Look for next week’s Dear Prudence column earlier in the week—Tuesday!
Got a burning question for Prudie? She’ll be online at Washingtonpost.com to chat with readers on Tuesday, Sept. 29, at 1 p.m. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.
Recently my mother, who was my best friend, passed away suddenly at a fairly young age. A few weeks later, my fiance abandoned me a month prior to our wedding because he couldn’t handle my grief. He belittled my mother’s death, called my father a drama queen for his despair, and accused me of not paying attention to his needs. During the final stages, he depicted me as irrational and needy to our mutual friends. By looking through his e-mails, I have discovered some things about him that I have kept silent about. Most important was my discovery of a sex-doll perversion. He is part of a group that learns how to make dolls at home. (There are also videos of men doing questionable deeds with Barbies.) In addition, he communicated with escort services and through online personal ads for bondage enthusiasts. My problem is that in my anger about his behavior and timing, I feel a strong compulsion to send this information to almost everyone in his contact list. Could you please talk me out of it, since I would very much like justice to be served?
You were just rescued from a future in which you come home to find your husband violating your daughter’s American Girl doll collection! Stop being angry and start being grateful. Consider that in the great cosmic scheme of things, this was your mother’s final gift to you. Her loss made it possible for you to find out what a thoroughgoing creep you almost ended up with. Don’t worry about what your friends might think. If they took the side of a man who said he dumped his fiancee a month before the wedding because her grief over her mother’s unexpected death was bumming him out, then you need a new group of friends. You don’t want to wallow in his gutter by sending out a mass e-mail telling them that if he ever gives a homemade doll to any of their children, they should make sure to wipe it down with Germ-X first. Stop looking for retribution, and sing “Hallelujah” that you made it out before you set up a new household with him, only to find out he preferred playing house.
I recently married my Prince Charming. He has an 18-year-old daughter who will be living with us for another two years. My husband has been a single parent for most of her life and admits he’s spoiled her. Since I have no experience as a parent, I am trying to follow his advice on getting along with her, but I fear that she and I have little in common except for this wonderful man. I want to build a strong relationship, since her mother is largely out of the picture, but find myself unsure about how to connect with her. I don’t relate to her love of fancy clothes, rich friends, catty remarks, and her dependence on others—including me—to do hard work to support her. I find myself biting my tongue at her frequent expressions of entitlement and dissatisfaction with other people. I truly don’t want to be the evil stepmother, but I often feel judgmental and I want to set boundaries. I’d like to be a positive influence in her life, but I’m not sure how to go about it in a way that’s meaningful for her.
—Not Bearing a Poisoned Apple
Dear Not Bearing,
A missing mother and a too-indulgent father can be a recipe for someone who has to prove she’s better than everyone else because she actually feels rotten inside. You need to set boundaries—that’s healthy for any relationship, and especially one with a young woman who has so sorely lacked them. Unlike many stepmothers I hear from, who are only too eager to heave the stepchildren out of their lives, you and your stepdaughter will benefit from the fact that you want to have a relationship with her and be a positive influence and that you know this won’t be easy. Start by being gently honest. If she mocks someone for their déclassé accessories, you can say, “It’s funny, Caitlin, I don’t think I’ve ever even noticed what brand of handbag someone is carrying.” If she makes a catty remark about someone you know and like—or one of her friends—you can say, “I thought she told some very funny stories. Anyway, everyone has their faults.” If she asks—or demands or expects—you to do something for her that she’s capable of doing, just say without rancor, “Caitlin, I’m going to let you do that for yourself.” Start asking her to do things to contribute to the household. Have her do some of the grocery shopping or make dinners. Show your pleasure when she comes through or when she says something you can agree with. With patience and some luck, your foray into motherhood could be just what your grown stepdaughter needs.
I am a divorced mother in my mid-30s with three kids. I work full time to support my family and receive little monetary support from my unemployed ex-husband. My children are involved in many activities (band, sports, music lessons, academic competitions, gifted classes, etc.). I am also involved with the parent-teacher organization and fundraising activities for the schools. I am very busy, and my life can be quite stressful. The problem, however, is my boss. Frequently, he will come into my office and make comments about my situation. One day, he said, “Every time I wake up and just don’t feel I can face the day, I think of how much worse it could be. I couldn’t imagine being in your position.” He is probably trying to compliment my ability to hold it all together without falling apart, but his comments sometimes feel derogatory. Should I just dismiss this as his way of acknowledging my strength as a woman, or should I tell him that his remarks make me feel uncomfortable?
How wonderful for you that you get to be an object lesson for your boss in how much worse his life could be. Sure, he may be trying to praise your superhuman powers, but with compliments like that, who needs insults? The next time he says something about how your misery motivates him to get out of bed, tell him that while you appreciate his acknowledgement that you’re holding a lot together, when he phrases it that way, it just makes you feel that your life looks as if it’s impossible and depressing. Then assure him it’s not, but that such comments hurt. And since you’ve asked my advice, I’m going to offer some unsolicited. It’s amazing that you’re able to do all that you do, but perhaps it’s not necessary to do quite so much. Let some of the other parents take up the fundraising slack, etc., for the school. In order to keep going, you need more quiet time to read, think, and sleep.
As a gift for my marriage in 1984, my mother made a beautiful quilt, using colors I selected, and embroidered my wife’s name and mine next to the date on the back side. For no particular reason, the quilt was never used but saved in a closet as a keepsake. That marriage ended after 10 years, and after 10 more years as a single man, I married again. I would like to use the quilt now, but it’s “tainted” by the nature of the gift. My mother is not going to be able to make another quilt, and I feel that I’ve got an heirloom that can’t be enjoyed. It’s too precious to discard but can’t be brought into the light of day. What’s the best thing you can suggest?
—Guilt About the Quilt
After he broke up with Winona Ryder, Johnny Depp had his “Winona Forever” tattoo redone to read “Wino Forever,” which is a reminder of the inadvisability of commemorating love with ink on flesh. Thread on fabric, however, is much more amendable to refashioning. Why not have your mother take out the embroidered names on the back or cover them with a small appliqué. No, I don’t think she should repurpose the quilt as a new wedding gift. But since the quilt sounds lovely, surely your new wife won’t mind if you explain that your mother made it years ago as a wedding gift, it was never used, and now that you truly are happily married, you’d like to display something precious from your mother’s hands in your new home.