Get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week by signing up in the box below. Please send your questions for publication to firstname.lastname@example.org. (Questions may be edited.)
Got a burning question for Prudie? She’ll be online here on Slate to chat with readers each Monday at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.
My brother and sister-in-law are expecting their second child next month, and they asked if I would babysit their 3-year-old son while they are at the hospital. I gladly agreed and recently visited their home for a long weekend to get to know their child care routine better. They are in the process of potty-training their son “Joe,” and part of their training is letting the child watch the parents use the bathroom. During my visit, I went into the bathroom, and Joe came in mid-use. When I told him he needed to wait until I was done, he said, “But I want to watch you.” I didn’t want to freak him out, so I calmly repeated my request that he wait outside, but he did not leave. I finished using the bathroom, washed my hands, and we both went back to the living room. Joe told his mother, “I saw auntie peeing!” This greatly upset my sister-in-law. She told me that it was very inappropriate to “take him into the bathroom” with me, despite my explaining that he had followed me. She has also made several comments to other family members about my “pervy” act—her words. She keeps bringing up how upset she is by my “inappropriate actions” toward her son. I don’t know how else to get through to her that I did not intentionally urinate in front of her child. I am at the point where I no longer want to drive seven hours to babysit when she goes into labor. But I also know that she and my brother don’t have any friends in town, and I don’t want to deprive him of the opportunity to see their second child born. What should I do?
This pair has no friends—I can’t imagine why! It’s inevitable that people put up with a lot from family (or certain family members), and that people also put themselves out for family. (It’s supposed to pay off in the long run because you get a lot in return.) But there are occasions when you have to tell a family member, even one in need, to go blow. One of those occasions is when a relative starts ranting false allegations that you have committed sexual impropriety against a minor. We live in a hair-trigger world regarding such things, and what your sister-in-law is now spreading far and wide is deeply concerning. Let’s acknowledge she’s probably stressed out from the pregnancy—and her aloneness in the world—but her behavior is a big rotating klaxon you must heed. You need to give her and your brother notice now that you can’t come. I hope you have a reasonable relationship with your brother and that you can talk to him. Reiterate that nothing untoward whatsoever happened with your nephew, but his wife’s claims to other family members that you did something “pervy” mean it’s not a good idea for you to babysit right now—that she obviously doesn’t trust you and you can’t risk further unfounded accusations. Say you adore your nephew, you want to be part of his life and that of the new baby, but that they must call on another family member to watch “Joe.” Let’s hope Joe quickly gets toilet trained and his mother comes to her senses.
I have been married to my husband for five years. This is the second marriage for the both of us. I am a happy stepmom to his three teenagers from his previous marriage. His ex-wife left him and the kids to be with her boyfriend. She lives 2,000 miles away and visits once a year for a week. When she comes to town, my husband insists that she stay at our house, and he makes me spend the week at a hotel! I am hurt and furious every time this happens. I don’t think anything is going on between them—he says he does this for the kids to have “a semblance of normalcy and family.” I find this humiliating and it turns my life upside down. I work a very demanding job and uprooting myself is extremely disruptive. This year, the ex has announced that she is coming for three weeks! I have never even met her. I think it’s time I meet her and put a stop to this, but my husband says we need to put the kids first and she’s their mother. What can I do?
—Don’t Want to Check In
The mother of his children high-tailed it off to be with a new guy, and you stepped up to raise them 51 weeks a year. You provide their semblance of normalcy, not her. I am seething on your behalf over your husband’s grossly dismissive behavior. I hope that besides being a happy stepmother, your marriage is a happy one and that this is an anomaly in how he normally treats you. But do not let it happen again. Tell him this is your house, these are your stepchildren, and while you are glad the kids have their mother in their lives—and wish for their sakes she were more involved—you will not be shuffled off to hide out at a hotel like a fugitive. You can say that she’s welcome to book her own accommodations, and that you also look forward to finally meeting her when she arrives to visit her kids. Do not budge. If your husband wants to pack himself, the three kids, and the ex off to the hotel together, that’s on his dime. Three weeks apart will give you lots of time to think about the state of your marriage.
My fiancée likes to go to bed around 8:30 to 9 every night. She needs to get at least eight hours of sleep, otherwise she’s really tired the next day. I have never been a “go to bed early” kind of person. I usually go to bed sometime between 11 and 11:30. As a result, there is always some animosity at night when she heads to bed and I do not come with her. I have tried offering this solution: I come into the bedroom with her for 15 to 20 minutes and snuggle with her until she falls asleep, then I leave. But she gives me a hard time when I go. What should I do?
I too am a night owl, and I was in exactly this situation of trying to attend to the cuddling desires of a beloved who went to bed hours earlier than I did. I would also lie side by side until I heard slowed breathing, then I would try to slip away, only to have my arm grabbed and my darling call out, “Mommy, don’t go!” Fortunately, my daughter outgrew her desire to have me next to her while she fell asleep. If your fiancée is old enough to get married, she’s old enough to fall asleep by herself. She’s also old enough to recognize that her desire to have a warm body next to her doesn’t mean forcing her beloved to crawl in next to her and stare at the ceiling for hours. Disparate sleep schedules can be annoying, but it’s one of those things that a flexible couple figures out how to accommodate. It’s less concerning that you have incompatible nocturnal clocks than that she’s so inconsiderate of your needs. I suggest she get a dog or a cat to keep her cozy when she turns out the light. If she plans to nag you every night of the rest of your life, maybe a dog or cat would be a better overall companion.
I have frequented a local coffee shop for two years. The owner knows my name and is always very happy to see me and brews special coffee just for me. We are both single, and I would like to get to know him better. I don’t want to make him uncomfortable, and I understand that as the proprietor he can’t hit on his customers. How can I communicate my interest in a respectful way that won’t be too awkward?
—Signed Coffee and a Crush
I think you should try a classic line: “Hey, after work one day, would you like to get a cup of coffee somewhere?” At the least that will give him a chance to check out the competition while you check each other out. You have to do this with a sense of confidence and lightness—and a willingness to recognize he may not feel the same buzz you do. You say you have a flirty something going on, but he’s in the service business and he may make “special” cups of coffee for lots of customers. (Please check out this hilarious Amy Schumer sketch and be glad that the foam on your coffee is G-rated.) If it doesn’t work out, I hope you have the confidence to continue to frequent your favorite spot.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“Fleece U: We can’t afford our son’s private college tuition. Should we go into debt?”
“Naked Fear: My fiancée has never seen me in the buff. What will she think?”
“Family Spies: My mother-in-law found out my baby’s sex against my wishes—and then told everyone.”
“Won’t You Be My Lover: My neighbor is the first decent man I’ve known. But what if he doesn’t want me?”
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“The Un-Giver: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a woman whose boyfriend gave her a tooth for their anniversary.”
“Twin Swap: In a live chat, Prudie advises a man whose girlfriend first slept with his brother—but doesn’t know.”
“Free Not to Be Child-Free: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a woman who thinks she might want a baby after all, despite her husband.”
“Poly, Pregnant, and Proud: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a woman grossed out by her sister’s choice to raise a family with two men.”