Dear Prudence

A Village of One

Prudie counsels a letter writer committed to raising a deceased friend’s kids despite the challenges.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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

Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon everyone. I look forward to your questions.

Q. My Best Friend Passed Unexpectedly and Now I Have Her Kids: My best friend since college died suddenly. Prior to her death we had talked about my getting custody of her children in the event of such an occurrence. She was a single mother by choice and fortunately could afford to do it. I have been with her from Day 1 and have watched her babies grow up and consider them to be as much mine as hers. She had been estranged from her family for many years so there was never any question as to who would care for them if she was unable. Some months before the accident I became engaged but now that there are kids in the picture he has put the brakes on the engagement. He always seemed to like children, and had expressed interest in having a family, but now he is saying that he isn’t sure he wants the responsibility of taking on a pair of grieving 5-year-olds. I am naturally very hurt but agreed that if he doesn’t feel he can commit to being a father then we cannot be married. How do I explain to people who are expecting me to be getting married in the next nine months that it is no longer happening without going into all the details of our life?

A: What an extraordinary act of love you have committed. These children who have lost so much are blessed to have you there to nurture them through life. That you are willing to become a parent to your friend’s grieving young twins at the expense of your own personal happiness speaks volumes about your character. I only hope that people in your circle are rallying around you, offering to help with the kids, giving you relief, and supporting you through this tough transition. It will be obvious to everyone that your life has changed dramatically, and you don’t have to say anything but that you’re focusing on the kids and have put plans for marriage aside for now. Your fiancé’s reaction is not admirable, but neither should he be condemned. It is better that he be honest about his misgivings than he pretend to be on board and then quickly bail. I think it’s still possible he could come around. You need to tell him you understand his concerns and that one can only come into this situation freely. Say you appreciate that he understands your moral obligation to raise the children. Get babysitters and make sure you regularly make time for just the two of you. Then have contained time together with the four of you—a morning at the zoo, a trip to a park. Suggest you both get some counseling to bat out these issues with a neutral party. And on the bottom of your long list of things to attend to is the need to explain to outsiders what’s going on in your personal life.

Q. Pro-Life Friend Gets Abortion: My friend, a pro-life activist who pickets abortion providers, recently got pregnant from a fling. Shockingly, she decided to abort, and came to me for help since I’m pro-choice. I helped her fashion an elaborate disguise, since her appointment was at a clinic where she had often protested. I drove her to this appointment; I doubted that she would go through with the abortion, but she did. To my surprise, she continues to participate in anti-abortion protests, even at that very clinic. A part of me wants to show up there and denounce her, but she is my friend (and even if she weren’t, I doubt I could do something like that). However, I’d really like to know what she is thinking. We have not spoken about her abortion since the day it happened. Is there a good way to bring this up now?

A: Since you are the one she turned to for assistance with the abortion, she made this your business. If you’re good enough friends that you helped her through this procedure, then you’re good enough friends to tell her that you’re frankly shaken to find that she continues to try to make this procedure—which she found necessary for herself—unavailable for anyone else. I am very much in favor of people being friends across ideological lines. One of the worst things about the climate today is how people get into silos where they only know people they agree with. But in this case, you aren’t simply friends with someone you disagree with on this issue, you are friends with someone who is deeply hypocritical on this issue. That’s something you are entitled to raise with your friend.

Q. Medicating Children: My cousin has twin 8-year-old daughters who are nonverbal and severely mentally and physically disabled. They have suffered from seizures since they were a few months old. My cousin began giving them small doses of different marijuana-derived products last year after doing her own research. This is illegal where she lives. I don’t have a strong opinion about pot either way, but since she can’t disclose that she’s giving it to her children to their doctor or other medical professionals who treat them, they can’t let her know how the treatment affects them because of their inability to speak. This concerns me. She says she’s seen great results in one of the children since this began. What do you think?

A: Your cousin has one of the heaviest burdens someone can carry. She has two completely disabled children who will never be able to live independently and who need 24-hour monitoring. As with the new mother of the 5-year-old twins above, I sincerely hope your cousin has people—professionals, family, and friends—who can give her relief. She needs regular respite herself from this overwhelming situation. You are asking me to weigh in on something that has legal and medical implications. This is a question that I would ask professionals about, except I can’t do that in the chat. So I hope readers will offer some expert opinions. I can only offer my immediate reaction. I completely understand what your cousin is doing. It sounds as if she has looked into studies on the effects of marijuana on seizures, etc., and has made a rational choice. Yes, she is doing some freelance medicating of her children, but as long as she is careful with the doses, given the research on marijuana, it is very unlikely she will hurt them. Before the great decriminalization began, I read some moving accounts of parents who went out and found marijuana to help ease the effects of chemotherapy for their children with cancer. Your cousin has also noticed that one of her children appears to be helped—sure it could be a placebo, but she sounds honest enough to note this differential response. Your question is about what you do. But you don’t say how you came upon this information. Maybe your cousin had a heart-to-heart with you about what she’s doing and asked for your opinion. Maybe you heard it through the family grapevine. You are not reporting that your cousin is hurting or neglecting her kids, so I think you should stay out of this, and if you’re interested in their welfare, offer to watch them when you visit so your cousin can get her hair done, take a walk, or just spend some well-deserved time by herself.

Q. Re: My Best Friend’s Kids: Whoever marries the woman who took in the two kids is going to have a real winner for a wife. Hard as it may be at present, she’ll find someone with the right stuff.

A: Indeed, anyone who marries her will be marrying someone spectacular.

Q. Erectile Dysfunction While Trying to Conceive: My husband and I have been trying to conceive for several months now (I had a miscarriage). We’re both trying our best to not stress about baby-making. Instead, we focus on our overall health and well-being. For the most part, things are good and our sex life has actually improved. However, my husband has recently started experiencing erectile dysfunction when I’m ovulating—this has happened three times now. This has never happened before (we’re both young and healthy), and it never seems to happen outside of my fertile days. We’re both upset and frustrated. Should I suggest that he see a doctor for a prescription? Or what else can I do to support him?

A: Hey, there’s no pressure on your husband: “Let’s have sex tonight. If we don’t do the deed, then there will be no possibility of a baby this month!” I’m sure some people would go with a Freudian explanation that his inability to perform represents his anxiety about fatherhood. I think it’s just an understandable reaction to tremendous emotional pressure, and when this happens once, it’s easy for it to become a pattern. Fortunately, there is a pharmacological fix. I think your husband should get a prescription and take a pill before the fun begins. Getting over this hump will allow the humping to begin.

Q. How to Politely Eat a Fat Sandwich: I go out to business and social lunches and dinners and although I am dying for a good hamburger, I do not order one because I cannot figure out how to eat it politely. Now even sandwiches are so fat that I cannot take a bite. I’ve started to just take them apart to eat the insides separately. I avoid wraps because they are also so messy and the wrap itself gets soggy. I do not want a salad. Help!

A: Let’s separate the business from social. You’re making a wise choice to order something at a business lunch or dinner that you won’t spew everywhere and then wear for the rest of the occasion. But meals with friends are different. No, you shouldn’t shove an exploding burger in your mouth, but feel free to politely deconstruct it so that you can eat without looking like John Belushi in Animal House. I agree that the trend of making sandwiches so enormous they would satisfy a hippo is not good for one’s waistline or the sensibilities of one’s companions.

Q. Middle-Aged and Peer-Pressured: The other night, my husband and I were having drinks with some friends, when the subject of drugs came up. I drink alcohol, but never really tried other drugs. My husband is the same. Our friends have experimented more widely. One of them, a woman in her 50s, regularly goes on vision quests that involve peyote and smokes pot daily. Another, a medical professional, smokes pot and occasionally uses ecstasy. My husband is now interested in trying ecstasy. Our friend the medical professional says he can get us the “good stuff,” not cut with dangerous drugs. Our friends, as a group, decided it would be good for my husband and me to do the drug together, and with his birthday coming up, offered to get us some, gratis. I really don’t like the idea of being on drugs—I’m not comfortable with the idea of being “altered” and not in control of what I do or say. My husband really wants me to do this with him, and says we should get a hotel room, board the dog for the weekend, and bond. Am I being a stick in the mud by saying no?

A: I am a similar stick in the mud over altered consciousness. I’m too worried about my consciousness altering on its own and being unable to remember where I put the keys to want to explore my oneness with the universe then being forever unable to find my keys. I’m sure thousands of people drop “the good stuff” and have a great time. But I get fixated on the stories of kids who take pills they didn’t get from the CVS, then end up in intensive care or the morgue. So count me out. However, I can understand your husband wanting to do this. But if you don’t, you have to say no. So if he wants to have a birthday “trip” with his friends, I don’t think you should try to stop him. But if he does, take your own trip to the beach and become one with a Mai Tai.

Q. Re: Marijuana and Kids: Slate published a great series from Marie Myung-Ok Lee a few years ago about her decision to give her developmentally disabled son marijuana. It’s a fascinating read and it may provide you with some insight into this situation.

A: Indeed, I now remember this moving story by a wonderful writer. Thank you for bringing it up.

Q. How Do I Get My Husband to Make an Appointment With His Doctor?: About six months ago, my husband told me that a recent blood test had revealed some abnormalities and his internist wanted him to see a hematologist. My husband is a 17-year cancer survivor, having gone through chemo and a stem-cell transplant after being diagnosed with leukemia. His older brother was the stem-cell donor, and he has been since diagnosed with leukemia himself. He is asymptomatic for the time being, but may require treatment in the future. My husband has lately self-diagnosed as having a cancer relapse and does not want to go to a doctor to find out what is reality. He states he does not want to have another bone-marrow biopsy, but I pointed out that diagnoses and treatments have changed significantly in almost two decades. How can I get this otherwise reasonable man to understand that his health (or lack of it, especially) will impact not just him alone?

A: He is understandably terrified and not acting rationally. What you do is say that you are going to call the hematologist, you will make an appointment for a time you can both go, and that you will go together with him and be in the doctor’s office when the doctor discusses the findings. You let him know that whatever happens he is not alone, and that you are not going to let him let this go, because he is too precious to you.

Q. Re: Medicating Children: If the mother can, she should take the children to Colorado or any state where medical marijuana is legal, and have a doctor work with her. That way the parents can get good medical advice on the best type to use, and perhaps have the children monitored while doctors test. By the way, marijuana is often used medically to stop seizures. It’s pretty well recognized, and there are parents who have chosen to move to states where the drug is legal so their kids can get the best help.

A: Good idea, if it’s feasible. This mother needs all the help she can get.

Click here to read Part 2 of this week’s chat.

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