I am a first-time mother to a beautiful 11-week-old boy. Right after having him, I was visited in my hospital room by a “lactation consultant.” This person pulled out my chart without asking me and said, “I see you had a breast reduction done 10 years ago. That was extremely selfish of you.” She then started in on why breast-feeding is the only way. I cried, thinking myself the worst mother in the world. (The breast reduction was a medical necessity.) I have been approached in the grocery store and other places by strangers demanding to know if I am breast-feeding. I have been yelled at by strangers when they see a bottle in my son’s car seat. I am being bombarded by unwanted literature on breast-feeding by certain family members. I am simply unable to breast-feed, and my son is on the best formula. There are very few things worse than being made to feel like you are a bad parent, when in reality my son is thriving. What should I say?
—Fed Up Mom
Dear Fed Up,
It’s hard to imagine a more vulnerable time in life than the day after you give birth. It’s outrageous that this consultant came in and browbeat you to tears. Report her to your obstetrician and to the hospital where she works—she needs a refresher course in how to treat new mothers. Toss the literature from family members. If they ask why you’re not breast-feeding, you can reply, “That’s too personal to discuss” or “I don’t want to get into the details, but I have a medical condition.” As for strangers, it doesn’t get much more intrusive than commenting on what a woman is choosing to do with her breasts. Strangers who approach you deserve nothing more than a cold stare. If you feel a response is needed, “Excuse me, but I’m busy with my baby” is as polite as you have to be. Keep in mind the bothering-you-about-breast-feeding phase will last only a few more months. Then the busybodies will come up with some new aspect of your child rearing that they will feel compelled to correct.
Dear Prudence Video: Clingy Neighbors
After my eight-year marriage ended, I spent some time alone, followed by a series of dates with men who looked great on paper (well-educated, same tastes in books, music, art, etc.) but who were boorish, socially awkward, or downright boring in person. Now comes Mr. (Quite Possibly) Right, whom I’ve been seeing for nearly a year—a guy who is kind, appreciative, a great listener, and a fabulous lover. My only persistent qualm is that, with him, I miss the caliber of intellectual engagement I enjoyed so much with my ex. Mr. (QP) R is open to attending the museums and performances that interest me, but it’s clear that I can’t expect any new insights on these experiences from him, and that I’ll always need to be the one seeking them out. I love my new beau and don’t want to undervalue his many excellent qualities, but as we reach the one-year mark, I do worry I’ll grow restless in a relationship that doesn’t stimulate me intellectually. Am I focusing too much on a minor deficit, or does this sound like trouble waiting to happen?
—One Nagging Doubt
Dear Nagging Doubt,
I’d have a different answer if you wrote that you had met a man who’s kind, appreciative, a great listener, and a brilliant cultural critic—but a total dud in bed. Obviously you and your former husband could talk about the latest Tom Stoppard until the wee hours, but that didn’t keep the whole relationship from turning sour. You don’t say your new guy is unintelligent, just that he’s not interested in the same artistic pursuits you are. So what? If you want some lively discussion about a play or museum exhibit, invite another couple along to talk about it afterward over dinner. Or go to a show with a friend who shares your zeal. Probably your beau could write to me that you and he click in so many ways, but all his previous loves have been fabulous skiers and accomplished birdwatchers, and he wonders if over the long term he will be dissatisfied settling down with someone who never will match their skills at these pursuits. Wouldn’t you want to say, “Don’t throw away what we have because of skiing!”? But if you want to begin your search again to find that so-far-undiscovered person who suits you in every way, it sounds as if a less picky woman will quickly find that Mr. (QP) R is perfect.
Almost two years ago, my ex from college killed herself. While I knew her parents quite well, I have not spoken to them since the breakup seven years ago, much less since the suicide. I didn’t find out until a month after the funeral and never sent a letter. I have a bunch of pictures from college of her doing fun things with me and friends. I don’t really want them anymore and have them boxed up. I want to know if it is appropriate to send them to her parents. My gut tells me that they would want them, but I worry about causing them more pain. Should I send them, or am I being selfish and just seeking closure?
—Ex Moving On
Dear Moving On,
Yes, the photographs will cause pain, but that doesn’t mean that the parents wouldn’t want them or treasure them. People who have lost a loved one often feel terribly lonely in the longer aftermath—everyone else has gone back to their lives, and rarely do they mention the deceased person anymore. This is usually compounded when someone has died young and in a terrible way. Take the time to write a letter to accompany the photos and describe the people in them, and recount some stories about their daughter from those years. Tell them you still think of her often and how acutely you have felt her loss. Put your phone number on the letter and say if they care to call, you would be happy to hear from them.
My mother died when I was in my 20s. Many years later, my father remarried. Even though my wife and I live far away, my father and I talk frequently and are quite close. My stepmother, who was never married before and had no children, made it clear that she was not really interested in being my stepmother. This was not what I expected, but I have accepted it over the years. She is always polite, cordial, and hospitable, but not bubbling over with warmth. She is very cultured, but fairly critical of people “that just don’t get it.” She expresses this by rolling her eyes to my father with an exasperated sigh when someone makes an “offending” comment. My wife dreads spending time with them and feels judged. Normally, I would consider talking directly to my stepmother, but there is almost no context for this in our relationship. Since she’s never come out and actually said anything offensive, I have a difficult time even figuring out how I would confront her about it. I want my wife to feel comfortable, but I have looked unsuccessfully for years (even as a single person) for an opportunity to bring this up to my stepmother in a constructive way, or to my father, who seems oblivious to it. How can I bring some relief to the situation?
Your stepmother actually isn’t very “cultured” if she visibly and audibly expresses her disapproval of family members or guests. But I would bet that if you called her on it, she would be aghast because she is unaware of how obvious she is. And I believe that your father either is, or has decided to be, oblivious to this for the sake of domestic serenity. It’s reasonable that a childless woman finding herself with an adult stepchild would not see herself in a maternal role or even think her husband’s son would want to see her as a mother figure. I’m afraid the relief has to come from you and your wife. So, keep a few things in mind: Your stepmother is an older (or old) woman, and you are not going to change her. Be aware that her behavior is not personal—surely she treats everyone this way (and it gives you something juicy to talk about on the way home). Perhaps it could be possible for you and your wife to spend some time alone with your father; gently broach the subject with him and see how he responds. But mostly, let the sighs and eye rolls roll off your backs. Appreciate that she is hospitable, and that she makes your father happy.