I love my kids’ school. It’s quirky, a bit scruffy, diverse, and the teachers are great. Our kids are very happy there, and we have become friends with some of the other parents. Once a year there is a big fundraiser just for the parents. There is a bar and dancing, and it’s a fun night out. I was having a lovely time until the mother of one of my daughter’s best friends told me that she’d just had some cocaine with the mother of another of my daughter’s friends. Cocaine! We are all in our late 30s and 40s. These are the families who invite our kid for sleepovers and sit on the parents committee. I did not expect to be dealing with hard drugs at this chapter in my life. What do I do with this information? I like my friends. I like their kids. I’d say I’m worried, but honestly my biggest reaction is that I’m horrified. I think cocaine has no place in the life of parents and especially not at an elementary school event. I want to express my disapproval and check if this happens in their home lives (i.e., while they have care of their own kids or are looking after mine) while not coming across as a jerk or a judgmental prude. Suggestions?
—Cocaine at School Fundraiser
One of the most irritating (though not the most serious) problems with cocaine is that one is forced to adopt either a gratuitously smug attitude (“Relax, it’s just cocaine”) or a scandalized, possibly naïve one (“I can’t relax—it’s cocaine”). You are perfectly within your rights to revisit the conversation with your friend and tell her you were too taken aback in the moment to say anything, but you were surprised by her announcement that she’d been doing cocaine during the fundraiser and that it made you question her judgment. You can certainly ask if this happens at home, although I very much doubt she’s loose-lipped enough to say, “Yeah, sometimes we do a little coke when we’re babysitting your kids, but if it bothers you, I’ll wait until someone picks them up.” If she’s otherwise been reliable and attentive when she’s with her kids and yours, I don’t think you need to start worrying that it’s all been a mirage. It’s possible that she displayed momentary bad judgment about drug use without necessarily being in the throes of addiction and a danger to herself and others. But you can decide that, at least for a little while, you’d rather the kids play together at your house where you can keep an eye on them yourself.
I am an owner of a small coffee drive-up. I am a hands-on owner and work hard. I have a small staff that works with me. If I am working side by side with my employees doing 60-plus percent of the work and a customer puts a tip in the tip cup, should it be solely the employees’ tip, or can I, as a proprietor, morally take a share of the tip? I wait on the customers at the same time with my employees. I feel entitled to an equal share. It’s not like I’m rich and greedy, but …
Do you pay your employees less than minimum wage with the understanding that they’ll make up the difference in tips? Do you yourself make more than minimum wage? How familiar are you with the Fair Labor Standards Act and the 2018 amendment that states, “An employer may not keep tips received by its employees for any purposes, including allowing managers or supervisors to keep any portion of employees’ tips, regardless of whether or not the employer takes a tip credit”? Do you believe your ability to sell the company, fire any of your employees, cut their hours, or otherwise hold their professional futures in your hands puts you on a different footing? How do you think adding yourself to the tip pool would affect employee morale? There’s a lot of potential here for things to go wrong professionally and legally, and I really don’t think the extra couple of bucks an hour you stand to gain would outweigh the downsides. Content yourself with being the owner, and let your hourly employees keep the tips.
Have you ever been to one of those restaurants that has a sign saying, “Please don’t tip. We pay our employees a living wage”? If you are finding tip jars too great a temptation, you might do away with tipping altogether and increase everyone’s pay. (If you cannot afford to pay your employees a living wage, perhaps you ought to reconsider your business plan.)
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About two years ago, my partner and I discovered one of our best friends had been breaking into our house (via a door we occasionally forgot to lock), stealing a prescription medication, and replacing it with an over-the-counter drug that looked very similar. This went on for months until we caught her on a home camera. I confronted her in the most compassionate way I could and made it clear that our friendship was over. We run in similar social and professional circles, and we are always cordial when we bump into each other.
We have texted occasionally, and lately any text exchange (usually started by her) ends with her telling us how much she misses our friendship. We have since offered her forgiveness, but I know that our confrontation triggered a mental health downward spiral for her. She has been open about this on social media. I have always felt a bit guilty about this, even though I know it is not my fault. It seems like she is getting help, although she seems far from well. Truthfully, I miss our friendship and am considering rekindling it. My partner has no interest in this, but I am sure he would not mind if I socialized with her. The trouble is that we used to almost exclusively hang out at my house, and neither of us feels comfortable having her in the house again. Should I even try to pick up the pieces of a once-valued friendship? Did she truly go too far breaching our trust for a friendship to be possible? If so, where should I begin?
—Bouncing Back From Burglary
Check with your partner first to make sure he really wouldn’t mind if you started seeing her again. If he’s truly OK with it, you two might want to agree upon a few ground rules first. Not having her over to the house strikes me as a reasonable one. Has she ever offered a meaningful apology to your partner? You say she’s been open about her struggles on social media and seeking help and that you’ve offered her forgiveness, but if she’s never directly apologized to your partner for stealing his medication and endangering his health, it’s worth raising the issue with him. Would he be interested in hearing an apology from her? Would he prefer she just leave him alone? Does he want you to invite her to group events if you two reconcile, or does he want to make sure they’re never in the same room together?
Once you have a strong sense of what he needs in this situation, you can proceed with caution. You don’t need to go back to the old friendship you two had before. You can build something new together on a different foundation, one that can acknowledge the past without remaining stuck in it. Meet up at a coffee shop or at her house, or take a walk together. It’s possible to hold a new kind of boundary without holding her past behavior over her head in perpetuity.
My 15-year-old son recently came out to us as gay. In the moment we were supportive and affirming, and the exchange seemed to end with him relieved and smiling. However, since then I’ve been inundated with horrible feelings about his sexuality. I find myself lying awake at night thinking about bullying, assault, and discrimination he might face at school, in the workplace, from friends or family. More than once I’ve wished he wasn’t gay, even though I know the problem is the world’s, not his. I read an article about a gay teen driven to suicide the other day and burst into tears during my lunch hour. I have a therapist whom I’m working through this with, and I do have a history of anxiety and catastrophizing, but how do I act around him? He’s not stupid enough to not realize if his mom leaves the room whenever something related to his sexuality comes up, and I worry he’d take it as rejection, but I also don’t want him to see me descend into panic and take that as rejection. I love him so much and know this is my problem, not his. But I can’t seem to control myself. Please help.
I’m so glad that you wrote to me. It’s so clear that you love your son, that you want to do right by him, and that you’re aware that these anxious thought patterns are mostly out of your control. It’s also understandable to worry about your kid! And homophobia is a real concern, so while at least some of this can be chalked up to catastrophizing, you’re certainly not inventing a problem where none exists. The best strategy is to name this dynamic with your kid because, as you say, he’s going to pick up on the fact that you leave the room in a panic whenever his orientation comes up. He’s also probably aware that you struggle with anxiety, and you’re only making unnecessary work for yourself if you try to keep it from him.
I think he’ll appreciate honesty here, and he’s old enough to have a frank conversation about therapy and anxiety: “You know I see a therapist to help me manage my anxiety and intrusive thoughts. I’m not just a worrier; sometimes I get trapped in a cycle where I can’t stop thinking about everything bad that might happen to me or someone I love. You’ve probably also noticed that I’ve been leaving the room and getting anxious whenever we start talking about sexuality ever since you came out, and I wanted to talk to you about that so you didn’t get the wrong impression. It meant so much to me that you came out to us, and I’m really proud of you. I’ve also been worried about homophobia and your safety, and I’ve found myself caught in a spiral of anxiety about all the ways life might be hard for you. I realize some of these fears are unlikely, and I’ve been processing it in therapy. But I wanted you to know about this so if in the future I have to leave the room for a minute to compose myself, it’s to manage my anxiety in order to talk to you, not because I’m trying to avoid you.” It’s fine to leave the room and run through some of your anxiety management strategies when your kid’s sexuality comes up. But then you need to come back in the room and be present for him. If you’re still a little agitated and afraid, that’s OK! Acknowledge it; let him know it’s not because you’re devastated or upset, that this is just part of what your anxiety looks like sometimes; and start participating in these conversations to the best of your ability.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“I seriously doubt she’s doing bumps when with the kids.”
Daniel Mallory Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe discuss this letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
Since Dad died last year, our mother has turned into a recluse. She will not leave our tiny hometown despite being in perfect health and having a car. All of my siblings and I live between two and six hours away. Two are married with small children. I have made the trip out twice a month since Dad’s death. My siblings have tried, but honestly, they shouldn’t have to. No one wants to sit in hours of traffic when they’re outnumbered by cranky toddlers in the backseat. Our mother puts a lot of pressure and guilt on seeing the grandbabies, but she will not go see them herself. The holidays are coming up—the first without Dad. My sister and brother both want to celebrate in their own homes this year. I agree, but what do we do about Mom? How do we persuade her to come rather than having us come to her? I can’t keep these trips up myself and have rotated holidays since my siblings got married.
Have you asked your mother if she feels safe driving for several hours? I don’t want to make too many assumptions about her abilities, but it’s possible that her vision is changing or her reflexes are slower, and she might no longer be up for a six-hour drive. For your siblings with kids in the back, the drive might be a serious inconvenience, but for your mom it may be unsafe. It’s worth investigating, not for the purposes of getting her to agree to drive out to you for Thanksgiving, but in an open-minded and curious way. Maybe her grief still feels overwhelming, maybe she’s afraid to travel alone, maybe your father used to drive them on long trips and she’s nervous about getting on the freeway, or maybe something else is going on. There’s an opportunity here to learn more about how your mother is doing in her first year of widowhood before you make a request or set a boundary.
That said, it’s understandable that you’re not planning to keep up the twice-monthly trips much longer, so you should tell her: “I won’t be able to make it out in November, but I’m hoping to pick a weekend in early December to make the drive out. Which weekend works best for you?” When it comes to making decisions around the holidays, the best you can do is communicate your plans early, extend her a warm and genuine invitation, and then let her make her own plans. Your mother may never decide to drive out to see the rest of you, for reasons you may find either compelling or frivolous, and you’ll get to strike a balance between compromising and allowing her to be a homebody. Your siblings are allowed to celebrate the occasional holiday in their own homes and resist pressure from their mother. It might feel like letting Mom stay at home, if that’s what she wants, is impossible—because it’s the first year since your father died, because she’s your mother, because there’s nothing in the world worse than “being alone for the holidays”—but in some situations that’s a perfectly acceptable outcome.
My husband and I are both teachers. I have been a teacher for about 10 years. He taught English to adults for a few years, then in public education for five years. Teaching is hard. It’s all-encompassing. Working with kids is wonderful, but the paperwork, unreasonable parents, unrealistic administrative expectations, long hours, and low pay mean that burnout is common. My husband has hit the wall and wants to do something else, and I get it. I want him to be happy and at ease. The problem is that we have a baby, a house, and bills to pay. We can’t make it on my salary alone. He has no clue what he wants to do and isn’t doing anything to figure it out. On top of it, he wants to move across the country to be closer to my family. I love the idea of being closer to them, but all of this change is stressing me out. My family lives in an area where the cost of living is three times as much. This means we will both quit our jobs, sell our house (which needs a lot of work before that can happen), and move across the country; I will find a new teaching job; and he will hopefully find a new career. Whenever I try to talk to him, he just tells me how miserable he is. I want him to find a new career path that makes him happy. But we also have responsibilities. What should I do?
—Nothing Else Lined Up
Don’t quit your jobs to move across the country to a region where your rent will triple because your husband’s burned out. That idea needs to come off the table. If at some point you or your husband is able to apply for positions close to your family, you could revisit that idea, but as a strategy for dealing with burnout, it’s a total wash.
The way to restart this conversation is by acknowledging where it stalled in the past: “Every time we’ve tried to talk about our plans for the future, we’ve gotten stuck on how miserable you are in your job right now. I get it—when you’re in the middle of burnout, it feels totally overwhelming. But we need to start talking about the options we do have so this conversation doesn’t just stay focused on how you’re feeling.” What other kinds of work is he interested in? How long could the two of you pay your bills in your current home on a single salary, if he quit tomorrow and then started job-searching? Does he have any remaining sick or vacation leave he can use right now if he’s worried he’ll offer his resignation the next time he goes to work? Since “I have no idea what I want to do next” isn’t getting you anywhere, he needs to start brainstorming even ridiculous, impractical ideas of what he can do next so that he can begin an actual job search. But “I’m miserable” needs to be the start of the conversation, not the end of it—you’ll both need to push past that initial emotional wall so you can start making practical, achievable decisions. Moving across the country with no prospects and greater expenses just to be close to your relatives is not one of those practical, achievable decisions.
I live in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country, but on one of the more “modest” streets—mostly doctors and lawyers and family business owners. (A few blocks away are billionaires, families with famous last names, media moguls, etc.) I have noticed that on Halloween, what seems like 75 percent of the trick-or-treaters are clearly not from this neighborhood. Kids arrive in overflowing cars from less fortunate areas. I feel this is inappropriate. Halloween isn’t a social service or a charity in which I have to buy candy for less fortunate children. Obviously this makes me feel like a terrible person, because what’s the big deal about making less fortunate kids happy on a holiday? But it just bugs me, because we already pay more than enough taxes toward actual social services. Should Halloween be a neighborhood activity, or is it legitimately a free-for-all in which people hunt down the best candy grounds for their kids?
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