Dear Prudence

My Mom Is Having an Affair With a Woman

I don’t want to out her, but I can’t keep this from my dad.

Woman looking at an iPad with a surprised expression
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Slate is now asking those who read the most to support our journalism more directly by subscribing to Slate Plus. Learn more.

Dear Prudence,

Recently I was using my mom’s iPad (with her permission), when she must have accidentally synced all her devices or something, because all of her texts started popping up on the screen. That’s how I found out she was having an affair with a woman. As soon as I realized what I was reading, I shut the iPad down, but I still saw enough, and I don’t know what to do. I feel like my dad should know. But I don’t know if it’s my place for me to tell him, or if I can tell him without outing my mom. I don’t want to out anyone, no matter who they are. But I feel like I’m part of the secret if I keep this from him. I obviously don’t want my parents to get a divorce either. I don’t want to cause it, if it does happen. What’s the best way to approach this that won’t cause any harm?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

—Lost Privacy

This is a really difficult situation you’ve found yourself in completely by accident. I hope you can start by reminding yourself that you aren’t the cause of any possible harm here. These are your parents, and you are their child; you didn’t seek out this information about their marriage, and it’s their responsibility not to put you in situations like this one. Though it may have been unintentional, your mother’s carelessness has hurt you. That doesn’t mean she’s a bad mother or that you have to be angry with her, but the fault here lies squarely with her.

You don’t say much about what your relationship with your mother is like, so I don’t want to make assumptions about how close you two are or how prepared you feel to discuss something as fraught as an affair with her. But although such a discussion might never be easy, if you think you can do so safely, you should talk to your mother first. Tell her exactly what happened—that you saw her messages involuntarily and briefly, and that you’re now in the terrible position of wondering whether you’re keeping information from your father that could seriously hurt him. Without dictating to your mother exactly what she ought to do next, you can make it clear that you’re not prepared to lie to him indefinitely and that she needs to talk to him herself. It’s not your fault that your mother has not been able to keep her affair a secret forever, and you’re not causing a problem by pointing out that things cannot continue as they did before. You also have a right to seek other people you can confide in. You don’t have to go into details about who your mother is having an affair with if you want to give her time to decide how or if she wants to come out, but you can share enough information to get the support you need right now. Good luck—I hope that your mother steps in and lifts this burden from you.

Advertisement

Dear Prudence,

I was raised in a wealthy and prominent family in a country with extreme socioeconomic disparities. My parents were violently abusive. My older sister became violent and volatile in turn. The three of them made my childhood hell. I left home for university in a more egalitarian country thousands of miles away and never returned. I secretly saved money since my family was always threatening to end their financial support unless I moved back. Several years ago, I cut off all contact after a lot of painful deliberation, and I’ve lived independently ever since. I changed my name when I got married, and my husband’s the only person who knows about my history and my family’s wealth. We have a simple, low-key lifestyle. We also have two young children. My family knows about them (because they’ve hired private investigators to gather information about me), but have never met them.

Advertisement

I am also now terminally ill with cancer. My husband and I have been discussing the family’s financial future as I write my will, and he raised an unpleasant but valid point: Our children may be entitled to a significant portion of my family’s fortune. I did not anticipate dying young. We had always planned to leave something for our kids, but I can’t work any longer. My husband hasn’t brought up this point again, but I can’t stop thinking about it. My relatives are racist, homophobic, violent, and manipulative. My children are not safe with them. I’m not prepared to leave my husband as the sole gatekeeper between them and the children. I don’t think any amount of money is worth being in contact with my family. But I can’t offer my husband and children financial security any longer—only medical debt. My husband is currently unable to work, since he is my sole caretaker. I’m also not ruling out the possibility of my children eventually discovering my family history simply by searching online for my maiden name. How would they feel about this?

Advertisement
Advertisement

—Affluenza Aversion

The position you’re currently in is overwhelming and frightening, and I’m so sorry that on top of everything else you have to worry about this. But you’re quite right that no amount of money is worth risking your children’s safety, and it’s clear that your children would not be safe with any level of contact, no matter how limited, with your family of origin. I’m relieved to hear that your husband hasn’t brought this up more than once, as it suggests he was speaking out of desperation and fear and that he’s going to be amenable to reason. But if you’re not comfortable leaving your husband as the sole gatekeeper between your kids and the rest of your relatives, now’s the time to be clear with your lawyer and your close friends about the importance of maintaining this estrangement, so that he’s not the only one who knows just how dangerous the children’s grandparents are. There may not be many great options available to you and your husband—medical payment assistance or disability payments or declaring bankruptcy or trying to raise money among your other family and friends are only partial solutions to the terrible situation you’re in—but as long as you two can agree that renewed contact with your violent, wealthy abusers is no solution at all, you’ll have the peace of mind that comes from knowing your children will continue to stay far away from the people who tried to destroy your own childhood.

Advertisement

How to Get Advice From Prudie

• Send questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. (Questions may be edited.)
• Join the live chat every Monday at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.
• Call the voicemail of the Dear Prudence podcast at 401-371-DEAR (3327) to hear your question answered on a future episode of the show.

Dear Prudence,

My daughter, “Poppy,” is in second grade. There’s another girl in her class, “Kim,” who has Down syndrome. Her mother is very nice and approached us within the first few weeks of starting elementary school about arranging a play date. We’ve reciprocated once or twice a term ever since. Poppy has become increasingly reluctant to participate because she can’t connect with Kim the same way she does with her other friends. She finds conversation difficult and awkward, and there is starting to open up a gulf in maturity between the girls.

Advertisement

I have repeatedly explained to Poppy how important these play dates are to Kim, the value of inclusivity, how Kim finds it harder to make friends than other girls do, and why it is a kind thing to do. I believe that Poppy understands all this, but she still doesn’t enjoy them. I’ve resorted to bribing Poppy by telling her I will take her to McDonald’s afterward if she plays nicely with Kim for a couple of hours. I’m not very comfortable with this practice, and it feels like this is more a charitable act than real friendship.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Poppy doesn’t want to go on another play date with Kim. I don’t know what to say to Kim’s mother. I don’t have any friends with intellectual disabilities, and to be honest, it would probably not be my preference to pursue such a friendship for exactly the same reasons as Poppy has vocalized. I feel like I am expecting Poppy to do something I do not do. I do not think the same problem would arise with a child with a physical disability because Poppy would still be able to connect socially with that child. As you know, little girl relationships are based on communication, rather than action, so I think it is harder with girls than it would have been with boys. I am reluctant to force a play date on Poppy because it will likely result in her being surly with Kim when she arrives. At the same time, I do not want to refuse play dates with Kim. I do not get the impression that Kim gets many play date offers from other families.

Advertisement

—Reluctant Play Dates

Let’s scale back a little bit here. I can’t quite buy the idea that it’s somehow hypocritical to encourage your daughter to play nicely with Kim once or twice a semester just because you don’t have any adult friends with Down syndrome in your own life. That seems rather like a dodge, and an obvious one too. Poppy does have Kim in her life, and the question of how to treat Kim is a relevant and immediate one that doesn’t require a direct analogy in yours. Nor do I think that occasionally offering your kid McDonald’s as an incentive to play nicely with a classmate they’re not wild about is necessarily the first step toward raising a total mercenary who only seeks to do the right thing if she thinks there are McNuggets in it for her. I suspect you are trying to make this about anything other than what it really is—because if it’s a question of principle about “authenticity” or “hypocrisy” or “bribery,” then you don’t have to deal with the uncomfortable reality of Kim’s feelings. Don’t do that!

Advertisement
Advertisement

“Kim is your classmate, and she’s a good kid. You don’t have to be best friends or spend every weekend together, but it means a lot to her to spend time together a few times a year, even if that’s not what you feel like doing. It’s important to consider other people’s feelings before our own sometimes, and if you go over next Saturday with a good attitude, we can go to McDonald’s afterward” is a perfectly reasonable parental approach to this kind of social interaction. That doesn’t mean that Poppy has to follow the exact same schedule with Kim until they graduate high school. But if Kim isn’t being unkind or rude, if she’s simply different from the other kids and your daughter feels a little awkward, keeping two or three play dates a year with an age-appropriate reward afterward is fine. (And I’m not quite sure I do know that relationships between little girls are based in communication rather than action, but I take your inference to mean that it is somehow more difficult for your daughter to play with Kim because of her Down syndrome than if they were both boys. I find this a little baffling and suggest you leave it to the side.)

Advertisement
Advertisement

I do agree that teaching your kids about the importance of inclusion shouldn’t only be associated with mandatory play dates and think there might be room there for you and Kim’s mother to help both kids by brainstorming some new activity ideas. If just putting them in a room together with their regular toys isn’t much fun for Poppy, you might ask her if there’s anything she thinks she might enjoy doing with Kim. The pandemic will limit some of those options right now, but in the future you might be able to take them both to a kids’ museum or even to McDonald’s together, so the play date and the reward are one and the same. If Poppy continues to insist, and you worry she’s going to start taking out her frustration on Kim, I think you should stop the play dates, because Kim shouldn’t suffer just so Poppy can learn about inclusivity. In that instance, maybe your next move is to offer to take Kim’s mom out for coffee sometime, go on a walk together, or offer to babysit—some sort of gesture of goodwill so she knows you’re not just going to drop off the face of the earth because your kids aren’t currently playing together.

Advertisement

Help! My Husband Wants to Move Abroad for His Mom. I Don’t.

Danny M. Lavery is joined by Chau Tu on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.

Subscribe to the Dear Prudence Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Dear Prudence,

My family and I are not especially close. I live abroad, and I don’t have social media. I keep in touch with my family via WhatsApp, emails, and postcards, and I see them twice a year. The rest of my family keep in touch over Facebook. They also have frequent phone calls and visit more often. Due to international calling rates and my autism, I can’t keep up with their pace of phone calls.

Advertisement

Earlier this week, my sister caught the coronavirus. No one told me she had it. I only found out because my mother sent me a photo of the care kit they were sending her. My mother told my other siblings but not me. When I asked her why, she said there was nothing I could do because I was so far away. This is not the first time this has happened. When my brother overdosed and went to the hospital, I only found out six months later when I was home for Christmas via a therapist letter pinned to my parents’ fridge. I only found out that my grandfather had developed dementia when my aunt called the family home and left a voicemail to say she’d finally found a carer for him.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

I know that I chose to live abroad and not to have social media, but I still want to know when my relatives are seriously ill. I feel like I’m doing something that’s giving the impression that I either don’t care or am not accessible to these kinds of concerns, but I don’t know what and I don’t know how to fix it. I don’t want it to get to the point where someone in the family dies, and no one thinks to tell me until I’m home for Christmas. How do I convince my family that yes, I do want to know when you are seriously unwell, even if it does mean all I can do is send a “get well soon” card?

Advertisement

—Out of the Loop

I found your letter tremendously convincing, for whatever it’s worth, and I think it makes an excellent foundation for a script. Of course you want everyone on the same page, but for strategic purposes, you don’t have to worry about convincing your entire family about the importance of keeping you in the loop. You just need one or two reliable sources. “I worry I’ve given the impression that I don’t care about family updates, but I really do. Even if I can’t do anything from where I live, I want to know if someone’s really sick, recently diagnosed, or hospitalized, because I care about you all and want to know how you’re doing” should help persuade those trustworthy relatives to add you to the update list. It could also help to check in with a quick “What’s new at home?” message every few weeks, too.

Advertisement
Advertisement

You sound fairly compassionate and emotionally engaged here, and it’s not unheard of for families to mistreat or exclude autistic relatives while blaming them for their own exclusion. I don’t want to assume that’s the case here, but your mother’s non sequitur about “you can’t do anything because you’re so far away” made me wonder what lay underneath. After all, none of you can “do much” about a loved one with coronavirus. But you could have called, or contributed something to the care kit, or even just texted your sister “I hope you get better soon!” Your mother knows perfectly well the many ways you could have offered support from a distance, I suspect, so if she or anyone else tries to justify this exclusion merely on the basis of your autism, I’d encourage you to contest that justification. I may be wrong and don’t want to suggest you need to treat your relatives as hostile right out of the gate. But I do want you to be prepared to challenge the assumption that your autism means you can’t handle hearing bad news, in case any of them try to make that case. I hope you won’t have any more bad news for a while, so this can all remain pleasantly hypothetical, but when it does come, you have a right to hear about it with everyone else.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“What you are asking for is very reasonable and requires minimal effort/energy from your relatives.”

Danny Lavery and Slate associate editor Seth Maxon discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,

I have biweekly Zoom calls with my partner’s family. I also tend to feel a little awkward in conversation, which gets magnified by virtual calls. I am constantly being interrupted on these calls by other family members. Sometimes they claim that our volume is too low, but my partner swears there’s nothing wrong with our hardware. We’ve tried pulling our laptop closer to us, and it doesn’t really help. There are points where I’m practically shouting at the laptop in order to be heard. I’m feeling frustrated and ignored, and I withdraw on these calls, but then that hurts my partner, who feels that I’m not trying to be a part of the family. Abstention isn’t really an option for that reason. Should I try to talk to everyone? Are there coping strategies for before or after that you can recommend?

Advertisement

—Zoom, Interrupted

What has your partner done to foster a welcoming attitude toward you during family events, aside from saying, “No, our volume levels are normal” and declaring they’re hurt if you suggest sitting out the next call? Does your partner speak up on your behalf when one of their relatives interrupts you? Do they make connections or suggest topics of mutual interest between you and their family members in order to spark conversation? Regular participation in virtual gatherings every two weeks strikes me as a fairly intensive, good-faith effort to be part of the family, so I think you can push back against your partner’s claim that anything less than perfect attendance is a problem. The real problem is that your partner isn’t helping you find a solution to your frustration. They needn’t bark at their family in order to help you out, either—multiparticipant video conversations can be difficult for a whole host of reasons, and they might all have a history of cheerfully interrupting one another without intending disrespect. But incorporating you, and your noncheerful relationship to interruption, into these conversations is not impossible either, and your partner should be looking for ways to smooth things over when you’ve tried and failed to finish a complete sentence.

Advertisement

Now available in your podcast player: the audiobook edition of Danny M. Lavery’s latest book, Something That May Shock and Discredit YouGet it from Slate

Dear Prudence,

I have worked at the same place for 20 years. My wife does not work with me, but she knows many of my colleagues. We have more than 700 employees, so we have also had our share of pandemic-related tragedies. One man I worked with died of COVID last year. Recently, another workmate retired and threw a party at a bar. This raised a red flag for me, and my wife and I discussed it for weeks. I knew it was unlikely anyone would be attempting to stay physically distanced from others or wear masks. My wife gives everyone the benefit of the doubt, and she said we must go to the retirement party to honor our friend. My worst fears were borne out. We were the only people wearing masks. Ten minutes in, my wife said that maybe we should remove ours. I said, “No way! We came with masks, so we should leave with masks.” The only “friend” who gave us a kind word was the retiree. One acquaintance came up to me with his hand over his mouth and mocked me. No one else even acknowledged us. We left after about a half-hour. After things get back to normal, if they ever do, I don’t want to socialize with these people again. We don’t have many friends, but can we characterize these people as true friends?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

—Crowded Out

You might consider your recently retired colleague a friend—at least he was willing to offer you a kind word—but no, you do not have to consider co-workers who ignore and insult you for wearing a mask your “true friends.” Pay attention to your own impulse to give them a wide berth outside of work. You can remain polite and professional when you’re on the clock together, but look for true friendship elsewhere. Even if you don’t have many other friends to rely on, it’s better to prioritize the few people you can trust to treat you with respect and kindness than to court further mockery or silent treatment.

Classic Prudie

I am a young attorney at a solid law firm. I work very hard, have received stellar reviews, and seem to be well-liked. I’m also happily married to a beautiful woman I adore. And now I am worried about losing the love of my life, my job, or both. Despite my great marriage, I sometimes peruse Craigslist personal ads, just for kicks. Sometimes I even reply—always from an anonymous email—but it never goes any further than that. It’s just a fun fantasy for me. No hookups, no chat, nothing. I have not and would not cheat on my wife. Unfortunately, this past weekend I replied to an ad from my iPhone and I accidentally used my work email account. Although the email wasn’t explicit, it makes me look very bad. I feel absolutely awful. I pay for the phone, but the email goes through the firm’s server, which I know has monitoring software. I’m wondering whether and who I should tell about this. I’m afraid if I bring it up at work, what may have gone unnoticed will become an issue. Also, should I give my wife a head’s up, in case I lose my job? I’m worried that what I thought was a fun little secret is now going to turn into a very public nightmare.

Advertisement