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 email@example.com.)
Q. Interrupted Sex: My husband and I are in a loving marriage of eight years. We have a 14-month-old son, whom I still nurse. Our son still wakes up once or twice a night, requiring me to go in his room and get him back to sleep. The problem? This is a huge mood killer for, ahem, adult time. I have a hard time getting in the mood when I am anticipating needing to tend to our son. Worse yet is when he wakes up when we are in the midst of things. How can I mentally toggle between being wife and mother? This is exhausting!
A: The good news is that you and your husband are having sex often enough that this is a problem. A 14-month-old should be sleeping through the night. For human beings, sleeping through the night does not mean eight or more hours of complete unconsciousness. People go through wake and sleep cycles all night long. But what small human beings need to learn is how to put themselves back to sleep when they rouse briefly. You have trained your son that when his eyes open in the night, he can call out for a cuddle and a hot toddy fresh from Mom to help him to doze off again. Who wouldn’t want that? So it’s up to you to let him know that Mom’s cutting him off. Back when I was raising a little one, “Ferberizing” your baby was all the rage. Look up the Ferber method and see if you can use Dr. Ferber’s techniques. Definitely start weaning your son off the liquid night relief. When he cries out for you, you can go in, briefly make sure he’s all right, put a hand on his back, but do not nurse. This might provoke some initial protests, but soon he will learn that crying for you does not give him the reward he seeks. Then you and your husband will be able to reward each other uninterrupted for being such good parents that you know the value of when to ignore your child.
Q. Niece Sleepover Party: I am a 34-year-old single man with my own house and it has a pool. My 13-year-old niece wants to have a sleepover with some of her girlfriends so they can go skinny dipping. Her mother and another of the girlfriends mother would be there and I will be somewhere else. I am very uncomfortable with this even though no one can see them.
A: It’s your home, so it’s not happening if you don’t want it to. But as long as all the girls involved really want to do this and no one feels coerced—which is an issue for the mothers to talk out with the girls—I think it sounds like fun.
Q. Re: Interrupted Sex: We have an 11-month-old son and a 3½-year-old daughter. One thing we found when trying to do the Ferberizing, is to have me (husband) go in and check on the kid. That way you don’t get a tantrum about mommy not breast-feeding. As a husband/father, it helped my wife get more sleep, and be more focused on the adult time (and be more relaxed and less tired).
A: Great (and obvious—duh!) suggestion that Dad take on the checking on junior duties. Even a 14-month-old knows that while Dad may be fun, he’s a dry hole as far as warm, liquid relief is concerned. Once the son knows that only Dad is going to come when called—and not immediately!—the little boy is going to learn to just roll over and go back to sleep.
Q. Nude in Front of Children?: I recently read an article that said that parents shouldn’t be nude in front of their children past the age of 5. I have a 9-year-old stepdaughter who was raised by a single father since she was 3 months old. I’ve been her stepmother for the last two years. While her father never let her be in the room while he was naked, I have had no problem allowing her in the room while I’m changing clothes or letting her sit in the bathroom and talk to me while I’m in the shower. When her father and I first got together she hadn’t had any females in her life for any real amount of time and she was curious about my body. She asked questions like why I have hair down there and if she would have breasts someday. I answered her questions honestly and these days it doesn’t faze her at all to see me naked. My mother was always the same way with me when I was growing up and I think I grew up with a healthy body image. Have I been going about this wrong? Am I actually scarring my stepdaughter for life?
A: How glorious for your little girl that you have come into her life. You are doing it just right, so ignore that silly article. How great that she can learn from you what you learned from your mother about how bodies work and what to expect as she grows. There are wonderful books you can give her about her body. You two can even sit together and read selected portion and she can ask questions. But nothing beats seeing the real thing in a safe and loving environment. Keep going, Mom!
Q. Re: She Doesn’t Need to Night Wean: I completely disagree with your assertion that a 14-month-old should be sleeping through the night. While most kids do by that age, all kids are different and she doesn’t need to night wean if she doesn’t want to. All things come to an end at some point, and if she feels that she wants to react and respond when her son wakes up, then she should do that. Not all mothers want to put their kids in a position to wonder why on earth they aren’t coming for them when they’re sad and upset. I’d deal with the wake-ups and attend to his needs. The guilt derived from ignoring a crying baby is far worse than a little interrupted sexy time.
A: Another reader warned me that my response was going to provoke a lot of disagreement from those who believe in attachment parenting. If a parent wants to go to a child’s room multiple times a night, that person is not writing to me about how to get this to stop. I dislike the idea that one doctrinaire school of child-rearing is the only way to go. Children can be securely emotionally attached without being physically attached at times the parent doesn’t want. The original letter writer, I think, needs to stop the nightly milk runs, and doing so will be valuable for all the family members.
Q. Need More Sex: My wife and I have been married for about 18 months, and we are mostly happy together. The problem I have is that I want sex a lot more frequently than she does. When we first started seeing each other (about five years ago) we had sex four to five days a week. As our relationship became more emotionally intimate and we spent more time together, she wants to have less and less sex, so that now I’m lucky if we do it more than once a month. I have had the opposite feeling—as we spent more time together and got more emotionally attached, I want to have sex more and more frequently. She becomes extremely upset if I take care of myself in any way. What can I do?
A: Make sure that when you have that monthly encounter, you are using birth control. I get so many letters like yours from people who realized they were part of a couple with mismatched libidos, yet went on to marry. You have found that after 18 months of marriage you’ve done it fewer than 18 times—and it doesn’t sound as if those were greeted enthusiastically by your wife. Something went wrong a long time ago, and you two didn’t explore what that was. Sure, it would be worth seeing a professional now to try to save your marriage. But given that your wife doesn’t even want you to masturbate to relieve your normal urges, I think you should consider following the urge to talk to a divorce lawyer.
Q. Thanks for the B-day Wishes, I’m Sorry I Missed Yours: I had a birthday very recently, and while I was happy to receive many birthday wishes from friends and family, I felt guilty. Some of these friends who sent me well-wishes were on Facebook. I haven’t been on due to a lot of stress and upheaval. As such, I’ve missed a lot of birthdays of some of the same people wishing ME well. In some cases, I found out after their birthday passed and didn’t know what the protocol was to say, “Happy Birthday.” Some of these friends have had their special day a few days before I had mine. How should I approach this?
A: My minimalist approach to Facebook includes not reading news feeds. Perhaps this means I am unwittingly snubbing the important life events of people. But I don’t think being on Facebook requires a new etiquette burden of remarking on every jot and tiddle that others post about themselves. You don’t need to do anything except express your gratitude to those who noted your birthday. If you realize others have had one within recent days, the expression, “Happy belated birthday to you, too” works. Otherwise, do not apologize for failing to notice your friend’s impersonally posted news, be it a birthday or discovery of a favorite new soup.
Q. Re: Niece Sleepover: As a mom of daughters whose friends’ parents are sometimes more permissive and don’t mind letting their kids friends do “cool” things behind their parents’ backs, I would advise you to make sure every attendee’s parents were on board with this party. It would weird me out to be honest. Teenage girls skinny dipping at a man’s house (whether there or not)—totally creepy. Word will get around among their friends, too. Proceed with caution.
A: There are two issues here: The uncle, and the party. To take the latter, of course this should not be a “cool mom” fueled event. But I don’t find it impossible to believe a small group of pubescent girls who are good friends would want to do this. If girls are doing sports, don’t they change together in the locker room? But such an event would need every parent and child to be on board and no one to feel pressured to strip or stay naked. The uncle’s issue is if he doesn’t want his house to be used for such an event, then it should not happen. Someone suggested if it does happen, the uncle needs to have a rock-solid alibi accounting for his whereabouts during the entirety of the event. Someone else suggested the uncle probably has hidden cameras set up (even though he wrote he’s uncomfortable about such a party!). Surely it’s possible for a group of girls splashing naked together privately in a pool to be seen in a non-nefarious way.
Q. Money Matters: My ex-boyfriend died recently, shortly after we broke up. Much to my surprise, he left me a considerable amount of money. His mother, who never liked me, demands that I give it to them, saying I have no right to keep it since we were no longer together. Truth is, I couldn’t care less about the money; it won’t fill this hole and the pain I feel, but I don’t want to give it to her either. I was planning on donating it to different charity organizations he supported, but I can only imagine she’s never going to leave me alone if I do. Should I go against what I believe and give it to her for the sake of peace and moving on?
A: Since it is a considerable amount of money, do not make any decisions about it right now, but use some of it for a consult with an estate lawyer. Because you two had broken up, you want to see if his family might have an opening to make a claim against the estate. Even if they don’t have legal grounds for action, threatening or actually bringing a case—however specious—could make your life miserable. You are in the enviable position of being able to not care about a sudden windfall. But as much as you may have disliked his mother, she has just lost a grown child, so is in agony, and you can understand that she might displace her grief by focusing on you. I think your communication with the mother should go through a lawyer. Ultimately, it might be worth it to you to return a chunk to her just for the sake of making your decisions about what to do with the rest of the inheritance cleaner.
A: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week. Happy shoveling!
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