Dear Prudence

My Parents Don’t Believe I Have a Chronic Illness

A wheelchair would greatly improve my quality of life, but I’m scared to broach the subject.

A hand hold on to a shoulder with a wheelchair in the background.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by george tsartsianidis/iStock/Getty Images Plus and catinsyrup/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence,

I have fibromyalgia, a chronic and unpredictable illness that causes severe pain and fatigue. I’m doing my best to manage it but have had to give up a lot, including my job. Using a wheelchair on days when I need to travel long distances and be out of the house would really improve my quality of life. I haven’t been able to broach the topic of getting a wheelchair with my parents because they are quite ableist and have made it clear they think people who can walk and use wheelchairs are lazy. My parents still don’t accept that I am really unwell and constantly struggling just to get out of bed. How do I convince them that getting a wheelchair is the best thing for me moving forward?

—I Need a Wheelchair

If you don’t need your parents’ financial or logistical support in buying a wheelchair, it’s better to move ahead with your plans now and tell them about it afterward. If you live with them or rely on them for financial assistance, I think the best way to broach the subject is to say something like, “I’ve been thinking about getting a wheelchair to help with X and Y and make leaving the house more manageable. As you may have noticed, I’m not able to leave as often as I used to.” If you lead with a statement of intent as well as a handful of ways it’ll improve your mobility and quality of life, and stress the personal benefits of occasional wheelchair use, they may be more inclined to take you seriously than if you were to ask their permission.

I wish you didn’t have to delicately manage their skepticism, but I want you to be able to anticipate and avoid any possible objections. If you do live at home, and despite your best attempts, they remain totally obstinate, I’d recommend contacting a local independent living facility or disability rights organization (if there are any in your area) to ask for advice and support as you figure out your other options. Maybe a friend could place the order for you and help you assemble it. Whatever you need, I think it’ll help to cultivate as many backup sources of support as you possibly can, so that your parents are never the first and last option. Good luck!

Dear Prudence,

My husband has a close female friend. I don’t mind that he’s friends with other women, but I don’t like her. Recently I learned she’d been talking to him about “sugaring” (an alternative to bikini waxing), and I don’t like that she’s talking like that with my husband. It led to our first big fight, and we’ve been married for two years without really quarreling. I told him he needs boundaries with her. He was against my confronting her, saying, “That’s just how she is.” But if she really was his friend, it shouldn’t be a big deal to respect boundaries. Which leads me to think she must talk this way to him all the time. We fought for a week, and finally he said he would stop being friends with her. But they go to meetups together, and he’s not going to be able to avoid her. I don’t even know if I believe he would stop being friends with her after putting up such a fight.

I contacted her to tell her I thought what she said was inappropriate, but I’d like to get to know her better since she’s my husband’s best friend. My husband didn’t seem happy that we made plans, but we went out for drinks anyways. I don’t really get why he likes her. She’s the total opposite of me. She’s very high maintenance, and I just can’t find any common ground with her. She has no interest in trying to be friends with me. At this point I’m trying to ignore her existence, and I told my husband never to mention her name to me. This is a thorn in the side of our marriage that will soon cause an infection. I brought up couples therapy, but I think he thinks that’s a last resort for failing couples. I brought up getting my own therapist who can help me cope with this. I’ve talked to friends and family who have taken my side. I love him and don’t want him to see me as somebody who is controlling. But I want my feelings validated, and I can’t ignore this. If I’m wrong and dealing with this in the wrong way, that’s fine. I think talking to somebody and getting help will help me better deal with the situation and grow from this experience and to be a better person for us. I also think he’s afraid that somebody will tell him he’s wrong. He told one of his buddies what happened in our fight, and I heard it from his wife and that wasn’t the story at all. So either my husband lied about it, or his buddy was downplaying it. I’m really at wits’ end and emotional and upset. I know this is a lot.

—Inappropriate Best Friend

Let’s start with the good news: You’re aware that your own reaction to this situation has often been irrational and made you feel completely overwhelmed. Moreover, you’re prepared to start seeing a therapist to help you develop better coping strategies when it comes to your compulsive desire to control and isolate your husband. All of that is really promising. But this is more than just “a lot,” and your problem isn’t that your husband might see you as a controlling person. Your problem is that you have blown up over what was, at the absolute worst, a slightly off-color conversation about personal grooming between two close, platonic friends, not an attempt at seduction; you have doubled down on your initial explosion by demanding your husband end his friendship with this woman, then seeking her out yourself pretending you wanted to befriend her when what you actually wanted to do was scare her off.

I respectfully disagree that “the total opposite of [you]” is high-maintenance. By your own admission, you are wildly high-maintenance. Your behavior has been inappropriate and unhinged, and unless this is all incredibly out of character for you, I suspect it’s part of a long-standing pattern that needs to change right away if you’re ever going to be able to make your marriage work. You need to apologize to your husband and start seeing a therapist immediately to start figuring out better coping strategies for your insecurities and persecution complex. I’m deeply worried that you have multiple friends and family members who have taken your side over this. Anyone willing to validate your feelings over this is either completely out of touch themselves, or they’re not getting the version of the story you just told me.

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Dear Prudence,

My daughters haven’t spoken to me in seven years. Their father was a mean man and a drunk, but he was a good father. That’s the only nice thing I can say about him—that he loved his daughters. I didn’t cry when he died. Later, I met “Elaine” and fell in love. It felt like coming home. My daughters were upset and didn’t understand. I was disappointed by their reaction. My eldest daughter had dated someone nonwhite in college and her father objected, but I’d stood up for her and supported their relationship. I hoped she’d do the same for me, but she called me a “dirty queer.” My youngest kept asking if this meant my marriage was a lie—even though she’d driven me to the hospital more than once when my husband beat me. I tried to be there for them, but when my eldest didn’t invite me to her engagement party, or even tell me it had taken place, I gave up.

Elaine and I got married after five years. I invited both my girls, but they never replied. I have a grandson I’ve never met. I have learned I can become accustomed to hurt better than to hope. My oldest daughter’s stepson is apparently gay, which has thrown her for a loop. She’s reached out and asked to “reconcile,” but her language is very precise and professional. It’s not an apology. I want one. Does this make me a bad mother? I love my girls, but I’m not so sure about the women they’ve become. I stayed with their father because he never hurt them, and I couldn’t afford to support them on my own. I was faithful his whole life. Elaine is my support and my soulmate. I love her. I am not going to apologize for that even for my girls. How do I move on from here?

—Waiting for an Apology

It sounds like you already know what you’re going to do. For what it’s worth, I think you’re making the right choice—probably the only choice. Being offered a conditional return to your daughter’s life as long as you pretend her cruelty and homophobic rejection never happened is not a foundation you can build a real, loving relationship on. You’re in a difficult position, but this isn’t a hard choice to make. You can’t reconcile on dishonest grounds.

You could let your daughters know that if they’re ever willing to honestly discuss the ways in which they hurt you, you’d take that call. But frankly, I’d understand it if you didn’t. You put it best yourself: that you can deal with the hurt you’ve had to carry with you for years better than false hope. You move on by enjoying the time you have with Elaine and the other people in your life who are willing to see you as a full person, worthy of kindness and respect. You can love your daughters from a distance without accepting their terms.

Dear Prudence,

I’m getting married in a few weeks. Because our friends have lots of dietary restrictions, we came up with the idea to throw a potluck wedding so everyone could have at least one thing they knew they could eat. Everyone seemed to think it was a great idea. We asked our friend “Sammi” to organize the list of who was bringing what, because we thought it would make her feel supported to have such an important role, plus it fit in naturally with her talents. But she’s taking the job too seriously, demanding everyone provide her with exhaustive ingredient lists and being very blunt. My uncle is a very shy person, and Sammi really upset him when she told him his proposed dish (chili and cornbread) was “inappropriate.”

She also said some very hurtful and personal things to my sweetheart’s mother, who was not enthusiastic about the potluck idea to start with. Now I am hearing day and night from guests upset with Sammi’s behavior. Several people have suddenly said that they are not going to be able to cook, and a few people have started making excuses for why they won’t be able to come at all. My sister (who has her own issues) has said she does not feel safe around Sammi, and my future mother-in-law is being passive aggressive as usual and saying she is just going to bring marshmallow treats, which almost no one will be able to eat. (Who brings marshmallow treats to a wedding?) I almost want to call the whole thing off. How do I fix this mess? There is not enough time to change the plan now, and anyway we don’t want to disappoint the friends who have put so much thought into what they will cook.

—Boiled Over

If there’s enough time to call the whole thing off, there’s enough time to change the plan. If Sammi is bullying your sensitive uncles and difficult mother-in-law, then it’s time to take Sammi off menu duty and to tell her why: “Sammi, we asked you to coordinate with our guests so we didn’t end up with nine versions of the same casserole, not so you could yell at people and tell them they’re not allowed to make cornbread. This isn’t working for us, so we’re going to hand over the job to someone else.” You and your fiancé should make your apologies to anyone who’s complained and reassure them that you had no idea Sammi would have treated them so rudely, and that she won’t be bothering them again.

Weddings are stressful. (I just had one last month!) And Sammi’s behavior has been genuinely atrocious. But some of this is small stuff. People bring marshmallow treats to potlucks. The worst-case scenario is that not many people eat the marshmallow treats and your mother-in-law has a lot of leftovers. One of the great things about passive-aggressive people, in comparison with aggressive people, is that if you just let them do whatever they were threatening to do, nothing bad really happens. “Fine! I guess I’ll just bring marshmallow treats,” can be met with “Great! Thanks for volunteering to bring marshmallow treats.”

You can have a longer conversation with Sammi about her behavior after the wedding when things no longer feel quite so dialed-in. In the meantime, reassign her duties to someone else, breathe, and enjoy your big day.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“This is a health issue, not a matter of willpower.”

Danny Lavery and special guest Krystal Farmer discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,

I started transitioning about two years ago in my early 30s. Despite living in a small, conservative town, I have a great partner, supportive siblings, and a great circle of friends, and I’m doing pretty well. Since I came out, a lot of younger trans people who lack support have come into my life. No one’s on the verge of being kicked out of their home or anything, but sometimes I’m asked for my advice on subjects I really haven’t ever had to deal with. Recently a friend asked if I’d speak to a friend of theirs whose young child had been removed from school after questioning their gender and self-harming. I was happy to talk to her and offer my support, but I felt like a fraud. I want to help these kids, but I feel clueless beyond my own experience. I guess I’m wondering if there are resources for parents of younger trans kids, and how to help while I’m still figuring things out myself.

—Suddenly a Trans Elder

I feel, let’s say, acutely aware of the ways in which my own positioning as a professional advice-giver feels totally arbitrary and unearned, especially as someone who also didn’t start transitioning until my 30s and has barely three years of trans existence under my belt. I know almost nothing about what being a self-aware trans child is like. For what it’s worth, I don’t think these kids and parents are coming to you because they think you have all the answers, or because your experience exactly mirrors theirs. It sounds like they’re all pretty aware that your adult transition is distinct and unique. You’re not a fraud just because you haven’t experienced every single trans life it’s possible for a person to live. But by virtue of being a trans adult, you can offer at least a glimpse of what a particular version of the future might look like for them—someone with family and communal support, someone who’s “doing pretty well,” someone who’s made it past 30. So I don’t think you have to ask any more of yourself than you’re already doing. When it comes to recommending resources to anxious parents, I’d suggest TransYouth Family Allies, Trans Lifeline, the Trans Youth Equality Foundation, and good old-fashioned PFLAG.

Dear Prudence,

My mother could definitely limit the money she spends on me. Growing up she didn’t provide for me the way she did with my older sister (for example, paying for college and for cars), and I made sure she knew it (which I’m ashamed of now). It has been almost 10 years since all of this happened. I’ve partly gotten over it and remind myself that she was in a different financial position with my sister. I am now happily married and a stay-at-home mother. My mom is a teacher who makes less than half of what my husband does, but she spends a ridiculous amount of money on me and her grandson. I keep telling her to save for retirement (10–12 years away) instead. I feel guilty every time she arrives with new toys and gifts. A few years ago I started a savings account, and it’s grown fairly substantial. I thought about giving it to my mother on her retirement, but now I’ve thought about giving it to my son upon his graduation from high school or college.

How do I stop feeling guilty? I’ve already spoken to her about toning down the gifts, and she’s sort of listened. Do I give her the account and hope the guilt goes away? I just love her so much, and I really hope she’s not gifting us things to make up for the past. I am so scared that this will hinder her ability to retire comfortably.

—Mother’s Generosity

The question of how to address your guilt and the question of how to dispose of this savings account strike me as two totally separate things. For one thing, there’s no urgency behind making a decision about the savings account, since both your mother’s retirement and your son’s high school graduation are more than a decade away. (I’d be inclined to hang on to the money for potential emergencies your mother or your family may face, if I were in your position.) But what you need to do before making any financial decisions is to have an honest conversation with your mother. If you’re worried that she’s so generous now because she wants to make up for not being able to buy you things as a child, ask her. If you’re ashamed of being too hard on her as a kid because you wanted everything your sister had, offer her a meaningful apology and remind her how much she means to you. In the meantime, talk to your husband about your concerns for your mother’s retirement. Maybe the two of you can meet with a financial adviser (your mom might even be willing to join you) and research senior-assistance programs she might be eligible for in a few years. Revisit the savings account in a year or two when you’ve had more of these conversations and you have a better sense of what your mother needs and what you and your husband are prepared to offer.

Classic Prudie

After meeting my now sister-in-law, my brother washed his hands of our family and his former friends. We used to be quite close and to the extent of my knowledge there wasn’t a specific incident that led to his current behavior other than meeting his wife and adopting her lifestyle and family. While I acknowledge that his life is his choice, I’m struggling to deal with the impact his abandonment has had on my parents. For example, when my brother married, he only invited a handful of his relatives and friends (we didn’t even take up a whole table at the reception) to a 300-person ceremony, and my immediate family appeared in exactly two of thousands of photos. My mother cried for weeks afterward, and family friends constantly talk about staging an intervention. My brother and his wife never visit my parents, and he only calls if my SIL is not around. Now they have a small child, and my father refuses to acknowledge the child to keep from getting attached, and my mother’s heart is broken by not being able to have a relationship with her grandchild. The situation is only made worse by a plethora of pictures and comments online to the tune of “My mother is the best grammy ever!” and “(Baby) is so lucky to have such an amazing family!” in reference to my SIL’s folks. I hate having all the holiday appearances and grandchildren needs fall on my shoulders, but more importantly, I hate seeing my parents hurt without knowing the reason why. What can I say or do to help the situation?