Dear Prudence

What About Mom?

I’m about to give birth, but all my in-laws will do is hog the baby.

Mallory Ortberg
Mallory Ortberg

Sam Breach

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Dear Prudence,
I’m (over)due with my second child, and I am not looking forward to the “help” that will come when she is born. When my son was born, my in-laws came for a week. They helped by holding my son, soothing my son, playing with him—all the things I wanted to do. To be fair, they also cooked and cleaned a bit, but I had no idea how to tell them to let us bond. My in-laws are coming again this time around, from what I understand. My husband insists they are helpful, but all I feel is that they are intrusive and disrespectful of my boundaries. My own family is popping in too, for just a few days, but I have no qualms about telling them where to stick it if they overstep! How do I manage my husband wanting his parents and my intense need to not deal with them?

—Bug Off With New Baby

The crucial fact to bear in mind about your in-laws is that while they may be intrusive, they thus far do not seem to have disrespected your boundaries, because you have yet to communicate your boundaries to them. You say they’re coming to visit soon “from what you understand,” but this is a decision you should be making with your husband. He shouldn’t be extending the invitation unilaterally without your input, especially since you’re the one who’s going to be recovering from childbirth. Talk to him—tonight. Tell him how you feel and when and for how long you’d like his family to stay (while making clear this is about your needs and not about whether they are helpful). It sounds like they may already have travel booked, in which case a big reason to have this conversation is for your husband to know how you feel. If, when they arrive, you’d like them to spend more time helping keep the house in order and keeping your toddler entertained, then tell them what you need. “Slartha, Thector—I’d appreciate it so much if you could put on the kettle for tea while I feed Quadrophenia here.” Your husband should be there to back you up.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My co-worker “Anna” and I are supposed to start working together on a huge project in May. It’s an amazing opportunity for me, and even though I don’t know Anna well, I’ve been really excited to start—until Anna cornered me in the bathroom and told me my presence makes her physically ill. She explained that she’s an empath, and since I’m a “fake” person, being around me pains her. She said that I’m friendly to people I don’t like (I’m polite to everyone I work with, and I’m naturally cheery) and that I pretend to be confident during presentations even though I’m not. (It’s taken me a lot of work to become a public speaker.) A lot of the reasons Anna gave were hurtful and seemed unfair, but the point is that being around me makes her sick. She looked sweaty and ill during our talk, and I believe she believes what’s she’s saying. Anna told me I should do the right thing and remove myself from this project. That’s not going to happen. But I don’t know how to work with someone who is nauseated by me and who plainly doesn’t want to work with me. What should I do?

—Get Real?

Talk to your boss about this right away. If your company has an HR department, involve it in the conversation too. This is so far beyond the pale when it comes to appropriate workplace behavior I’m frankly shocked that Anna has even been recommended for this project. Whether or not she truly believes you’re “making” her ill is irrelevant; the important facts are that all she managed to accuse you of was being professional and polite at work and that she asked you to withdraw rather than offer to withdraw herself. Either Anna is unwell and requires help, or she is trying to get away with hostile, bullying behavior and requires discipline. Either way, it’s affecting her ability to do her job, and yours too, and as such you should request help from your own boss in resolving the situation.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I’m in the process of becoming a living kidney donor for a stranger on the organ donation waiting list. Everyone in my life has been very supportive except my sister. She first asked if I’d joined a cult, then told me that I was taking a massive risk (I’m not), and said she “would be more shocked if you said you were moving to Africa for a mission.” I told her that she was being absurd and that if she didn’t want to talk about it, I would keep her out of it. She claims to be supportive but sent an incredibly condescending email saying that she understands why I “especially” would be interested in doing this, that she doesn’t “espouse the moral philosophy” that this is a good thing, and that there were “other things you could do that would have more impact.”

I expected most people to be neutral or supportive—her vehemence has taken me by surprise and somewhat deflated my enthusiasm, although I’m still going ahead with it. The problem is that I’ll be seeing her in a few weeks for her birthday, along with my parents. I’m concerned that I’ll have a strong reaction to anything she says to me on this topic, and she’ll act like I’m being ridiculous since she’s now claiming (disingenuously, it seems to me) to be supportive of my decision. Should I talk to her about this ahead of time? Send her an email with my position? Just clam up when we see each other? We have a great relationship otherwise, and this is really making me dread seeing her.

—Sister’s Kidney Troubles

Your sister’s reaction is so out of left field that I’m having trouble figuring out what could possibly be prompting it. It would be one thing if you two had a contentious relationship, but for someone who’s normally loving and reasonable to suddenly flip out at the prospect of voluntary, living organ donation is tough to parse. What “moral philosophy” does she believe is motivating your decision that she must disavow? It may be she’s projecting her own anxieties about mortality and altruism on to you. But whatever her reasons, which she may never be able to explain to your satisfaction, I think it’s a good idea for you to simply stop talking about it with her. Be perfectly friendly about everything else—but if she brings up the donation, just smile and say, “It’s your birthday. Let’s just focus on you.”

* * *

Dear Prudence: “Hardly Working” Edition

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Dear Prudence,
The people in the apartment next to mine have a child who screams at all hours; the sound is loud and terrible and wakes me up at night. If it were a baby I would try to tell myself it will grow out of this, but the child is 7 years old and on the autism spectrum. What do I do? I don’t feel I should have to move just to get a good night’s sleep (I was here first; they just moved in last month), but given today’s “understand autism” mentality I am worried if I say anything I will be labeled as the one in the wrong. I am sympathetic to their struggles, to a point. Is there anything I can do? The lack of sleep is messing with my job; friends tell me to inform them that if I get fired because of it, I should sue the family. Thoughts?

It is unlikely that you would be able to win a lawsuit against your neighbors if you are fired. Moreover, it is not as if your neighbors are routinely holding chainsaw-juggling contests in the middle of the night—to sue them for their child’s involuntary behavior would be, at the least, unkind, especially when you have not yet had a single conversation with them about it. You have options to redress this situation short of moving out or filing suit. Simply acknowledging that you can hear your neighbors’ child and asking for help minimizing noise in your apartment building is neither ableist nor rude. Knock on their door with a box of cupcakes and politely let them know that the noise is affecting you and that you’d love to figure out a common solution with them. Contact your landlord (as well as your local tenants’ rights board) about the situation and explore your options. It may be that your landlord can move one or both of you, is able to help offset the cost of soundproofing, or come up with some other bearable alternatives. In the short term, try the usual combination of earplugs and a white noise machine (or even moving your bed) to minimize the interruptions to your sleep. Being understanding toward your neighbors does not mean you are not allowed to speak up about the need for quiet hours in your building; being kind and pretending not to notice a problem are not the same thing.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
We live in a rural area where there is no county leash law. Our neighbor has a dog that she leaves outside daily, no matter the weather and often when she is on vacation. For over a year he has been coming to our house almost daily, and I am at my wit’s end. While we don’t dislike him, he agitates our own dogs and chases our outdoor cats. I worry he will be hit by a car on his daily trek to our house. Multiple attempts to get our neighbor to build a fence or otherwise contain him have been ignored. He often shows up dirty and looking like he has been in fights with other animals. If I report him to animal control, he will be taken to a kill shelter, so I don’t see that as an option. Help!

—Not Our Dog

You’ve already asked your neighbor on numerous occasions to keep her dog indoors or at least fenced in, and she’s declined, and you don’t have any legal recourse since your county doesn’t have leash laws. Your options at this point are fairly limited. You can build a fence of your own, which will at least stop the distress your own pets are suffering on a daily basis, although that will cost you both time and money and won’t solve the plight of your neighbor’s dog. You can try to find a no- or low-kill shelter in your area and explore first (before filing a report) whether the authorities use that shelter as an option. Or you might decide that your local animal control, even with the possibility of eventual euthanasia, is a kinder alternative to dying in a street fight or car accident. Whatever you decide, you should operate on the assumption that your neighbor will continue to fail to act, and act according to what you think is best for all the animals involved.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
This February, my boyfriend of eight years broke up with me when he found out I was pregnant. We’d been temporarily in a long-distance relationship when he had to move across the country for his job. I was overjoyed to learn I was pregnant and thought we could get married after I moved out to join him. My boyfriend, however, was livid—he was starting a new job, and we only saw each other once a month—how could I have gotten pregnant? Was it even his? How could I be so selfish? I must have gotten pregnant on purpose to sabotage his career.

I begged him to visit me, and when he didn’t, I flew out to see him. We got into a huge fight at the airport, broke up, and then I flew home and got an abortion. I didn’t want to be a single mother, and the only decent thing he did for me was to mail a check to help with the cost of the procedure. I haven’t heard a word from him since—until last Friday. He was in town and stopped by my office and asked if we could talk. We went out for coffee, and he said he wants me back, says the abortion was a huge mistake, that he was horrible and unfair and he wants to get married and have a family with me.

I’m reeling. Part of me wants nothing to do with him, but another part of me wants to take him back. I still love him—he was my first everything, and we’ve been together since college—but the way he treated me makes me want to back away. However, I also know he was stressed at his job, plus the fact that we were long-distance, and how he acted was really out of character. We were happy together for eight years, until the last six months. It’s stupid to take him back, right? I’m hurting and confused and I don’t know what to do.

—Contemplating Reunion

Don’t back away from this man. Run away from this man like he’s Vesuvius and you’re a resident of Pompeii circa 79 A.D. Some things aren’t “out of character”—they establish character. The fact that your boyfriend, after eight supposedly happy years together, would respond to the news of your pregnancy with disgust, contempt, and accusations of infidelity and a secret desire to ruin his professional prospects should tell you what you need to know about what kind of husband and father he would make. You’re tempted to give him a pass because of his stress at work. But don’t do it. That’s not sufficient justification for what he did.

Consider the facts: He didn’t respond honestly by saying he was uncertain, afraid, and unready to become a parent. He hid on the other side of the country, dumped you in an airport, then mailed you a check to defray (not completely cover!) the cost of your abortion. The fact that he showed up at your office in order to get you to talk to him troubles me too—it suggests he’s willing to disregard boundaries to get what he wants out of you and that he expects you to respond to him in the moment.

Of course you feel conflicted and uncertain. Everything happened so recently. It’s barely been two months since every aspect of your personal life was completely upended. A huge part of you must want to believe that the man you thought you knew for eight years can’t really have done something so monstrously cruel and cowardly. But he did, and apologizing in a coffee shop doesn’t begin to make up for this massive failure of character. Please lean upon whatever support system you have. Enlist friends and family members to spend time with you and check in periodically if you’re worried you might try to text or call him. Get yourself to therapy immediately. Write down everything awful he accused you of when you told him you were pregnant—whatever it takes to put another day between you and your ex.

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