping make plans for your daughter to interact with her new classmates. Change can be wrenching, especially for someone like your daughter who finds comfort in routine. But from what you lay out here, in the long run, moving will make both of your lives better.
Q. Re: Husband’s Affair Partner: Sorry, but just ignoring her is easier said than done. You can’t realistically hope to ignore this when it makes you so upset. You also can’t expect her to do anything. I would look for a new job, frankly. Fair? Of course not. But for your own mental health it might make the most sense.
A: If the letter writer cannot bear the sight of this woman at work, then yes, that’s something she has to consider doing. I agree she can’t have it out with the woman who had the affair with her husband—and doing so wouldn’t make her feel better anyway.
Q. Boyfriend of Two Years Has Secret Child: I was at my boyfriend’s annual family vacation this past week and one of his aunts and I were discussing family matters. She mentioned to me that the mother of his child was back in town (after taking the child to another state). I was shocked because he has never told me that he has one and she had assumed that I knew. The story is a bit convoluted, but the girl is 7 years old. Apparently the mother did not put him on the birth certificate. His grandmother has had a private investigator following her since the child’s birth. He does not know the mother is back in town. I am very conflicted about what to do with this information since it was not offered up by him but we have discussed moving in together. I feel like asking him but I don’t want to cause a rift between him and his aunt. Do I bring the subject up or should I just keep sitting on this information until he tells me?
A: You say the aunt discussed this with you in a way that clearly assumed you knew—you don’t say she was telling you in confidence. So even though your boyfriend might be mad at your aunt, you should tell him what you now know. What you know should include the fact that his grandmother is having the girl followed! This may be a revelation for him. There are lots of questions here, including that of confirming paternity. But if he believes he has a child—one he is not allowed to see apparently, and whom he doesn’t support—this is important information for his longtime girlfriend to know. So go ahead and say, “Your Aunt Dede and I were talking the other day …”
Q. Time Well Spent: My husband and I have what I consider a very happy marriage and we have two little sons (almost 3, and 1 year old) who are our sunshine. My husband is a wonderful father but has a notably closer relationship to our older kid than to the younger. This lack of a tight bond with the little one is a source of frustration to him (and to me), but whenever I suggest that he just needs to spend more time with him, we get into a fight. He feels that I’m suggesting that he is not a good father and I’m sad that he doesn’t consider what seems like the obvious solution to me. He was able to spend several months at home when our first son was born but went back to work immediately after the birth of the second. Still, it keeps bugging me that he won’t spend the time with our little one when his job affords him the flexibility to do so. Should I just let this go?
A: You can’t let go one parent’s obvious favoring of one child over another. But I think instead of making accusations and fighting over this, you should back off while creating opportunities for your husband to interact with the little one. Yes, he had a chance to really bond with Will and hasn’t made the same connection with Harry, but that can be changed. It could be that now that Will is more verbal and physically independent your husband finds him more engaging than toddler Harry. So your husband needs to get back to experiencing the thrill of seeing a little one master walking and words. In the evening, or over weekends, make plans to take Will with you to run errands, or to take him on play dates. That will naturally leave your husband—happily, let’s hope—spending more one-on-one time with Harry. If your husband actually resists spending time with No. 2 son, then instead of fighting, tell him you want to go to short-term counseling with him, because you don’t want there to be—as surely he doesn’t—long-term consequences of him preferring your first son.
Q. Say Yes to the Flowers?: My former boss, whom I worked for while a student, was a very abusive employer, but a mostly nice person. I did excellent work for him, but after two years, the stress of working for such a corrosive personality was too much and I resigned. He took my resignation as a personal affront. It has been almost two years since then, and we have exchanged a few cordial emails, mostly about client files. Someone at the office told him that I was graduating at the end of this month. He sent me a warm, effusive email about how proud he was of me, and said that he would have attended my graduation uninvited, except that his daughter is graduating on the same day. He asked for my address, saying that he wants to send me some flowers as a congratulations. How should I respond?
A: Thank goodness you are no longer working for Dr. Jekyll–Mr. Hyde. What you do is give him your address, write him a note of thanks when you receive the flowers, and include some statement or other of the important things you learned during your time working for him. You never know when a former boss, who may be crackers but thinks kindly of you, can help.
Q. Re: Flowers: I wouldn’t give the guy my address! Especially after he said he considered attending my graduation uninvited—how creepy is that? I would just send an equally warm, effusive email telling him that flowers were not necessary, and thanking him for his kindness and mentoring over the years.
A: OK, lots of people are saying this boss is creepy and bizarre and not to give the address. This is a good way to avoid that.