Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online 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.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions and comments today!
Q. Fiancée’s Kids and Responsibilities: My fiancée and I are totally in love, and her two girls (3 and 4) are well-fed, bathed, and are at the doctor’s office every time they are ill. The issue is the attention that they are paid when I am in the house. When I’m at home lying in bed or otherwise relaxing, their mother ignores them completely—both literally and figuratively. She will close the bedroom door and leave the girls to do as they will in the common areas of the house, devoting all of her attention to me. It’s not that I don’t love the attention—I do—it’s just that I feel for these two small children, as they have to come knocking at our bedroom door if something needs their mom’s attention. Their knocks are met with an exasperated sigh from my fiancée, who deals with the situation quickly and returns to fawning all over me. I love her, but isn’t this detrimental to their psychological well-being? She had them both at a young age, and her ex was cold and their marriage loveless. Please advise.
A: Even a dog that got food and baths but no love would be neurotic. You are right to be concerned about your fiancée’s behavior toward her children. These kids are so young that they need supervision. Being a good mother does not mean hovering and showing her children at all times that nothing else in the world matters to her but focusing on them—just the opposite. However, if you found out a babysitter went in the other room and closed the door behind her on a 3-year-old and 4-year-old, you’d fire that person immediately. Good for you for feeling queasy about all the attention she focuses on you at the expense of her children. She may indeed regret having them so young and may be feeling she lost her own youth to them. That’s something she needs to face and address, which she can’t do by literally trying to shut them out of her awareness. If you are to continue this relationship and step in as a stepfather, now is the time for you to establish some rules that will help this family function. You two are entitled to time alone, so that means hiring a babysitter. When you’re all together, and the girls are awake, that means being responsible for them, and I hope engaging them. They have already had a tough start in life. You could set this family in another, healthier direction, but only if you are willing to speak up and then act.
Q. I Can See Everything: This may be a trivial question, but I keep seeing women who are wearing see-through, black athletic leggings. Maybe these came from Lululemon’s bad batch of low-quality leggings. Or maybe they just don’t know that I—and everyone around me on the bus or at the gym or at the grocery store—can see their flowery granny panties. Is it better for me to clam up and not say anything? Or quietly approach them and mention that their pants offer less coverage than they think?
A: So you’re considering going up to strange women and saying, “I see London, I see France, I see your flowered granny underpants.” Weigh the possibility of someone reacting very badly in response to your public (pubic?) service announcement, against the clear benefit of keeping it zipped.
Q. Supporting Local Business: Down the block from my apartment is a charming mom and pop pharmacy. I’ve been going there for the last 12 years, and the people who work there are always helpful and cheerful. I need medications for a chronic illness, so I see them regularly. One of my doctors suggested that I look into my insurance company’s mail order and I was shocked to see that I’d save about $900 a year! I feel like it’d be nuts to not save that life-changing amount of money, but I feel absolutely terrible about taking my business away from the hardworking people who have been so good to me over the years. If I switched to mail order, I’d still need to use the local pharmacy for occasional antibiotics, etc., and I just don’t know how I could look them in the eye. I’d love to be able to give the finger to the corporate bully system and support local business, but $900 is a lot of money to save! What should I do?
A: If you were the difference to them between survival and going under, they’re going under. I assume if you got an opportunity in another city, you wouldn’t stay just to keep floating Mom & Pop, as charming and attentive as they are. Of course you are torn, but you simply can’t forgo a “life-changing” amount of money in order to be a customer of a business whose model is being swept aside. Once you switch you may be tempted to avoid the store completely out of guilt. But besides antibiotics, you can continue to support this neighborhood business by generously purchasing the kind of sundries from them you could get more cheaply elsewhere.
Q. Do I Have to Invite My Creepy Uncle to the Wedding?: My fiancé and I are planning our wedding. My aunt and uncle are my godparents and I would love for my aunt to not only attend our wedding but participate in some way, maybe by doing a reading. My uncle, on the other hand, gives me the creeps. He has gotten into legal trouble for exposing himself to men in bars. We don’t know of any inappropriate behavior with children. I know that etiquette dictates that if you invite someone who is married, you invite their spouse. I just really don’t want him there! There’s a chance that he will choose not to come, as he’s made himself scarce since all of this went public a couple years ago but I don’t want to send the invitation and cross my fingers that he won’t come. My aunt has chosen to stay with him. I am a devoted reader and I love your pragmatic approach, so I would love to hear your thoughts!
A: I understand your uncle gives you the creeps because he is a sex offender. But while his behavior is awful, sad, and has gotten him into legal trouble, I don’t see how it’s relevant to your wedding. Let’s assume he’s not so out of control that he’s going to pull one of his stunts at your wedding. You’re right that married couples get invited in tandem. You can make an exception for the most egregious cases, but I don’t think your uncle’s rises to level of his needing to be banned. As you note, you may be in luck and he may decline. Invite them both, and if he shows up, treat him as you would any other guest.
Q. Re: I Can See Everything: Disagree about your requirement to stay mum. Flashing people is a crime, so almost flashing is very rude to say the least. This is an almost-flashing case and I think the perpetrators should be well informed of this.
A: Everyone should have a full-length mirror and before leaving for the day should make sure the flowered panties aren’t visible through the leggings. But wearing sheer clothing is just not the same as someone deliberately flashing their genitals. I think you’re on the wrong track if you’re suggesting this man go up to strange women and accuse them of exposing themselves.
Q. Re: Supporting Local Business: Why not ask if they can match the online pharmacy’s prices? If not, you’ve given them a chance to keep you as a customer and can continue looking them in the eyes!
A: Another commenter says it may be possible to ask for a rebate on the co-pay. Thanks for the suggestions and I agree that this customer could talk to the owner and say she wants to continue patronizing their store, explain what moving to mail order would mean for her, and see if the pharmacy can come close to meeting her savings. (But ultimately, I wonder if cutting their profit margin to keep a customer is a downward spiral way of staying in business.)
Q. Teaching a Man to Fish: My fiancé is a high earner with an annual income in a seven-figure range. He financially supports his parents and two siblings fully. The elderly parents I understand, but his siblings are in their late 20s and I don’t understand why they are living off their brother rather than working. By the way, both of them have degrees and are completely capable of working if they wanted to. While we were dating I didn’t say anything as I thought it wasn’t my place. Now that we’re about to get married, I want to put an end to this. How should I bring this topic up without causing offense?
A: You’re marrying a 1-percenter, so I’m surprised he hasn’t initiated a discussion that involves the concept of “pre-nuptial agreement.” I agree that when you’re dating someone, their financial relationship with their family members is not your business. But marriage makes your joint finances your business. You two need to be able to talk about money—and I guess that means specifically his. But you do not go about this by saying, “Now that I’m marrying you, time to cut off those parasitical, deadbeat siblings of yours!” Instead, you say you two need to talk about how you’re going to handle your assets. In the course of that discussion, it will be natural to talk about his siblings. Maybe there’s a strange family dynamic at work and he feels psychologically inflated by seeing his siblings as helpless and dependent on him. Maybe he would welcome having someone on his side to help him get out from under this burdensome obligation. But you will lose if your approach is to go into this expecting to give him orders.
Q. Re: Granny Panties: I was the original questioner on this, and I must say, I’m a woman. Let me say this again, I’m not a man of any kind, creepy or otherwise. I once had on a long maxi skirt that, unbeknownst to me, was see-through across the rear when out in full light, something that I couldn’t see in the lighting at home. It wasn’t until someone gently told me that I realized I’d been flashing everyone all day!
A: Thank you for calling out my sexist assumption! I’m still going to say clam up. It’s one thing if you see someone having a clothing malfunction—a woman wrote in about being grateful that a man informed her that the back of her skirt was stuck under her backpack. But if you gaze out on the street, particularly in summer, you would not be able to walk down a block without informing someone that you can see acres of their skin, or their clothing is so sheer that you know they like Jockeys for women. When it comes to clothing that accidentally reveals more than you intend, ideally a friend or co-worker will pull you aside. I think if you take on this role with strangers, you will earn more anger than gratitude.
Q. Underage Party at My House: My husband and I were away for a night and left our 18-year-old daughter home with a friend who was visiting from out of town. We came home the next day and figured out that there had been a party at our house. It wasn’t massive but there were about 12 18-year-olds over, who were drinking alcohol that had been purchased by one of my daughter’s friend’s older sister. No damage was done to the house, no one drove drunk, and no neighbors were aware of a party so they acted somewhat responsibly. Because of this, my husband does not think that we should punish our daughter or tell the other kids’ parents. I don’t want to tell all the parents—just the ones whose older daughter purchased the alcohol because I think she is like a drug dealer, and should be held accountable. My husband and I are really debating this. Can you please weigh in?
A: I’d weigh in, but I’m too busy cleaning up the red Solo cups littering my basement that I found when my husband and I returned from an evening out and we discovered our 18-year-old daughter did some entertaining. I know, I know, I know, drinking under the age of 21 is illegal. But as the majority of parents of 18-year-olds know, this law is highly unenforceable, and frankly I think it’s more dangerous to send kids to college being completely naive when it comes to alcohol. Within the context of what happened, I agree that your daughter and her friends were not out of control and when you’re out of town, folks, this is what happens when you have young adults under your roof. Please do not rat out anyone. The older sibling is not a drug dealer, she’s a kid with an ID that allows her to purchase alcohol. Your calling other parents will likely only have the effect of alienating your daughter, a girl who I assume will be leaving soon anyway. Tell your daughter you will not talk to any other parents about the party, but you would just like an account of the evening.
Q. Relatives: I am the oldest of six children raised in a physically and emotionally abusive single-parent home; drug and alcohol abuse were a rampant part of my childhood. At the age of 16 I left home. I attended college and been employed for over a decade at a good job where I have prospered. I have created a very stable life for myself and my family. However, I am the only one. I have no desire to reconnect with my siblings (who are in and out of jail and rehab, with one having an extensive felony record doing time in prison) or my mother. My mother has recently been admitted to a nursing home, and her social worker has reached out to me for assistance. Am I wrong to refuse? The limited contact I have had with any of my family for the last 20 years has always involved their begging/shaming me for money, and my mother was the worst. Some of my siblings have sent me pleas to help, but to be honest, I don’t want to. Should I? Should I feel guilty over this? None of them were there to help me get to where I am and we all faced the same challenges in life.
A: I hope you can look upon your siblings with compassion because their sad lives are common outcomes of such a destructive childhood. You are a phoenix who made it out, and I think your primary obligation is to your mental health, your family, and your work. It’s understandable your mother’s social worker has reached out, but you should explain that you have not had a relationship with her for many decades and that’s not going to change. As I’ve written, people who come from childhoods such as yours and make it out often have to deal with people who do not understand what they went through, and who encourage renewing relationships. They may be well-meaning, but they simply don’t understand that such contact can come at a high emotional cost—PTSD, anyone?—and no one should be pressured into this. So do not let anyone try to guilt trip you into getting back in touch or writing checks. You can express your sadness at the current situation while you also stand firm and decline to get involved. And if all this makes you feel you’re being pulled back into the maelstrom, consider looking into short-term therapy.
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