Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Uncensored: The Stepdaughter’s Confession

Every week, Danny Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe discuss a Prudie letter. This week: the stepdaughter’s confession.

Nicole: She’s 14, you should not have promised not to tell her mother!

Danny: i’ve been going very back and forth on that front!


Danny: hahaha

Nicole: “A boy her age” means it’s not a crime, which would have been a no-brainer for me.

Danny: this feels like such a classic parenting muddle of like: things do not happen on the timetable that you want! teens do the most complicated things imaginable and wait till their mom is out of town!


oh gosh yes

Nicole: And he’s already begged her to tell her mom herself.

Danny: for me the clearest first next right thing is to take her to the doctor


Nicole: YES, hopefully has already done so.

Danny: she’s worried she’s pregnant! she just had sex for the first time! time to go!

i understand being flustered, especially because you’re the stepparent and you might not have thought you’d ever be the one the kid talks to about sex

Nicole: He seems like a good person and not a fool so I imagine that part has happened but if not, to the doctor, go!

Danny: but you have to remember to go to the doctor


Nicole: oh most definitely

his wife may someday find out and be really mad and that is her right and I think he can tell her why he did what he did

Danny: I’m really of two minds here, I do go back and forth about whether to talk to her

If you decide you’re going to tell her, I think you should talk to your stepdaughter and be honest about why

Nicole: I am seriously going to talk to my own husband about how to handle this if it happened to him.

Bc it’s SO MURKY

Danny: even if she’s (the stepdaughter) upset with you, I think she’ll appreciate that you treated her with respect and did it openly, not behind her back


“I’ve thought about it, and I can’t keep this promise for X reasons”

Nicole: yes, if he tells the mom, he has to do it as “I have to tell her, I would rather you tell her first”

Danny: “I understand if you’re mad at me, but I think it’s the right decision, your mom loves and supports you, and I should not have agreed to keep it from her”


Nicole: “I made a promise I should not have made and I am very sorry.”


Danny: mostly I think she’s just freaked out right now and the best thing you can do is tone down the warnings and the disappointment

Nicole: If you do not tell your wife then you need to talk about getting on very reliable birth control.



Danny: oh yes! talk about contraception at the doctor, and with your kid, loudly and often and make sure you get her what she needs

Nicole: The three-year shot or whatever a teen will not mess up.

Danny: yeah and she’s already HAD sex

Nicole: It has happened!

Danny: so at this point all the warnings and dangers and disappointment will just make her feel like she’s less loved or less worthy


Nicole: exactly

Danny: again, I get why you hope your 14-year-old kid isn’t having sex

but given that it HAS happened, and it sounds like she’s a pretty good kid and not on the precipice of like, moving in with her boyfriend or quitting high school


I don’t think you need to go to an emergency scenario where she’s about to start doing really outrageous things or giving up on her future

but she will DEFINITELY absorb messages like “I had sex kind of young and then my stepdad told me he was disappointed in me and things were always uncomfortable between us after that”

Nicole: Yes. I think you should say that in the moment you feel you were harder on her than you would have wanted to be, with a longer reaction time.

Danny: right!

Nicole: You only gain strength from admitting mistakes! Corny but true!

Danny: “I think I really stressed all the warnings and dangers because I want to protect you and I care about you, but I think I went too far and I don’t want you to feel like I think you’ve done something awful or that you were wrong to tell me.”


like, you don’t have to pretend that you’re thrilled about this, but you also don’t want to make her wish she hadn’t told you

this is the double-edged sword of good parenting

“We want you to know you can tell us anything” means your kid is going to tell you when they make mistakes or have sex earlier than you wished they would

Nicole: Parenting is so hard.

You clearly have a good relationship or she wouldn’t have told you.

Danny: especially the stepdad/mom’s out of the country combination

I agree, i thought that too

that’s really meaningful, that she felt like she could tell you

and good luck! keep us posted!

Nicole: Yes!! Please.

Danny: I will be spending the rest of my afternoon remembering every conversation I ever had with my parents about sex