Dear Prudence

A Touch Too Long

My mom let me play with her breasts for years after I stopped breast-feeding, and now she’s doing it with my sister. How do I stop it?

Emily Yoffe.

Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
My mom let me and my brother breast-feed until we were each about 5 years old. She let us touch and play with her breasts for years after that. She never told us what sex was, and later when I found out, I felt revulsion at the memories of how I touched, and wanted to touch, my own mother. Now I’m 18, a senior in high school, and I have a little sister who’s 9 years old. Mom breast-fed her until really late, and now my sister feels my mother’s breasts the way my brother and I did. My sister is my mom’s last child, and my mother persists in treating her as a baby. My mother refuses to consider she could be encouraging inappropriate impulses in my sister. When I tell my mother that I’m grossed out and that my sister’s too old for this, she won’t listen. But I don’t want my sister to have the same revulsion at her own memories and confused feelings that I suffered. I’m so disgusted it’s keeping me up at night. What should I do?

—No More Mother Love

Dear No More,
I hope you missed the newsstands last week and didn’t see the cover of Time featuring a young mother with an almost 4-year-old latched to her breast. That picture would have given you some traumatic flashbacks. I’m not insinuating that women who breast-feed their children past toddlerhood are doing something wrong. It’s your description of the postweaning, clearly sexual breast fondling that is alarming. Your mother sounds like a sexual predator disguising herself as the ultimate attachment parent. Because there are so many more male molesters, it’s easier for sick women to get away with it. Being an earth mother is the perfect ruse that allows your mother to use her own children to gratify her disturbed impulses. It’s awful to look back on your childhood with shame, but it’s a good thing that you feel revulsion for what happened to you. It shows you are able to distinguish appropriate boundaries, see how you were manipulated, and mourn for your childhood. You don’t mention a father (or fathers), so I’ll assume he is not in the picture to provide help. As painful as it is to contemplate turning your mother in to the authorities, for the sake of your sister, that’s what’s you should do. But it would be best if you had some adult support in taking that step, which will be a life-changer for everyone in your family, perhaps in the most positive way if you mother gets some help. You could go directly to Child Protective Services, but as an interim step consider making an appointment to talk to your sister’s pediatrician, who perhaps is still your doctor, too. You might be more comfortable talking first to a professional who is familiar with your family. The pediatrician will be a mandated reporter, which means she or he will be required to forward any suspicion of abuse. You should continue your healing with a therapist who specializes in sexual mistreatment. This should help you feel comfortable with the normal sexual impulses your mother cruelly exploited.


Dear Prudence: Husband Gone Wiccan

Dear Prudence,
About a year ago my mother-in-law passed away and left us her house, which is within walking distance of ours. We decided to sell the property, and since it’s in superb condition, all we need to do is box up my mother-in-law’s belongings. My wife still misses her mother and finds it too difficult to spend much time there, and I’m busy with work, so the responsibility has fallen on our 15-year-old son, “Brandon.” During the course of packing, Brandon found a box of old videotapes and inserted one into her VCR. He discovered that his grandparents had been swingers for years. Brandon has already told his older sister, which I am furious about, and the two of them want to tell their mother. I want to throw the tapes on a pile and set them ablaze, but my children have convinced me that it is not my right. They say their mom should be told, and it should be her decision what to do with the tapes. Am I right for not wanting my wife to know about this? I certainly wouldn’t want to know if it were my parents.

—No Reruns

Dear Reruns,
A while back I had a letter from a widow who couldn’t bear to dispose of the erotic tape she and her husband had made but was afraid that if she didn’t, her children might find it when she was gone. It’s too bad your mother-in-law didn’t follow the brilliant advice suggested by readers for elders with similar memorabilia: Label the tapes “Matlock, Seasons 1-4.” That way the kids will dispose of them without being tempted to look. How shocking for your son to discover that his grandparents carried on like Dominique Strauss-Kahn on a business trip. It’s good news that he was apparently amused, not traumatized, by this revelation. Stop being furious at Brandon for telling his sister. The poor kid had to let someone know that Grammy and Grampy did more in the rec room than host bridge tournaments. It’s rather sweet that your children think their mother should decide whether she wants to track her parents’ aging by watching 20 years of their orgies. I agree she surely doesn’t want to know, but now that everyone else in the in the family does, it’s not going to work to keep this a secret. Think of how baffled she’ll be when her children snicker every time she mentions how devoted her parents were to each other. Tell your kids you’ll take care of informing their mother. Then say to her that Brandon found a box of videos at his grandmother’s house, he looked at one, and it was an erotic tape of her parents. (You don’t have to reveal there was a substantial cast of characters.) Chances are she’ll ask you to dispose of the entire oeuvre. Then you can tell your kids this is one of those things that they have to keep private, and if you hear them blabbing about it, you’ll make them watch the sex tapes of you and their mother.


Dear Prudence,
The other night, after a few drinks, a colleague told me that our boss had been very upset with me because of the birthday present I gave him last year. I was completely shocked. It was a nice fountain pen, but he said I was “cheap.” I have never even been greeted for my birthday all the years I’ve worked for him, and he expects an expensive gift for his birthday? Worse still is that he bad-mouthed me behind my back and has been giving me the silent treatment since his birthday. Do bosses really expect their workers to shower them with expensive gifts? There are no jobs in the market now, so it is really hard for me to look for a new one. Am I overreacting or should I just pretend I know nothing about this and hope he gets over this?

—Cheapskate Worker

Dear Cheapskate,
Many workers are putting up with outrageous situations because of the bad economy—let’s include a boss expecting a Rolex and a foot massage on his birthday among them. If you have gotten the silent treatment for months because you got your boss a fountain pen, I’m surprised that this is the first clue you’ve had to alert you that for years you’ve been working for a nut. (No, people don’t give their bosses expensive birthday gifts—the office cupcake break is all anyone should expect.) You should have initiated a conversation with the boss once it became clear that you two have a permanent failure to communicate. It’s a helpful piece of intelligence that the fountain pen is the reason for his ire, but I think that’s information you should keep to yourself. Make an appointment to have a private meeting with him. Say you’ve noticed a change in your previously excellent relationship and you’d like to find out what’s wrong and how you can fix it. If things don’t get better, then take your problem up the ladder (if there is a ladder at your organization). Keep your performance and attitude excellent; you don’t want to provide a substantive reason for your boss to go after you. As much as I hate to say it—because it’s stupid and unfair and almost a form of blackmail—be prepared to invest in something really nice for this jerk’s next birthday, because it will be a small price to pay to make your life better. Let’s hope the job market improves enough so that this will be the last gift for him you have to buy.


Dear Prudence,
This weekend is my graduation from college. Due to personal and financial difficulties, it’s taken me eight years to earn my degree. I realize it’s a silly ceremony that doesn’t mean anything, but I was looking forward to the catharsis of walking the stage and having my friends and family there. I got a call from my sister a few days ago saying that because of reasonable, yet not insurmountable problems, she and my mother won’t be coming. We aren’t that close, but they have helped me out, and I owe each quite a bit of money. They are my only nearby family, so I’m probably not going to attend my commencement now. My bigger problem is that my mother and sister were expecting me to move back to their city, but now I’m thinking I’ll move someplace new, exciting, and on the other side of the country. Am I right to feel slighted that they’re not coming? And how do I tell them that this is the reason I’m not moving back without being hurtful?

—Sad Grad

Dear Grad,
Graduation is a big deal and you should attend yours. You mention you have friends—I assume many are classmates—so collect your diploma with them. Then gather a group to go out to raise a celebratory glass, or see if you can join someone else’s party. As for the rest of your life, consider your next move carefully. If you’re making one across the country with no prospects, be aware you’ll likely be hitting up your mother and sister for more cash to finance this dash. If there is good reason—a job, a place to stay—to move back to their city, then don’t dismiss it just because of their absence on your big day. Of course it stings, but when they look at what you’ve done to their bank accounts to finance your education, I bet that stings, too. You’ve earned a hard-won college degree, but planning your life around a fit of pique shows you still have a lot to learn.


Discuss this column with Emily Yoffe on her Facebook page.

More Dear Prudence Columns
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More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
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