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 email@example.com.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Pregnancy, Delivery Room: My husband and I are happily married and expecting, but due to my fertility issues and my husband’s desire for a biological child, we ended up choosing a wonderful surrogate mother who is now almost eight months along. She has been an absolute dream and has been very considerate of us, but now that it’s almost time for the delivery she has made a request: She has asked for a women-only delivery room as it will be more comfortable for her. My husband is beyond upset with this request, seeing how much he wanted this (I was OK with adoption, and we still plan to adopt in the future), he financially supported her and the pregnancy and it is his biological child. I can understand making her as comfortable as possible during this time, but I can also sympathize with my husband’s desire to be a part of the event, rather than waiting outside. What should I do?
A: This is the sort of thing that should have been sorted our contractually before your surrogate became pregnant. But your husband is fixating on a not very important issue and you don’t want what has been a lovely relationship to degenerate into recriminations on the eve of her presenting you with your child. I think you should tell your husband you totally understand his desire, and you will try to be the go-between, but if your surrogate doesn’t want a man who’s not a doctor, or not related to her, in the room, you can’t force her to change her mind. Remind him that a generation or so ago, all fathers were in the waiting room having a smoke, or waiting it out at a nearby bar. Tell him right now it’s easy to get fixated on the moment of birth, but parenthood will actually begin when you take your bundle home. When you talk to your surrogate tell her that it would mean a lot to both you and your husband if you could both be there for the birth. You could say he could sit quietly in a corner until the baby is born if that would make her more comfortable. If it’s a no go, then work on convincing your husband that seeing your child when he or she is cleaned up and swaddled will not mean he’s missing anything in the grand scheme of parenthood. And maybe the surrogate would allow some more or less discreet filming of the big event, if that would mollify the new father.
Dear Prudence: Mother and Daughter Hitting the Bottle
Q. Possible Child From High School Relationship: When I was a junior in high school I was friends with a freshman in college, “Sarah.” One night after a party we ended up back at her apartment and slept together. It was the first time for both of us and no protection was used. She then moved back home a month later and shortly married her high school sweetheart. Now, 10 years later, I ran into a mutual friend who told me odds are good that Sarah’s 9-year-old daughter is mine. I didn’t believe her, but when I did the math and found out when she hooked back up with the high school sweetheart, it’s my daughter. Sarah has never asked for anything or even brought up the possibility that I was the father. I’m fine not being involved and have no desire to—she’s being raised by a great mother and father. From what I’ve been told only I, Sarah, and the mutual friend know that I am most likely the father. My question is, should I tell my wife that I may be the father of this child?
A: I agree that even if you are the biological father it is best if you stay out of Sarah’s life. You only heard about your possible paternity by chance, you have no proof, and bustling into a happy family and claiming a child is only going to make everyone unhappy. It’s possible the father is the biological father. And it’s also possible that if he’s not, Sarah told him someone else impregnated her (although I kind of doubt that). But yes, this is the kind of thing spouses normally tell each other. It’s weighing on you, and there’s a sliver of a chance that if you are the father, it could come out someday. But be clear with your wife that you want her to know because you want her to know, not because you think you should change the status quo.
Q. Adventures in Baby-sitting: This past weekend my teenage daughter baby-sat for our priest and his wife. They live on church property and allow their three children to ride their bikes in the church parking lot. My daughter dressed the youngest child—a 13-month-old—in his best, white Sunday shoes and pushed him around the parking lot in a Flintstone-esque child’s car. Needless to say, the baby’s feet dragged along the ground, scuffing up the shoes and turning them from white to black. When the priest and his wife returned, my daughter said nothing about the shoes, accepted her (generous) pay, and came home to tell me about it. I’m of the belief that, when we see them next Sunday, my daughter should admit what happened, apologize, and return the money. My husband disagrees about returning the cash and had told our daughter that an apology is enough since she’s only 16. Who’s in the right here? Should we compromise by having her return a portion of the cash, or make her offer to baby-sit for free in the future? Thanks!
A: This must be a very strict denomination your belong to. I’m hoping few religious leaders would consider it a sin for a toddler to end up with scuffed shoes. Scuffed shoes seem to be the natural order of things when it comes to people who are about 1 year old. I think you should stop micromanaging your own child. It sounds as if she provided a safe and fun time for three little kids. She earned her pay and no apologies are necessary.
Q. Re: surrogate: Prudie’s advice is spot-on with regard to all kinds of things that can happen to make delivery not what you had dreamed. I had dreamed of giving birth naturally, with no drugs, having my husband cut the cord, having the baby laid on me immediately and nursing as soon as possible, but in the end, it was a C-section and I saw the baby for two seconds before they whisked him off to the NICU for two days. In the end, it didn’t matter one whit. Ever since the first time I was finally able to hold him, he has been my precious baby and there has been no looking back. Congratulations on the letter writer’s impending bundle of joy.
A: Thanks for this reality check. A reminder that a wedding is not marriage and that birth is not parenthood.
Q. Probable Gay Teenage Son: I am fairly sure my 16-year-old son is gay, based on his choice of pornography found on his computer. I mentioned it to him but he said he isn’t. There have been other minor indications since he was a child. So, not a complete surprise. Since I don’t have a choice whether he is or isn’t, I will support him. He’s a great kid, smart, cooperative, helpful. However, should I mention this probability to his mom now or wait for him to sort out his position? I am sure she would be supportive too, but for now mentions girlfriends, marriage, hetero topics, etc., in general discussions, typical mom to teenage son comments. And, if we both know, then should the 18-year-old brother (at a nearby college now) be told or let younger brother tell him on his own whenever? Meal-time conversations may be a bit silted and clue-filled if mom has to change her comments.
A: Again, I always thought one of the major pleasures of marriage that you have a life partner with whom you share your most intimate thoughts and concerns. Especially when it concerns your offspring. I’m surprised, if you’ve wondered over the years whether your son might be gay, that you’ve never broached this with your wife. So yes, I think you should tell your wife what you found, what you’re thinking, and what your son said. But then you both should back off. Your son may be gay, bisexual, or heterosexual. He’s only 16 and not only does he not have to know, he may not know. You should take your clues from him, but also express in the myriad ways parents do, that who he is is wonderful with you.
Q. Dad’s Pissed at Mom: My little brother and little sister don’t know why our dad has suddenly become so mean to our mom. He belittles her, they argue often, and sometimes he gives her the silent treatment. I know why. Two weeks ago my parents sat me down and told me that my mom has been cheating on my dad throughout their marriage. My dad is furious, and he has reason to be. I still hate the way he treats my mom. And part of me thinks that my parents told me about the affair because my dad wanted to humiliate my mom in front of at least one of their kids. My dad has also, in a short period of time, become very sensitive to anything to do with affairs. He calls these “triggers.” My family is a mess and I feel caught in the middle.
A: From your description, I’m getting a clue as to why your mother sought male company elsewhere. Your parents should never have shared this information with you, and I assume you’re right and that it was at the instigation of your father to shame your mother. You should have another meeting with them in which you tell them you don’t want to know anything about their sex lives, but you are concerned with the amount of stress and unhappiness in the house. Say that all of you children are suffering because of the anger and fighting and you are asking that they get some counseling right away. If things don’t improve, I hope there is a trusted relative you can turn to and say that you need someone to intervene because your family is falling apart.
Q. Borrowed and Stolen Jewelry, Work Theft: Dear Prudence, I work at a business that employs lots of young women. (We teach exercise classes.) One of my co-workers who I have not spent a lot of time with but is good friends with my good friend, asked me if she could borrow a necklace to wear to a wedding. I gave her a bag with three beautiful and expensive (around $450 total) necklaces to choose from. I went out of town as she was getting back into town, and she texted me saying she decided not to use my jewelry and that she had left them behind the front desk at our job. I was out of town and I couldn’t retrieve them for about a week. By the time I got back to work, they were gone. I asked her what happened and she said they should be there. I asked everyone, sent out a company-wide email and even got management involved to help me find my jewelry. No luck. My question is not about how to get them back, because obviously my jewelry has found a new home, and I will have to get over it. What I am really annoyed about is that the girl I lent them to has not said one word to me about it, she hasn’t asked if I found them, she hasn’t tried to help, and she hasn’t even said she is sorry. I find that so incredibly rude. It hurts my feelings that someone stole from me, and that the person who I think is responsible, at least in part, will not acknowledge or validate my feelings. I have not seen her since I let her borrow my stuff, and I don’t know how to act when I do. I don’t want to play games and act rude, but I somehow want her to know I am upset. What should I do?
A: I hope you’ve learned that when someone you don’t know (even someone you do) asks to borrow something valuable, you’re entitled to say, “Sorry, I can’t do that.” I’m still puzzling over who brings expensive jewelry to work in a bag, then goes out of town and leaves it behind. Of course the idiot who left it at the front desk should apologize profusely. But someone who would leave a bag of jewelry at the front desk already has judgment and responsibility problems. Sure, have a talk with her in which you say you lost some valuable items because she was careless with them. I would expect her response will be something along the lines of a shrug. I know people will say you could report the loss to your insurance company in hopes of reimbursement. But when they hear the story, they might end up canceling your policy. I say write this one off as a life lesson and total loss.
Q. Christmas Largesse: My younger sister is kind and generous—and very concerned about what people think. I know she and her husband are struggling financially but every year he insists on buying expensive gifts. Every year my parents and I tell her to cut back—I dread opening the gifts knowing the mountain of debt they are in. I have tried several tactics—a limit on spending, asking her to focus on the children, explaining our parents are now retired so we should all scale back, but nothing works. Can you suggest anything else? I really don’t want to cause a family upset—I know she feels bad as we all buy for her three children and neither my brother or I have kids—but we are not adding up what we spend on the kids and expecting gifts of equal value!
A: She apparently doesn’t care enough what people think, because surely all of you think she shouldn’t be digging herself deeper into debt. It sounds as if it’s time for the entire family to decide that presents should only be for the children. That will mean her kids get gifts, but the rest of you just enjoy each other’s company. Perhaps your parents could be persuaded to have a talk with her and her husband in which they offer to get them counseling services for their debt. They could say they are concerned about having to bail them out in the future, and want to see them take the steps now to right their finances.
Q. Re: Lost jewelry: Prudie, it doesn’t sound like the jewelry-loser left the bag at work—it sounds like she gave it to the co-worker in person, who then left it behind. It also sounds like the co-worker may have stolen it herself if she mysteriously decided to leave it at the front desk without wearing any of it when she knew the owner would be out of town.
A: You simply don’t give a bag of expensive jewelry to a virtual stranger. The decision on which necklace to borrow could have been made on the spot. I agree the borrower may be the thief. But if the woman with the jewelry doesn’t want to notify the police of this suspicion, there’s nothing she can do.
Q. Re: Teenage baby sitter: Prudie, you’re usually so sensible that I can’t believe your response in the baby-sitting case! Of course the girl should apologize, and offer to try to clean or to replace the shoes. Then of course, the parents will say, My dear, what a sweet offer, but we expect our kids’ shoes to get scuffed when they’re having such a nice time with you. The girl does the right thing, the parents do the right thing, and it’s not micromanaging to teach your child to take responsibility.
A: If the parents have Sunday-best white shoes for a 1-year-old then they also should have a bottle of white shoe polish, and it should take them about five minutes to brighten up the shoes. I assume the 16-year-old didn’t maliciously decide to scuff up the white shoes, they were just close by. No one should spend any more time worrying about this nonproblem.
Q. Dating Divorced Man: I went on an amazing date yesterday with a man I’ve been seeing for just over a month. He’s recently divorced and is a father of young-ish children. Our date was billed as an all-day activity and lasted from about 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. As he was driving me home, he mentioned that he was having family dinner at his ex-wife’s house. I haven’t dated divorced people in the past, so I’m not sure if this is the norm, but it struck me as odd. On one hand (the rational one), I understand that they might be trying to have at least one night a week where they can all sit down and have dinner like they used to. Good for them. On the other hand (the crazy one), I think it is kind of lame to leave someone you’re dating at the doorstep so you can run off to family dinner. In fact, maybe that’s what’s bothering me. Is he having his cake and eating it too? And yes, I know we haven’t been dating long and blah blah blah. I’m not trying to dig my claws into him, I’m just trying to meter my expectations. What do you think?
A: Back off, sister. An all-day date has to eventually come to an end. He was then going to have dinner with his ex and kids and he didn’t try to hide that, he told you. Being able to be civil with your ex is a good sign. If you’re not up for the complications of dating someone with an ex wife and children, get out now.
Q. Re-Birthday Party: When my son was born two years ago, we decided we would just invite a few close family members and close friends for my son’s christening. This worked perfectly, only 20 people were at our house and we could manage this number just fine. But, two weeks later my mother in law had a huge “rechristening” party for my son and invited everyone with a big cake and presents. My husband and I didn’t know until we got to their house that day. We were shocked and didn’t want to be rude, so we said nothing. This made us both feel inadequate for not having a huge party the first time. The problem is now, his second birthday is coming up. Same situation, we are having a small party, and his mother is setting up a big party the week before. We have no evidence, but we think this is another birthday party. What should we do if we walk into another situation like this again? FWIW this is the only grandchild.
A: First, stop feeling inadequate. There’s nothing wrong with your mother-in-law wanting a big celebration for a big event, but she definitely should have run the last party by you and your husband, especially since it involved asking people you don’t know well for presents. Your husband has to talk to his mother about her plans for this upcoming party. He should tell her that if she’s just having a party, that’s great. If she brings out a cake for your son, also great. But if this is billed as a birthday party and again people you don’t know are being asked to bring gifts, explain you’re very uncomfortable with that. If the invitations have already gone out, so be it. But he should tell her you don’t plan on making this a tradition.