Got a burning question for Prudie? She’ll be online at Washingtonpost.com to chat with readers on a special day next week: Tuesday, Sept. 7, at 1 p.m. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.
Ten years ago, I married the perfect man. He had two young children from a previous marriage, and I was and am happy to be their stepmother. But now, at the end of my natural reproductive years, I’d love to have a child. My husband is dead-set against it, and he has the vasectomy to prove it. I am the one who changed my mind, and I get that I am otherwise blessed with a wonderful life. But I am heartbroken. I think about my choices: Stay or go? Count my blessings or take my chances? How can I leave someone who is so otherwise wonderful for me, and to me? But how can I live with this huge hunger in my soul for a child? It’s hard to not feel bitterness toward my husband, even though that seems unreasonable. Why should I expect him to change just because I did? If I were younger, the choice would be difficult, but more clear-cut: Leave, in hopes of finding someone who would also like a baby. I’d be willing to go to any reasonable length to have a child—reproductive assistance (including donor eggs), adoption, etc. But I don’t know whether I’d be willing to do it alone. I want to parent with a partner. What should I do? I’m too heartsick to see clearly.
You’re stuck in a situation in which you feel you have no good answer, and I’m sorry that I don’t have one, either. You’re right: In one way, it’s unfair that you married a man with the understanding that you wouldn’t (and he couldn’t) have a child, and then you discovered you desperately wanted one. But when you look back at your 28-year-old self, you wish your 38-year-old self could send her a message—that she was wrong to be so sure she’d never want children of her own. My best suggestion is that you try now to talk to your 58-year-old self; ask her to tell you what it feels like to experience the different possibilities you face. First, let’s put aside the fairytale version: You leave your husband, then, just before your eggs get recalled, you find another perfect man, and you two create the little family of your dreams. More realistically, you have to decide which is more bearable: staying childless with the man you love or going it alone and having a child to love. Try imaging yourself in 20 years as a single mother driving her child to college. Only you can say whether that seems like a better future than imagining you and your husband coming back from a trip to Europe to be there for the birth of your first stepgrandchild. The one future you would be wrong to choose is to stay with your husband and let your marriage be consumed with bitterness. If you decide on the adult love you have now, you have to accept that your life, like that of so many others, is bittersweet. You must embrace that your marriage brings a fulfillment that many people long for and never get. But if you stay, make clear to this “perfect” husband of yours that you need him to understand and comfort you as you mourn the different life that will never be.
Dear Prudence: Hung-Up on Ex-Girlfriend
I am a graduate student who is finishing my master’s thesis. For inspiration, my professor suggested that I look at the thesis of a student who graduated last year and tackled a similar topic. He said it was of the quality that I should be aiming for. I got the thesis and found that most of it is plagiarized word-for-word from a book that I have been using as a source. The subject is rather obscure, and I would not expect my professor to be familiar with the plagiarized book, but I still can’t believe that the student got away with it. I don’t know what to do. On one hand, I feel it’s none of my business, but on the other, I feel the school should know. I also can’t help but think that if I don’t speak up, during the grading process, my paper will be compared to his, which actually was written by the master in this field.
—Just Want To Graduate
This is your business. You know that a fellow student has been given a degree—and set upon the world of academia—based on lies and theft. It may reflect his good taste that he chose to pass off as his own the superb, if conveniently obscure, research of the true author. But now that you have discovered this violation of everything scholarship is supposed to stand for, you must expose it. Take the book and the thesis and highlight a generous selection of relevant passages. Bring it to your professor and explain that as soon as you started reading the thesis, it was obvious it was a work of plagiarism. Let’s hope this prompts an investigation and a stripping of this young man’s graduate degree. He can then redirect his energies to a line of work more appropriate for someone with his morals—I hear there are openings in the field of mortgage-backed securities.
My young-adult daughter is entering a profession in which I have been very successful. She and her boss were recently struggling with a technical issue, and her boss told her to do some research and come back with some ideas. She called me, and I was able to help her come up with a good solution. She went over it with her boss the next day, and he was very impressed. I was telling this story at work, and a colleague became incensed that my daughter had cheated by calling me instead of figuring it out on her own. I contend that consulting an experienced professional is legitimate research, regardless of whether that professional gave birth to you. I did not “give” her the answer; I coached her through arriving at it herself. People have always entered their parents’ profession and benefitted from their experience and guidance. Did my daughter and I do the wrong thing?
—New Girls Network
Dear New Girls,
It would be silly to have a parent with a distinguished career in the field you’re entering and not take advantage of such an on-call resource. But what’s important is that you be a sounding board for your daughter and not a crutch. Helping her work through her problem is fine. But as you have professional discussions with your daughter, you want to make sure you aren’t just feeding her the answers. You need to ask yourself: If a young colleague came to you with the dilemma your daughter posed, would you have coached her in the same way to a solution? Or imagine that your daughter actually was hired as an associate at your firm. You would be careful not to act as her ventriloquist, but to give her enough help so that she could thrive on her own. The encouraging thing about your letter is that it shows we have entered a world in which daughters (and sons!) are turning to their mothers for advice not just on love and life, but on work.
I am 36 years old, and at the end of last year, I lost my 40-year-old husband to a heart attack. It was unexpected and heartbreaking. From the time of his loss, my in-laws have questioned all of my decisions: from not performing an autopsy, to the men who served as pallbearers, to the marker I chose for his gravesite. Since his death, they have pretty much made me feel as if I killed him myself. They have been so inconsiderate of my feelings and what I am going through. The last straw came last week when they took off the flowers that my children and I put on their dad’s grave and replaced them with their own. I am about to cut my ties with them completely. What should I do?
I am so sorry for your loss, and how awful that instead of you and your husband’s family being able to help each other through your mourning, they are striking out at you. In your feeling that they are blaming you, I think you have come to a sad but powerful insight. They probably are displacing their grief—which can be irrational and destructive—on you. You shouldn’t have to take this. But before you end up cutting off ties with them, which would deprive your children of contact with their grandparents, you need to have a serious talk. This might be something best mediated by an outside party, perhaps a member of the clergy. Explain that all of you are suffering, but that their constant questioning and undermining of you is just compounding your sense of loss and loneliness. Explain that having them in your children’s lives will be a benefit to everyone, but that your interactions with each other need a profound change of tone. If that doesn’t happen, unfortunately you will need to begin limiting their access. And to help you deal not only with this problem, but the pain of losing your husband and your children losing their father, please find support groups for yourself and them.