Daniel Mallory Ortberg is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Daniel Mallory Ortberg: Good morning, everyone! What a Tuesday—we’ve got some big questions coming down the pike. Let’s get started.
Q. My day care provider is being a boob, literally! I am a single mother of an adopted baby, and I am opting to formula-feed since I can’t lactate. I am a working mom as well, and found a home day care provider who seemed amazing—she has two kids of her own (one a little older than my daughter) and has run this home day care for five years or so.
The only bump in the road was on the first day when I pulled out the formula and bottles, and she wrinkled her nose and said, “You feed her that slop?” I ignored the barb (I’m used to it), gave a quick rundown, and went on my way. Two months later, this past Friday, I got off work early and decided to pick up my daughter early. There is a side door where parents can enter without knocking, so I did that. I started the sign-out process, and as I was doing so, the day care assistant walked by and saw me. She tried to engage me with conversation, but I wanted to get my daughter so I brushed by her. When I got to the area of the house where my daughter was, I about fell over. The day care provider was NURSING MY BABY!
I marched over, took the baby from her arms, and asked her if she was crazy. The provider said that she was saving my baby from chemicals I was trying to force into her body and I should thank her for doing it all these months! I didn’t say anything; I just grabbed the diaper bag and got the hell out of there.
But now I am not sure what to do. Obviously, I am not sending my daughter back there, but should I report her to the umbrella company she is under for home day cares, or should I make a huge blast on social media? My sister says I should send out texts to the parents that have kids there so they can do their own check-ins, but that is too much I think. Your thoughts?
A: Oh my GOD. That is my first thought, is just: Oh, my GOD. If this isn’t worth reporting her to a supervising agency, I don’t know what is. Yes, your baby is, in the long run, safe and sound. But the whole point of providing day care for working parents is saying, “You can trust me to keep your children safe and well–cared for, and I will act according to your wishes in your absence,” not “As soon as you walk out the door, I’m going to raise your child how I see fit.” This is a huge breach of trust, a total violation, and absolutely worth reporting. Please do it. If you’re not comfortable making a big splash on social media, that’s understandable—this is a very dramatic case, and I can imagine it making a lot of headlines that you might not want to be connected with, but she should absolutely be reported for this.
Q. Ex-stepdaughter’s relationship: I share custody of my 11-year-old daughter with my ex. My problem is with my 14-year-old ex-stepdaughter. She is “dating” a 22-year-old man. This is clear statutory rape in our state. My ex encourages the relationship and brags about it. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want him spending the night; I don’t want him around either of the girls. My stepdaughter doesn’t want to listen to me anymore (I raised her from age 8), and my ex doesn’t think I get to “mouth off” about her mothering skills. She thinks birth control is for “sluts,” but having a grown man sleep in her teenage daughter’s bed is perfectly innocent. I am worried my stepdaughter is going to wreck her life.
Moreover, I’m worried about my own daughter. The boyfriend brings friends over who have made sexual comments about her. She dislikes it, and I am ready to go to back to court. I work a lot and make little money. I have enough evidence (texts and emails) where I could bury my ex, but it would leave my stepdaughter alone. I love her, and she called me Dad until a year ago. How do I save both of them?
A: Call the cops! Oh my God, call the cops yesterday. There are a lot of situations that call for nuance or thoughtfulness, but a 22-year-old man ”dating” a 14-year-old child is not one of them. Call the police and report it right now. This man should be in prison. It doesn’t matter that this girl is your “ex”-stepdaughter or that she “doesn’t want to listen” to you anymore; she is not an adult who needs to be reasoned with, she is a child who needs to be protected from a predator and a rapist. I’m so worried that you say you’re worried “she’s going to wreck her life,” as if the fact that she is currently being preyed upon by an adult man (with the assistance of her own mother) doesn’t currently qualify as an adult trying to damage her life right now. Then find a lawyer and sue for sole custody of your 11-year-old daughter, because your ex’s house is not a safe place for little girls. Then find a good therapist for both of the kids.
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Q. Cascading plus-ones: I’m part of a close-knit group (four women, late 20s) that talks almost daily but is scattered across Europe (them) and California (me). Three of us are in serious co-habiting relationships. We’ve been planning a “just us” reunion trip for years, but “Mina,” my best friend, just revealed that her (dud of a) boyfriend insists on coming. I’m hurt that she no longer values spending S.O.-free time together. If Mina brings him, my other friend will bring her guy, at which point I would invite my girlfriend on principle. My single friend is also frustrated and doesn’t want to be a seventh wheel.
Would it be unreasonable to cancel? As the American, this vacation would use all my PTO while not making a dent in theirs. I’m torn because I haven’t seen my friends since 2017, but this is not what I signed up for.
A: Talk to Mina: “We’ve always talked about this trip being just the four of us, and I’ve been really looking forward to it, so I was surprised when you announced you were bringing Deadweight without talking to any of us about it first. If we all bring our partners, that leaves [single friend] out and changes the dynamic of our girls’ trip pretty significantly. If you want us to meet him, why don’t we plan another trip where we can all bring and meet one another’s partners?” If she doesn’t budge, you can certainly cancel, although my guess is that will lead to a rift in your friendship. If you can see your way through to going on the trip and prioritizing seeing your friends while declining to spend a lot of one-on-one time with Mina’s boring boyfriend, I think the pleasures will outweigh the pain.
Q. Re: My day care provider is being a boob, literally! One of the best classic Prudies ever was the mother-in-law who suckled her grandkid, and the kid’s mom found out. You have to refer to it!
You are paying this woman to follow your instructions and guidance. Find another provider who better aligns with your view. This kind of change is hard—doubly so because you have no partner to share the burden. But you can do it.
A. I remember that one! It was shocking as a reader, and it’s shocking as Prudence. I do think the letter writer may want to take it a step further than just “find another day care provider,” just because breastfeeding someone’s child without their permission and against their instructions is such a violation, and displays really troubling judgment.
Q. How to tell a dear friend they have poor manners: I have an old friend who just turned 30 but still has the manners of a 5-year-old. We meet up once a month to grab food at a market and then shop, and while eating, she slurps, chomps, smacks, burps, makes “mmm” and “nom” sounds, and talks with her mouth full. At first, I thought I had misophonia and that’s why she was irritating me, but upon taking them out to dinner, my dad noticed it too. I now have to excuse myself before she’s finished eating to “get a head start on shopping,” which I know is rude, but her habits make me sick. And even when we are not eating, she talks in a shout, doesn’t listen to me when I’m talking, and tells me the same stories and points over and over again.
I’ve known her for years, but now this behavior is really starting to get to me. People tell me I shouldn’t correct her, but it’s starting to hit my boiling point. She’s socially isolated and I believe this could be why. Should I hold in my feelings of disgust, tell the truth, or just stop hanging out with her altogether?
A: I’m not sure why you have people in your life who counsel you to keep your mouth shut when one of your friends doesn’t listen to you and shouts stories you’ve heard a dozen times before into your ears. Those people are mistaken! You should of course wait until you are not feeling disgusted with her, and I think it’s fair to assign a slightly different value of social offense to “loud eating” than to “never listens when I’m talking,” and bring it up in as calm and kind a way as you can, but yes, absolutely talk to your friend about how much this is bothering you.
I don’t think you need to try to come up with a justification when you talk to her about it—whether or not her social isolation is a cause or a symptom of this behavior really isn’t important in terms of how you two deal with it—but you need to tell her that you’re having a hard time during your conversations because she talks over you, speaks while chewing, and repeats herself. I think the not-listening and shouting should be the focus of your conversation, since I think that’s more important than the chewing (you can always meet up for something that’s not meal-related but there’s no activity you can plan that guarantees she won’t interrupt). If you don’t think she’s aware that she’s doing this and believe her to be generally well-meaning, speak kindly and reassure her that you do value your relationship with her. Then in the future, if she does it again, you can stop her and say, “Can you please speak more quietly?” or “Sorry, you interrupted me before I was finished,” or even “You’ve told me this story before.” It’s clear you’re afraid to be rude, but telling a long-standing friend that they’re always interrupting you isn’t inherently rude itself—it’s necessary and frankly may help her keep the rest of her friends in the long run.
Q. Re: Ex-stepdaughter’s relationship: In addition to the police, please also alert child protective services and the guidance counselors and administration at the girls’ school. These kids need immediate and swift help, so take advantage of all the resources you have at your disposal.
A. Yes! Alert everyone who can possibly be alerted, this is an all-hands-on-deck situation.
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Q. Uncertainty after graduation: I’m 25, finishing my education, and still have no idea what I want to do for a career. I’ve tried countless things related and unrelated to my field, and enjoyed none of them. I already feel so far behind; so many of my classmates from high school and college have careers, Ph.D.’s, or even families and their own homes by now. Sometimes, friends, family, or advisers try to reassure me by citing famous people who didn’t hit their stride until much older than I, but I’m no Harrison Ford, Winston Churchill, or anyone like that. I don’t have any special skills or talents, despite putting in time and hard work trying to develop them. No matter what I try, or for how long, I’m only ever middlingly competent and content at best. I’m a distinctly unremarkable person who can’t find a passion for anyone or anything. Any success I’ve had so far has been less due to talent and more to luck or privilege.
I know, logically speaking, that there have to be mediocre to average people at any skill—it doesn’t make sense for everyone to be “above average” at anything—and I just happen to be at the average or below-average mark, even with hard work. Nevertheless, I feel guilty for squandering the advantages I’ve been given that others less fortunate never received, and for disappointing those around me.
With no passion or distinguishable skill, I don’t have anything directing me toward where I should go. I don’t know where I want to be at, say, 30—the idea of even being there doesn’t feel real, but at the same time, feels like it’s rushing toward me while I spin in circles, useless and pathetic. Should I just come to terms with the fact that not everyone has a calling, and keep doing whatever pays the rent?
A: Paying the rent is a really, really great calling, and if you’re able to do it, then I don’t think you should be too hard on yourself for not also loving the work that enables you to pay it. I don’t think passion for one’s career is the only way to find passion in life; it may be that you reserve your passion for people or hobbies or what you do with your time after-hours and on the weekends. Nor are your options merely “find a professional passion right now” or “give up completely and never try to search for it again,” resigning yourself to being a miserable corporate drone until you retire. Lot of jobs are pretty boring at the entry level and don’t really get interesting until you’ve spent a few years gaining experience and getting promoted. I think it’s entirely likely that if you take a few years after graduating to work somewhere you only feel OK about and find a helpful mentor and look for positions above yours that interest you, you might feel a lot less bewildered and down on yourself. The doors for learning more about yourself or pursuing your interests don’t close at 30.
My bigger concern for you is that you seem to think competence, financial self-sufficiency, and being close to finishing your education means you’re guilty of squandering something or being useless. Those are all unequivocally good things! Going from “I haven’t found a job that makes my heart sing” (which is true for many people, especially given that most of us have to work in order to stay alive, not because it thrills us) to “I must be an unremarkable person” is a big leap, and I think it might be worth seeing a therapist for a few months, through your campus services if possible, so you can get some perspective on your quarter-life crisis and stop being quite so hard on yourself.
Q. Re: My day care provider is being a boob, literally! If anything will reassure you that reporting is the right thing to do, consider if your baby (or someone else’s) had a condition and the caretaker disregarded your care instructions because it wasn’t “natural.”
A. That’s a really good point, and one I hadn’t considered because the situation you discovered was so attention-grabbing—if she’s this extreme about formula (my guess is that she’s staunchly opposed to “chemicals” of any kind) and willing to go against your wishes with regard to breastfeeding, there’s a good chance she might endanger other kids’ health by seeking out “natural” treatments that don’t actually work.
Q. In love with the artist, not the struggle: My boyfriend and I have been together for a year, and we are at opposite ends of the financial spectrum: I work a stable job with decent income, and he works in the arts with fluctuating pay (if any). I have been sensitive to the gendered expectations of dating with regards to paying, and I feel like we keep it pretty fair. Sometimes I pick up the bill with the expectation that he pays for his half later, once he gets paid.
Recently, my partner has been struggling to make ends meet, which I am very sympathetic to. My concern is that this financial stumble recently led him to ask me for a loan. It was a small amount, but it still gave me pause. I always felt that asking for financial assistance in dating was a huge red flag, and while I can’t say I didn’t see it coming, I’m still shocked and uncomfortable. Is it a dealbreaker to ask your significant other to help you pay their bills?
A: I don’t think it’s an across-the-board dealbreaker for everyone, but it’s completely understandable if it’s a dealbreaker for you. If you don’t want him to ask you for money again, you have every right to say so, and you should. If you think that before asking his girlfriend of merely a year for a loan, he should have come up with alternate strategies for paying the bills than simply saying “I’ll never get a day job,” then it’s also fair for you to re-evaluate the relationship. Don’t try to talk yourself out of feeling shocked and uncomfortable just because he’s an otherwise nice guy or you like his art. If financial self-sufficiency is important to you in a partner, then you’re not selfish or cruel for wanting to draw a boundary here.
Q. Re: My day care provider is being a boob, literally! Definitely report this. Not only is this a gross violation, but it is also illegal and a huge health risk. Diseases can be passed through breast milk, and this woman is exposing your baby (and others?) to conditions she may not even know she has. I would also report this to the police because I believe it qualifies as assault. Don’t worry about taking this too far—I don’t think you can.
A. That’s a good point; although there aren’t very many illnesses that can be passed through breast milk, some can, and it’s worth double-checking at your next doctor’s appointment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention actually have an FAQ section about what to do if your child is mistakenly given someone else’s breast milk, so it may be helpful to refer to that.
I’m on the fence about reporting to the police. If her supervising board takes away her license or otherwise disciplines her, that would seem fair. But while the violation is real and troubling, I’m not sure there’s sufficient long-lasting harm to the child in question to involve the cops. But I think the letter writer should take her time and explore all her options.
Q. Wedding with estranged parent: I am queer and marrying my partner this year. I do not want to invite my father to the wedding, as we have not spoken in years and I do not believe he would be supportive of our relationship. However, I would like to invite my aunts, uncles, and cousins, some of whom are still in contact with him. I worry this puts them in an awkward situation. Should I invite them or leave out that whole side of the family to avoid potential drama?
A. I don’t think it’s an inherently dramatic decision to invite your cousins and not your father. If your other relatives have never attempted to get you to re-establish contact with him and they’ve always respected your decision not to keep homophobic people in your life, I think you can probably assume they’ll behave reasonably. But if you’re worried that they might tell him or try to get you to change your guest list, maybe you can check in beforehand with the cousin you’re closest with to try to get their read on the situation. I think you should send the invites and if you get any pushback, make it clear that it’s not up for discussion and that all you need from them is an RSVP, not a state of the union on your relationship with your father.
Q. Update: I dread having another child: A few weeks ago, I wrote in about not wanting a third child. Thank you for taking the time to give me advice. I told my wife how I felt immediately. She was sad and disappointed but accepted how I felt right away. I will be getting a vasectomy very soon. Right now, I’m trying to be as present for and supportive of my wife as possible. I love her so much, and it’s difficult to know that the weight off my shoulders comes at the cost of her sadness. She beats herself up for grieving at all—she thinks she should have reached “acceptance” by now—and when that happens, I hold her. My wife is incredible in that whenever she’s grieving, she makes sure I know how much she loves the kids and me.
A. Thank you so much for writing in and letting us know how you’re doing. It’s so much better, I think, when a couple can go through pain and grief together rather than suffer in separate, unrelated silence. I know it doesn’t fix everything, but as you say, now you know when she’s starting to beat herself up, and you’re able to better support her physically and emotionally in those moments. I hope your vasectomy goes smoothly and that you two can become closer as a result of this confession.
From Beast Mode
Q. I can’t bear to share my bed with my dog anymore. How do I kick him out? Whenever we try to make him sleep on a dog bed or a blanket on the floor, he paces around nonstop, whining, sighing, and grunting the whole time. I don’t know what to do!