Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Uncensored: The Daughter’s Girlfriend

This week, Danny M. Lavery and Matt Lubchansky discuss a Prudie letter: the daughter’s girlfriend.

Daniel Lavery: I will admit, although I’ve gotten letters a little bit along these lines before, I definitely haven’t had murder as a plot point often

so the murder part definitely gave me pause

Matt Lubchansky: holy moly. yeah i was really trucking along there like “let your daughter live her life lady!” until the murder part. personally

I’m definitely inclined to think “influence” as this nebulous thing corrupting our beautiful daughters is extremely some sort of parental myth? Like “manners” or whatever is a very specious measure of human value to me. Maybe I just swear a lot

Daniel Lavery: yes that really struck me too, and I think that’s part of why the letter-writer wants so badly to focus on a time in her daughter’s life when she didn’t invest much time or energy among her peers and mostly just wanted to hang out with her parents and develop spatial awareness

“she’s good at heart, she just found bad companions and likes them a lot by accident”

Matt Lubchansky: “My daughter used to love spending time with me, not complaining, and working on her fine motor skills”

Daniel Lavery: You obviously are not under any obligation to like your daughter’s friends, or her girlfriend’s friends, especially the ones who have participated in an armed robbery/murder

that is absolutely fine to not like. You have my full permission to disapprove of that! I don’t want that to get lost here

Matt Lubchansky: Certainly! I just think it’s important to recognize there’s no magic combination of words you can use, especially on your own teenager, that will make her think like you. Especially about her friends. That said I think it’s fine to try and have a frank talk about how murder is not a value one was raised with

Daniel Lavery: yeah, I think it’s just a really ineffective strategy

almost no adult (or almost-adult, if your daughter’s still a senior in high school) likes hearing “you were such a great kid, what happened”

Matt Lubchansky: Totally agree, and so is bringing up “nefarious influence” of people she has strong feelings for.

Daniel Lavery: because it’s like….”I didn’t used to be a fully-grown adult with autonomy, so what I’m hearing is that you liked me better when I didn’t run my own life” is the immediate response, when you hear that, especially from a parent

and again, this girlfriend may be an absolute piece of shit

or she may be a troubled kid who was in the wrong place or the wrong time

or something in the middle

Matt Lubchansky: Yeah I feel like I need more clarification on “murder followed” if we’re going to make a judgment there

Daniel Lavery: but the problem isn’t that your daughter used to be great and then she was accidentally seized by Honest John Worthington Foulfellow and those kids who went to Donkey Island in Pinnocchoio

man I cannot spell Pinnochio


Matt Lubchansky: waiter, i’ll have one pinnoccino

Daniel Lavery: PLEASURE Island not Donkey Island

no one would have gone there if it was called Donkey Island

Matt Lubchansky: waiter, i’ll have one donkey island

Daniel Lavery: anyhow! the point is that your daughter has been making choices that trouble you, and you want to find ways you can talk to her about that without driving her away or making her feel defensive

and I think you can do that! but you can’t do that by saying either “time to dump your girlfriend because she’s going to prison” or “You were so much better when you were four and didn’t really have friends”

Matt Lubchansky: Yeah I think it’s so important to talk to your kids like they’re adults, especially about adult stuff like this. Everyone remembers being annoyed that they weren’t taken seriously enough by adults when they were teens.

Daniel Lavery: the signs of jealousy/manipulation/control might be more serious, but unfortunately the LW doesn’t go into any detail there

so I can’t really make a ruling on how concerned she should be

I’ll just say that while it’s painful to feel helpless, you are only going to have less and less input on your daughter’s decisions, especially as they relate to her friends and partners, with each passing year

Matt Lubchansky: Yeah the evidence for “my daughter is being corrupted” is extremely light here, which tips me off to maybe it being perhaps overblown. that said “murder followed,” so

Daniel Lavery: and that’s how it should be! that’s what growing up is

so you need to prepare yourself to actually *have less power* over her choices and to think of that as something you might find challenging but that is actually a good and necessary part of seeing your kid grow up into adulthood

I mean I do feel bad because I really, really understand why you would be concerned as a parent to hear “my girlfriend just got convicted for her part in a murder”

Matt Lubchansky: Yes

Daniel Lavery: and I’m coming down kind of hard on the whole “let your daughter make her own mistakes” line, which is important but also — I get why you’re upset, OP, I really do

but man especially if she loves her girlfriend, and she’s going to go to prison soon, and she’s already feeling embattled and defensive, you really need to tread carefully here
or else you’re just going to make her feel like a Capulet defending a wounded Montague

Matt Lubchansky: I know it makes this less interesting, but i totally agree! I just know that if at any point, including now, if my mother said to me “you didn’t used to be like this” I’m just hanging up the phone

Daniel Lavery: God yes I heard that a fair amount in my 20s and it just felt so frustrating and impossible to respond to

“I’m….sorry I grew up?”

it’s a perfectly understandable feeling to have *and share with another parent during a venting session*

it’s not a good thing to say to your adult kid

Matt Lubchansky: not to get all AS A QUEER over here because i also don’t know if the LW is! but def with queer youth you’ve got your hackles up all the time for this stuff

Daniel Lavery: yeah I didn’t want to go too far down that road here because again, murder, but it did feel like the LW was trying not to say something like “I was a little freaked out when she got a girlfriend…”

because sometimes people who call themselves “quite liberal” get very antsy when they realize they’re a little freaked out by the reality of having a gay kid

Matt Lubchansky: trying to keep “murder followed” in the forefront of the old noggin as well

but yes

Daniel Lavery: it’s a very real concern to have!!! the murder!!

Matt Lubchansky: murder is certainly bad. that’s my position anyway

Daniel Lavery: she missed your daughter’s game to be part of a murder! You do not have to like or think highly of her in order to play your role as a parent well

i just mean that your daughter is going to have to make her own calls here and so your goal is to not shut down helpful conversations that might be possible in the future

so asking her like, how she’s looking out for herself right now, reminding her to get some rest, encouraging her to talk to her other friends or suggesting therapy — all good options

You can also SAY what you think. You don’t have to hold that back. I just think you should say it once and then let it be that

Matt Lubchansky: right! there’s also the possibility of just asking her how she feels! i’d be mad at my girlfriend if she missed my game, to commit murder

Daniel Lavery: “I know you care about her, and I realize it’s your decision to make; I hope she can develop a different kind of life in the future and want her to be safe and as well as possible, but I don’t think she treats you well and I worry about her jealousy. I think you deserve better” is 100% fine

but if your daughter’s not ready to consider that, repeating yourself is not going to get anywhere with her

and do your best whenever possible to separate things you find distasteful (like swearing or not being on top of your homework) from harmful things (armed robbery, murder, trying to control your romantic partner)

Matt Lubchansky: right like this has very little to do with manners! don’t bring that up, it’ll feel like it’s reaching, because it is

Daniel Lavery: and also like you can’t tell the difference between things that matter and things that have more to do with looking a certain way

Matt Lubchansky: YES

Daniel Lavery: so she’ll be less likely to value your judgment on important things if she thinks of you as like, “Oh, Mom, thinks everyone who curses or wears ripped jeans is a violent criminal, her opinions aren’t valuable on the subject because she paints everyone with the same broad brush”

again, doesn’t mean you have to like swearing! You are free to dislike it. Just be careful to keep a scale of “worth a fight” or “worth letting go” in the back of your head

Matt Lubchansky: yeah i feel like that scale also should tip more and more to “worth letting go” as someone gets older. again, the abusive part and the murder part are, different.

Daniel Lavery: Talk to your daughter so that when/if she is ever ready to break up with her girlfriend, she’ll think of you as someone who’s going to offer her nonjudgmental support afterwards

make it as easy as possible for her to come to you about difficult decisions

you can be clear about where you stand and then you can also stop trying to repeat yourself or try to get your way indirectly and really let your daughter have space to make her own choices

Matt Lubchansky: YES this is exactly it. Making it a non-judgmental space is the only way you’re going to be able to have a real conversation

Daniel Lavery: and good luck! I hope your daughter is getting good support from a lot of different fronts these days

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