Dear Prudence

My Husband Won’t Stop Exposing Himself to Our Teenage Daughter

Prudie’s column for Sept. 27.

An older man, naked, with a red bar and pixelation across his nether regions.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Thinkstock.

Dear Prudence,
Several years ago, our daughter, now 16, was fondled by an older cousin. We called the police, and the boy received probation.

My husband gets up early in the morning. He sets his work clothes out in the dining room so he doesn’t disturb me. For years, he got dressed in the bathroom. Two years ago, I caught him walking through the house naked. He said it was OK since no one was awake yet. I reminded him that our daughter gets up very early and asked him to please get at least partially dressed in the bathroom. He agreed, but I caught him a few weeks later still walking around naked. When I talked to him about the situation, he again said he’d get dressed in the bathroom.

I just learned that my daughter has seen him naked multiple times, including when he yelled out for her not to look and then walked out of the bathroom to grab a towel from the linen closet. On at least two other occasions, she came down to use the bathroom and saw him. I asked her if he might not have noticed that she’d come down, and she said that he’d turned in her direction, so she doesn’t know how he couldn’t have noticed her there. Granted, he was 20 or 30 feet away, but his behavior is downright creepy. Also, he never said anything to me about her already seeing him nude. The poor kid’s been diagnosed with PTSD. She’s planning to confront him the next time she goes to her psychologist, but is there anything else I should do in the meantime or afterward?
—My Husband Forgets We Have Kids in the House

Why on Earth are you letting your underage daughter take responsibility for confronting your husband about repeatedly exposing himself in front of her? That’s your job. You’ve known for at least two years that he has a habit of wandering through the house naked early in the morning. You asked him to stick to getting dressed in your bathroom, reminding him that your daughter—a victim of molestation—also got up early, and yet several weeks later, despite knowing and agreeing to all of this, your husband did it again. Now you find out that he has continued doing the exact same thing for years, that your daughter has been profoundly bothered by it on multiple occasions, and that he’s been keeping this from you—and your plan is to let her take the lead on this conversation? She’s 16 and traumatized, and you’re her parent. This is something that you need to talk about with him now. There is absolutely no reason for him to continue doing this, and you have to take seriously the possibility that he has been getting something out of this. It’s not hard to throw on a shirt and a pair of shorts before walking through the house, it’s been made clear to him that casual adult nudity is not a normal part of your household routine, and the sheer repetition and secrecy around this behavior suggests that it’s more than mere carelessness. Do not allow him to put you off again. Continue to check in with your daughter, prioritize her safety and well-being, and have a plan in place for how you will protect her if he doesn’t stop, even if that means staying in separate homes.

Dear Prudence,
My husband and I had children in our early 20s and sacrificed a lot to give them the best life possible. They are all grown now, and two are married. My husband and I are planning to travel and live abroad for the next decade or so. We have never been shy about talking about this, but my two married daughters both made comments this summer about starting families—things like, “Oh, you are going to be there, Mom,” and how their friends had children and the grandparents moved closer to provide free child care. We are not doing that. We will love any grandchildren we have, but our lives are not going to revolve around them. How do I tactfully bring this up to my children? They have these expectations that my husband and I don’t share. I want to nip this in the bud before the grandbabies are here.
—Traveling Grandparents

“It’s wonderful that some of your friends’ parents have moved close to them and provide free child care. As you know, your father and I have long had plans to travel and live abroad in the next phase of our lives, and we’re very excited about that. When and if you decide to have children, we’ll be absolutely thrilled to visit.” But I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about your children’s expectations, given that you’ve always been upfront about your travel plans. If they want to set up unrealistic assumptions in flat contradiction to what you’ve told them, that’s neither your fault nor your responsibility to fix.

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Dear Prudence,
Since my parents divorced, I’ve become a sounding board for my mother’s romantic relationships. When she started dating “Alan,” she began to confide in me about how he was treating her, describing emotional and verbal abuse. I did my best to be supportive while validating her feelings and making it repeatedly clear that his behavior wasn’t OK. I was relieved when she finally decided to leave him. The breakup was messy, and he even punched a hole in the wall. My aunt and uncle got him out of the house and changed the locks. Since then, Mom and Alan have gotten back together a couple of times in sort of secret, since my mom knows how our family feels about him. I’ve let her talk about him without really commenting, because I don’t want her to feel isolated.

However, I just had my first child (my mom’s first grandchild), and she asked if she could bring Alan to my house to meet my baby. I had to answer on the spot, telling her that I was still uncomfortable with how Alan had treated her and that I’d have to talk to my husband about it. I loathe this man. He’s anti-intellectual, sexist, and virulently racist. And of course, there’s the abuse, and not just of my mom: He’s even hit their dog. I can’t stop my mom from having a relationship with Alan, but I don’t want him in my life at all, and definitely not in my child’s life. My husband feels the same way, and just as strongly. But it seems really cruel to tell my mom, who’s always loved and supported me unconditionally, and who’s such an excited and devoted grandmother, that her boyfriend isn’t allowed near my kid. Am I overreacting? Is there a solution I’m not seeing?
—Mom’s Abusive Not-Quite-Ex

This man has punched holes through walls, frightened your mother so badly she had the locks changed, and hit a dog. You are not overreacting to insist that he never spend time with your child. You are in no danger of overreacting. The balance you’re trying to strike—keeping your mother from being isolated while also protecting your newborn child—is a very difficult one, but I think you’ve drawn the right line here. There is a difference between being cruel to your mother and stating a painful but necessary truth. Supporting her cannot extend so far that you let this violent and unstable man develop a relationship with your baby. Continue to make yourself available to her when possible—checking in on the phone, setting aside time to get coffee or a meal together one on one, inviting her to visit the baby without Alan—but hold firm to the boundary you’ve already set. Don’t talk yourself into exposing your baby to someone who has behaved violently and unpredictably. The only person behaving cruelly here is Alan, and you shouldn’t feel guilty for acknowledging that.

Dear Prudence,
I have a 15-year-old cat named Loki. Last year he started peeing everywhere that wasn’t his litter box. We found out that he was suffering from diabetes, a manageable but costly disease. Between his medical needs and special home care when we need to travel, it is costing us more than $3,000 a year to keep him relatively healthy and cared for. We have house payments, student loans, and a 2-year-old. We’ve had to significantly rearrange our financial priorities to care for him. My husband wants to take Loki off the medication and just let nature take its course, but that idea just makes me cry. I don’t want to watch him go back to having accidents and slowly waste away over the next couple months or years. I would rather put him down, but my husband says he’s otherwise a healthy cat and we can’t. Do we suck it up financially? Let nature run its course? Or pick a day to say goodbye to our beloved family pet while he’s still feeling relatively good?
—No Good Options

Your husband’s proposal, “Let’s take him off the medicine he needs and watch him slowly deteriorate until it feels necessary to put him down,” would cause unnecessary suffering and prioritizes his own comfort over the cat’s well-being. If he can’t mentally justify euthanasia unless he can see your cat in visible pain, the answer to that problem is not to put the cat in visible pain, but to work through the emotional tangle in himself so he can make a good decision. Loki is not a young cat who might reasonably have many years of excellent health ahead of him. You two should talk to your veterinarian about Loki’s quality of life as well as what you can and cannot do financially in order to extend an already-old cat’s existence. Have a plan in place that will enable the end of his life to be clean, safe, comfortable, and as dignified as possible—not bewildered and soiling himself. When you’re not sure what the next right thing to do is, the two principles to remember are these: to provide your cat with a healthy, happy life insofar as it is in your power and to minimize the pain and suffering of his death.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“He is not stupid! He knows all these things!”

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

Dear Prudence,
My girlfriend hates the sounds of joints popping and tells me it is equivalent to nails on a chalkboard for her. I have tried to quit cracking my knuckles in her presence, but my back still cracks if I stretch after sitting or lying down too long. It feels good and often happens because I roll over into a new position. We have started bickering about this every morning when I get up before her. I am not doing it on purpose—it just happens. How can I help my girlfriend get over this?

My guess is that it’s going to be a lot easier to slightly modify your morning routine than to help your girlfriend “get over” what sounds like a pretty visceral, involuntary antipathy to the sound of joints popping. (Imagine trying to simply will yourself into tolerating the sound of nails on a chalkboard!) On mornings when you wake up before her, get out of bed quickly and brush your teeth or make yourself a cup of coffee and let your joints pop to your heart’s content. You can even get back in bed once you’re done adjusting if you don’t have to be up and about for a while yet. It’s not a perfect solution, of course, and if your back cracks inadvertently as you hop out of bed, I hope your girlfriend can do her part not to hold you personally responsible for something involuntary, especially if you’re doing all you can to minimize the effect it has on her. But it’s certainly a pleasanter way to start the morning than fighting in bed.

Dear Prudence,
I am going to community college on a limited scholarship. My younger brother went straight to an expensive university. My cousin died last year in a car accident and my aunt announced she wanted to give the money from his education fund to us. This means a lot to both of us and will cover a semester and a half of my brother’s school but pay for all of mine, including the technical training I have to do afterward. Plus, I might be able to afford a used car. My parents and brother are pressuring me to give the money to my brother, since he “needs it more.” There has always been an edge of favoritism toward my brother. My mother brags about him going to this university all the time. My father says my brother is going to do “great things.” I get the “just”: just going to community college, just made B’s this semester, just plans to go to a trade school, etc. Just never enough. It would break my aunt’s heart to hear about this, but the pressure from my parents is getting uncomfortable. I have already moved out, but anytime I go back home, this comes up. How do I make it stop?
—Always Less Than

The best possible outcome, I think, is that you tell your brother and parents unequivocally that you’re going to use the money your aunt gave you for your own education and that they respect your decision and drop the subject. Less ideal, but still good, is that you tell your brother and parents unequivocally that you’re going to use the money your aunt gave you for your own education and you subsequently cut visits and conversations short if they disregard your clear answer and try to hound you into changing your mind. You might also consider having a frank conversation with your parents about how their obvious favoritism and frequent comparisons have made you feel, and ask them to think more carefully before they talk about your respective achievements. Being able to pay for your education without student loans, getting a B average, and having a career path after graduation are things you should be proud of; it’s a shame that your parents can’t see what impressive work you’ve already done. Allow yourself to feel a sense of accomplishment even if they can’t, and minimize the amount of time you spend listening to their attempts to drag you down and make you feel like an auxiliary to your brother, when all it sounds like his elite education has given him thus far is a sense of superiority and entitlement.

Classic Prudie

“My 14-year-old son recently came across some Polaroid pictures of me that his father took of me back when we were 14—we have been together for a long time. The problem is that the pictures are nude shots! You can’t really tell that the pictures are of me, as my appearance has changed pretty dramatically. My son came to me really worried that his father was potentially hoarding teenage porn. Which is worse, thinking your father has kiddie porn or knowing that you just saw a 14-year-old version of your mother naked?”