Danny M. Lavery, 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.)
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Danny M. Lavery: A joyous and a sensible Tuesday to you all. Let’s chat!
Q. To tell or not to tell: My relationship ended because although we were still in love, we were at an impasse where children were concerned: He had gone from “maybe” wanting them to 100 percent committed to living child-free. I have always wanted to be a mother, so we split amicably and I moved back to where I’m from on the other side of the world. I discovered I’m pregnant two weeks ago and am feeling conflicted. It’s definitely his as I haven’t been with anyone else in years. I want the baby, and I have a big community of family and friends around me to help. Am I obligated to inform him, knowing he doesn’t want children? What would co-parenting even look like with an ocean between us? It almost seems kinder not to tell him, but it seems immoral. I’m also afraid he will be angry or suggest I did it on purpose. Is there a way to tell him and also assure him that he need have no part in it, that he is under no obligation and I would even prefer he were not involved, without being a dick about it?
A: It is, I think, a good idea to tell your ex you’re going to have a child. Even if he doesn’t like the information, and even if the conversation is profoundly uncomfortable, at the very least you will be practicing for the many uncomfortable conversations you will have to have as a parent. Sure, there’s a way to tell him you’re pregnant and you also don’t intend to turn to him for emotional or financial support, or require his services as a co-parent. You just told me beautifully, and I think when you inform him you should say exactly what you said to me. He may get angry, which is fine. Having reproductive-style sex generally allows for the possibility of pregnancy, even with birth control; he can’t exactly get mad at you without also blaming himself. (Well, he can, and people do all the time, but he shouldn’t.) The silver lining is that both of you appear to be on the same page—neither of you want or expect him to be involved in this baby’s life. It may be possible for you two to arrive at a mutually satisfactory custody agreement together that spells out his non-involvement in your child’s life, which would likely bring you no little piece of mind in the future.
Q. I don’t want to work during maternity leave!: My current employer is asking how “available” I’ll be during my upcoming maternity leave—i.e. will I be willing to take meetings, go to pitches, respond to emails, do assignments, etc. This is my third child, and third employer that I’ve encountered while pregnant for that matter, that has made it very clear they expect me to maintain my workload and communications while I’m out on maternity leave. The last two times I’ve obliged, but this is my last child, and the last chance I have to really embrace my maternity leave and this big milestone in life! How do I tell my current employer I’d rather not be available for any work commitments without sounding like I’m not still dedicated to my job outside this sensitive time?
A: I welcome anyone with more specific information on maternity leave protections to chime in, but my inclination is to advise you to say, “I won’t be available during my maternity leave, but I’ll be back to work on X date.” It sounds like your last two maternity leaves were with different employers, so at the very least your boss can’t try to use precedent against you. Don’t say you’d rather not be available during this time because that leaves open room for argument. Taking maternity leave to actually go on maternity leave does not mean that you’re not dedicated to your job. It means you just gave birth.
Q. My mom told my phobic sister all my partner’s secrets, and she aired them all on Facebook: The only family my partner has ever had was her drug-addicted parents who once broke her arm to get pain meds. Needless to say, she has trust issues. She used to joke that she only dated people with large close-knit families because she wanted the whole package. She was ecstatic to join my boisterous throng of relatives and even calls my parents Mom and Dad at their bequest. The only person who hasn’t embraced her is my sister who is racist and homophobic. My partner is a lesbian and biracial. My sister has had it out for her for “brainwashing” me since I came out of the closet. My family has ignored my sister’s tantrums.
Over the years my partner has developed a really close bond with my family, especially my mother, to whom she’s told many of her deep personal secrets. The two are close and often go to each other first whenever they need something. Last year my mom pulled my partner into a family drama that involved my sister. My sister was enraged and we woke the following morning to several lengthy, graphic posts about my partner. This how not only my partner and I, but all of our respective co-workers, bosses, friends, etc. learned that my mother has been feeding every secret my partner ever told her back to my sister. My sister considered nothing off-limits, even great detail about my partner’s rape and subsequent abortion when she not yet a teenager and my sister’s theory about this causing her to be a lesbian … which was still not the worst thing she posted. My partner has been depressed ever since. Friends she’s had for years stopped talking to her. Her boss doesn’t make eye contact with her anymore. Her life has been fodder for a lot of office gossip.
My family was not even bothered by what my sister did. My mother has come up with excuse after excuse about how she did nothing wrong and thinks my partner should apologize to her for getting angry about it. The expectation is that this is just a family squabble and my partner will get over it and rejoin the fold like nothing happened. Meanwhile my partner has told me she no longer wishes to get married, and she doesn’t see how we can have a future as she’ll never be comfortable around them again. I don’t blame her. My mom used her trust and handed my sister ammo. I’m being torn between my partner and my family and I feel like it may be my fault. Where can I go from here?
A: Great God, this is one of the most distressing things I’ve ever heard. Your mother has betrayed your partner’s trust in the most profound and humiliating way imaginable, and that she has the audacity to demand an apology from your partner after betraying her secrets to a racist homophobe who hates her is absolutely chilling.
Your partner is absolutely right to question your future together if you have not already taken a strong position against your family’s treatment of her. This is not a situation where a person should be “torn.” On the one side, you have your partner—the woman who loves you, who has suffered greatly in life, and who has borne your sister’s racist, homophobic attacks with grace and patience. On the other hand you have a mother who weaponized your partner’s assault and trauma as a teenage rape victim, and a sister who publicly delighted in sharing the most painful, private, intimate details of your partner’s past. That your partner has friends who have stopped talking to her because of what your sister did is absolutely horrifying and suggests that your partner has very few people who are in her corner and coming to her defense. Please be that person for her, and do not keep your mother and your sister in your life. They are not good people, they have expressed no regret for their actions, and they are not safe for your partner (or anyone they consider a target) to be around. If you’re not able to do that, then I hope your partner finds the strength to leave you and take care of herself.
Q. The gay ’90s: My grandpa came out to my grandma (his wife of 40 years) and his kids in the ’90s. None of them took it well, but they have gradually rekindled loving (and, I think, stronger) relationships in the years since. One of my uncles and his wife (my aunt) took the news worst of all, but they are currently caring for my grandpa in his old age (my grandma passed away more than a decade ago and most of the family lives farther away). The trouble is they still have not told their kids (my cousins) who are now the only ones in the family who ostensibly don’t know. One of these cousins is in college but lives at home, so she spends a lot of time with my grandpa. My grandpa told me he wishes he could tell her or somehow find out if she has figured it out on her own. The main reason he came out in the first place was because the fear of people finding out accidentally was painful and exhausting. I don’t want to bring it up with her because we are not close, and I don’t think it’s my information to give. On the other hand, I think it’s wrong that my aunt and uncle are withholding this information from their adult children and that they are pressuring my grandpa to stay in the closet around his grandkids. Is there anything I can do?
A: You can call and visit your grandfather whenever it’s possible for you, so there’s at least one family member he’s in regular contact with who knows he’s gay and can speak honestly with. You can also, I think, encourage him to tell your cousin—she’s a grown adult and it’s not reasonable of his children to expect him to stay closeted around her. They’ve had at least 20 years to come to terms with the fact that their father is gay. Honestly, if your grandfather is comfortable with the idea, I think you could even ask him if it would be all right for you to tell her on his behalf and relieve some of his anxiety. Being pressured into the closet at the end of his life must be painful and exhausting for your grandfather. If there’s anything you can do to relieve some of that burden, as long as he’s willing, I think you should try to do it.
Q. Re: I don’t want to work during maternity leave!: Assuming the LW is in the U.S., maternity leave is one of the conditions covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act. Depending on what state the LW is in, there may be state laws in play as well. Going on a leave of absence means that you are physically not available to perform your job. The law gives you time to recover from childbirth and to bond with your new baby, and protects your job while doing so. No employer has the legal right to hold it against you if you inform them that your leave of absence means that you will be, well, absent!
A: This is helpful; someone else recommended the LW google “FMLA interference” for further advice on how to avoid being pressured into working while on leave. Thanks!
Q. Takes the cake: I used to be a professional baker in college and I continue to do it for friends and family. Two and a half years ago I did my cousin’s wedding cake but did not attend her wedding as I had small children at the time (it was adults only). I never got a thank you from her, written or otherwise, and my aunt even scolded me for not sending a gift! Rather than cause a fight, I sent my cousin a gift card and promptly knocked her and my aunt off the cake list. Every time they have asked, I have told them it wasn’t a good time or I was too busy. I have continued to make cakes for friends, co-workers, and other family. Only now my cousin is pregnant and wants me to do a cake at her baby shower—I told her no. Now my aunt and she are asking everyone why I hate my cousin and refuse to do the cake but will do it for strangers (I did a cake for a co-worker’s kid’s graduation). I want to strike back that I got thanked by those people but I don’t think it will be helpful. I can’t avoid them as we live in the same town and attend family events. Help! I don’t hate them but I don’t want to bake for them, what should I do?
A: Continue to not make your cousin a cake, and to meet rudeness and prying with cheerful non-engagement. “I love Rourthenay, but my schedule won’t permit it. Have you tried ordering a cake from [NONDESCRIPT CAKE EMPORIUM NO. 7]? I hear they do great work.” If your aunt wants to complain all over town that her niece won’t make her a free cake, let her; I don’t think she’s going to be met with a great deal of sympathy.
Q. Pet sitter messed up cat’s medication: Over the Memorial Day weekend, my boyfriend and I hired pet sitters who had taken care of our cats once before over a 10-day vacation. We were very pleased with their service at that time. This time around, both of our cats needed medication, which the sitters assured us they could handle. But they apparently do not know the difference between 0.1 ml and 1 ml and gave one of our cats several times the correct dosage of one of the medicines. Luckily, this wasn’t dangerous and she’s fine. But if it were a different kind of medication, it could’ve easily not been fine at all, and the incident caused stress on our vacation because we couldn’t see for ourselves that she was OK (we were the ones who figured out, from afar, that she’d been overdosed, and it took a while to get them to understand what had happened).
I had previously written a five-star yelp review for this business, but I just updated it to three stars with an explanation of what happened. I said I would still recommend this business if a pet doesn’t need medication, which is true—they do a great job feeding and keeping in touch while you’re gone. But I think it’s important for potential clients to know that they may not know how to dispense medication properly. Now the owner of the business is emailing and texting about how sad she is over the review and that it will hurt her business, which is how she and the other sitters make a living and support their families. I do understand all that and I have no desire to hurt their business—and they did do a great job the first time around. Should I take the review down? (I would take down both reviews; I definitely don’t want the five-star one up without the update.)
A: I think it’s unlikely that a single three-star review is going to be what makes the difference between the sitters at this company being able to provide for their families versus starving in the streets. Your review was accurate and reasonable, and just because it makes the owner of the business sad is not a sufficient reason to remove it. If the owner is interested in retraining her employees in the matter of dispensing medication and wants to address it by replying to your review, then she is free to do so (and should!). But, as you say, this is relevant information for potential clients to have, especially if their pets are dependent upon medication with carefully-calibrated doses. The owner would do better to channel her anxiety into making sure everyone who works for her knows the difference in dosage measurements than to repeatedly text you.
Q. Re: Takes the cake: I think it’s a little unfair to passive aggressively punish the aunt and cousin without telling them why. They may think the writer is overreacting, in which case NO CAKE FOR THEM. But maybe they apologize profusely! Or maybe they wrote a letter that got lost in the mail. Either way, the writer should at least tell them why they’re upset.
A: For whatever it’s worth, the OP believes that explaining the situation won’t make any difference to their cousin. That and the aunt’s campaign to announce this cake-related injustice all over town suggests that the letter writer is not dealing with reasonable people. That said, it’s definitely the simplest solution, and even if their relatives don’t like the answer, I think it’s worth trying. Let’s upgrade my answer from “You don’t have to make anyone a cake on demand; leave it at that” to “Consider telling them kindly and calmly that you were bothered that they never thanked you for the last one, and if they explode, now you have an even better reason not to make them cakes in the future.”
Q. Job acceptance etiquette: I’ve been unemployed for two months (layoffs), and I recently interviewed for a position I’m likely to get. The problem is that I don’t feel passionate about this role or the company whatsoever. It’s not a horrible place, but they expect me to take on the responsibilities of three people for the salary of one. The health care would be excellent so that I don’t have to keep paying out of pocket, though my savings will last until mid-fall. I know I wouldn’t be happy on a regular basis if I feel agitated even before the offer, so what’s the etiquette when being offered a job you’ll likely leave within a few months? Settle because it’s the only option? Don’t take the opportunity from someone who might love it, and don’t waste the company’s time? I have zero dependents, if that matters.
A: Your primary obligation in this instance is to yourself. If it makes the difference between having a few months’ worth of rent left in your savings account versus having nothing at all, then you should take the job regardless of how long you plan on staying. There’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to find another job offer right away, and it may be that you end up at this company for closer to six months to a year before you’re able to move on.
If, however, you’re not close to any sort of financial emergency and feel reasonably confident you’ll have a job offer you like better in a number of weeks or months, you can pass. It’s not a good idea to have a lot of short-term tenures on your resume, but if historically you’ve stayed at previous employers for long periods of time, you should be able to explain this blip relatively easily. If this makes a big difference to you financially (especially if it would make the difference between having health insurance versus paying for it yourself), and if you think you could see your way to sticking it out for at least six months, then I think you should consider accepting.