Dear Prudence

Baby-sitting Burden

My daughter just became a single mother—and she’s passing the responsibility on to me.

A finger points at an older woman on the phone while a baby cries nearby.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Thinkstock.

Dear Prudence,
My daughter is in her 40s and just had a baby by herself. She’s finding it difficult to adjust to single motherhood and keeps pushing more of the responsibility on me. I am 70, and caring for an infant more than a few hours at a time is difficult for me. My daughter has a nanny in the mornings and early afternoons, but if she has to work late, she calls me to come over without advance notice, sometimes four days in a week. On weekends, she drops her daughter off with no warning and gets angry if I am out of the house.

A decade ago I used to watch my son’s stepchildren after school. My daughter recently complained at a family dinner that I spent more time with her brother’s children and that they “weren’t really his,” which really upset him. She refuses to apologize, and her tone with me has become increasingly bitter, but she keeps calling me over. I understand she is under stress, but this can’t go on. How do I get through to her?
—Unpaid Child Care Worker

“I’m not available to baby-sit today.” “No, I’m not home right now.” “You’ll have to make other arrangements.” “The fact that I used to babysit your nieces and nephews a decade ago doesn’t mean I’m available to care for a baby four nights a week.” “I need at least 24 hours’ notice, and I can’t look after her for longer than two hours. If that doesn’t work for you, then you’ll need to find someone else.” “I’m not going to argue about this with you. I’m not available, and I’m going to hang up now.” You may not be able to convince your daughter that she ought to apologize to her brother and his children, and you may not be able to “get through to” her insofar as she may never agree with your reasons in setting limits, but you can absolutely achieve your goal of no longer operating a free, no-notice-given, four-days-a-week day care by saying “no” and refusing to get drawn into an argument about which grandchildren are “really” yours.

If you feel like your daughter’s behavior has changed abruptly since the baby was born, it’s also worth bringing up the possibility that she’s suffering from postnatal depression. It may be that she needs additional support that you can’t provide, but you can point her in the direction of someone who can.

Dear Prudence,
I’ve been with my husband for 10 years, and he’s great; he’s loving, supportive, funny, a great dad, and smart. Here’s my issue: I can’t shake my ex out of my head the last few months. I’m having dreams about him (both innocent and otherwise), and he creeps into my thoughts multiple times a day. I have no idea why. We broke up more than 10 years ago and have only run into each other a handful of times since. He was my first love and first lover. I feel very guilty about these dreams and thoughts, and I’m not sure what to do.
—Shaking Ex Out of My Thoughts

I think you should feel a lot less guilty! That is much easier said than done, of course. If it were only a matter of telling oneself, “Self, stop feeling guilty,” then we’d all have a much easier time of it. But it’s completely normal and common for people to periodically think about their exes, even if they’re perfectly happy in their present relationships. This guy was your first love! It sounds like the dreams preceded the conscious thoughts—it makes perfect sense that you’d find yourself thinking about someone who played an important role in your life and has recently been making surprise guest appearances in your head. You’re not doing anything wrong or hurting your husband in any way. When you start beating yourself up for thinking of him, try to remember that thinking fondly about someone who played an important part in your life is a good thing.

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Dear Prudence,
I’m a twentysomething woman in my first real job, and I have a crush on a co-worker. I know it’s a bad idea—we work together, and he just started seeing another woman. I’m happy for him, but I feel like I’m still obviously displaying an interest in him. I laugh at his jokes, we always eat lunch together, and conversation just flows with us. I don’t want to become an office joke or seem like I’m fawning over him. I know it can hurt a woman’s career more than a man’s to have an office romance; I don’t want that getting around if I were to change jobs in the future. I confided about this to another friend I work with, and to my surprise she said she had no idea I was interested in him. I asked her to let me know if I was ever being embarrassingly flirtatious. Is there anything else I can do to keep me from becoming the office joke until I can crush this crush?
—Office Crush

Do not make one of your colleagues responsible for monitoring whether you are displaying too open a romantic interest in another colleague. That will not help you further your aims of keeping things discreet. It’s an inappropriate request to make of a co-worker, even if the two of you have a friendly relationship—it’s your responsibility, not hers, to make sure you behave professionally at work. It’s fine to laugh at his jokes, and it’s fine that the two of you have conversational chemistry, but if you need to scale back your daily lunches to just once or twice a week, then do it. As for your female co-worker, tell her, “I’m sorry for trying to involve you in this. I shouldn’t have asked you to do that, and I’m focused on managing my own behavior.”

Dear Prudence,
My friend is dying of cancer. She is very private, especially about her health, but she has managed to update her closest friends, including me, along the way. Most recently she said the doctors told her the cancer is too aggressive to stop and that at this point they are just trying to “slow it down.” I assume that her doctors gave her an estimate of how much time she has left, but she did not say that. Can I ask her? If so, how? I want to know because I love her, not out of some prurient interest or curiosity. I will not tell anyone else, and I’m sure my friend will implicitly trust my motives and intentions.
—Trying to Find a Way to Ask

You say that your friend will implicitly trust your motivations, but I think if you were absolutely certain about that, you wouldn’t have bothered to ask me first. The fact that she’s “very private, especially about her health” suggests that she’s not comfortable sharing any timeline the doctors may have given her. The most important questions you can ask her right now, I think, are, “What do you need, and how can I help?” It’s clear that you love her, and I understand that as one of her close friends you feel desperate for more information, but you should focus your energy instead on finding out what she needs from you right now.

More Dear Prudence

Bi, Weakly: I told all my friends that I’m gay—but now I’m interested in a woman. How do I tell them?
Blue Period: When should I tell my new boyfriend about my depression?
Dear Prudence Uncensored: The Embarrassing Subordinate.

Dear Prudence,
One of the higher-ups in my office is retiring, and employees are making a goodbye present. We’ve been asked to contribute parts, although not money. There are hundreds of employees at my job; some may have a rapport with this person, but I don’t. My immediate boss has said our participation is voluntary. But I worry that if I don’t participate, it will reflect poorly on me. I am uncomfortable with pretending to make something heartfelt and displeased that this has become an expectation in the workplace.
—Diffident Dissembler

If it’s voluntary, and you don’t have a rapport with the soon-to-be retiree, you can decline to participate with a clear conscience, especially since your office is so large that hundreds of others are already contributing. Unless you’re experiencing significant pressure from your colleagues or boss (and it doesn’t sound like you are), I don’t think you have to worry about looking bad. It sounds like this is less an expectation than a large-scale group project that a lot of volunteers are pretty excited about. Let them enjoy it!

Dear Prudence,
I’m a recent college grad, and last year was a super turbulent one for me. In 2017 I had four jobs and lived in two states. Now it’s time to start doing my taxes, and I’m still missing a W-2 form. Of course, the W-2 I’m missing is from the worst job I had ever had.

I was briefly a waitress in a tiny, crappy breakfast diner very early in the year. The hours and work were horrific, and the people were some of the worst I have ever known. My co-workers and bosses were immature (think: purposely ignoring my questions or refusing to train me if they saw I got a better tip), incompetent (think: losing my Social Security number twice while trying to set up my paychecks and making me write it on the back of receipts for them), and flat-out mean (think: my boss making fun of my art degree to my face after a hard shift until I cried). The idea of calling them to ask them to send my W-2 is so stressful I can’t breathe. But I don’t think they’ll send it unless I call. The restaurant is walking distance from my parents’ house, and my paystub seems to list a third-party accountant. What should I do?
—An Anxious Ex-Waitress

As stressful as the idea of talking to these awful bosses sounds, it can’t be as stressful as dealing with the IRS over unreported income. If the idea of calling sends you into a panic, try contacting the managers via email. (Plus, that way there’s a written record of your request.) If email fails, here’s how to report the missing form to the IRS. Something tells me your former bosses are a lot likelier to send over your W-2s once the IRS gets in touch with them.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“It’s never that bad if someone else gets in more trouble than you do!”

Mallory Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe discuss this letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.