Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the 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. I’m looking forward to your questions and to my mother-in-law’s fabulous meal on Thursday. She’s still making the turkey at age 93.
Q. Daughter Excludes My Wife From Her Wedding: I married Kate, my second wife, 10 years ago. My teenage daughters were 17 and 19. I had been divorced from their mom for five years, and Kate had nothing to do with our divorce. My daughters never warmed to Kate, and in fact, they have always treated her rudely. Kate has been excluded from all of their major milestone celebrations: birthdays, graduations, etcetera. Kate always encouraged me to attend without her, because she has always wanted me to have a relationship with my children. Kate and I now have two children, 6 and 4, and my eldest daughter is marrying. Children of all ages are welcome at her wedding—but not Kate or her younger half siblings. I think I have reached the end of the line, and so has Kate. My daughters want nothing to do with my wife or my children. I am so exasperated with my daughters, and I don’t know what to do. They say I always need to choose them over Kate, because they are my children, and until now I always have. But now I’m actually considering missing my daughter’s wedding.
A: I often hear from children of first families whose fathers have married women who campaign to erase these children from their lives. But Kate sounds like a generous, patient person—how exasperating to be excluded from events for all these years and how kind of her to encourage you to go. I don’t think your daughter’s wedding is the place to draw the line in the sand. It is beyond outrageous that your daughter is not including her stepmother and half siblings at this event, but this pattern was set long ago. You should have a private talk with your daughter and explain that her exclusion of your wife and your children has been painful for everyone. Say you cannot force her to invite your wife and her half siblings, but as she herself is creating a new family, it would be a lovely gesture of reconciliation on her part. If she refuses, attend by yourself. You want to be able to have a connection with your future grandchildren, however tenuous. But after the wedding, invite both your grown daughters out to dinner and explain that they are adults now and need to start acting like it. You can say you haven’t chosen Kate and your new family over them—they have chosen to make it impossible for all of you to have a relationship. You have endured years of insults because you love them and kept hoping things would get better. You still do, but they’ve got to realize there are consequences for striking out for no good reason.
Dear Prudence: Sex Offender at the Kids Party
Q. Am I Intruding?: My brother and his wife’s unborn baby has serious medical problems and is not expected to survive more than a few hours after birth. My brother told us that my SIL wants privacy after the birth and does not want anyone to come over, except for her parents and sister. I know my grief does not even compare to their loss but I feel devastated I won’t be able to meet my niece when she is alive. My parents are pretty torn up about this, too. I know it will be a very emotional time for both my brother and SIL and I can see why she doesn’t want to endure such a raw experience in front of her in-laws, whom she does not know very well. My brother said his wife might be OK with us coming after they say their farewell but by then it might be too late. Is it totally inappropriate for me to ask them to reconsider?
A: You need to recognize that experiencing the near-simultaneous birth and death of a child does not leave room for your emotional needs. If your parents want to be able to say farewell to their grandchild, they need to have talk with your brother and see if his wife can accommodate their wish. Maybe your brother can arrange for your parents to spend a few minutes alone with the baby. But you do not belong in this equation, especially since there is something bizarrely selfish about your need to “meet” your niece before her death. I’m sure you know that lots of things are not about you. The profound loss your brother and sister-in-law are about to experience is just about the definition of something that’s not being about you. Please have the decency to stay out of the way.
Q. Maybe a Not-So-Happy Thanksgiving?: I am recently married, and will be spending Thanksgiving with my new in-laws. They are a very, ultra conservative group and dislike our president. I, however, voted for him, and have tried to stay away from the political banter. My sister-in-law recently sent my husband a message asking if I was a “closet” Obama supporter. Quite honestly, it’s none of her business, but I took it upon myself to respond to her directly instead of through my husband. I know she has told his family that I support Obama, and I know it will be an issue at Thanksgiving (we live four hours away from them). Luckily, my husband is amazingly supportive and has stated that he will stand by me no matter what. I’m just not sure how to handle his family. Thank you, I don’t want a fight.
A: The answer to are you a “closet” Obama supporter is no, because you are a proud and open Obama supporter. You are also right that your political views are none of their business, unless they want to make it so. You and your husband need to plan this out before the assault on mashed potato hill. If you start being goaded you can say, “I know it’s painful when your candidate loses, so let’s talk about more pleasant things.” Or, “I’m happy to discuss the issues, but probably everyone’s digestion will be better if we don’t.” Ignore the random Obama put-downs—during them you can recite to yourself, “Yeah, and that’s 332 electoral college votes for my guy.” If it becomes intolerable your husband should be prepared to interject that it’s time the subject got changed, and then ask what teams people think are going to the Super Bowl.
Q. Re: Am I Intruding?: I have nothing to add to Prudie’s response except, AMEN! Though this is terrible and sad for everyone involved, your feelings do not even come close to those of your brother and his wife. Busy yourself thinking about ways you can help them and make life easier during what I imagine will be a long and painful grieving process. And try to do things that don’t involve a lots of face time with the grieving parents, since it sounds like they mostly want privacy. Rake leaves, shovel snow, drop off dinners/groceries and understand that they aren’t going to be the “same” people they’ve always been; things will be different and you need to support them through all of it. Surprisingly I think you’ll gain the most comfort by offering it to others and putting them first during this hard time.
A: You’re right that quiet, unobtrusive, behind the scenes help might be welcome. And I hope the sister-in-law doesn’t need a warning to keep all this off her Facebook page.
Q. Illegitimate Half Brother’s Inheritance: Five years ago, my sister and I discovered the existence of our father’s biological son from a secret second family. By this stage our father had already passed away and we decided to meet him. He and my sister have developed a close relationship, whereas I didn’t really click with him and I consider him more of a distant relative than a biological sibling. Recently our paternal grandmother passed away, leaving her home to me and my sister. She knew we had a half bother but never met him or spoke to him. We decided to sell the home and divide the money. Here’s where we clash. She thinks we should split the money in thirds and give our half brother a portion. She feels particularly strong about this because he’s a single father. As for me, I am not especially close to him, our grandmother knew of his existence but chose to include only me and my sister in her will, so I don’t see why I need to give up my portion for a man I barely know. I told my sister if she feels so strongly about this she can halve her share with him but she says it’s “not fair.” If we split the money 50-50 instead, it will mean I can pay off my mortgage and retire early. I’m reluctant to delay the two for this half brother, who might as well be a fourth cousin to me. Who is in the right here—me or my sister?
A: You and your sister are both right: It is not fair that your father’s child was kept hidden away from his family, and your inheritance is yours to do as you see fit. Even if you do not feel close to your half brother, surely you do recognize that he has not been treated right by your family. As a recognition of this you could consider giving him a monetary gift, but the amount is yours to decide. You could also do nothing and tell your sister you see her point, but your half brother is a virtual stranger to you and you are not going to change your financial future for him. Recognize that will have an effect on your relationship with her, but so is her pressuring of you. Your father’s behavior surely has tarnished his memory with all his children. I certainly hope he didn’t depart this complicated life of his without doing anything to provide for all his children.
Q. Should I Bail Out Dad?: My father was recently incarcerated for a short period of time after being convicted of a felony. He was completely guilty and I have no problem with him being locked up for it. The problem is that he now expects me to pay the fines he owes as part of his sentence, attorneys fees, etc. after he gets out. I paid quite a bit of money to attend his sentencing from the other side of the country, and got all his affairs in order for him. My father and I are not close and never have been; he was completely uninterested in being a father, and call me petty but I don’t feel like bailing him out. He never paid child support, and we lived hand-to-mouth for many years because of it. I have power of attorney over his finances while he’s in prison, and while he’s hardly wealthy, I know he can cover his fines and other monthly expenses without bankrupting himself. The problem is that I make more money than just about everyone in my immediate and extended family, so virtually everyone believes I should cover him because I can afford to. My husband, mother, and siblings fully support me in this and believe I shouldn’t have to justify why I won’t spend my money on my father. Everyone else feels differently. Am I being too cold?
A: And what a bundle of warmth your deadbeat, neglectful, jailbird father was for you. You have no obligation to this man, and if you don’t want to handle his affairs, you would be perfectly justified in choosing a professional to have power of attorney who can be paid out of your father’s assets. Your father can expect all sorts of thing, he can demand that you give him a weekly foot massage, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to do it. Dad cut you loose when you needed him. Hey, Dad, turnabout is fair play.
Q. Re: “Am I Intruding?”: Prudie, unless I’m missing something in that letter, the mother of the unborn baby wants her own parents and sister there, but won’t allow her husband’s parents and sibling to come— even though presumably her husband is as much the parent of that poor child as she is. What about HIS grief, and HIS need to have his closest relatives there with him during the baby’s few hours of life?
A: I suggested that the husband and his parents discuss the possibility of the grandparents being able to see their granddaughter if that’s what they want. Yes, this is a terrible loss for everyone, but to be carrying a child for nine months who now you will deliver only to watch her die means that the mother’s emotional needs deserve special consideration. The brother’s sister simply should not be forcing herself into this situation.
Q. Re: Illegitimate Half Brother Post: One issue that the letter writer needs to be aware of is that there will be tax implications of giving money to the half brother. They should contact an estate planning attorney (or the executor of the will) quickly to discuss this issue.
A: Good point, thanks. If the two sisters go together it might be a good way for them to discuss this whole subject in a less emotional way.
Q. Wedding Woes: My boyfriend and I got engaged just over a week ago. Neither of us wants a traditional wedding, so we decided to get married over this Thanksgiving with just our families and a few very close friends in my hometown. The timing is perfect because his parents are joining mine for the Thanksgiving holiday. We will then celebrate with a party in the next few months for the rest of our friends and family. We thought this plan is the best of both worlds—a quiet, nonstressful ceremony and a fun party, without the anxiety of “being a bride” for me. However, some of my friends are upset that they won’t be at the actual ceremony, including a few very close friends who simply can’t make it into town on such short notice. I feel awful that they are sad, but I see no way I could have found a different date in the future to accommodate them without actually falling into the trap of planning a full on wedding. Am I a terrible friend? I thought this plan would alleviate all wedding stressors but here I am, very stressed!
A: Get married and toast with cranberry cocktails. Then at a more convenient time have some kind of party—a barbeque, a cocktail party, whatever—to celebrate your union with all your friends.
Q. Re: Limited Amount of Love?: The first question about excluding the stepmom makes me so sad. Do people really think love is a zero sum game? If you give some here, you have less to give there? It is actually the opposite: The more love you share, the more it multiplies. It is so sad these purportedly adult children have decided to punish their father for something all this time.
A: Indeed. Several readers suggested there’s got to be more to the back story than Dad reported. Maybe he was neglectful after the divorce. Alternately, maybe the mother of the oldest girls has tried to ruin the relationship with their father. We just don’t know, but going through life bitter only poisons you.
Q. Too Much Sharing? My girlfriend and I had a minor disagreement recently, and while she was frustrated she posted two or three tweets about the situation. After we talked about it things were sorted out fine, but there were still the tweets out there, with responses from the strangers who follow her. I am a very private person, and am not one of these people who shares everything that happens to them on Facebook, and Twitter, etc. Would it be wrong of me to ask that neither of us posts things involving the other person, or our relationship, without asking the other first? I don’t like the idea of 400 strangers knowing she was annoyed about some minor thing that we dealt with in one quick conversation. And what about the next time, if it is something major?
A: Technology is neutral, it’s what you do with it that matters. And this trend of announcing to the world what used to be the most private of affairs is pernicious. Just because with the tap of a finger you can let hundreds of your nearest and dearest know that your boyfriend was late meeting you for drinks doesn’t mean you should. Does she think anyone cares? Is she just trying to shame you? Such public outbursts make it impossible to conduct a personal life. What’s the etiquette here—everyone pretends they don’t know, or they offer their advice? You are totally within your rights to say that you were embarrassed by the tweets about your spat and that you two need some ground rules for what is and isn’t for public consumption. And if she won’t go along, find someone who respects that every interaction is not for public display.
In a new approach, we’re publishing the chat transcript in shorter, more digestible pieces. You will still be getting all the questions and answers, and we may even publish bonus letters Prudie didn’t get to address during the chat hour.