Dear Prudence

Baby Is a Secret

I raised my children very strictly. How can I ever tell them I put a baby up for adoption as a teen?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence, 
I was raised as part of a large, tight-knit extended family with traditional values. About 30 years ago, as a young teenager, I violated the rules of abstinence and chastity I had been raised with and became pregnant. Abortion was not a consideration and my mother insisted that the child be placed for adoption. She was doing what she thought best. Although I have a wound in my heart for the child given away, my life has been in many ways blessed and beautiful. My husband knows my secret past and understands what happened to me. Now my youngest child is the same age I was when I had that first pregnancy. I have raised my sons and daughters with very strict traditional values and oversight. They have made me proud in living up to and exceeding all of my expectations. Recently, while I was shopping, a stranger stopped me and told me she knew of someone who so strongly resembled me it could be my adult child. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but the mere possibility that my child could be close by floored me. Part of me has always hoped for a reunion with that lost baby, and the other part of me has always feared that my children would think of me as a hypocrite and hate me if they were to find out. I truly do not know what to do if that child tries to find me. I want them to understand I raised them as strictly as I did because I love them and want to spare them the pain I experienced. Should I continue to keep this secret from my children?

—One More Child

Dear One More,
If you tell your children the truth and they hate you, then you haven’t done as good a job raising them as you think. I hope that amid the high expectations and strict oversight, you also spoke to them about fallibility and forgiveness. You have several issues to consider. You’re right that the shopper who approached you may just have been noting your random resemblance to a stranger. But that person might also been an inadvertent messenger, who has now let you know your child is near. So you have to consider whether you want to seek your first-born, keeping in mind he or she may not be interested in being found, or in finding you. But whatever you decide on that front, it’s time you and your husband sat down with your kids and told them the truth. Not to prepare them in case someone appears on your doorstep one day, but because it’s the right thing to do. When you talk to them, don’t be defensive or overwrought. You need to say to them there’s something you’ve kept from them for too long, but now they’re all old enough to understand its import. Say this secret has been a source of sadness and shame, and you want to free yourself of that burden. Sure, there will be confusion and shock—and great curiosity. I’m also betting that you will be overwhelmed with their support and love, and that they will appreciate your acknowledging what they’ve known all along: that nobody, including their mother, is perfect.


Dear Prudence,
I recently moved in with my boyfriend of about two years. Everything has gone pretty well, except one. My boyfriend has always had a very strong libido—I have no complaints about that—but lately his desire has been over the top, and the other night he crossed a new line. I have not been as aroused lately due to some issues outside of our relationship, and it has been a little hard on him. The other night when I came to bed (he was already asleep), he woke up and, as I was drifting away, I felt the bed shake a little. I look over to discover that he was masturbating right there next to me. I told him I found it gross, and he said that most other people would just join in! Am I wrong for thinking this crosses some sort of politeness barrier? I feel icked out and don’t know what to do.

—Sleeping Beat-y

Dear Sleeping,
Your boyfriend was aroused by the nearness of you, and because you’ve made clear you’re not available sexually at the moment, he decided to take care of himself. He was being both flattering and polite. I agree with him that in response to the bed tremors, you could have offered to lend a hand. Be glad that you’re not one of those women whose partner finds the Internet infinitely more gripping than her. Even people who enjoy the most robust sexual relationship can sometimes desire quick, personal self-relief. There is nothing icky about that. Living together is supposed to enhance your intimacy with your boyfriend in every way, and that means having a better understanding of his sexual desires and expression. Tell your boyfriend you’re sorry you overreacted and you’re going to work on being less prudish.


Dear Prudence,
I recently finished my Ph.D., and the time has come to move onward to the next phase of my life. I want to become a university professor, so I’ll have to complete one or two post-doctoral fellowships. The situation at this point is promising, provided I keep up my current record of research and teaching. My girlfriend of five years, however, anchors me to one city. Alone, I could potentially go anywhere and work on the cutting edge of my field. With her, I’m stuck with a serviceable career. Her own ambitious career path likely prevents her from following me, and we’ve already been through several years of being long-distance. I feel like it might be a good time to cut things off, but I am having trouble justifying breaking up. I still love her, and it seems a cruel thing to do to for such practical reasons. But I also feel as if I should be focusing on my work and follow wherever it leads. What should I do?

—Heartless Academic

Dear Heartless,
There are all sorts of incompatibilities which torpedo romances, and though it is utilitarian, geographically irreconcilable differences is a perfectly legitimate one. Both of you are ambitious professionals who want to see where your drive and smarts will take you. That’s probably one of the things that drew you to each other. Your girlfriend sounds committed to a career which limits where she can live. But after pouring all those years of study into your Ph.D., it’s nuts for you not to see where it can take you. Sadly, that might be permanently away from her. So you two need to talk this out. Explain you owe it to yourself to go to the best program you can. Then apply widely. When you find out where you’ve been accepted, see if she has any flexibility in following you there. But if what you’re really feeling is that this relationship has run its course, then to stay together so as not to appear heartless is not listening to your own heart.


Dear Prudence,
My 12-year-old daughter has been invited to two birthday parties that take place a few weeks before her own birthday party. Although she is not close friends with either of the girls, she is happy to attend and bring a gift. The problem is that she does not want to invite them to her birthday party. She tells me that the two girls don’t get along with her friends. I know the two girls and I understand what she is talking about. When I told her that she should decline their invitations if she was not willing to reciprocate, she explained that she was afraid that they wouldn’t have many people at their parties and she didn’t want to make them sad. So, which is kinder: to decline an invitation when you don’t want to reciprocate, or to go and make them unhappy when they don’t get an invitation in return?


Dear RSVP,
Your daughter is a girl with an admirable emotional intelligence. Ideally you’re right that everyone goes round-robin style to these middle school celebrations. But I agree with your daughter that it is kinder to accept their invitations and join in the festivities than to snub them because of not wanting to reciprocate. You indicate the two birthday girls have social issues. You can gently bring this up with your daughter and discuss the possibility of her making a magnanimous gesture by including them. But if she doesn’t want to do it, and is only having her closest friends, then that’s an acceptable decision. It’s important, however, that these girls are not the only ones excluded. A good general rule for school-year birthday parties is that either everyone gets an invitation or less than half do. But it sounds as if your daughter is sensitive enough to know how to be cordial to all and understands that leading up to her event the party talk should be understated. 


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