Dear Prudence

Regrets of a Spanking Sitter

I was cruel to the kid I once baby-sat, and now the guilt is tormenting me.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
I am 27 and very excited to be pregnant with my first child. However the thought of bringing an innocent little baby into this world has forced me to face some mistakes from my own past. From the ages of 12 to 16, I baby-sat for a little boy three to four days a week until he started school. I had a lot of pent-up anger from my own childhood, and something about having control over this little boy was a power trip to me. I played with him and taught him to read, but I also took advantage of the fact that his parents approved of spanking. I went overboard and would spank him for things that were not punishable, beside the fact that I shouldn’t have been doing that in the first place. Once I started I couldn’t stop. I feel disgusting admitting this but I believe I enjoyed it. I would also do things to shame him like make him stand in a corner with no clothes on. I moved away a couple of years after I stopped baby-sitting for him. This little boy loved me and trusted me and I have never confessed this abuse to anyone. I want to apologize to him and to his parents, yet if he doesn’t remember this I don’t want him to hear this now. What should I do?


Dear Guilty,
It speaks highly of your maturity and moral growth that you can look back on what you did with insight and disgust. Something was awry both in your childhood and that of your charge. It sounds as if you were not just a baby sitter, but a part-time nanny to this child while you were just a kid yourself. None of the parents involved seem to have been paying enough attention to their children. Since you were feeling anger because of your own upbringing, it’s unsurprising that you turned your frustration on the one vulnerable person for whom you were responsible. I spoke to Sherry Hamby, a professor in the psychology department at Sewanee, the University of the South, and editor of the journal Psychology of Violence, about what you should do now. First of all, she says that while what you describe was cruel, it probably did not cross into legally punishable physical or sexual abuse. She points out that you are understandably looking for catharsis and possibly absolution, but the real issue is what effect your confession would have on the boy. She says it’s probable that he has only dim memories of a baby sitter who could be both loving and hateful. For you to show up now and offer details of what you did would likely just be confusing and damaging. Hamby says since you left his life long ago, just keep things that way. Although you have made personal progress, becoming a mother can take you back in unexpected ways to your own childhood, and caring full-time for a baby can tax even the most mature and loving mother. I think it would good for you to talk to a counselor before your child is born about dealing with your emotions and impulse control. You also need to make sure you have the kind of support in place that will provide you with the encouragement and respite any parent needs.


Dear Prudence: Marijuana Mentor

Dear Prudence,
My husband and I have been married for 10 years, have two young children, and are still madly in love. He is a fantastic father and husband. The “but” is that in the past few years he has become a smoker. He would describe himself as someone who only smokes socially and casually. But he hides cigarettes and often lies about it even though he reeks of it. It infuriates me when he tells me I’m crazy and imagining it, especially since we both know the truth. When I find hidden packs, he says they belong to a friend. At a shower his co-workers threw for us, I heard someone ask him if he was quitting smoking in anticipation of the baby’s arrival. He wasn’t smoking when we first started dating, and I probably wouldn’t have continued our relationship if he had been because smoking is a big turn-off for me. He will admit to smoking “when he is stressed,” and due to his job this has increased. I’ve pleaded for him to quit, but he never does. He says that he shouldn’t have to lie and that I should just deal with it. He said that if you respond, he will follow your advice, and I will, too. What do you say, Prudence?

—No Smoking

Dear No,
I was wondering after your description of your wonderful husband what the “but” would be, and it turns out to be a butt, so I understand why you’re fuming. Since you have given me power over your marriage, I say it’s time for his lying, to himself and to you, to stop. He has to recognize he’s no “social” or “casual” smoker. Maybe he hasn’t heard about smoking being socially unacceptable, and there appears to be nothing casual about the way he goes at it. As for you, as understandable as your compulsion is to nag, you must try to douse it. It’s not working and is only creating tension between you. Once your husband comes clean about his dirty habit, appreciate his honesty. Your next step is to follow the model of Michelle Obama in dealing with her husband’s smoking—or at least the reports of her approach. She loathed his smoking, encouraged him to quit, accepted how difficult that was, didn’t constantly monitor, and celebrated his successes. (She also said he would support his initial run for president in exchange for him quitting smoking. So it’s possible he decided to run in order to get away and smoke in peace.) The official word is that after many failed attempts the president is now smoke-free. I’m not the only viewer to suspect that during the inaugural parade the president was maintaining his abstinence by madly chomping on Nicorette gum. As for you two, part of this new honesty regimen is for your husband to admit that he has a problem and that, for the sake of himself and his family, he will address it by going to a smoking cessation class. You will support him and do your best not to rebuke him if you smell evidence that he sometimes slips. Focusing on the wonderful relationship you have will reduce your husband’s stress, which is an acknowledged trigger. He’s got a struggle ahead, and if you can deal with it as partners, he’ll be more likely to succeed.


Dear Prudence,
My boyfriend and I have been a couple for three years and we live together. It’s been a wonderful, communicative relationship. But now I don’t know what to do because he will not stop groping me ever. When I lean over to spit in the sink while brushing my teeth, he spanks me or hikes my skirt up to grab my butt. When we sit on the couch talking or watching TV, he yanks down my shirt and bra or just shoves his hands down my shirt. Recently I reached a breaking point. My mom called and told me a family friend’s daughter had passed away suddenly. When I hung up, I started to cry, and I told my boyfriend what had happened. He wrapped his arms around me and expressed his sympathy. Then he put his hand down my underwear and said, “I want to play with this.” He has not behaved like this the entire time we’ve been dating, but I can’t pinpoint when it started. I always yank my shirt back up and ask him to please look at me and not my breasts. He laughs such comments off, and says, “You have no idea how sexy you are.” It has really killed my sex drive and I don’t want to have sex with him at all. How can I express this to him in a way that puts an end to all the groping and brings back the other parts of our relationship that I love?


Dear Groped,
Yet another letter in which the description of his wonderfulness is followed by a butt. Your account is so odd. Obviously you would not have moved in with this guy if you felt you needed to aim a Taser at him every time he came near. The story of his actions following the news of a young woman’s death makes me think your boyfriend needs a check-up because bizarre changes in personality can have a physical cause. If he comes back with a clean bill of health, then I don’t see what’s left for you but to pack up and leave someone who’s lewd and crude and making you hate him. It’s one thing to have your beloved think you’re endlessly attractive. It’s another to find yourself wanting to turn around and spit in his face just so you can get a few minutes of peace while you brush your teeth.


Dear Prudence,
My wife and I have a dog that is getting on in age and has recently been diagnosed with cancer for the third time in less than two years, meaning her chemo has not worked. We have to meet with the oncologist who’s been treating her, but my inclination is that it’s time to stop fighting the inevitable. My wife, on the other hand, has had this dog since before we met and can’t bring herself to even consider letting her die. But more treatment will wreck us financially (as it did the previous two times). I love the dog, too, but I love my wife and kids more and our resources are being drained in a losing battle. I am hoping the oncologist agrees with me, but if not, what do I do?

—Dog Problems

Dear Dog,
Whether or not your wife can accept the finality of your dog’s prognosis, in short order your dog will be dead. Your wife knows the canine actuarial tables, and preventing your kids from going to college in a useless, painful effort to extend a terminal animal’s life is only benefitting the bank account of the veterinarian. Tell your wife you are opposed to continuing your dog’s suffering, and say the same thing, firmly, to the oncologist. Let’s hope this doctor recognizes her duty to her patient and her clients.


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