Dear Prudence

I’m Estranged From My Parents, but I Tell People They’re Dead

Prudie’s column for Nov. 1.

Stern-looking elderly parents.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence,
My childhood was very rough, and I spent it bouncing through foster care and various relatives. My parents were horrible. I was abandoned in a parking lot as a child, and my parents interfered with the one nice set of foster parents who wanted to adopt me because they were Jewish. I cut ties with them when I was 19 and have not spoken to any of my blood relatives for a decade. I am doing well—got an education, own my own car, and work as a bakery manager. My problem is that for years I have told people that my parents are dead, including people who have become close friends. It was easier and quicker than dragging out my past and enduring repeated conversations about forgiveness and filial duty. Now “Matt” and I are dating after knowing each other for a few years. He thinks my parents are dead—but they actually live in Florida. He knows I had a rough childhood but not how bad it was. I know I need to tell him, but I am afraid it might change how he sees me. Matt is close with his family. How do I do this the right way?
—Not Dead, Just Dead to Me

This is a pretty big revelation, and no matter how you break it to Matt, he may be shocked at first. But if he’s known you for years, I think the odds are good that he’ll give you the benefit of the doubt as he listens and that he’ll come to understand why you’ve made the choice you have—both in terms of not speaking to your family and in how you choose to disclose that information to other people. It may help to open with why you haven’t been able to discuss this with many people: “It was an incredibly painful and difficult decision, and hearing from people who had no idea how much I’d been through that I owed my parents another chance got to be more than I could bear. I know that you’re close with your own family, and it might be hard to imagine a version of the world where you are happier, healthier, and safer without being in touch with them. But I’ve only been able to build a decent life for myself completely apart from my biological relatives, and I hope you can try to understand why I’ve had to make difficult choices to get here.” Matt may have questions and need some time to adjust, and that’s fine. As long as he’s willing to slow down and listen without making snap judgments, I think you’ll end up being ultimately closer for it.

Dear Prudence,
Roughly one year ago, I elected to have bariatric surgery. I’ve been relatively upfront about this with most people in my life, but I don’t go out of my way to tell everyone. But a co-worker of mine is extremely quick to tell people about my surgery whenever anyone comments on my weight loss—whether I know those people or not. I find this extremely uncomfortable for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I don’t want to discuss such a personal thing with relative strangers. To further complicate matters, this co-worker and I are very close and maintain a friendship outside of the workplace. In fact, I have been debating asking her to be a bridesmaid in my wedding, as I’ve just recently gotten engaged. Is there a good way to tell her to shut up?
—Stop Talking About Surgery

I think the fact that you and your co-worker are quite close outside of work isn’t exactly a complication; in fact, it makes talking to her about this easier because you two have a history of talking about personal topics. Tell her that you’re not comfortable sharing the details of your surgery with people you don’t know and that in the future you want her to let you decide whether you want to tell someone about it. You could say, “Just because someone comments on my weight loss doesn’t mean that I’m necessarily going to start talking to them about my body or my medical history. I hope you’ll let me take the lead on those conversations and decide for myself whether I want to disclose anything to those people.”

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Dear Prudence,
When I first moved to my city, I hardly knew anyone. My one friend here invited me to join their social circle, which I appreciated at first, but I’ve come to realize I hate these people and want out. My “friend” turned out to be violently racist. So is most everyone else (and transphobic, and sexist, and all other flavors of bigotry). They pick on people with mental health issues, make horrible jokes, the works. So I’ve spent the year cultivating my own hobbies, meeting new people, and making new friends, which has made a big difference.

But there was one diamond in the rough of the original group, “Katie.” She’s sweet, kind, makes dad jokes, and is an all-around good person. I really want her to be part of the new friend circle I’m forming! The problem is she is bad at saying no or speaking ill of anyone, so she has trouble seeing anything wrong with the original crowd, even when they bully her to her face. I was part of lots of group activities she organizes—Dungeons & Dragons, weekly craft night, holiday parties, etc.—and at some point, I’m going to run out of excuses for why I can’t attend this meetup, or why I only want my friends to join our D&D group but veto everyone she grew up with. What’s the best way to tell someone “I love you, but everyone you hang out with is a horrendous bigot?” How can I surgically remove myself (and her) from this horrible crowd without being rude? Normally I would just ghost on these jerks, but it’s hard when Katie still assumes they’re what a normal friendship is like and wants to include me.
—Leaving the (Friendly) Nest

You say, “I love you, but everyone you hang out with is a horrendous bigot.” There’s no need to dress this sentiment up or to try to word it gracefully. It’s the only thing you have to say to her. I’m sorry that Katie seems to suffer from low self-esteem—or at the very least doesn’t seem to have a sense that she doesn’t deserve to be bullied by her friends—but if she’s willing to spend most of her time around racists, transphobes, and sexists, then she’s not acting as a force for good in her world. Be very clear with her about what events you are and aren’t willing to attend and why. If you want to invite her individually to join you and your new friends on the condition that she can’t invite others, you can do that too. But the response is up to her: If she continues to prioritize the comfort and inclusion of her racist, bigoted friends over all else, then she’s not the all-around good person you believed her to be. People who repeatedly make excuses for racists, regardless of the sweetness of their temperaments, advance the work of racism, full stop.

Dear Prudence,
Parking is very tight in my city, since we have two major universities and horrible traffic. My house is three blocks away from the university where I work. I don’t have a car, and my boyfriend has a motorcycle, but he usually takes the bus to work. A colleague was complaining about the cost of parking tags and lack of space for his daughter, a student here. I told him if she wanted to park in our driveway, she could. At first it was just her Volkswagen Beetle, and we rarely saw her. Then other cars started appearing in my driveway and stayed there all day. Apparently my colleague’s daughter told all her friends my driveway was free parking! Someone in a truck sideswiped my house and ruined all the flowers I planted.

I told my colleague that his daughter was no longer welcome to park at my house. My boyfriend rolled a large potted plant into the middle of our driveway and put up a towing sign. I got an apology from the daughter, but now my colleague is upset with me because I refuse to relent on my parking ban. It is making work borderline uncomfortable for me because we have to work closely together. He is very cold to me and makes personal digs, but nothing rising to an official complaint to human resources or our supervisor. How do I handle this?
—Parking Wars

“I can appreciate that parking is difficult for your daughter, and I appreciated her apology, but after the damage to both my garden and the side of my house, I’m not able to offer my driveway for others to park in anymore. I’d like to be able to let this go and focus on our work. Do you think we can do that?” If he can muster up the energy to move from cold to simply cool and let the digs go, then that might be the best you can hope for. But if he continues to make snide personal comments or if his coldness affects your ability to get your work done, and if you generally trust and get along with your boss, then asking for guidance from your supervisor is a logical next step. (Talking to your boss about a challenge you’re facing at work doesn’t mean you’re necessarily asking them to solve the problem for you.) If nothing else, know that your colleague’s low-stakes, long-running tantrum is embarrassing for him and has nothing to do with you or the eminently reasonable boundary you’ve drawn.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

Daniel Mallory Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe will return next week to discuss a Prudie letter—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,
Six years ago, I ghosted my mom. She’s a monster—I remember her trying to persuade my dad to kill himself. After he left, she made us children pray that our father would get killed on duty because the life insurance would be a “blessing.” She tried to have my older brother institutionalized by claiming he tried to murder me in my sleep with a knife. When I turned 15, she lied to doctors to try to get me diagnosed with a specific life-threatening illness. When I went to college, she cashed my financial aid checks by forging my signature, calling it “payback” for my childhood expenses. She’s taken out credit cards in my grandparents’ names and has preyed upon them to gain control of their estates. Somehow, she always manages to get away with her schemes. It’s been six years since I last spoke to her. I now live across the country and have a wonderful life with a successful job and beloved spouse. We just found out that we’re expecting twins. While I’m excited to start my family, I’m equally terrified that my mother will find out and demand to re-enter my life.

She has no other grandchildren to speak of and no remaining relationships with her children. She would also love the attention that comes from having twin grandchildren. The thought of her holding my babies makes me want to throw up. I also know she will take one look at my financially stable life and start to scheme. How can I protect my family? She has never been arrested, sued, or proven to be guilty of any wrongdoing. On paper, she looks like a model citizen. She excels at manipulating others into believing she’s a wonderful human. Is it possible to keep her from her grandchildren if she demands it?
—Afraid of Ghostly Visits

It is possible! Generally speaking, grandparents have a right to petition the court for visitation, but they don’t have the same innate right to visitation a parent does just by virtue of being a child’s grandparent. If she were to show up at your doorstep asking to see the children, you could turn her away and be perfectly within your rights. Moreover, courts usually take into account pre-existing relationships—which your mother doesn’t have—and hold the child’s best interest as the main priority, so it’s very unlikely that your mother could suddenly produce a legal document that meant you had to turn your children over to her regularly. But if it helps you to feel safer, consult a lawyer who specializes in family law and ask more specific questions about how to protect yourself. In the meantime, you can ask friends and family to limit what information they reveal, especially on social media, about your soon-to-be-born twins. Let them know that while it’s unlikely, it’s possible your mother could someday attempt to ferret out information about you through them and that they should be on their guard against her. Talk to your partner about what steps you could take to protect yourselves, were she ever to attempt to re-establish contact. Would you take out a restraining order? Alert your bank and monitor your credit ratings so that you could catch any attempts to commit fraud against you? Make sure anyone looking after your twins knew what your mother looked like and promised not to speak to her or let her see the children, if she were to turn up? Your mother does sound frighteningly manipulative, but the good news is that you’re well into adulthood and don’t have to give her any space to try to rope you back in. You can keep her out of your life forever.

Dear Prudence,
I am currently in line for a promotion within a team that has a difficult and demanding team lead. She is demeaning, condescending, and difficult to work with and has lost several employees due to her attitude. Recently I was approached by a manager who is looking to hire for a position that would be a lateral move with less pay than the promotion that I believe will be a better fit. Although a promotion and more pay are appealing, I am not willing to deal with my current boss much longer and would rather accept the lateral position if extended. How do I explain my decision to decline a promotion and pay increase without throwing my current boss under the bus? Management is aware of her attitude from previous employees and has failed to act.
—How to Decline a Promotion

You’re not “throwing your current boss under the bus” by declining to pursue a promotion you haven’t even been formally offered yet. You say that you’re “in line” for an in-team promotion, not that you’re currently staring down the barrel of a written offer, so don’t hesitate about letting this other manager know you’re interested. Alternatively—given that you’re on the verge of two offers—you could take this as a sign that you’re a hot commodity and try to apply for a job with better pay outside the company or find another promotion within the company that offers more money and a relatively competent boss. If you are asked, either by your manager or someone above her, why you’ve switched teams, you should be honest about it, even if you think the higher-ups are still unlikely to take action. Maybe once they realize just how many talented employees they’ve been losing under her, they’ll reconsider their hands-off approach.

Classic Prudie

“My boyfriend has about two dozen stuffed animals. Most of them are kept on a shelf in his closet, but one has a place of honor on his bed. Part of me feels like it shouldn’t be any big deal. But part of me keeps fixating on the fact that he’s a man in his 20s with two dozen stuffed animals. Is this a cause for concern, or should I let it go?”