Dear Prudence

I Told My Husband I Only Want One Child. Now He Barely Speaks to Me.

He wants me to quit my job and be a stay-at-home mom. I feel guilty I can’t say yes to his dream.

Collage of an empty bassinet and a man's face looking sad.
Photo by Ibrahim Rifath on Unsplash, Ilona Panych on Unsplash, Nynne Schroder on Unsplash.

Dear Prudence,

My wonderful husband has become a shell of his former self, and I feel both conflicted and responsible. We discussed the possibility of children before marrying. He always wanted them, and I was very unsure. I told him I have deep-rooted abandonment issues and PTSD from violent past relationships, and he’s been very patient and kind with me. After some soul-searching, I realized I was ready to have a child. But I really only want one. He was devastated. “Only one? That’s almost as bad as not having any!” Now he won’t look at me, he won’t touch me, and he doesn’t smile anymore. It’s been a month, and I’m walking on eggshells.

He says he still loves me and that it’s not a deal-breaker, but my decision has left him unmotivated at work, at home, and everywhere else. I make significantly more money than him. I purchased the house we live in and could carry our mortgage if he lost his income. However, if I let go of my demanding career, we would not be able to make ends meet. Because he’s a small business owner, I hardly see him. He recently revealed that he dreams of making enough money to “allow” me to stay at home and raise multiple children, while also paying for his parents’ and relatives’ retirement. Although I applaud his selflessness, this isn’t what I envision for myself. And if I do think of being a full-time caretaker, my thoughts selfishly drift into business concepts I could pursue in my “free time.”

He blurted out last night that he feels like he’s a failure. He said he failed to sell me on his vision and that if he had done a better job of “painting a picture of our future” that I would be open to it. Am I being too practical or cold? I feel absolutely horrible seeing him so down. I also feel guilty, knowing that if I would just say yes to his dream, he would be over the moon. What next steps can I take to improve his morale and outlook?

—Out of Alignment

I’m deeply concerned that you feel preemptively selfish for merely thinking about wanting to work in a future where you quit the job you clearly enjoy and give up your financial independence in order to satisfy your husband’s desire for a stay-at-home wife and mother. Your husband is capable of having a rational, respectful conversation about children, and you are entitled to ask it of him. Yes, it’s an emotional topic, but a month of the silent treatment and maudlin, self-pitying declarations is absolutely ridiculous. He’s already succeeded in making you feel selfish and worry you’re being cold, even though you’re the only person who’s compromised on the subject. Moreover, he’s convinced you that it’s somehow “selfless” that he fantasizes about you staying at home—a thing that, it bears repeating, you did not express interest in doing. Your concern should not be improving his morale and outlook; he is having a tantrum and does not need to be coddled out of it. Please talk to your friends and a therapist about how you can effectively advocate for yourself in this relationship without falling prey to his manipulative tactics and guilt. It’s possible that your husband will realize his sulking is counterproductive and unhelpful and decide instead to find a workable compromise with you. But if he doesn’t, I think it’s time to reconsider whether you want to have even one child with him.

Dear Prudence,

I am a young woman and physician in training. I am terrible with names and work with a rotating team of nurses, social workers, nursing assistants, and other physicians. I work at several hospitals on several teams. I tend to refer to people as “my dear” or “my love.” This includes everyone: my patients, other doctors I work with, social workers, etc. The other day at work, I was speaking with a staff member. I said, “Thank you so much, my dear, for your help earlier.” Later that day she told me she doesn’t like nicknames and asked me to call her by her name. I apologized and thanked her for telling me. In the future, I will call her by her name (which I won’t forget)! Is this a practice I should stop for everyone? I mean it kindly, and my intention is to be warm. I am cognizant of my role as the doctor with nurses and social workers (even if I am in my first year of training) and don’t want to come across as patronizing or make anyone uncomfortable. This interaction has made me second-guess myself. Am I no worse than a creepy male boss?! Is there a kind term of endearment that would be more neutral?

I have no interest in ranking you on a scale of creepy male bosses, but yes, you should stop calling other people who work at these hospitals “my love.” And you definitely shouldn’t be calling your patients “my love,” either—that goes beyond warm and friendly and into “pet names for a significant other” territory. Just say “Thank you so much” when you don’t know someone’s name, or ask them for a reminder of their name. You don’t have to apologize to everyone you’ve ever used a term of endearment with—just knock it off. You can maintain a sense of warmth by using eye contact, smiling, and saying “thank you,” but leave the “my dears” and “my loves” for your friends and loved ones.

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Dear Prudence,

I am a bisexual man who recently got engaged to my wonderful boyfriend, “Pete.” Before that I was married to my high school girlfriend, “Kate.” We got married after an accidental pregnancy and faced enormous family pressure. (Both our families are evangelical Christians.) We both loved our daughter, but the marriage was never happy, and we divorced when she was 4. Now we’re great friends and co-parents, and our daughter is 14. Both Kate and I like each other’s partners. Everything should be great, but both Kate’s family and mine are behaving outrageously. Obviously they handled my coming out as bisexual after the divorce very badly, but we’d at least settled into a frosty silence on the subject, which was fine by me since I only see them a few times a year.

Now that I’m engaged, all bets are off. My parents received the news coldly and immediately wanted to know if I understood how “tacky” it would be to have a big second wedding. We do want to have a big wedding! My parents and sisters have started spamming me almost daily with emails and Facebook messages linking to articles with titles like “Top 10 Tacky Wedding Behaviors” and “How to Have a Second Wedding With Class.” My former in-laws got angry with my daughter for being excited about our wedding and told her it wasn’t a “real wedding” and she shouldn’t attend. Kate has roundly scolded them for it and isn’t sure she wants to speak to them again. Our daughter doesn’t want to see any of her grandparents.

I just feel terrible. I have tried for so long to keep the peace with my complicated extended family. My fiancé has met them exactly once and is not keen to repeat the experience. Now I am wondering if it would be OK to just cut them all off or if that would be a bad thing for my daughter. I’ve always encouraged her to have an independent relationship with her grandparents, whatever my problems with them may be. I’m scared to send her to see my parents next week. How should I handle these people, and what’s the best thing to do for my daughter?

—Is It Tacky?

People who use the words classy and tacky do not have good taste and can be safely, routinely ignored. I understand your desire to make sure your daughter can have a relationship with her grandparents, but at a certain point, her own values and desires have to come into play. She’s a teenager, and her feelings of anger and hurt are totally understandable. Her grandparents have insulted her father and her family, and she has the right to say she’s not ready to see them yet. When she is ready to see them, check in with them before your daughter goes to make sure they can agree to not criticize or badger her for supporting your wedding. If they can’t, don’t send her over.

You can set a boundary with your in-laws and parents (for example, “Until you can refrain from criticizing my sexuality or telling me I have to have a tiny, shame-based wedding, we won’t be able to get together”) while still leaving the door slightly open for future reconciliation should they decide to start behaving themselves. Not all estrangements are permanent, and it may be that a solid, sustained consequence like not seeing you for a while will teach them to keep quiet when they can’t say anything nice. It may even lead to an eventual change of heart.

And tell them why you’re blocking their emails and social media messages. Then block them! My God, you don’t have to put up with that sort of nonsense for another minute. Have a wonderful, splashy wedding.


Help! Do We Have to Speak Kindly of My Cruel Father-in-Law at His Funeral?

Danny M. Lavery is joined by comedian Josh Gondelman on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.

Dear Prudence,

My boyfriend of seven years and I both want to get married one day, probably soon. However, it was always my plan to live in a small town close to nature as soon as I graduate medical school. I despise life in the big city and have always looked forward to escaping it. He doesn’t want to live in a small town ever, and his career really wouldn’t allow for it. Plus, he loves the big city. This is the biggest of several differences in our life plans. I’m ready to give up my dreams to be with him, but however deeply I love him, I think I’ll be miserable. I don’t want to lose him. Will this doom us? What can we do?

—Urban vs. Rural

This feels like a helpful corrective to the first letter. Although I can’t guarantee you two will work it out, at least so far neither of you has attempted to bolster their position by sulking, withdrawing, throwing out passive-aggressive barbs, or making the other person feel responsible for their misery. The most important thing you two can do now is have a completely honest conversation about what you are and aren’t prepared to do about your future living situation. Since you’ve lived in a big city, hate it, and sincerely believe you’d be miserable, I don’t think that you’ve failed to give cities a try. What kind of partner could you be to your boyfriend if you were constantly miserable? Would it be worse to lose him while parting ways lovingly and respectfully, or to lose him because you grow so choked with resentment that your relationship became unbearable? Don’t let the conversation be dominated by wishful thinking or what you hope the other person wants to hear. Only you two can determine what compromises are worth trying. Be honest, be realistic, and only make decisions you think you can really live with.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“My fear is that he is trying to guilt and manipulate you into becoming financially dependent on him.”
Danny Lavery and Nicole Cliffe discuss this letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,

People often comment on my son, saying, “Oh, what a beautiful little girl!” I usually respond cheerfully with, “Thanks! He’s a boy, but I understand why you say that—he’s really pretty!” He is almost 2, and I don’t dress him in especially girly clothes. His hair has gotten long, so we put the bangs up in a small ponytail on top of his head, which he loves. Is this OK for now? We aren’t anchored to gender stereotypes, so we don’t mind if he looks ambiguous as a toddler. But will he mind getting called a girl at some point? Should I dress him in more standard boy clothes or cut his hair or have a stronger response to strangers’ comments?

—Cute Toddler Problems

It would be weirder if you started dressing your toddler against both your own tastes and his inclinations in the interest of getting strangers to call him a boy when they pay him compliments in passing. The fact that lots of toddlers don’t look immediately and legibly like boys or girls is entirely neutral, and you don’t need to start buying him gingham button-downs from the J. Crew baby collection just because every once in a while someone says, “Oh, what a cute little girl.” As he gets older, strangers may stop reading him as a girl, at which point the problem you fear will never come to pass. Or maybe he doesn’t mind at all. If it does bother him and he would like to get a haircut or have more input on his outfits, you can chop the ponytail or give him more say in what clothes he puts on in the morning (which you’d probably already do, because as kids get older they naturally start to exert more autonomy in small-scale decisions, like what shoes they wear). But you’re not doing anything wrong, and you don’t have anything to worry about.

[See how Rumaan Alam answered this question in Tuesday’s Care and Feeding column.]

Dear Prudence,

I’ve never been in a relationship of any kind. I recently ended things with a guy I had been on a few dates with but didn’t especially like. I’m starting to suspect dating just isn’t in the cards for me. I don’t know if I even really enjoy it—it always feels like a chore. My friends think I’m being too pessimistic and I’m too young to shut myself off to all aspects of modern dating. I’m in my early 20s, and I’m not going to swear off dating forever. I just want to focus on myself and doing the things I actually enjoy. Is this normal? If so, how do I explain to my nosy friends and relatives why I never bring a date?

—Single, Not Looking

The great thing about deciding not to date is that at any moment you can change your mind and start dating, if you decide you would like to! If your friends ask “Why didn’t you bring a date tonight?” you can answer “I didn’t want to,” and then enjoy yourself. If they seem desperate for an explanation, you can walk them through the difference between pessimism and self-awareness: “I don’t think it’s pessimistic to prioritize the things I enjoy, like my friendships and my hobbies and time spent alone, over something that feels like a draining chore, like dating. If you enjoy dating, I hope you get to do it often, but at least for right now, it’s just not for me.”

Classic Prudie

My wife’s younger sister has at times flirted with me, which my wife has laughed off, even when her sister said something about wanting to have my baby. Well, this sister just got kicked out by their parents, and at the moment is living with us. I’ve never cheated, but I’m not sure I can trust myself here. I am, after all, a guy. How can I tactfully express to my wife that we need to figure out something else ASAP?