Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of this week’s chat is below. ( Sign up here 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. Meteorologists, tell me August will not be as knee-bucklingly awful as July.
Q. Regretting Adoption: I was told as a teenager that I could never carry a baby to term, so my husband and I immediately started the process of adoption as soon as we married. After many years of waiting, we adopted a beautiful little 5 month old. I love her and would die for her if need be, but I find myself unexpectedly hating parenthood three months on. My daughter, bless her, wakes up every two-three hours every day. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, has helped her to sleep. I terribly miss my old life and feel anxious about going out in case she gets unsettled (which she often does). My husband and I have no quality time together and we’ve bickered a lot because I am always snappy and stressed out. I find myself resentful of her sometimes and then feeling horribly guilty for feeling resentful. Is there any advice you have for me, mother to mother?
A: When my daughter was the same age as yours she had horrendous colic. I remember one night rocking her while she screamed and thinking I should sing a lullaby. But deciding the lyrics, “F—k you, my darling baby,” were not a good idea. What an idiot I was. If only I’d come up with a complete lullaby and committed it to paper, I could have been the first with a best-seller about how frustrated parents really feel.
It’s hard to believe now—I didn’t believe it at the time—but your baby will outgrow this stage. Unbelievably fast, your baby will outgrow every stage, because right now I’m awaiting my teenager daughter’s return after a month away at a Spanish immersion program.
But for now, get help! Get a babysitter or a family member to watch her during the day so you can nap, go to the gym, read a book. Make some time for you and your husband. That doesn’t have to be a fancy meal out. Get someone to watch your baby while you two go for breakfast on Sunday morning to a diner where you can chat and read the papers. Join a mother’s group to get tips and support from others in the same boat. Keep a journal. Because faster than you know it, this squalling infant will be toddling around saying, “Mama!” and you will laugh to read how you thought you’d never sleep through the night again.
Q. Friend Dating a Married Man: My friend “Alana” recently started “seriously dating” a guy who turns out to be married and still living with his wife, who is undergoing cancer treatment. They’ve been together four long months and swear they’re “in love.” I am not too sure of the situation as to whether his wife knows, if he’s told Alana he’s divorcing, or what. Alana won’t tell me, and I don’t care to know. She started insisting that our group of friends invite him over for social functions as we do for any other friend’s boy/girlfriends. One of our mutual friends is getting married in two weeks and Alana became upset that the bride and groom refused to add him as an extra guest, which is apparently “unfair” and “discriminatory.” Another close friend within our social circle has been cheated on by her husband, so all we see when we see him is DIRTY CHEATING SCUM written on his forehead. What do we do with this situation without cutting off ties with Alana?
A: When sending out wedding invitations, it is rude to only invite one half of a married couple. So Alana should be relieved that her new boyfriend, and his wife, didn’t get an invitation to the nuptials. What a prize Alana’s boyfriend is. He must be quite a time-management specialist to be able to court a new woman while taking his wife to and from chemo treatments. I obviously don’t know any of the parties involved, but I’m going to guess that Alana’s boyfriend has not, in fact, informed his wife that to relieve his sadness at her diagnosis he’s gotten himself a lover. Alana is an adult, and if she feels fine about seeing a married man who is cheating on a seriously ill wife, that’s her decision. The rest of you, however, do not have to condone it. All of you can tell her that while you care for her very much, you are all deeply uncomfortable with the situation and do not care to get to know her married boyfriend. If that means she cuts off ties with her group, so be it. And if Alana has fantasies about the fairy tale ending that’s coming when the mean old wife dies and she and her true love can be together, have her read some of the accounts of the recent life of John Edwards.
Q. Unhygienic Boss: I have a boss who has some very bad habits and I am not sure the appropriate way to approach him about it. I am the only one that works for him because it is a small business. He pays well and is actually very nice, but he has some gross habits that are getting to be a bit much. He clips his nails at his desk and sometimes they get scattered. He flosses his teeth at his desk. When he has a cold he doesn’t cover his mouth and he won’t blow his nose. I have now caught his cold. He hawks loogies into the bathroom sink. (It is a small office.) I am usually the only one privy to this but sometimes it happens in front of the client. For example they come across a fingernail clipping. How do I approach my boss in such a manner to nip this in the bud without losing my job. He pays great and pays for all the benefits for my husband and me, but I am getting really fed up.
A: I’m stunned he also doesn’t belch, fart, hum loudly, and chew with his mouth open. At least let’s give him credit for attending to his oral hygiene! I regularly hear from people who describe office mates—almost exclusively men—who clip their nails (sometimes even their toenails) in the office and seem to get pleasure out these projectiles pinging around like BB gun pellets. Sometimes I get lonely working at home, but at least I only have to deal with the cat’s hairballs.
Discussing this with a co-worker would be one thing, but this is your very disgusting boss and you work in a small office and he’s nice and pays well. So I am going to turn this over to the experts out there in officeland. Readers, any suggestions?
Q. Acceptable Behavior: I recently read, right here in the Washington Post, one of those love stories that appear next to the Wedding announcements that tell how couples meet. What caught my eye after the “Awww” moments was this line: “Although they had to fast track the wedding because she found out she was pregnant.” I’m in my 50s, which might be old to some. I’ve been married 30 years and I am open minded. Does this generation now announce out of wedlock children along with their wedding? I just thought this was too much information. I know everyone lives together before marriage and often have their children before marriage, too, but I think they should draw the line at publicly announcing it. What do you think?
A: They were planning to get married, she found out she was pregnant, and they decided they really wanted to be married before the baby came. Hooray! Let’s applaud this couple! Instead of focusing on the “perfect” wedding, which would mean the bride getting back in shape after the birth so she could wear an expensive dress, with their child attending the ceremony, they decided to stick with the more sensible order of baby following marriage. Since the baby is going to be born significantly less than nine months after the wedding, it’s not any surprise that the bride was pregnant, nor is it a source of shame.
Q. Wedding Etiquette: Like many people this summer, I have been invited to a wedding of an acquaintance whom I have not seen or spoken to in years. “Mary” and I are friends on Facebook and this seems to be the method she has chosen to invite her guests (at least the 189 of us on her friend list). Almost all of the communication has been via the web, including gift registries (nine!) and the RSVP notice, with the exception of a postcard that served as the formal invitation. My question is: If I “decline with regret” am I still obligated to give a gift? Normally, I would not hesitate, but this invitation seems more like a cash grab than a genuine opportunity to share in their big day, especially since she is the type of Facebook friend to invite 400 “friends” to other special occasions.
A: Remember when Facebook had those little “gifts” you could send people? (Maybe they still do, but I can’t figure out where they are anymore.) It would have been perfect to send Mary an icon of a cake or maybe a troll. Otherwise, feel free to decline with no further obligation than saying you’re sorry you can’t be there and wishing her the best.
Q. Abusive Client: The other day my mom was working at her office and noticed that one of her clients was being awfully mean to his 8-year old son. It seemed every word out of his mouth was being said with contempt: “Drink your water!” “Do your homework!” “Quit staring off!” My mom thought the kid was behaving just fine, but his father would continually bark orders at him in a very demeaning tone. Not having been introduced to his son, my mom asked what his name was. Her client then replied, “Oh, I call him stupid, or asshole, or lazy …” (The kid was right there too!) My mom was so flabbergasted she didn’t know what to say. This is clearly verbal abuse and I worry about the harm it’s doing to this poor kid. It’s a difficult situation, though, because this client is an independent contractor who works out of the office. Would reporting this behavior to the office manager be the right thing to do? Would it be effective at all because he’s not technically an employee? Should my mom say something to him?
A: I know that no one wants to jeopardize a relationship with a client at any time, but particularly now. But this child is being abused. Verbal abuse can be just as shredding as physical abuse—and who knows what a guy who calls his 8-year-old those names to a stranger does to his son when they’re home and the kid has been “acting up.” The office manager is not equipped to deal with an abusive parent, and neither is your mother. I think your mother should call child protective services and say it is imperative that she report this situation anonymously.
Q. Re: Friend Dating Married Man: Can I just say that it’s a relief to know that this woman’s friends are appalled by the situation? My husband had a long-term affair with a woman about a decade younger than me and apparently all her buddies thought it was just fine and dandy that she was dating a married man. In the aftermath of learning about it, I found out he had gone to parties, dinners, and, yes, even weddings as her date. Of course he had invented a whole back-story as to why he was still technically married but the bottom line is everyone knew. He told me that these days it’s not seen as such a big deal to most people. It’s good to know I’m not the only one who isn’t “most people.”
A: You call him your husband, not your ex-husband, so I’m interested in the fact that after finding this out, you’re still actually married.
Q. Say Something? Or No?: One of my co-workers is from India and will sometimes make comments about Pakistani people. I’m not entirely sure how to react to it, really, when it’s mentioned in the workplace. It’s up to her who she wants to interact with and who she doesn’t, but it doesn’t seem appropriate to me for her to talk about it at work. But I don’t want to get her in trouble (and I think she would have gotten in trouble already if anyone were inclined to get her for it—small office, and everyone’s heard it, as far as I know, including Big Bossman.) Anything I should do? Can do? It really makes me cringe.
A: The next time she does it, pull her aside for a private talk. Say: “Obviously, your private opinions are yours to have, but I’m very uncomfortable, and I’m sure others are, hearing an entire country of people disparaged. This kind of talk just doesn’t belong in the office.” If she doesn’t stop, bring it to the Big Bossman, who might have been too busy clipping his nails to have noted this problem.
Q. Neighbor Trouble?: We’ve lived in our neighborhood for about a decade and absolutely love our neighbors, to the point where they are practically family/best friends. However, circumstances have made us put our house on the market, and we’ve received an offer (at asking price) after less than a week. My problem is the man who submitted the offer lives near another friend, and I happen to know he is simply an AWFUL man and neighbor, and would torment my current neighborhood. I’m reasonably sure I can get another offer soon enough, and finances aren’t a huge issue for us, so should I decline this offer to protect my friends? Or is this a time to be selfish? For what it’s worth, if there are legal repercussions for rejecting the offer, I won’t do it, but as of now I think I’m OK.
A: Check with your real estate agent about the legal ins and outs. But surely you are entitled to wait and see if there are more agreeable offers from more agreeable people. Living next door to someone who gets his or her jollies from tormenting the neighbors makes life a daily misery. If you’re in the clear by rejecting this guy because of what you know about him, do it.
Q. Abusive Client: The abusive client sounds like my brother, who talks to his (amazingly beautiful) son in the same way. And he’s done it since the boy was an infant. Additionally, he mocks the child by pretending to cry, calls him “baby,” etc. He sends him to the corner at family gatherings for, at best, minor infractions. (Infractions only to my brother.) I have almost broken down in tears. My parents will not confront my brother because they fear he will not let my parents see their grandson. They opt to accept the abuse and support their grandson the best they can. (My nephew is now 7.) I live three hours away and have little say in this matter, but it destroys me what my brother is doing. (My brother is, as you might have guessed, highly insecure and defensive. No attempt at confronting him would be well received.) What would you suggest a loving aunt do, if anything?
A: I think you should call child protective services, too. I know they’re overwhelmed and that in cases of verbal abuse only, they might not be able to do very much, but someone needs to try to intervene in this poor child’s life. You can’t just hope for the best because you know a monstrous parent is destroying an innocent child.
Q. Re: Regretting Adoption: Her experience is SO NORMAL. I remember frantically thinking about how I could somehow return my daughter back to the hospital, while at the same time loving and having an overwhelming need to protect her. My husband and I fought all the time. Lack of sleep can make you crazy. She now is 3 and is the light of our lives. So worth it. It will pass. Try to get some alone time every day, even if just for a 15-20 minute walk. If you can, hire a student as a “mother’s helper” for a couple of hours every day, whether to let you take a nap or just have some company.
A: It really helps to know millions have people have had the same forbidden thoughts: “I love you, but I must have been out of my mind to think I wanted to be a parent.”
Q. Adoptive Parent: As an adopted child myself my mom often tells a story similar to yours. My parents tried for years to have a child of their own and adopted me at 3 months old. According to them I cried nonstop for about a year. My mom, being the main care-giver, got very little sleep. It got to the point that my father found my mother crying at the kitchen table telling him that they had made a mistake. Eventually I grew out of the constant crying—and 27 years later I think my mother misses the days when I was crying upstairs now that I live five hours away from home.
A: I promise you she misses those days. OK, maybe not the year of crying days. But the days she could just pick you up and knew where you were every minute. And it speaks to how good your relationship is that she could tell you the story about thinking she made a mistake! Adoptive Mom, hang in there!
Q. Yup, We’re Still Married: I’m the writer with the cheatin’ husband and, yes, we’re still married. We’re in therapy (both together and separately), and I wouldn’t place any serious bets on where we’ll be a year from now, but with two kids and 15 years of marriage invested into this relationship, I’m willing to try and find a way to make it work.
A: Thanks for clarifying, and I hope it does work. I also hope your husband knows he’s full of it when he says it’s no big deal for a married man to have a separate social life with his girlfriend.
Q. Barkeep Boyfriend: I’ve been with my new boyfriend for a few weeks and everything is great. He’s a bartender at a local place, so sometimes when he’s working a slow day, I’ll stop in and have dinner or a drink while he works to keep him company. The problem is what to do about tipping. … Last time, I ordered food and some drinks and when the bill came, I left him $35 on a $28 tab. I didn’t think anything of it. We were discussing our dinner plans for this week with one of his regulars and the man commented, “I hope she tipped well since you’re probably paying!” My bf responded “I don’t want her money” and then to me in aside, told me to take the tip back. I was a little stunned. I make significantly more than him and upon thinking about it, I’m MORTIFIED that he thinks I was giving him charity or something. I don’t know if I need to address the past incident the next time I see him or would that hurt his pride? And further, what do I do next time? Buy him a drink instead? HALP!
A: I’m not sure someone you’ve been dating for a few weeks fully qualifies as a boyfriend. You gave your guy a generous but not ridiculous tip, which upset him for some reason. Having someone become your boyfriend means being able to talk through awkward situations. So next time you’re alone with him, ask if when you’re at the restaurant and he’s serving you, he wants you to leave a tip at all, or just pay the bill. Being able to sort out who pays for what when a couple is first dating, particularly if they have disparate incomes, is part of the process of being able to become a real couple.
Q. Slightly Larger After a Year Abroad: I am just about to return to my small town in the U.S. after a little more than year overseas. Due to a combination of the fabulous local food and a lot of personal stress, my figure is somewhat more ample than when I left. I am quite looking forward to getting back home and seeing my friends and neighbors again, but I am somewhat trepidatious about seeing people’s reactions to my new silhouette. I am sure that most people won’t say anything, but I expect to see some facial reactions. Any suggestions as to how to handle this?
A: You don’t have to respond to facial expressions. If they say you must have loved the pasta/crepes/tortillas just say, “I sure did!”
Q. Help!: My friends and I were involved in another couple’s public fantasy! I belong to a local chapter of an international organization, and we get together periodically for dinners and such. During a recent gathering, the female half of a longtime couple appeared in a long blonde wig (nothing like her usual hair color or style) and repeatedly asked that we call her by a different name. At first I thought she was kidding, but then she said she was just trying to keep things interesting for her husband, who quietly sat apart from her all evening, watching her interact with the rest of the group. Several of us discussed it after the fact and have concluded that we were unwilling extras in some sort of fantasy scenario. I don’t think any of us are prudes, but in retrospect it made us uncomfortable. This isn’t something that we think should be taken to any authority figures, and the couple could always deny it and just say that it was all in good fun (for them, at least). How should we handle the situation if this couple decides to do this again in our presence? Should we just laugh it off?
A: It must have made the discussion of the organization’s dues or the next convention a lot more interesting by having “Barbara” be “Lolita” for the night. Be grateful to them for giving you something to talk about on the ride home beyond how interminable the after dinner remarks were. When she shows up as a redhead named “Ginger” just go along with the show.
Q. Loving Aunt: You need to report your brother. Thousands of adults who were abused as children state that they wished that SOMEONE who watched this happen would have done something. You are that someone. Be the hero for this child. Step up and report your brother. Either your brother will shape up (unlikely, but possible) or your nephew will be removed from his father’s house. They will try to find a family who is willing to take the boy in. Would your parents or you be willing to do this? Then he’ll still grow up with his family, can see his father, but not be continually crushed by this abuser. You have the power to save a child’s life from abuse. Why wouldn’t you do that?
A: I agree—do it now.
Q. Backing Out of Job Offer: I recently signed paperwork for a temporary position at an amazing place. I love the staff, but it’s not in my ideal location and it is not a long term position. I’ve now been offered a better job in my ideal city a week before I’m supposed to start the new position. Financially the new offer is so much better for my family, but I just feel like a jerk leaving the original place in a bind. How do I handle this situation?
A: You take the better job! Give the temp place as much notice as possible. Once you explain your situation, anyone should understand. And in this economy, they won’t have trouble finding a replacement.
Q. Giving Baby Advice to New Parents: My husband and I are friends with a couple that are expecting a baby soon. The husband is my husband’s best friend, whom I have known and have also been close to for almost 10 years. I am not as close to the wife, as they haven’t been married long and she’ s a little quiet and shy, though certainly someone that I consider a friend. Here’s the thing: While talking about cribs and baby things one day, the subject of crib bumpers came up. It seems the wife’s sister was in the process of making a homemade one as a gift. I gently mentioned that it was strongly recommended that newborns not have these in cribs, as they can cut air flow to the baby and might be a cause of SIDS. The husband laughed and said that his kid would be ”too smart” to suffocate in such a way. Knowing ”Joe’s” sense of humor, I laughed and let it go. Now, after attending the baby shower, and seeing the wonderful bumper that the sister made, I see that ”Robin” put a picture of the completed crib on Facebook, bumper and all. I am hoping that she put it up as to not make her sister upset, but I’m now worried that they intend to use it for the baby when he is born. Is there a way I can tactfully express my real concern over what may be a potential hazard? If it weren’t for all the work that Robin’s sister put into it, I wouldn’t feel so awkward bringing up the subject again.
A: I, too, saw the article saying that bumpers can be killers and don’t belong in cribs. Print it out and give it to the parents-to-be. Suggest that the bumper be de-bumped and made into a pillow or even a wall hanging. The feelings of a sister do not trump the safety of an infant.
Q. Unhygienic Boss: I notice that you have a paucity of replies to the unhygienic boss problem. I suggest that she ask to speak to him and sit down and explain politely and firmly how uncomfortable his grooming habits make her. Asking him to cut his nails and floss in private is not an unreasonable request. I have found in my 40 years of working that if you sit down with someone and present your case respectfully most people will listen to you and will often be embarrassed to find out that they have offended and will do their best to change. I’ve used this tactic for a variety of problems over the years—fortunately not often or many.
A: Thanks, because I noticed the paucity, too. If she decides to have the discussion, I would emphasize that you’re right to keep it narrowly focused on the clipping and flossing. People stop listening once the list of infractions starts getting really long. Maybe a polite and respectful discussion will prompt him to clean up his act generally. She can open by saying how great a boss he is, and that she has something minor but awkward to discuss.
If she can’t bring herself to do it, then she just has to focus on the good things and dodge the flying fingernails.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone! I’ll talk to you next week.