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: I’m sorry for the people who have to be out on this snowy Monday (props to the Washington Post delivery guy and our mailman!) but I am enjoying this last blast of winter.
Q. Opportunity Knocks: My 16-year-old daughter got accepted to a very prestigious Ivy League summer program. She can probably get a scholarship to cover the tuition, but not housing. My brother has offered to put her up, but she would have to walk a mile and a half to the subway and then change trains before getting to campus. I haven’t been there, don’t know how safe the route is, and I’m not sure my brother would recognize if it were dangerous. He’s got a good heart, but he’s oblivious. He smokes pot daily and his judgment gets even less reliable when he’s high. He’s also not in a happy relationship. His girlfriend, whom I like, often threatens to throw him out. We can’t afford to send my daughter unless she stays with them. I should add that we live in a town of 700 on the opposite coast. My daughter has had very little exposure to urban living. I think that navigating the city without any responsible adult guidance is what worries me most. I want the best for her, but I’m not sure if it’s worse to send her or to have her miss out on such a great opportunity.
A: You need to contact the university and explain your situation. Say that you don’t have the money to pay for her housing and wonder what resources are available. Yes, the program sounds great. But her potential living situation sounds like a disaster. However responsible your 16-year-old is, you know you don’t want her coming home to your stoned brother who’s in a volatile relationship. Seeing this would give your daughter an education, but not the kind you want. If there simply isn’t the money to make this work, you need to start looking around for other things for your daughter to do this summer. Getting a job or volunteering at a local community organization will not be as exciting as being on an Ivy League campus in another part of the country, but those experiences closer to home can be just as valuable.
Dear Prudence: Hijacked Confection
Q. Creep: Some 35 years ago, a friend of the family molested me. My parents always refused to accept that anything untoward had happened and continued the friendship to this day. A few years after the event, our family went to the funeral of this man’s oldest daughter, who committed suicide by an overdose. His son was in treatment for addiction and confided to me that his father had beaten and raped him and his two sisters throughout their childhood. The surviving sister could not attend because she was incarcerated, which I cannot help but believe was the result of a history of abuse. Scroll forward to this weekend, when this serial abuser shuffled off this mortal coil due to advanced old age (and without any of the suffering I wished for him). My parents are eager for me to “put the past behind me” and attend the funeral of their old friend so I can listen to my father deliver a touching eulogy to a “loving father” and “pillar of the community.” As you can imagine, I am less than impressed. I obviously have no intention of attending, but this and other issues make me wonder if I really need to be involved with my own family. They were never the greatest parents and I don’t think that I can ever forgive the fact that they stood by when they knew something was wrong and to this day continue to ignore something that cost a young woman her life and hurt at least three other young people (I believe far more). Am I overreacting? Breaking ties with them would honestly cost me nothing emotionally but they are increasingly dependent on my support. I am afraid I get great satisfaction from the idea that they would suffer from my decision not to support them when they need it, just like I and others suffered from their decision not to support me when I needed it.
A: Your parents and their “friend” sound like something out of True Detective—the gripping HBO show about a malevolent conspiracy to protect a ring of rapists and murderers. Your parents want you to attend the funeral of a man who molested you so that afterward you can praise your father for his stirring eulogy. This is chilling, and given the tragic and painful trajectory of this man’s children (his victims), indicates something more sinister than mere denial on your parents’ part. I completely understand and support your desire to break off relations with your parents, even if you didn’t need the grotesquerie of this funeral to push you to this point. I also want to urge you to talk to a therapist who has experience with abuse. You want to move forward in a way that is healthiest for you; there is a lot of ugly history for you to work through.
Q. Sexiled: I traveled out of town for a wedding and arranged to share a room with a friend. She met someone at the wedding and wanted to bring him back to our room for the evening, and I agreed that I could find somewhere else to crash. She didn’t leave me time to get my stuff out of the room before they went in, so I was the one doing a walk of shame heading back to my room in the morning in my wedding attire! I’m not going to bring it up, but I’m wondering since we had prepaid for the room whether she should have offered to repay me for the night that I didn’t actually spend in it?
A: You are a thoughtful friend to go scurrying out of your room sans toothbrush or pajamas so someone else can have an emergency hook-up. It’s true that weddings can be hotter events for the guests than even the bride and groom, but at minimum those who have gotten lucky should not leave their solo friends to wander the halls looking for an empty bed. If you were willing to vacate, you should have insisted at the least on gathering your things. Your friend should have repaid you for leaving you roomless, and you should expect that she’ll never bring it up.
Q. Re: Ivy League summer program: Does the family go to a house of worship? Some of the teens I know from church get “sponsored” by a family in the city the child is going to. Those host families belong to the same church as the other family, and the cost is minimal, if at all. And, the teen usually gets a family with children around the same age.
A: Thanks for the suggestion. Someone else has suggested asking the school if there’s a way to find out through the alumni association if any local graduates would be willing to have a student live with them while attending the program.
Q. Next-Door Neighbor’s Cat Has Adopted Me: My husband and I live in one half of a duplex with our cat. The other half is rented by three young single guys, one of whom has a cat. The cat has “adopted” us—whenever we come home, the cat is there, running in the front door, even jumping in our cars before we can get out! The cat is not well fed, and we’ve started feeding it and taking care of it, but not letting it stay in the house out of respect for our neighbors. The cat is left outside all day and night, and coyotes run around our neighborhood. We worry that a coyote will get it. I know the cat is owned by our neighbors, but has “chosen” us. Is there ever a point at which we can “accept” the cat’s decision and keep it with us? I feel just awful sending it away, but at the same time don’t want to steal someone’s pet.
A: There is a moral obligation to having a pet and these guys have abrogated it. It sounds as if you really like the cat and want to provide it with a good home. So go over to your neighbors, explain you are concerned about the cat’s health and safety, that it has informally adopted you, and you want to make the adoption formal. Say you’d be happy to provide ample visitation. Let’s hope the purported owner agrees. If not, I think you should just start letting the cat spend the night. The jerk next door won’t even notice.
Q. Adoption and Family: My husband and I tried to have children by every means available for 10 years. We are currently in the process of adopting two beautiful and wonderful children that we absolutely adore. I do what I can to protect them from negative comments regarding their placement and adoption, but I have a mother-in-law that continues to call my SIL’s children her “real grandchildren” despite my husband’s speaking with her about how this is hurtful and damaging to our family. It is to the point that I do not want to visit or go to family functions to avoid putting all of us in that situation, but my husband says the kids will need to toughen up and learn to handle these issues in a positive manner. Do you have any suggestions on how we can handle my MIL in a constructive way?
A: I’d be tempted to buy Grandma a one-way ticket to Ukraine, put her on the plane, and wish her a long, well-deserved holiday. Your husband is right that parents can’t protect their children from every nasty experience or person. But when one of the nastiest is the kids’ grandmother, then you have to step in. Perhaps your mother-in-law would agree to attend just a couple of sessions with your social worker to talk about adoption issues. Maybe hearing from a professional how damaging it is to make a distinction between adopted and biological children will bring some enlightenment to this insensitive twit. If that doesn’t work, then your husband has to tell your mother that he cannot allow his children to be addressed in such a destructive fashion and that limiting contact with his family is the last thing he wants, but he is going to be forced to. He can say to her that surely as a mother she can understand that the number one obligation of parents is to look out for the welfare of their children.
Q. Adoption Refusal: I’m being asked to give advice in a situation that I have no idea how to handle. My mother and father have recently received guardianship of my aunt’s (mom’s sister) two children, ages 4 and 7. They were removed from my aunt and uncle’s house by the state due to unsafe living conditions and evidence of drug use by the parents. My mother jumped at the chance to take them before they ended up in foster care. Currently they are doing well, except for a few issues that stem from living in a drug house with neglectful parents. It is taking all of my mother’s time and energy to care for these two children in addition to my brother and sister who are 9 and 15. Recently we found out my aunt is pregnant again, about 5 months along. We know she’s been drinking and abusing, and with the current situation it’s likely the state will take the baby away as soon as it’s born. My mom asked me if I think they should take this new baby as well should that happen. I hedged because the answer I want to give is different from what my mom expected to hear. She thinks I should be all for it, but Prudie, I don’t think my mom can handle another baby! I think the baby should be adopted out, however my aunt is refusing to even consider it. I’m being expected to give my full support on this and I just can’t. I don’t think my aunt should be given an easy way out instead of having to clean up her act to take care of her children. What do I say to this?
A: I hope there is a case worker your mother trusts dealing with the families. If not, and your family can afford it, it would be extremely helpful to hire a social worker with expertise in these kinds of situations. The authorities have to be notified that your aunt is drinking and taking drugs, which as you know could have profound consequences for this poor baby. Your mother has asked your advice, and you have to be honest. I agree that bringing two children with enormous emotional needs into an existing family is stressful enough. Caring for an infant who likely will have additional medical issues could be overwhelming, and having your mother deal with more than she can handle will not be good for anyone. Again, I hope there are reliable professionals who can help guide your family through this very hard time. Sadly, in some cases there are no good answers, and all people can do is struggle through and try to protect the vulnerable.
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