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 email@example.com.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Baby Favors Me: My wife and I have a 20-month-old, and he clearly favors me, which leaves my wife upset and sad constantly. I currently work from home while my wife works out of the house, so I get to see him more throughout the day. I help out around the house and do the majority of the housework so my wife can maximize the time she spends with him when she gets home. However, this is not working as well as I hoped, as he still comes to me more frequently and is less fussy with me. Is there anything else I can do to help?
A: I have a message for your wife: It’s not personal, Mom! It’s perfectly understandable that the parent who is there all day to kiss boo-boos, to get snacks, and to point out birds is going to be the one a toddler gravitates to. That doesn’t mean he’s alienated from his mother. But she is exacerbating this by going into a hurt funk when he seeks out Dad. Even a 20-month-old can tell Mommy is unhappy. Your wife needs to get in a more natural rhythm with her son. You are not focused exclusively on him all day, but have a natural byplay with him. But when she comes home, she seems to be expecting to concentrate a day’s worth of missing him into a few hours. She needs to feel more at ease in her own home. Maybe when she arrives home, all of you can take a walk around the block as a way of transition. Maybe she can make dinner and your son can get an apron and stool and help her. If he gets fussy, you should make yourself scarce, Dad, and let them work it out. The sooner both of you accept this is a phase, and a natural one, the more quickly it will pass and the stronger your son’s bonds with his mother will be.
Q. Fair-Weather Friends: My wife and I have been very close friends with another couple for several years, but last month my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Although we let these “friends” know by text, they haven’t called her once to check in. I’m furious and want to cut them off. Am I being too harsh?
A: Some people wither under adversity. Sadly, there are those who feel awkward around illness and death, and so abandon friends who are suffering. You say this pair are close, so before you write them off, give them another chance. Call them and say you wanted to give them an update on Cynthia’s condition. If your wife is up for visitors, say that she’d love to see friends, go out to dinner, etc. Then see what happens. If they continue their silent act, they have cut themselves out of your lives. If they do continue to behave badly, don’t let them take up too much space in your thoughts, although you are justifiably angry. You’ve got more important things to deal with, and I’m sure you’re surrounded by people who are coming through for you and your wife.
Q. Honesty or Not?: My son and his wife made a painful decision to abort their child with a disability. I know it is their choice and I outwardly gave them support, but internally I am devastated. My brother had special needs and was a much-loved member of the family. I can’t help but feel resentful and angry even though intellectually I understand their reasons. They used to come over every week, but I find myself now making excuses not to see them because I am so mad. My son is worried for my health because I keep telling him I am too sick to see them, and he keeps asking me if I am OK. Should I tell them how I am honestly feeling or keep this to myself?
A: You should find a therapist you can speak honestly to so you can unload your anger and sense of loss without damaging your relationship with your son. Your son and daughter-in-law made what is a devastating and wrenching decision. It’s good that you were able to act supportive, but now you have to stop acting and actually be supportive. Their choice was not a comment on the life of your brother—surely your son loved his uncle. It was a painful decision about what kind of life their child would have and their own capacity to care for a disabled offspring. Cutting your own child out of your life is only going to compound everyone’s pain. Please work this through so that you can come to an understanding of their decision and resume your closeness.
Q. Drug-Addicted Sister: My sister has long dealt with drugs and is currently incarcerated due to her decisions. She’s scheduled to get out in August, and my family has made it clear that they expect me, the only relative living in the state, to help her get back on her feet. My sister and I haven’t been close in years, and the only times we talk is when she calls me for money. In the past I’ve dumped money, time, appealed to courts on her behalf, but she always finds herself back with the wrong crowd. She said she’s changed, but that’s the same song she sings until her next relapse. How can I inform my family (who all think she’s just a poor soul who needs help) that I’m not helping her this time, which will cause a lot of strife between us? She’s 28, I’m 35.
A: She is a soul who needs help and support, but it is incumbent on her to put those systems in place so that she doesn’t relapse again. You sound done with your sister unless she can show that she is capable of sustained change. That is a justifiable decision on your part. What’s not justifiable is for your family to insist she’s your ward and you must supervise her. She’s coming out in August, so the people who are not nearby should arrange some time off from work and be there to help. Your family can hire a social worker to oversee your sister’s discharge. Having someone neutral for her to check in with, to make sure she’s going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings, keeping up with her parole officer, etc., would make a big difference for those vulnerable first months of freedom. Maybe you would be willing to host family members (but not your sister) while they put this plan in place. But your sister is a grown woman, and you cannot be her baby sitter. Your attempts at rescue have all failed, and it’s time for her—with the proper help—to start taking responsibility for herself.
Q. Re: Baby Favors Me: The same thing happened with me, as I work and my husband quit his job to be a stay-at-home dad. There were periods when I wondered if I was just the breadwinner, as my son clearly preferred my husband. I tried not to take it personally although it hurt. He is now 8 and we are very close. No. 2 came out of the gate a mama’s boy! It will change, and the letter writer just needs to be patient.
A: Thanks for this reassurance from someone who has been there.
Q. Is This Stealing?: My friend and I are regular readers of Slate and love to read your column. With the introduction of a paywall for international users, she has asked me to copy and paste articles and email them to her. We had a debate over whether this is ethical or not and thought, What better person to settle this argument than Prudence herself? I think this is equal to piracy, she says it’s not a big deal. Should I email her the articles she wants to read or should she pay the fee as an international reader?
A: Here is the explanation from Slate editor Julia Turner about why we’ve instituted a paywall for international readers. That paywall allows readers to see five free stories a month, but requires readers who want more than that to pay $5 a month, or $50 a year, for unlimited access. This is a pittance. If your friend lives in a country with a Starbucks, and she frequents it, one coffee drink would pay for a month of unlimited Slate. When the Internet first arrived, the journalism profession made the financially ruinous decision to make most content free. I understand that readers have come to expect this—I’m a reader who likes free content, too—but journalism is a business and no one, including Slate, can produce work without a source of income. So what do I think? I think both of you should become Slate members, which would mean not only would she get unlimited content, but both of you would get the fantastic bonus content of Slate Plus! I also assume you would find it annoying over the long term to be her private Slate provider. Let’s hope your friend is able to see this chat, and that she will concur that $50 a year is a small price to pay.
Q. Re: Fair-Weather Friends: I think if I were “very close friends” with someone for “several years,” I’d be pretty damn pissed if I found out something so monumental over text.
A: And so you would fall silent because you disapproved of the means of letting you know your friend had cancer? Maybe in the moment the husband wasn’t up for a phone call. It doesn’t matter that the information came by text. What matters is that information was conveyed, and when good friends hear such news, they act.
Q. To Give a Reference or Not?: A couple of years ago, we had a lovely woman (25 years old) watch our daughter at our house from the time she was 4 months until 1 year old. This woman then moved to another state and she’s still a nanny. When she watched our daughter, she was very nice and friendly and our little girl adored her, so I never had any complaints and told her she could use me as a reference. We have recently connected through Facebook, and I notice she posts a lot of racist or homophobic memes on her page. I am appalled at this. I would have never guessed this would be one of her traits. I recently got a message from her saying someone will call me for a reference, and I just said OK. Well, they called me today and I wasn’t able to answer and I am not really sure I want to vouch for her now that I know her ugly inside. What do you think?
A: I think you should get on the phone with your former nanny and tell her she needs to clean up her Facebook page. You can say that yes, she is entitled to post what she wants as long as it falls within Facebook’s terms of service, but you explain that Facebook is not really private and that posting racist and homophobic remarks is damaging to her future employment. You tell her she was a wonderful nanny, but for your own reputation, you are concerned about recommending someone who posts noxious views.
Q. Re: Fair-Weather Friends: Texts aren’t always received; glitches happen. More than once people have asked me about texts I never received. And I have sometimes wondered why someone didn’t answer my text when it turns out they never got it. These people shouldn’t cut out their friends without at least giving them a call.
A: Good point. The husband has to be sure the text was received.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.