Mallory Ortberg, 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 email@example.com.)
Mallory Ortberg: Hi, everyone. I’m rested and ready for you to fling your questions at me. Let’s chat!
Q. Houseguest or no?: My 16-year-old daughter is gay. This past summer, she met a girl on our family vacation who was at first a close friend but whom she now considers to be her girlfriend. Because they live on opposite coasts, all of their contact is via text/Skype. While they were still just friends, I promised my daughter that the other girl could come and stay with us for the summer. Recently, I suggested that my daughter give the other girl’s parents my number so that we could discuss details. That is when my daughter disclosed that her friend’s parents have no idea that she is involved with another girl and would “kill her” if they found out. She is begging me for secrecy. I don’t want to kill my daughter’s romance, and I certainly don’t want to out someone against her will, but I also don’t feel comfortable lying to another parent about the nature of a visit. To me, a “girlfriend” visit and a “friend” visit are different, and a parent of a 16-year-old has the right to determine if it is appropriate or not. Advice?
A: I’m not sure if “they would kill her” is standard teenage hyperbole or if your daughter’s girlfriend is at actual risk of physical violence from her homophobic family. LGBT youth face a much higher risk of violence and homelessness after being rejected by their family of origin. You’re absolutely right not to want to out her, in any case. Talk with your daughter about her girlfriend’s living situation. Is she in immediate danger? Does she have a place to stay if her family discovers her orientation and throw her out? While it’s understandable that you don’t want to host your daughter’s girlfriend in the same way you would have happily hosted a platonic friend, it’s possible that you and your family can be a resource for this poor girl.
You may not feel comfortable hosting her under the guise of “just friendship,” but perhaps you could arrange for her to stay with a family friend so the two of them could see one another without temporarily moving in together. If that still doesn’t sit well with you, I think it’s fine to tell your daughter you have separate sleepover rules for friends and girlfriends, and now that they’re dating, you can’t host this girl in your home, but I hope that you can continue to offer support and acceptance to her. It sounds like she’s going to need it.
Q. New mom worried about child care: My husband and I are expecting our first kid in 2016. What are the pros and cons of letting grandparents watch the baby? My MIL has offered to watch the baby one day a week. I am hesitant to take her up on that unless my mother is also able to take one day a week. I have seen when other family members have had kids how having unequal grandparent time can lead to hurt feelings or resentment as the baby naturally becomes more attached to one side over the other. I don’t want to set myself up for conflict, and isn’t it hard to find a day care willing to take the baby for only three or four days a week? (Both grandmothers are lovely women—so there’s no issue there.)
A: I am inclined to think you are overthinking this. You are being offered at least one day a week of free child care and have two lovely grandmothers on hand for the 2016 edition; it sounds ideal to me. You can’t prevent a possible future closeness between your upcoming child and one or more of their grandparents. Turning down this generous offer of assistance because you’re worried your baby might eventually prefer one grandmother over another seems like the definition of cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Commenter parents: I haven’t had any children, so I’m not very familiar with day care policies. Do many of them offer part-time child care? It would seem a little strange if none of them were willing to take in kids for just a few days a week, but maybe there are wheels within wheels I’m just not aware of. What’s your experience?
Q. Playing favorites: My parents and I have never had the easiest of relationship for various reasons. While my wife and I make it a point to visit when we can and maintain a cordial relationship, this Christmas has been entirely different. My parents purchased a horse for my sister’s three girls and sent a gift card to my five kids. The issue is not money, we make a good living and can provide a good holiday season for our kids even though a horse is out of the question. The question is, what do I say to my children when they ask why they got $40 and their cousins got a horse? I know my relationship with my parents has not been great, but shouldn’t that problem remain between myself and my parents and not trickle down to the children?
A: This seems like an opportunity to explain to your children the fact that many grown-ups are deeply limited, flawed human beings, and that the discrepancy in their Christmas presents this year has nothing to do with the recipients and everything to do with the gift-givers. Some people give gifts in order to bewilder, confuse, and manipulate their recipients; what a shame that your parents are continuing their tradition of playing favorites with the next generation. You can set a good example for your kids by acknowledging your parents’ limitation but refusing to dwell on it.
Q. He wants his ex as his No. 2: My husband of 26 years told me he wants his ex-girlfriend back in his life as his “No. 2” partner. He doesn’t like me very much and says I make him miserable at times. He has a long list of complaints about me. I want out but he doesn’t. We have a lot of children still at home. I don’t know what to do. It’s hard being in this relationship—I cry a lot. My husband doesn’t want me. I don’t believe in us any longer. What should I do?
A: Some struggling marriages can be salvaged with hard work and counseling; others should be dismantled and stripped for parts. I think you ought to leave your husband as soon as you can, if possible by the end of this sentence, and try to co-parent with him as politely and as graciously as you are able.
Q. Friends with benefits after death of wife: I am a 47-year-old widower. I lost my wife a year ago to an unexpected heart attack. I’ve found some comfort from talking with a long-term friend who is getting divorced. One day she dropped by my house and we talked about what we enjoyed about being on our own and what we missed about our partners. We ended up having sex and ever since then, we’ve been meeting regularly at my place. Sometimes it’s just sex and talking and other times, we may go out after or we might go for a walk in the park together. This has been good for both of us, but she says she doesn’t really want a relationship yet and I’m not sure I do either. She’s always been a friend to me and says I’m better in bed than her ex-husband ever was. Still, I wonder if I’m risking our friendship over this and if we should keep doing it because we like it or stop. Please help.
A: It’s certainly possible that you’re risking your friendship, but it sounds to me like the two of you are doing everything right. It may not last forever, but that’s no reason to end it today. You’ve both been clear about your expectations, you have a good time together, you’re having great sex, and you have maintained a friendly relationship outside of the bedroom—you’re not just kicking one another out of bed as soon as the sex is over. It sounds to me like the two of you have found something lovely after a difficult, painful year. I hope you can let yourself enjoy it.
Q. Re: New mom worried about child care: Policies on day cares vary greatly by location. Some places will accept kids a few days a week and others won’t. (They might make this mom pay for five days of care even if she only uses three of them.) The more important question is making sure either or both grandmas are healthy enough to care for a newborn, and whether they’d obey mom’s wishes instead of following their own parenting practices. My son’s grandparents are too old and too set in their ways for regular care. Good luck, future mom!
A: Thanks for that!
Q. Re: New mom worried about child care: New mom should investigate day cares now and get on a waiting list if necessary. Better to have a sure thing available for every day in case MIL changes her mind, falls ill, etc.
A: It can’t hurt to have a backup.
Q. Disinheriting a relative: I want to leave a relative out of my will entirely because I disapprove of his choices. I have other relatives, and his exclusion will be obvious. What I disapprove of about him may also be true of the others and I simply don’t know about it. I’m not about to take a poll among my potential heirs to see who qualifies based on this criteria, as I do generally respect people with viewpoints that are different from mine. Do I leave them all out and give everything to charity, or can I fairly exclude him and only him? I always thought people who cut a child out of their will for religion, sexual orientation, addiction or political differences were morally wrong. What I detest about this relative is that he’s an irresponsible gun owner who has amassed quite an arsenal of weapons and ammunition. I have no influence over his choices, but I don’t want what I’ve worked for to support a practice I abhor.
A: He’s not your child, just a relative, which makes things a little different; you certainly don’t owe him a portion of your wealth. If you exclude him from your will, it will probably lead to a certain amount of bad blood and infighting after you’re gone. That’s not necessarily your concern, but it is a data point worth taking into account. He is not expecting money from you and is able to take care of himself, so you will not be ruining him by leaving him out of your will. You’re under no obligation to leave him money, but if the idea of dispensing inheritances unequally among your surviving relatives troubles you, by all means, leave it all to charity and bypass the problem altogether.
Q. Re: Houseguest or no?: Let your daughter’s girlfriend visit. I remember being young, scared, and queer at age 16 (10 years ago now). Having my girlfriend’s parents welcome me into their home was an incredible relief, since my own parents were very homophobic. Have them sleep in separate bedrooms, and lay down whatever rules you want, but don’t cancel the visit. If your daughter’s girlfriend is closeted, traveling across the country to a place where she can actually be herself for a little while will be so incredibly freeing. It’s probably something she desperately needs.
A: I’m inclined to agree.
Q. I’ll show what I want: A few weeks ago, I attended the office holiday party. As I was leaving, I was stopped by a co-worker who wanted to say hi. We’re friendly but not close. She was a bit tipsy, and after a brief, awkward conversation she said “I like your necklace.” Looking at my necklace brought her attention a bit further down to my cleavage. She said “Look at those babies. I probably shouldn’t do this, but …” She then reached over and pulled the two sides of my neckline together. Since I was already on my way out, I just quickly continued toward the door. I haven’t been back in the office or seen her since. Should I bring this up with her?
A: Oh, wow. If only people could hear themselves when they said “I probably shouldn’t do this,” and decide mid-sentence not to do this. You can absolutely bring this up with her when you see her next. Keep it brief, but let her know that it made you uncomfortable when she commented on your body and touched your clothes at the holiday party, and you’d appreciate it if she’d keep her hands off you in the future.