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.)
Q. Seat Belts for the Whole Family: I’m having an ongoing discussion/argument with my husband regarding his seat belt use—or rather, lack thereof—and I’m hoping you can help me! We are in our early 30s and my husband grew up being taught from both his parents that seat belts don’t make a difference. His mom had an aunt who was unable to get out of a car after a nasty wreck because she became entangled in the belt, and died. This was of course tragic; however it was many, many years ago, and safety regulations have changed, but husband doesn’t listen to that argument. Husband himself rear-ended someone when he was in his early 20s and happened to walk away with just a few bruises, and he will use this to say, “See? I wasn’t hurt, and I won’t be hurt.” Between this and my FIL’s small town “I’ve never worn them, you can’t make me” attitude, my otherwise completely logical and amazing husband refuses to wear a seat belt. We now have a child on the way, and I’ve point blank told him once that child is born, he will be wearing the belt at all times, to which he rolls his eyes and acts like I’m spewing conspiracy theories. I’ve tried explaining it’s for the baby’s safety as well as his, and he just replies, “Well of course the kid will be buckled in!” How can I possibly convince him that his not being belted can endanger the life of everyone else in the car as well as his own life?
A: Of the four people in the car the night Princess Diana died, the only one who lived was the one wearing a seat belt. Your husband and his parents simply couldn’t be more wrong. Now that your husband is about to become a father, it might be worth it to do some research on seat belts to present to him—the National Transportation Safety Board and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety are a couple of places to start. The story of his aunt’s death is a family legend, but who knows how true it is, and likely this is an old story and seat belt technology has improved exponentially since then. I hope your husband knows he will be breaking the law if he refuses to wear a seat belt, particularly while driving with a child. Wearing a seat belt is no more a matter of personal preference than deciding on what the speed limit should be. But if logic won’t work, action might. From now on, refuse to drive with him unless he buckles up. Of course this might be inconvenient, but you can explain he is putting your new family at risk by exposing himself to the dangers of being unbelted. If an accident were to happen, he would be an uncontained missile in the car. Explain to him that you would rather not be caring for a new child and a brain-damaged husband, and you are not going along for the ride unless he obeys the law.
Dear Prudence: 7-Year-Old Holy Terror
Q. Stepbrother: I’m a 24-year-old woman who recently moved back home with my parents. My stepbrother is 31 years old and has never left the nest. After moving in, I noticed that my dirty unmentionables began disappearing. Last week, after entering my stepbrother’s room, I found an article hanging beneath his pillow. He’s been my brother for almost 15 years. I don’t know how to approach this. I love him, but I’m seriously creeped out. What should I do?
A: Do everything you can to get your finances together and move out. A stepbrother in his 30s who’s never left home and steals his sister’s dirty underwear—well, I hear those staccato violins squealing in the background. I’m not suggesting you personally are in danger, but there’s something seriously off with stepbrother, and you and your laundry would be better off at your own place. But his problem sounds larger than locking up your hamper. If your parents aren’t dealing with why their son never fledged, there is some serious pathology going on. Maybe it’s time to talk to your parents about what’s going on with Norman. Until you go on your own way, maybe you could put a lock on your bedroom door. Certainly you can leave a note on your basket of dirty undies, “Norman, hands off.”
Q. Re: For non-seat-belt wearer: Along with research and putting her foot down, the wife could present her stubborn husband with one of those tools that shatters car windows and slices seat belts in case of entrapment. I think they can go on a keychain.
A: Great suggestion. The husband knowing he can slice through the seatbelt might be enough to mollify him into wearing one. A nice, fat moving-violation fine might also help.
Q. My Daughter Is Isolated Because of Me: I’m writing because my daughter, who is 4 years old, is feeling isolated because of me. I have always had a hard time making and keeping friends. Even in grade school I had very few friends. I always felt like I didn’t belong anywhere, and I still carry that with me as an adult. My husband and daughter are my comfort zone. So now that I have a child, my problem, for lack of a better word, is affecting her. Every day she wants to do things that normal kids do, but sometimes I physically can’t go out the front door or even answer my phone when it rings. The thought of arranging play dates terrifies me. Prudie, I don’t know what to do, my daughter is suffering because of ME.
A: Despite your social problems you managed to connect with another person and form a loving marriage, so give yourself credit for this and use it as a platform to build on. Good for you for recognizing your own limits and not wanting them to interfere with your daughter’s happy functioning. It sounds, however, as if you’re suffering, and that has to be addressed. A cognitive behavioral therapist might be a good choice because the treatment would be focused on giving you exercises to help you overcome your difficulty in going out and socializing. You could tell your therapist one of your goals is to interact more with other parents so that your daughter has access to playmates. I hope your little girl has been in pre-school and that she is signed up for summer programs. That gives her easy access to other children and get-togethers. Try trading off small activities with other mothers. You could offer to take two of the girls out for lunch and to the playground one day, in exchange for the other mother doing it another. And it’s a little sexist to expect all childhood activities are filtered through moms. Let your husband step up and arrange play dates, too. Instead of beating yourself up, recognize what you’re doing well for your daughter, and address what you can do better.
Q. Re: Seat belts: I worked as an EMT several years—we’ve never unbuckled a dead person in an accident. We did see people thrown out of cars who were killed, and people who bounced around the inside of a car and were real messed up. Very, very rarely a person will get trapped inside a burning car, but that’s very much the exception. For the most part, cars in an accident blow up and burn only in the movies, not real life. I call anyone who does not put a child in a car seat a potential murderer.
A: Thanks for this from someone who has been at the scene of many accidents.
Q. Husband Thinks I’m a Pervert: My husband and I have had a disagreement lately. I see no problem walking around my house in my undies (and sometimes less), not really caring if the curtains are opened or closed. My husband (who won’t leave the bedroom without being fully dressed) thinks this makes me perverted since “anyone can look through the windows and see.” I think that as long as I don’t see anyone outside (and I do double-check) and I’m hardly doing a dance in front of the window, then it’s no big deal—typically I’m walking from point A to point B. Am I wrong for thinking there’s nothing wrong with what I’m doing in the privacy of my own house?
A: If walking around scantily or unclad in your own home makes you a pervert then the definition of that word has more elasticity than a bra strap. Couples often differ on what constitutes a comfortable level of hanging out when hanging around. Your husband sounds like a Richard-Nixon-walking-on-the-beach-in-a-suit type. You apparently feel any wardrobe is a malfunction when it comes to relaxing. I think partners should give each other a lot of leeway, but also respect respective sensibilities. If watching the playoffs on the couch in the nude is OK all around, great. But if one partner finds that distracting, the other should put on a robe or some minimal clothing. Of course you are entitled to walk around your house minimally (or not at all) dressed. But even if you scan the horizon to make sure no one is nearby, you can’t prevent others from coming along, glancing in your window, and getting an eyeful. For extended time around the home, you might be willing to compromise and wear a bathrobe, or shorts and a T-shirt, so that you’re relaxed but not on display.
Q. Re: Seat belts: From the OP, thank you for the support and ideas, and from the other commenters. I definitely feel more confident in telling him this is a nonnegotiable, starting now! (As for moving violations, he’s lucked out, and only had a couple.)
A: Great. Start putting this into action right away. Sometimes there are things for which there is no compromise, and seat belts are one.
Q. Lost Pregnancy: How Do I Handle Gifts?: After trying for nearly two years, including months of fertility treatments, my husband and I were thrilled to find out that I was pregnant. Our friends, family, and co-workers have shared in our excitement. One co-worker in particular was kind enough to give me enough maternity clothes to last the entire pregnancy. To show my gratitude, I sent her a thank you card and a gift certificate to one of her favorite haunts. Unfortunately, at the second trimester ultrasound we got some very bad news. The baby has a birth defect that is “not compatible with life.” (The birth defect was caused by a random genetic mutation and not the fertility treatments.) If I were to carry the pregnancy to term, he would live for a few hours at most. Rather than subject him to this suffering, my husband and I have decided that the most humane option is to terminate the pregnancy. When the timing is right, I would very much like to try to get pregnant again. While grieving this turn of events, I’ve also been preoccupied with how I should handle the maternity clothes. Do I offer to return them, and if so, how do I have that conversation? It’s a trivial matter compared to everything else that is going on, but I am loathe to offend someone who has been so generous with me.
A: I’m so sorry for your news, which is so sad and painful. There’s nothing unusual in being in an overwhelming situation and finding yourself focusing on a small, even trivial matter because the big things are just too hard. You didn’t say your co-worker loaned you the clothes, you said she gave them to you. You thanked her generously. So there’s nothing you need to do about this gift. Your co-worker would certainly hope—as you do—that in due time this gift will again be useful. So put the clothes away and don’t give them another thought. If you need to talk to others who have been through what you are going through, consider contacting Share, which is a support group for pregnancy and infant loss.
Q. Soon to Be Former In-Law: My wife and I just learned our daughter and her husband have decided to divorce. It’s for a reason discussed here before—he wants children, she doesn’t. We’re stunned and hurt because he was up-front about this and she has come to a conclusion which we feel is more about her social lifestyle than parenting. But it is what it is and it is her choice. Problem is that we’ve been crazy about the young man from the first time we met him (he’s everything you dreamed of your daughter marrying, i.e. funny, successful, outgoing) and now we are experiencing an incredible sense of loss. It just sounds too weird to think of trying to maintain a relationship with him, after all he’s got time to go meet someone else, marry, and have a family, and our daughter would never forgive us. But we’re experiencing severe depression over this, to the point where we’re actually communicating less with our daughter who we believe is the unreasonable party in this case. What should we do to go on from here?
A: This is a loss. It’s a loss of someone you’ve come to love dearly, and it’s the loss of a future you thought would happen. But you’re right that it’s only going to be destructive to you to take your son-in-law’s side in this situation. He will move on, and you don’t want to have a damaged relationship with your daughter. This doesn’t mean you have hide everything you’re feeling, you just have to temper it. You can tell your daughter you feel a sense of mourning because she did choose someone wonderful to spend her life with, and unfortunately it hasn’t worked out. Since she couldn’t be persuaded by the man she loves to have children, there’s no good to come out of your telling her how superficial you feel her decision is and how likely she is to regret it. As you say, this is her choice. If you have some dear friends you feel comfortable in confiding in, this is the kind of thing that it helps to just get off your chest. If you don’t want to talk about this with your social group, seek sort-term counseling. Sometimes you just need a sympathetic ear and a box of Kleenex.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks so much, everyone. Talk to you next week.
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