Dear Prudence

My Pregnant Wife Says I Can’t Be a Good Parent if I Keep Smoking Pot

Prudie’s column for June 27.

Photo illustration of a man smoking a blunt and a heavily pregnant woman holding her belly.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by serdjophoto/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Milkos/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence,

When my wife and I first got together over four years ago, one of the things that we bonded over was our mutual enjoyment of pot. We were daily smokers, and I always thought of this shared interest as being a foundational part of our relationship. She began having some mental health issues and decided to stop smoking altogether. I had no interest in stopping, so I continued, but would just do it in the backyard at the end of the day. She was fine with this. When we started talking about having kids, she told me she did not think that pot had a place in the parenting of young children and that she would like me to cut back significantly when we became parents. Her ideal was none at all, but she agreed that it could be more like drinking alcohol—occasionally, not to excess, and not around the kids when they’re very small.

Now my wife is pregnant, and she wants me to quit smoking pot yesterday. She constantly brings up that I agreed to stop smoking when we became parents and that I’d better start cutting back now that she’s pregnant so that I won’t have to go cold turkey once the baby is born. I still don’t want to quit. It enriches my life, it makes me more even-keeled and laid-back (I used to be quite anxious and prone to anger before I started smoking), and I don’t see how these qualities could be bad for raising a child. I wouldn’t ever smoke around the kid, but she’s acting like taking pot every day is equivalent to parenting as an active alcoholic. I just don’t see it this way. Can I parent while also smoking pot?

—Pregnant Minus Pot

Questions like these are often tricky because I feel like I’m being asked for a ruling about weed in general. I have no interest in doing this, so I’ll instead focus on the other salient parts of your letter: You say that your wife had “some mental health issues” but don’t say anything about what treatment, if any, she sought out or how you supported her. You also say that you have anxiety and difficulty dealing with anger but don’t mention any coping strategies or therapeutic practices you’ve developed aside from smoking. You have an opportunity here to try to support your wife emotionally and to seek out alternatives to help manage your anxiety and find healthy ways to express your anger. If you two are about to become parents, you’re going to need more than a single outlet for your emotions! Also, it was a little naïve to think you could smoke in the backyard every day and she would give it up completely without experiencing some conflict. You should prepare yourself for multiple conversations about this and not expect to arrive at an easy compromise. That may not seem attractive, but if you want to be a good parenting team, it’s worth putting in the work.

Mostly, it’s important not to conflate weed with being even-keeled and laid-back. It’s your current strategy for achieving those states (or at least the appearance of those states), but it’s not the only way to develop patience, serenity, and an even temper. I can understand why you fear that your wife is trying to take something away from you that you see as integral to your mental health, but it’s important not to pretend that they’re the exact same thing or that weed is the only means available to you of achieving a state of calm. I think the best next step is to find a couples counselor together—not to adjudicate whether you’re allowed to smoke weed anymore, but to find more constructive ways to talk to each other about what you need, what you’re afraid of, and how to achieve compromise wherever possible.

Dear Prudence,

My best friend of four years is in an abusive relationship. She calls me on a weekly basis crying about how terribly her boyfriend treats her, but she refuses to leave. I have invested countless hours and sacrificed time with family, other friends, and my own relationship to try to help her leave with no success. It is draining. She has isolated herself from almost all friends and activities besides me. We recently got into an argument because her boyfriend is going away on a bachelor weekend. Knowing he would be unfaithful and unresponsive as he often is on these trips, she has put the responsibility on me to “distract” her while he is gone. The problem is that I already have plans with friends and family that she refuses to attend. She is telling me it needs to just be me and her and that I should be accommodating to her. I am upset and resentful that it has gotten to this point. I don’t want to push her away, but I think she is acting ridiculous and think it’s a shame she expects me to isolate myself with her so she doesn’t have to think about the trouble her boyfriend is getting into. What do I do? Tell my friend to suck it up and risk losing her when she doesn’t dump her boyfriend? Or keep allowing her to vent her frustrations and waste my time after years of not doing anything to help herself?

—Losing My Best Friend

This is one of the reasons helping a friend in a painful or dangerous situation can be so complex. Someone in a constant state of crisis doesn’t always behave like an “ideal” victim and can tread on our own, equally important boundaries. You can strike a balance here between telling her to “suck it up” and dropping your own plans and relationships to help her. Tell her: “I would love to see you this weekend, and if you decide you’re able to accompany me to [the family barbecue, the movie night, whatever], I’d love that. But if you can’t make it, I hope you’re able to find something to do that’s soothing and helpful to you.” If you need to set a firmer limit about how much time you’re able to spend talking about her boyfriend, that’s reasonable too: “I know it’s not easy to leave, and I don’t want to tell you that you have to do it in order for us to spend time together. But I also don’t think that he’s going to change, and I can’t keep having the same conversation every day. Can we set aside time to talk about something else?” You do not have to accept her terms of engagement in order to genuinely care about her and want the best for her. If she believes the only meaningful form of support you can offer her is to drop your plans and manage her feelings about his weekend of cheating, then you can gently push back without venturing into tough-love territory (which usually prioritizes toughness over love).

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Dear Prudence,

I have a friend, “Melvin,” who used to be my neighbor. Melvin lost both parents by 13 and was raised in a situation where an uncle sexually assaulted him. He doesn’t work, he doesn’t drive, and he manages to supplement his disability income with “under the table” work, which he’s never told me what that is, and I don’t ask, although I have suspicions. He also supplements it by using people around him. I am one of those people. I drive him to the store, have paid for his groceries, buy him dinner when we go out, and give him advice when he asks for it on how to better manage his credit and finances. I watch him spend money he doesn’t have on things he doesn’t need in his obsession of trying to one-up people around him. He has a dog, “Pumpkin,” that he set some social media pages up for and has a sizable following. He’s rented a P.O. box where followers send him money and gifts. This bothered me, but I figured it’s not my business.

What bothered me was when he set up a GoFundMe. The last time Pumpkin was at the vet, he found she had a cyst and a cracked tooth. He couldn’t afford to take care of it and called me to see if he could squeeze money out of me. I didn’t take the bait. I felt bad, but I knew I’d made the right decision. After the surgery, he posted on his dog’s page, “Thanks for donating, now we know who our friends are.” I was so offended by this, mostly because he absolutely had the cash to fund his dog’s procedures himself. He just chose to spend it on his champagne lifestyle instead. Another neighbor recently blocked him because of her version of everything I’ve mentioned. I came to the realization that if she isn’t putting up with it anymore, why am I? How do I extricate myself from this situation with some grace? Melvin hasn’t contacted me in several weeks, but I’m trying to prepare for when he does.

—Tired of Being an Enabler

First, the good news: Now that it’s clear you’re no longer good for a cash infusion, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Melvin let you go without another word. Melvin is not a secretly powerful person with the ability to ruin your future professional opportunities or destroy your social reputation. If he does get in touch with you to insult you, remind yourself that you do not think much of his judgment and therefore don’t really need his good opinion. Hang up the phone, block his texts, delete his emails, or whatever. I understand you can’t hop out of this enabling cycle painlessly, and that part of what you’ve been getting out of the situation is an opportunity to feel necessary or generous, so it’s going to be difficult to stop chasing Melvin’s approval. But you don’t need to exit this situation with grace in order to exit it. Melvin does not care about you or your friendship outside of your ability to give him money. He does not want your advice or your companionship or to talk through his traumas with you.

If you find yourself eager to check in with him to see how he’s doing, tell a friend whose judgment you trust, check out a support group for people dealing with co-dependence, or pick up a $20 co-dependency workbook so you can get the support you need to stay out of the next round. You do not need to explain yourself to him, because Melvin will never understand or respect the reason you’re stepping back. You do not need to hash it out with him, because he will never be grateful for the help you’ve given him. You’re ready to stop pretending you’re friends with this guy, and I wish you all the best in deleting his number from your phone.

Dear Prudence,

When is it appropriate to ask someone what their preferred pronouns are? I live in a relatively small town. It’s not so small that everyone knows one another, but small enough that you tend to see the same people often. The last two times that I’ve shopped at our local big-box store, the person who checked me out was not immediately readable as their gender. Their name tag displays a gender-neutral name. I often have my 3-year-old daughter with me, and the cashier is friendly and interacts with her often. I have found myself trying to avoid using pronouns so that I don’t misgender this person, but it seems awkward and impersonal. I am also worried that my 3-year-old will unintentionally misgender this person or ask a question about their gender. I want to set a good example for her and make the cashier feel comfortable interacting with us, especially since there are a fair amount of conservatives in our area who may not be very supportive of someone who is gender nonconforming. But I also don’t want to make this person feel awkward or offended. So is it ever appropriate to ask about preferred pronouns? Is it better to continue avoiding pronouns or just use they/them?

—Pronoun Check-In

My instinct here, since this person is at work and not able to walk away from a possibly uncomfortable conversation, is not to ask. You already know and use their name, you don’t see any obvious signs of discomfort on their part, and you don’t need to know their pronouns in order to have an age-appropriate conversation with your kid before your next trip to the store. (Something along the lines of “Not everyone is a boy or a girl” or “If people want us to get to know them better, they might tell us if they prefer another word to talk about them” should be fine). You also don’t know if this person is out at work or merely thought of as “quirky.” If any co-workers overheard you inquiring about pronouns, your friendly cashier might have to have a number of follow-up conversations they’d rather not have. Your best move is to continue being warm and friendly, stick to a neutral “they” (this wouldn’t be my advice in all situations, but it’s fine here), and only consider asking if your friendship deepens and you start having more personal conversations. If that point comes, you can quietly ask, “By the way, what are your pronouns?” Some people will instead say, “My pronouns are ___. Please let me know if you have a preference for yourself,” since that allows the listener to opt in rather than answer the direct question. Both are a little clumsy but clearly well-intended.

There’s not one universally agreed-upon way to talk about talking about other people. Plenty of trans and nonbinary people have competing, sometimes contradictory, interests in the pronoun conversation. And not everyone wants to be asked, especially if they feel like other people who appear more gender-conforming don’t get asked. Others consider it a courtesy and a matter of routine. I say that not to suggest it’s such a hopelessly muddled matter of etiquette that you might as well not even bother, but so you know it’s a case of paying attention, treating people as individuals rather than hoping for a universal approach. You sound like a thoughtful and compassionate person, which will serve you well.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“No one is asking John Goodman this question.”

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

Dear Prudence,

I have been asked to emcee my brother-in-law’s wedding along with the fiancée’s brother. I found out while planning our emcee duties that the fiancée’s brother, “A,” is gay and has been in a relationship for three years. A’s partner is not invited to the wedding because A’s family doesn’t accept their relationship and “prefers” that he doesn’t attend. I don’t think it is right that I co-host this wedding where A’s partner isn’t invited due to homophobia. I am also not sure if my brother-in-law knows that A’s partner isn’t invited (he knows that A is gay). I don’t know if my brother-in-law knows that his future wife and her family have banned A’s partner from the wedding because of homophobia (he may think A’s partner is unavailable or that A is single). Alternately, he may know but not want to “get in the middle of things.”

My husband wants me to not say anything because it’s not my family and the wedding is in one month and it would be disruptive to get involved. I feel like homophobia wins when allies don’t speak up. Shouldn’t we talk to my brother-in-law about the message he’s sending by participating in this homophobia? Should I step down from emceeing? Should I ask A if I should step down, or would that put too much pressure on him to make his family’s actions OK?

—Emcee or Boycott

Talk with A—not to ask him how you should react, but to offer your support. Tell him: “I’m really sorry that your partner hasn’t been invited to the wedding, and I’m hurt and angry on your behalf. But I also don’t know what kind of relationship you have with your family and if you’ve made your peace in deciding to attend this wedding and deal with their homophobia. Is there anything I can do to be supportive? I don’t want to put you on the spot, but I would be happy to do anything I can, up to and including stepping down from my emcee duties. But if your preference is to keep your head down and get through it, I can do that too.” It’s totally dependent on where A is at. If you quit in principled objection and he had to emcee alone, without his partner or a sympathetic companion, he might feel isolated and alienated, and that’s the last thing you want. Or if he’s feeling like he has no support and you told him how angry this made you and offered to speak up on his behalf, he might feel emboldened. So don’t take your husband’s word just yet that it’s not your place to do or say anything. Find out what A wants while also stressing that if he’s not sure, or feels uneasy asking you for anything, that you’ll err on the side of keeping him comfortable and offering someone friendly to talk to throughout the ceremony.

Dear Prudence,

My parents are in their 70s. My father was verbally and emotionally abusive (when he wanted to punish me, he would “cut me off” for weeks or months at a time and not acknowledge me). I decided I didn’t want to have anything to do with him. My mother has always been loving and supportive. Now, my parents appear to be deteriorating, and so is their home. They have a broken oil heater, the roof is covered in moss and leaks, and a lot of the exterior wood of their house is rotted. My cousins, my aunt, and anyone who knows my mom have been begging her to move out, especially since she has a slow-growing stage 4 cancer.

However, my mother won’t do anything unless my father does it. But my father doesn’t want to move out, because my mother says that if they do, she wants to live by herself. I am beside myself—for once, my father was making sense and talking about selling (to my aunt and my mother), but now my mom has shut it down, since my mother is my father’s only companion. As a result, they are in the worst of all worlds: My mom is in an unsafe, deteriorating house with my father, whom she claims not to want to live with. Wouldn’t it be better to at least be in a safe, roomy condo? I don’t know what to do. My lawyer sister says state or county intervention is impossible unless someone is “running down the street naked.”

—Whack-a-Mole Parents

If your mother is talking about moving out and living by herself, then that seems like the most obvious thread of hope to hang on to here. Can you help her look for an apartment without involving your father? Could you set up a meeting between your mother and a divorce lawyer—not to suggest that she has to file, but so she has a sense of what her options are if they do separate? You might also contact the local agency on aging and ask for advice. This article on helping your aging parents isn’t recent, but most of the advice here is timeless, and the resources at the bottom are still quite useful and in working order. It’s true that you may not yet have grounds to make this decision on your parents’ behalf, but if right now your mother is displaying a consistent desire to get away from your abusive father and prioritize her own health and well-being, I think you should do everything you can to help her. She’s already willing, and that’s at least half the battle.

Classic Prudie

“I have just had devastating news: My 58-year-old second husband of two years has been having an affair with my 25-year-old daughter from my first marriage. I am in a state of utter shock. I had absolutely no idea that this was going on and feel heartbroken, betrayed, and furious at the two people I love most. They want to live together, but where does this leave me? I do not know what to do. Can you advise?