Dear Prudence

Leave Mama Alone

Crowding kids, smelly daughters, and a mom who cries at the drop of a hat, just in time for Mother’s Day.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
I’m a divorced mother of three college kids. While I was raising them alone I had no time or money for vacations, home improvements, dates, or my own education. But with them all in college, I returned to school to get my degree and reconnected with my high school sweetheart. I’m in love like never before. He lives out of state but will be moving in with me soon. I want time to bond with him without having the kids around. My house is small and having three young adults around will mean no privacy. Two of my kids have apartments at college, and one son with Asperger’s is home taking a semester off. Their father lives nearby but was neglectful and is a selfish jerk with a personality disorder and a second wife and kids. I told my children in January that my fiancé would be moving in and my daughter said she planned to go to summer school and stay in her college apartment. My other son said he had a job and apartment lined up. Now my daughter’s decided she’d rather come home and my son wants to come on weekends because his job is in a boring town. I’m considering barring them from returning home and telling them to just suck it up and grow up. Will it cause permanent damage to our relationship if I tell them to stay with their father or only come one weekend a month? I’ve worked as a secretary and also cared for my elderly mother. Isn’t it my time to be happy?

—Ready to Live

Dear Ready,
Of course you deserve happiness, love, and freedom. You’ve sacrificed a lot to get your fledglings (mostly) out the door. But I think you should take the long view before you slam that door in their faces. Yes, they are young adults, but they aren’t fully independent or self-supporting, and for now—and fairly so—they think of the house where you raised them as their home. I suspect one reason they all suddenly feel the need to return to the nest for the summer is because their world has tilted off its axis at the news that Mom—lonely, reliable, selfless Mom—is getting laid, and perhaps if they chaperone you’ll settle down and return to normal. But since your needs and those of your kids are somewhat in conflict, you need to have a frank (though not explicit) talk with these young adults. Tell your kids that of course they are welcome at their home, but you were under the impression at least two of them had made other summer plans, and so did you. Say you very much want them to get to know the new man in your life, but you think it would be better if you all didn’t get to know each other in cramped quarters on a daily basis. Explain you and your guy were planning on some quiet time together this summer, so you hope they can figure out a way to spend some time with you, but more time away. Please don’t suggest your children bunk with their father. You were their oasis from him, so don’t send them back to that emotional desert. Just being forthright with them might make them want to grant you enough privacy so that you don’t feel the desire to change your locks.


Dear Prudence: Her Lying Eyes

Dear Prudie,
I have a 14-year-old daughter whose body odor and room is very repulsive to me. My daughter takes a bath every morning before school but still always smells like she is on her menses, even when it isn’t that time of the month. Her room has an even stronger odor and I can hardly stand going in there. I’ve spoken to her about it and she insists she can’t smell it, though I feel she’s become immune to the smell. My husband doesn’t seem to notice it, not even her body odor. I’ve given her soap and shower gels telling her that they really smell nice in an effort to entice her to use them. After approaching her about this several times to no avail, I’m seeking your help in how to address this with her without her feeling that I’m always “on her case” about something. Please help!


Dear Mal,
I’m hoping what reeks isn’t your relationship with your daughter. Let’s cover the basics. It’s wonderful that she’s bathing regularly, but now that she’s hit puberty she must use deodorant. If she hasn’t been, get her a stick and say this is something every adult needs. If her clothes or sheets aren’t being washed regularly, then her laundry needs more attention. But frankly, Mom, your description of your daughter smelling as if she’s constantly having her period fails the sniff test. I have never in my life heard anyone say, “Nadine is such a lovely person, too bad she always smells like she’s menstruating.” There is however, a raft of medical conditions that can cause unusual body odor, so perhaps what you are picking up is an underlying malady that needs attention. Before you take your daughter to the doctor, you need the assessment of some other bloodhounds. You say your husband “doesn’t seem to notice.” Well, ask him to notice. Tell him to go into your daughter’s room when she’s in there and report back as to whether or not he agrees there’s something to your obsession. If that’s not conclusive, enlist a trusted, discreet female friend or two (women are noted to have a keener sense of smell) to get a whiff and let you know. If no one else understands what you’re talking about, then you’re the one with the condition that needs attention, Mom.


Dear Prudie,
A few years ago after my stepfather died, my mother, who has just turned 60, retired and moved in with me. I looked forward to her moving in but, unfortunately, the problem I foresaw has occurred. My mother has always been an introvert. But now she’s a hermit and her world revolves around me. There are times when I feel like I’m suffocating. She cries at what she perceives as the slightest criticism. She often cooks and burst into tears one night because I grated some cheese to go with dinner which showed that she “couldn’t do anything right.” She has become incapable of doing the simplest things; she calls me at work to ask if she should buy cucumbers. She’s passive-aggressive and gets angry if I spend too much time with friends over the weekend, even though I usually invite her to come along. She even follows me around the house. I don’t want it to be this way but I don’t know how to fix things without hurting her. What do I do?

—When Did I Become the Mother?

Dear When,
The good news is that given the actuarial tables, you only have to deal with your needy, weepy, passive-aggressive, helpless mother for about 30 more years! First, get Mom a check-up. She may be depressed and medication could give her a different outlook. But it could be that she might not need pills, and would be less of a pill, if she gets out of the house and back into the world. You say she retired, so at one time she managed to function at work. She needs to get out there again, either earning some money or volunteering. I cannot see how you can envision a future in which each evening you allow yourself to be stalked by your own mother. She is not old and unless she is destitute, she needs to find other living arrangements. Since everything hurts her, you can’t deliver this message without inflicting pain, so toughen up and speak up. Some time soon after you survive the suffocation of this Sunday’s Mother’s Day, let her know that things have to change.


Dear Prudence,
I have a wonderful toddler and am pregnant with my second child. Mother’s Day doesn’t feel very special to me because since I’ve been a mother it’s been an argument on to how to spend the day. My parents live three hours away, and I’d like to see my mother and 92-year-old grandmother, whom I see only every other month. My husband’s family lives 10 minutes away and my mother-in-law watches my toddler (for free) every day. I’m grateful, but she and I have never had a good relationship. She’s stated that in-laws aren’t really part of the family, that you are nice to them because you are supposed to be. If we spend time with my parents for a weekend, she guilt-trips my husband into spending more time with his family the following weekend. She’s exhausting. This year, I’d like to just ignore Mother’s Day. My husband doesn’t want to see my parents because he doesn’t want to leave his mother out. He’d rather visit his mother and let my son and me see my parents for the weekend. My husband and I both have siblings who will be there to celebrate with our mothers. Am I being unreasonable in thinking I should have some say in Mother’s Day, and that it could be a day where I sleep in, don’t have to clean, or change diapers? A holiday where we can just do what we want as a family?

—Mothers Don’t

Dear Don’t,
Before the birth of your second child someone needs to pull your husband aside and clue him in that you’re a mother, and that one of his obligations is to make a day special for you, and not just scurry around hoping to keep his own mother from getting in a snit. The dynamic that’s been established needs addressing in a more global way, and that’s better done apart from the stress of Mother’s Day expectations. But as for this event, it seems as if your primary wish is to spend this day as a family with your family. That is eminently reasonable, and your husband should accompany you because that’s what husbands do, and also because driving by yourself with a toddler is no fun. He can explain to his own mother that all of you will celebrate a postponed Mother’s Day the following weekend. Let’s say she has a fit. Then your husband has to say he’s sorry but your own little family can’t be two places at once. Your mother-in-law’s baby-sitting may not cost money, but the implicit price is that she gets to make incessant demands. If you and your husband don’t start establishing limits, you’ll find the emotional costs to be exorbitant, and you may be better off just paying a professional sitter. I think Mother’s Day is a silly holiday, but you shouldn’t be dreading it because you feel neglected and manipulated by your nearest and his dearest.


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