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. MIL Hates It When I Make Love to Her Son: My elderly MIL moved in with us after suffering chronic health problems. Since she came to live with us, I noticed she treats me with hostility every time I am intimate with my husband. Each “morning after” she will either refuse to look at me, make unnecessarily biting comments, or just glare at me when she thinks I’m not looking. I thought I was imagining it but after several months of living together, this is definitely the reason why. I’ve become paranoid about making love and we are very careful about being quiet—almost to the point of silence—but it hasn’t helped. I feel terrible asking my sick MIL to move out because of this, and I’m too embarrassed to have a discussion with her. Is there any solution to our problem?
A: Your situation gave me the strong feeling that I would prefer to be in the situation of a previous letter writer, whose mother-in-law was poisoning her. What you describe is intolerable and a perfect illustration of the maxim, “No good deed goes unpunished.” I’m almost always in favor of having a clear and direct conversation about an interpersonal problem. But you’re right, there’s really no way to say, “Dottie, when Larry and I make love, I notice the next day you’re extremely hostile to me. I’ve tried being more quiet, but it doesn’t help. Let’s figure out how to deal with this.” I’m actually having a hard time imagining feeling amorous in such circumstances, so I admire you and your husband for being able to be intimate. All of you are living in such close quarters that even without this problem, over the long haul you surely are going to want relief and privacy. You don’t say this living situation is until your mother-in-law gets back on her feet. “Chronic health problems” sounds rather ominous. So if this is permanent, you either develop a thick enough skin that you can ignore and laugh off her behavior, or you realize this isn’t working out and it’s time to find a different living situation for her. Since you say you’ve become paranoid about your love-making, that seems like a pretty decent sign that it’s time for mom to move on. That doesn’t mean you toss your mother-in-law into the street, but that you and your husband explore all the potential options. You could hire a social worker to help you sort through this. If you want to keep her living with you, perhaps it’s possible that you could all move to a place that has a mother-in-law suite, one that you make sure is thoroughly sound-proofed.
Dear Prudence: Evil Twin
Q. Income Gap and Kids: I was raised in a lower-middle-class home where money was virtually always tight. My oldest sister had a few children very young, so around the age of 8, I was expected to help out with infants, toddlers, and school-aged children. I went on to attend college and got a great job that I love. Right now I am at the stage in life where a lot of my friends and co-workers are having kids or have toddlers. A lot of their focus is on choices that seem, to me, a bit silly: organic cotton? Juicing? Dual language instruction from birth? I spent a good portion of my life around parents who had to make decisions like: How can I make sure I get to spend one waking hour with my child? Or, who should watch my kid—my stressed out mother with three teenagers, or my best friend who smokes constantly? I know that everybody has problems and there are people out there who had it much worse than me. But my nieces and nephews all turned out to be wonderful, smart, and caring people even though they didn’t learn baby sign language. I try my best to keep a straight face when a friend brings up baby yoga (?!?) but honestly I find it hard not to tell these parents what a luxury these problems they cite really are. Can you give me some ways of looking at this situation that help me respond to them in a more empathetic way?
A: I’m finding it pretty hard to believe that in the absence of hand-loomed organic cotton onesies, or locally sourced kale smoothies, that your nieces and nephews turned into robust, productive people. The best thing for you to do when new parents go down this conversational rabbit hole is to keep a sense of humor and have a way to change the subject. There’s hardly a more excruciating line of discussion than the minutiae of baby care, especially if you don’t have a baby. By changing the topic to the government shutdown, you would at least keep thematically on track by talking about indulged, spoiled children. With people you know well, when things get to be too much, you could say something like, “Organic baby food and baby yoga? I’m lucky I wasn’t arrested for child abuse. When I was helping to raise my nieces and nephews, I tossed them out in backyard to play then fed them Tater Tots and Oreos. The good news is that they’re all really smart and have great jobs. But now I’m wondering if with a few kale smoothies we would have produced a Bill Gates or Sheryl Sandberg!”
Q. Need My Own Space!: I live across the country from my father, and I try to visit at least once a year. In the past, I used to stay in an extra bedroom in his house, but ever since my brother remarried a much younger woman eight years ago, I’ll stay in a nearby motel if they are visiting at the same time. They are rather enthusiastic in the bedroom, and nothing weirds me out more than being at breakfast with my dad and hearing my brother and his wife thumping rhythmically in their room. My dad is either a bit hard of hearing, or I don’t know what, but he doesn’t even acknowledge that he hears it. The problem is that lately, Dad wants to know why I don’t stay in his home. I’m honestly a bit embarrassed to have to tell him I don’t want to hear my brother boinking his beloved, as it doesn’t seem to bother him a bit. I’ve tried explaining that I sleep better in a quieter house, but he has begun to insist that when I visit this Christmas, that I stay in my old room so I can be around more. Gah! Please help me figure out how to give Dad a stronger “no” that won’t be the most embarrassing thing ever!
A: Your letter has me celebrating the robust love lives of Americans, and the ability of people to feel horny with Mom or Dad in the next room. Since I’m one of those who isn’t able to function in the morning without a big cup of coffee, I’m impressed with the energy of your brother and his wife. Let’s give Dad credit that over breakfast he doesn’t say, “Can you pass the jam? And Daniel is really jamming it this morning!” Not hearing, or pretending not to hear, is the way to go on this one. What you describe is not your permanent living situation, so while I understand this makes you uncomfortable, it’s also funny. If you can just privately laugh it off, you’ll save some money and have more time with your father. However, part of being an adult means that if you prefer to stay at a motel, your father is not going to take away your car keys if you refuse to be in your bedroom before curfew.
Q. Re: Parents: Please don’t be so hard on these parents. Baby yoga is a way to get out of the house, speak with other parents, and stave off postpartum depression. I also live in a bilingual city where almost everyone tries to speak two languages to their kids. Here it’s commonplace, and it helps their language skills in general—as does learning sign language. Please don’t judge people for wanting the best for their kids, even when it seems at times like they’re going overboard. If these families are happy and healthy, there’s no reason to judge.
A: I agree with you it’s natural to go overboard with your child and there’s nothing pernicious about baby yoga or organic food. But the letter writer did identify a certain kind of obsessive parenting style that from the outside is both silly and dull. Being around all this indulgence is stirring up understandable and difficult feelings for the letter writer. But having a sense of humor about the lucky people she knows and likes is the best approach.
Q. Future Mom-in-Law Has No Boundaries: I’ve been with my boyfriend for four years and we have lived together for two years. His mom has absolutely no boundaries and she’s driving me crazy! I noticed when we first got together that his mom had some severe “hover parent” issues even though my boyfriend is in his late 20s. She calls and texts him multiple times a day at all hours of the day, sometimes even before 8 a.m. and after midnight. If he doesn’t return her calls or texts because he’s busy or annoyed at the barrage, she’ll often call or text me to check up on him. It’s annoying sometimes, but we’d dismissed it as one of her quirks. But lately she’s taken to “dropping by” our home unannounced and trying the front door. If it’s unlocked she lets herself in—we live in a small town, so we don’t always lock our doors when we’re awake and hanging out at home. She always has a reason (gift or some mail for my boyfriend) and acts hurt that we’re startled and bothered by her unannounced entrance. My boyfriend has gotten angry with her and asked her to please at least knock, but she continues to let herself in. Short of locking all the doors all the time, hiding, or moving far away, how do we let Mom know that we need a little adult privacy?
A: Maybe you leave the door unlocked, and when you hear Mom at it, you two hop into bed and start going at it—loudly. This week’s chat indicates that’s the American way. I think your question contains your solution. Yes, you lock the doors all the time, hide, then move far away. You forgot to mention entering the witness protection program—I think that’s going to be necessary, too. What your boyfriend needs to do is have a very blunt conversation with his mother and say things need to change and here’s how they’re going to. He explains he will have one short conversation or exchange one text with her a day. If she continues to barrage both of you, neither of you will answer. If she won’t stop, I know it’s a giant pain, but you two should change your phone numbers. You also set up a weekly time you will see her. Then you say that when she comes to the door unannounced, you won’t let her in. You explain to hate to be so rude, but particularly since you live so nearby, it’s important that as adults you all respect each other’s privacy. Then since I don’t think any of this is really going to work, you move far away.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. I’m off to dog yoga. Have a great week.
Check out Dear Prudence’s book recommendations in the Slate Store.
Our commenting guidelines can be found here.