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. Leaving My Baby for Three Months?: I am a successful 38-year-old businesswoman who found herself with an unexpected pregnancy last year. I decided to have the child on my own, and thus far it has been one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Recently I was offered a promotion with a substantial raise, but the catch is, my work would require me to travel to Hong Kong for 12 weeks starting this June. Hiring a nanny to travel with me is not feasible with such short notice, but my sister, who has children of her own, has offered to watch my baby while I am away. I’m concerned that 12 weeks is too long to be apart from my 11-month-old daughter. I am concerned that she is too young to be without her mother for such an extended period. Then again, this is a fantastic opportunity and would be a feather in my cap on my résumé, not to mention it would help me save up for my daughter’s education. If she were older, I would have no qualms doing this. Should I take the position?
A: What a Mother’s Day dilemma! First of all, I think you should explore the possibility not of taking a nanny with you, but finding a nanny in Hong Kong. If your company has an office there, they may have resources for you, and can also put you in touch with other families working there. You may find that you can hire a full-time nanny so that you can bring your daughter. On the other hand, if this is a three-month assignment that’s going to be all-consuming and you would feel more guilty about how much time you were spending away from your little girl—even though she is there with you—having her stay with your sister may be the better option. What a wonderful sister you have! That is a generous offer, and one that should relieve your mind. Your daughter will miss you, but think of how much fun she will have being surrounded by loving cousins. I disagree with you about this being an easier decision to make if your child were older. Your child is very young, and of course she is attached to you, but she will quickly be absorbed into your sister’s home. The three months are going to speed by. But it will have long-term benefits for your career—which will benefit your daughter in the long run. I say take the assignment and once you do, feel confident about the child care decision you make.
Q. Gay Construction Worker: At 40, I recently and very drastically changed careers, becoming an apprentice electrician. I love it, and feel like I’ve finally found my calling. I am working with my hands, using my brain, and building something tangible, after years of what felt like corporate busywork. My issue is: I’m a lesbian, and I don’t know how to answer when my co-workers very directly ask me, “Are you married?” (yes), “What’s your husband do?” (uhhh …), and “No kids? You just haven’t found the right man, I bet!”—no joke, I got that one on Friday. I don’t want to sell my co-workers short, and I’ve never felt the need to lie or pretend (mainly because I find it too tiring). But the vibe around the lunch table is not exactly a PFLAG meeting, and I find myself stammering and deflecting. My wife has an androgynous name and suggested I just fake it, but that seems ridiculous to me. Any suggestions?
A: You don’t say that you’re nervous about what would happen if you simply answered honestly and forthrightly, “Yes, I’m married. My wife and I haven’t decided about kids yet.” I’m not dismissing the possibility that your co-workers may be troglodytes, but it also may be that you’re not giving them enough credit for being enlightened. It could be that they may have already entertained the possibility that you’re a lesbian, and it will be more comfortable for everyone if you confirm this fact. Right now you’re stammering and deflecting about who you are. It’s true that your personal life is not the business of anyone at work, but equally true is that you have no reason to hide that you are married to a woman. Let’s hope this news is greeted with appropriate shrugs and that you continue to love your new calling.
Q. Forgive or Not?: In a fit of anger over a petty disagreement, a close family member decided to take “revenge” by falsely reporting my partner and me to CPS. We’re in the midst of trying to clear up the investigation now. In the meantime we’ve cut off all contact with this person and hired an attorney. Because we’re expecting another child in the coming months, other members of the family think we should let it go, allow this person to celebrate the new arrival with us, and move on. I no longer trust this person. How do I stand firm under pressure to forgive such a grievous breach?
A: Your family takes “forgive and forget” to new levels. So this loony and dangerous family member tried to get your child taken away. Now that you’re expecting another one, you’re supposed to invite this person to the celebration. This could mean if you forgive this person, you can forget raising your kid. Let’s say there’s another tiff and this terrible person has another go at reporting you. (Sure, the authorities should smell a rat, but you don’t want to test this.) Some violations are so egregious that they can’t be healed. False reporting of child abuse is a good one to put in that category. You stand firm by saying you will not allow this person to threaten the safety of your children.
Q. Re: Leaving Your Baby: When I was an infant, my father taught in Europe for six months or so. My parents and older brother and sister went to live in Italy (the siblings were enrolled in school there) and they left me with my grandmother at home. I have no memory of this time and no emotional scars. Don’t worry too much about leaving your infant with your sister, if that’s the choice you make. As long as she is loved and cared for, she’ll be happy.
A: Thanks—and I hope you’ve gotten to go to Italy as an adult!
Q. Should I Help a Jerk Because It’s the Right Thing to Do?: My neighbor “Dylan” is a known thief who has been convicted for stealing car parts. He has also stolen a motorcycle and sells stolen phones online (no conviction for that, unfortunately). He is facing a trial for a similar crime, but regardless of his many flaws I know he didn’t do this—on the day he was supposed to have committed the crime, he and I had a prolonged argument over noise from his house. He got mad and spent the whole day deliberately creating more noise to annoy me. He is a jerk who definitely deserves prison, but I know he can’t have committed the crime on that particular day. My testimony will probably help him avoid a conviction. But I don’t know if he deserves my help. What do you say?
A: If you help Dylan, you will become a classic illustration of “no good deed goes unpunished” because Dylan will continue being a menace even after you save him from jail—this time. However, I feel you have an obligation to step forward and tell the authorities that you can unfortunately vouch for Dylan’s whereabouts on the day in question. It could be that what the prosecution has messed up is the timeline, not the perpetrator. Or it could be that Dylan had accomplices and was involved but on that day was more focused on violating noise ordinances than theft. I find it remarkable that you know enough of the details about this prosecution to realize you can give Dylan a solid alibi. How many people know with such precision the doings of their neighbors? But since you say you feel certain he’s being prosecuted for something he didn’t do, your moral obligation is to come forward. (Readers who are lawyers—what’s the letter writer’s legal obligation here? I’m assuming there isn’t one.) Dylan won’t be grateful, but he will be free to commit more crime, and let’s hope the next time he gets caught you can’t provide an alibi.
Q. Leave Boyfriend Behind in Coach?: I am a frequent business traveler and often receive complimentary upgrades to first class from my preferred airline. Whenever I fly with my boyfriend (of several years, with whom I live), I give up the upgrade, and he is always really touched that I would rather sit with him. He never demands that I give up the upgrade, but I choose to do it. We have a trip coming up that includes a cross-country red-eye flight. Boyfriend can sleep anytime, anywhere, and will probably slumber peacefully while I toss and turn and hate life for six hours straight. Is it OK for me to take the upgrade and leave him behind? I am feeling really guilty about it, but he says he just wants the ice cream from my first-class dinner. What should I do?
A: Walk through the curtain after dinner and deliver him the ice cream. Yes, it’s thoughtful to suffer with him in coach, but this great guy wants you to stretch out. I am always astounded by the people who fall asleep before takeoff—I have only ever been able to doze fitfully even on 15-hour flights. Your boyfriend won’t be company for you while you toss and turn; he’ll be asleep. So take him—and the airline—up on the offer, and in the morning both of you will be able to start your trip refreshed.
Q. My Mother: My mother is a lifelong drug user who had been in my life off and on in the most invasive of ways. It’s been over 10 years that I’ve moved from my home state, and I do not know if she is alive or dead. How should I respond when the subject of my mom comes up in conversation about family?
A: This wholly depends on the circumstances and your relationship to the person you’re talking to. At cocktail parties where you’re not going to see the person again and it’s idle chitchat, you can say, “My mother is in Idaho, where I grew up.” Presumably, even if she’s no longer alive, she will have found her final resting place where she was last. You can also use this with people at work and add—if they start asking if you’ll be visiting during the holidays—“She and I aren’t close, which we both agree is for the best. So where are you spending the holidays?” That is, you answer briefly and truthfully, but then turn the conversation in a way that cuts off further inquiries.
Q. Re: Gay Construction Worker: I’m an academic researcher studying LGBT individuals in the workplace and have been interviewing professionals about “coming out.” First, the Human Rights Campaign has some great resources about coming out (hrc.org/resources/entry/resource-guide-to-coming-out). Even though a lot of ground is being made, I’d recommend checking workplace protections in her state, city, and company before coming out. If everything is OK on the legal front, I’d recommend giving honest responses as casually as possible to these questions, such as, “Yes, I’m married, and my wife, Alex, is a teacher.”
A: Thanks—good point about legal protection. Let’s hope the guys on the job are decent people and if the letter writer decides to come out that they greet this news with equanimity.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.