Dear Prudence

How Do We Tell Our Kids They Have Different Biological Fathers?

I got pregnant while my husband and I were separated. We don’t know when to discuss this with the children.

A mom, a dad, and three kids walking, with their backs to the camera
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Prudence,

My husband, Joe, and I have been together for more than 10 years and have three kids. We went through a rocky patch a few years ago and were separated for about a year. During this time, we both had new relationships, but I got pregnant with Brad—who vanished as soon as he found out. I haven’t been able to contact Brad since.

In the meantime, Joe and I decided that we would work on things and get back together. He knew I was pregnant at this time. We now have three young kids, the youngest of whom has a different biological father, but Joe is his father in every other way—he’s on the birth certificate, and he loves and cares for this child the same as he does the other kids, and they all call him Dad. When is the time to tell the kids?

—Different Dads

Sooner rather than later, I should think. It’s much easier to have ongoing, age-appropriate conversations with all three of the kids when they’re young enough to feel like this information is just part of the family fabric than it is to try to “break the news” when they’re older. You can always speak to your pediatrician and/or a family therapist for a few sessions if you’re looking for a particular script, but the gist should be this: You’re their mom, and Joe is their dad, and the youngest also has a second dad, who was only involved before he was born. You and Joe spent some time apart a few years ago, then came back together to keep raising your family. (Now’s also a great time to have the “where babies come from” conversation with kids and introduce them to the idea of sperm and eggs.) If you disclose this in a matter-of-fact, open way, it’ll be part of your family life rather than an intrusive disclosure that potentially disrupts it. And make sure to let the kids know you’re comfortable answering any questions.

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Dear Prudence,

I am a woman in a high executive position in a male-dominated field. I’m the first not just in my company but among any of our competitors. I’m very qualified, and on the surface it would seem like I’m doing a good job. The problem is the back-stabbing and petty criticism that swirl around me daily. There are many who clearly do not think I should be here. I am pretty sure much of it is because I am a woman—although that’s never the reason given. I have my defenders, and it is not likely that I will lose my job, but I am demoralized and exhausted. I’m not in a position to terminate the worst offenders, but even if I could, I don’t think that would change the culture. I hate this job that I had my eyes on for so long. I’m reasonably certain I can get another less-prestigious job, but I feel like I’m letting womankind down by leaving. I have a responsibility to the rising generation. Someone has to crack that glass ceiling! (It’s 2020 for heaven’s sake! Why are we still having these conversations?) On the other hand, I feel like I’m drowning and can’t imagine living like this until retirement. What should I do—fight or flight?

—Still a Man’s World

You have my sympathy in trying to weigh “this is making me miserable” against “if I leave, am I letting womankind down?” (At the risk of sounding flippant, that’s how I spent the better part of 2016.) You are not single-handedly responsible for transforming the culture of a company that has no interest in transforming, and you are not letting down women as a group if you seek out a job that you enjoy with colleagues who treat you with respect. That said, I hope you consult an employment lawyer before you start looking for work elsewhere. It’s possible that you have a sex discrimination case. Your colleagues want you to feel demoralized. It’s not a moral failing or a sign that you lack toughness to feel exhausted after a relentless campaign to make it clear just how unwelcome you are. The long-standing, all-pervading nature of the environment you describe as well as the fact that no other women in your company or even your industry have been permitted to reach the executive level suggest to me that it’s worth your while to explore your legal options. But I also hope you don’t hold yourself solely responsible to hang in on a grindingly painful situation until retirement merely because you think you’re letting down the team by leaving. I hope this company is forced to change. (I doubt anything short of legal action or financial punishment will induce it to do so.) But in the meantime, I want you to have a job that doesn’t make you actively miserable.

Dear Prudence,

My employer has a policy of providing free office lunches on Fridays. The problem is that I’m lactose-intolerant, and the Friday lunch usually doesn’t include lactose-free alternatives. The HR manager responsible for the lunch knows this, but she’s also known to forget or overlook things. I have lactase pills that help, but they’re expensive, and I prefer to only eat dairy as an occasional treat, not a last resort because there’s no other food available. I often end up going out and buying my own lunch. Is it reasonable for me to expect a free lunch to accommodate my dietary restrictions, or am I looking a gift horse in the mouth?

—Workplace Dairy Woes

Certainly you can raise the issue with her again without coming across as highhanded or demanding. If she has a hard time remembering details, you can put it in writing so she has something to refer to later. You can also thank her for ordering the lunch every week and strike a tone that’s collaborative and upbeat rather than angry and combative. But there’s nothing unreasonable about saying: “Any chance we could get more nondairy options for future Friday lunches? As you know, I can’t digest dairy, and I’d love to be able to join the rest of the team.” They’re offering the free lunch to all employees, and you’re only asking her to bear your (extremely common!) dietary restriction in mind when she orders something for everyone.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From How to Do It

My wife and I have been together for 15 years, and she’s been a great wife and mother to our three kids. But except for the very beginning, I’ve been dissatisfied with our love life. I told her early on that my ideal pattern is two activities a week. Doesn’t have to be full penetrative sex, although my preference is that we both finish. I like giving almost as much as receiving. I like variety and keeping it fresh. Three days after our last encounter, I want it and miss her. That feeling of missing her turns into anxiety in the days after that. We are nine days out right now, and it feels like a depression. We’ll hook up on Saturday and then the pattern will begin again. I don’t feel wanted. Her ideal pattern is once a week—on the weekend. Missionary only, and she groans but agrees to some foreplay. If we miss that once-a-week opportunity, there’s a small shot we’ll hook up on Monday. She has no interest in giving oral, manual stimulation, watching porn with me, or any physical contact when I take care of myself.

I try to be a good husband and father. I provide for the family, I’m supportive, I cook, clean, play with the kids, and my quirks are minor. What can I do?