Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up below to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. I look forward to your questions!
Q. Monster-in-Law: I have gone back to work recently, and my mother-in-law offered to pick up and watch my elementary-age kids since her stepkids go to the adjoining middle school (she married a widower three years ago). This would be a godsend (and save us thousands of dollars in day care) except my mother-in-law refuses to feed my kids according to our principles (vegan and healthy). She told me if it wasn’t something that could kill them, she wasn’t going to go out of her way and she had too many kids running around to make “special” snacks (she baby-sits a half a dozen different “friends” of her stepkids and neighbors). These are her grandchildren, but my husband just shrugs and says “take it or leave it” has always been his mother’s way. I am ready to tear my hair out by the roots. Help.
A: So your loving mother-in-law wants to provide free, safe, fun care for your children, and you think she’s a “monster” because she’s planning to give them ice cream or a turkey-and-Swiss sandwich as an after-school snack instead of broccoli slaw and kale chips. Start ripping that hair out, because you sound crazy. Here are your healthy choices: Send your kids to their grandmother’s house, thank your mother-in-law profusely, and give her gift certificates for massages etc. to show your appreciation for her generosity. Or go spend the money on a day care provider who will abide by your demands that your children not eat any animal products. Gee, I wonder where your kids would rather go after school?
Q. My Wife Wants Me Out of the Delivery Room: My wife is entering her second trimester with our second child. I was caught off-guard the other day when she casually mentioned that she will ask her friend to be in the operating room for her C-section. Admittedly, I was not much help the first go-around. My wife was not treated right leading up to her emergency C-section. When she wrote a letter to the hospital afterward, I did tease her about it in front of my friends—I thought the situation was over with, so why bother? She was angry. She says that her friend will be better equipped to help and that I can stay home to watch our son. She also says that if she isn’t treated right this time around, she doesn’t want me there dismissing it or making a mockery of it. I don’t want to miss the birth!
A: It’s one thing to want to switch doctors midpregnancy; it’s another to want to switch husbands. Given how you describe your behavior, I think it’s a kind of miracle your wife was willing to conceive baby No. 2 with you. It sounds as if you never offered the abject and full-bodied apology your wife so deserves. It is not too late. Since she’s told you her birth plan, tell her that unfortunately you do understand her motivation, but you hope she will reconsider. Explain what a jackass you were, how you see that now, and assure her nothing like that would happen again. Say your intention is to be her champion. I know it’s a cliché, but flowers would be nice to try to drive home the point. Do not start bullying your wife over this. Just ask her to think this over and consider giving you another chance. I hope that in the intervening years you have demonstrated what a devoted father you are to your son. That would allow you to tell your wife that being there to see your next child come into the world and into your family is your dearest wish.
Q. My Boyfriend Cries During Sex: After months of dating, my boyfriend and I began what I hoped was going to be a new stage of caring and commitment. However, at what I’d think is about the “midpoint” of things, he starts crying, like a full-blown, end-of-Toy Story 3–type crying. He says it’s not me, but he’s also told me I was his first, so what could he be thinking of at that point? This has happened both times, and I fear it could damage our relationship beyond repair.
A: I agree with you that interrupting coitus for abject sobbing could be damaging to a relationship in and out of bed. I don’t know how old you are or what your backgrounds are. It could be that your boyfriend has deep psychological hangups about sex. It could be he was raised to think sex, particularly out of wedlock, is deeply sinful. Don’t wait until the next flood, but have a talk with him about what’s been going on when both of you are seated and dressed. But if you find yourself donning rain gear prior to sex (and not because you have a meteorological fetish), then yes, this relationship may be doomed.
Q. Re: Monster-in-Law : I am a vegan, and my husband and I have spoken at length about how our future children will be fed. The thing is that if you keep your kids on a strict vegan diet, they cannot make their own choices in the future because any animal products will make them sick. Their bodies won’t know how to digest it. That isn’t fair. All kids get treats at grandma’s house, whether that means cookies or cheese sticks. Calm down—you’re making the rest of us look crazy.
A: Thanks. Several people have written that vegans get sick when eating animal products. I’m curious as to whether there is evidence this really is a physiological reaction.
Q. Ex-Boyfriend Has a New Girlfriend: Three weeks ago, my (ex-)boyfriend broke up with me on his birthday and told me he is no longer in love with me and that he is dating a new girl who is a year below me in graduate school. My ex graduated from our school this past May. My ex and I were planning on marriage, and I am still very much in love with him and in the process of trying to move on. We have all the same mutual friends, and while they have been supportive, I know that he will be bringing this new girl (who knew who I was) to all events, and I will be seeing them together constantly. I am so hurt by his actions, how he has a new girlfriend in less than a month, and I don’t know what to say or how to act when I see them or see his new girlfriend in the halls at school. Please help me.
A: I don’t think this is going to help, but I have the suspicion that this new girl has likely been his on-deck girlfriend for a while. You just had your world turned upside down, so of course you are mourning the end of a relationship that you thought would last for the rest of your life. There is nothing really you can do but endure this. You cry and try to shed your tears when you’re with a close friend or alone. You distract yourself from your heartbreak by focusing on your studies. You hold your head up high and do your best to slap a smile on your face. When you run into them you nod your head and move on or go talk to someone else. You tell yourself that as painful as this is, you will get through it. And everyone who has endured a heartbreak can tell you that painful as this is, you will get through this.
Q. Secret Playground Trips: My husband is a clinical psychologist whose work involves treating convicted pedophiles. As a result of some of his clients’ stories, my husband now refuses to take our kids to public playgrounds. He only permits them to play on the kids’ school playground because it is not visible from outside the school. We live in an area with excellent playground facilities, and the kids miss out because of my husband’s adamant stance on this issue. He is otherwise a completely reasonable person with no anxiety problems, but on this he won’t budge. Would it be awful on my children’s emotional growth if I occasionally sneaked them to the local playground and swear them to secrecy?
A: Talk about confirmation bias. Your husband spends many hours a week treating pedophiles, and I’m sure he’s heard many monstrous stories from these people about stalking playgrounds. But if your husband worked for the National Transportation Safety Board, maybe he would be saying your kids are not allowed to go anywhere except on foot. He has to step away from his work and realize that the overwhelming reality is that playgrounds are safe. In addition, you’re not leaving your kids unattended, so his worry seems wholly unfounded. I don’t think you should set up secret playground trips in which you put your kids in opposition to their father. You need to sit down with him and tell him his fear is harming his kids’ childhoods. If he won’t budge, explain that you two need to hash this out with another psychologist. Surely he believes in his profession enough to listen to the insights of someone else in his field.
Q. Re: New Girlfriend: You also thank your lucky stars that you found out what kind of person your ex-boyfriend is, instead of years from now while married. Now the new girlfriend will always have to wonder if he’ll be searching for a next girl. It may stink now, but years from now you’ll realize how much better off you are that he let you go.
A: Great points!
Q. Re: Monster-in-Law: Or maybe the author should—in gratitude—offer to provide “healthy” snacks for everyone her mother-in-law watches. It would satisfy her own needs to make sure her kids are fed as she desires and will help her mother-in-law out (by providing snacks for all kids), as she clearly has her hands full.
A: Many people are recommending the letter writer provide her kids’ snacks, and even healthy snacks for the whole group. Sure, that’s a good idea. But if grandmother’s house is full of forbidden treats, those are what’s going to get eaten. If the letter writer provides vegan snacks, she has to be able to let go of monitoring whether they were ingested. One of the fun things for kids is that the rules are different at grandma’s house, and in the absence of actual harm being done, experiencing life as others live it is generally a good thing.
Q. Re: Boyfriend Cries During Sex: Talk to him in a nondefensive way about wanting to understand and help, and do not assume it is about you! In addition to what Prudie mentioned, he also could have been abused as a child and just now, as he embarks upon sex as an adult, be feeling the full impact of that. It happened to me, and I know many others in the same boat. It was really a process to work through, but my partner was very loving and understanding, so we got through it together (along with some therapy).
A: Thanks for this additional insight. So glad to hear you got help.