Dear Prudence

My Daughter Cut Me Out of Her Life

She didn’t even tell me she’s pregnant.

Silhouette of a pregnant woman next to an image of an older woman with her hand on her forehead
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus andNattakorn Maneerat/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence,

Since my daughter married “Chris,” she has turned into a different person. It started on her wedding day, when she got drunk and screamed at me for “always putting her down” after I made a (not insulting!) comment about her non-traditional dress. That was four years ago, and things have gotten worse since then. She and Chris have spent every Christmas with his parents rather than me and my husband, she ignores calls and texts, and she has gone from attending every pre-pandemic family function with thoughtful gifts on birthdays to missing all but funerals and sending gift cards as Christmas presents. She has spoken to us twice since February, and on one of those occasions ended up screaming abuse at us until my husband hung up.

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I found out the worst news recently and cannot process it. My daughter is pregnant, and not only had she not told us, but she didn’t plan to. I only found out, mortifyingly, because a friend saw something on social media and asked me about it (I’m not on social media). My husband and I tried getting through to our daughter, but she has changed her personal number and only Chris answers the house phone. When confronted, he told us that she no longer wanted any contact with us, and that “they” did not want us in their child’s life. My husband accused Chris of controlling our daughter, at which point Chris hung up. I have since called and pleaded with him to let me talk to my daughter, but to no avail. He has always been a cold person, but I never thought he would do something like this. I know that my daughter has some responsibility for her choices here, but I agree with my husband that Chris seems to be a powerful influence in isolating her from us in this extreme way. We are at a loss as to what to do from here. I cannot bear the thought of never meeting my own grandchild, and part of me can’t believe that our daughter would be so cruel as to follow through with this plan to keep us from them permanently. Is there anything I can say that might get through to Chris, or that I could put in a letter begging my daughter to reconcile? My husband and I miss the sweet, warm girl that we raised, and feel as though we’ve lost her to a cold, angry stranger.

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—Heartbroken

I want to leave open the possibility that someday you and your daughter might be able to reconcile, or at the very least have an honest conversation about your relationship that doesn’t devolve into a screaming match. But I don’t think you’re going to get there by assuming her husband is running interference between the two of you without your daughter’s knowledge and input, or by trying to contrast her adult self to the “sweet, warm girl” you knew years ago. (Would you like it if someone said they liked you better when you were a little child?) It sounds like your daughter has asked her husband to serve as a buffer, likely because of how badly the last few direct interactions between the two of you have gone.

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There’s a thread of unwillingness to consider your daughter an adult actor capable of making rational decisions in your letter. You say that she has “some responsibility for her choices,” when in fact she has total responsibility for them, and you seem unable to connect the dots between anger she directed at you the last few times you spoke and the fact that you two no longer speak. It’s not extreme to stop speaking to someone when your relationship has deteriorated to the extent you describe. It may be painful, and you might not like it, but one follows the other quite logically. None of this is to say, by the way, that your daughter’s reasons for not wanting to speak to you must automatically be good ones or that all of her resentments must be justified. But you seem more defensive than curious about those resentments, and it seems to me like you’ve spent all your energy attempting to make Chris the bad guy rather than reflecting on your relationship with your daughter and trying to see things from her point of view. You say you didn’t think your comments about her wedding dress were insulting, but it’s fairly clear that she did, and more than that, that she experienced it as part of a pattern of demeaning comments. Did you stop to consider whether there might have been some truth to her experience, even if you might have wished she’d brought it up in a calmer fashion? Did you ask for her to tell you more about how your comments have made her feel over the years? What made her start screaming during that last phone call? You say you’re at a loss, and it’s clear that you feel bewildered, but it doesn’t sound like you’re working without any information to me. It sounds more like when your daughter gets angry and tries to get some space from you, you try to circumvent that boundary, blame someone else for it, dismiss her frustrations, and then act shocked when she doesn’t respond well.

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I don’t think you’ve yet cultivated the kind of distance and emotional curiosity that might produce a useful letter asking for reconciliation. Besides which, it’s pretty clear that your daughter is not interested in that at this point. I think you should try to change your tactics and actually listen to what she’s saying. She doesn’t want to talk to you, which includes writing her letters, begging her husband to change her mind, claiming she’s being “controlled” by said husband, or trying to find out her new number. Spend some time leaving her alone. If you feel sad, or angry, or misunderstood, then seek the advice of a therapist, and tend to your own feelings with care. Try to open your mind to the possibility that you have played a part in the deterioration of your relationship with your daughter, that she was not simply brainwashed overnight by an evil husband. If you think you will not be able to bear the pain of not meeting your grandchild, then seek out whatever emotional support from your own friends that you need in order to bear it, because I’m afraid you’re going to have to. Whenever you’re in doubt or experience turmoil over this loss, err on the side of not repeating old behavior and trying to force unwelcome contact with someone who’s made it very clear they don’t want any.

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Dear Prudence, 

My wife is 51, and I am 47. We have been married less than a year. This is the first marriage for both of us, and we have no children from previous relationships. My wife desperately wants a baby. I would be fine with this but do not think it is realistic at our ages. And adoption agencies are very hesitant to accept us because we are viewed by many as too old. My wife wants to try IVF. Given the decreased odds of IVF being successful for a 51-year-old woman, I think it would be a waste of money. I don’t want to crush her dreams, but I also don’t want to flush money down the drain. My wife really and truly believes that she could get pregnant, but I think she’s deluding herself. How do I convince her that IVF is not a good option?

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—Too Late for IVF

As long as you can avoid using language like “deluded” or “flushing money down the drain,” I think you can speak honestly to your wife without crushing her or adding unnecessary pain to her predicament. Your wife is likely as aware as you are of the risks that accompany trying to become pregnant at 51, so it seems the real difference between you two is that you consider spending the money to be a waste, whereas she might think of it as a worthwhile expense, even if it doesn’t pan out. Try to see if you can get a better sense of her expectations on that front—“I’d feel better knowing we exhausted our options, and while $10,000 is a lot of money, I still want to try” will merit different consideration than “I think it’s going to work.” If you two haven’t talked with her doctor about IVF yet, it might help to get some expert advice, especially since her own OB-GYN might be less likely to focus on unlikely miracles than someone who’s hoping to get you to spend a lot of money on IVF treatments. But while you can strive to speak to your wife kindly and respectfully, you shouldn’t try to minimize your very real concerns simply out of fear that she’ll be too sad. She will be sad, and there’s only so much you can do to avoid that sadness. At some point you’ll both have to face it head-on.

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How to Get Advice From Prudie

Submit your questions anonymously here. (Questions may be lightly edited for publication.) Join the live chat every Monday at noon (and submit your comments) here, or call the Dear Prudence podcast voicemail at 401-371-3327 to hear your question answered on a future episode of the show.

Dear Prudence,

Three months ago, I applied for my dream job in our current city. I didn’t think I’d get it—many people applied who seemed more qualified than me—but I figured I had nothing to lose. Three months later, I got the job offer, and I was ecstatic—until we got word my wife will be transferred 3,000 miles away for the next four years. With every other move, we’d gone together, building a new life in a new city alongside each other. But this time I just can’t seem to get excited. I’m devastated to say no to this job offer. And in the new city, we know no one, and career prospects for me are limited. Is it crazy to be in a long-distance marriage for four years? My wife is sad but open to the idea. I feel like a jerk for even proposing it. Kids are not a part of the equation, and we could financially make it work. It just seems like the “wrong” way to spend your late 20s/early 30s. We are both broken-hearted at the situation. What should we do?

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—Dream Job, Nightmare Situation

It makes sense that you don’t feel excited at the prospect of spending four years in a long-distance marriage, even if you’re both prepared to give it a try. But you don’t have to commit to the full four years right away, either—this is not an all or nothing proposition. Why not accept the job and plan on spending the next year in your current home while your wife gets settled into this new city? You might be able to talk to your bosses about the possibility of working remotely so you could take your work with you if you decide to join her later. If nothing else, that would also give you more time to research job opportunities near your wife. That might also ensure you get a chance to visit a few times before joining her, and you could get to know that city a little better, as well as meet any friends your wife has made. You can also ask your friends and family if they happen to know anyone in this new city they can introduce you to so you’re not building a new social network from scratch. If you take the job and love your work but just can’t stand being parted from your wife, then you can always give notice and move back in with her—saying yes to your dream job now doesn’t mean you can’t ever change your mind. Good luck!

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Help! I’m Asked to Cite Evidence Every Time I Talk to My Husband.

Danny M. Lavery is joined by Leigh Bardugo 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,

I am a college student dealing with intense feelings toward a professor. I want to maintain a strictly professional relationship. I’m also in a long-term relationship with someone I really love. My partner makes me happy every day, and marriage is in the cards. There is nothing lacking in my relationship, which is partially why this situation is so confusing. I’ve worked closely with this professor in the past, and he was more of a mentor than anything else. He’s significantly older than me and also married. Possibly because he has been supportive and encouraging of my academic work (which I am insecure about), I became attracted to him, and I’ve found myself wanting his attention more and more.

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I am not someone who develops feelings like this often or easily, so it’s unfamiliar territory. He has no idea, and I want it to stay that way, but I am worried that continuing to work with him at all would be inappropriate, given my feelings. I don’t want to fuel a desire for something I can’t have or risk my own relationship. I have been open with my partner about the situation, and he has been understanding (he actually thinks it’s very funny). He has encouraged me to continue working with this professor because of how the mentorship has helped me academically. I would like to do that but can’t shake the feelings of guilt and worry that I’m doing something wrong. Do you have any advice on how I can set some boundaries for myself, deal with this situation emotionally, and maintain the professionalism of this relationship?

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—Inappropriate Crush

I can appreciate how bewildering and disorienting an unexpected crush can feel, especially if you’re not in the habit of developing crushes very often, but let me put you slightly more at ease. You love your partner, you’re both happy, you’re making long-term plans together, and you’re having honest, non-defensive conversations about occasional attraction to other people without collapsing into paranoia or resentment. Your relationship sounds absolutely lovely, and you don’t have to believe there’s secretly something missing just because you’ve developed a crush on a mentor. Crushes on mentors are not uncommon! Feeling a little starstruck about someone you find both impressive and helpful is perfectly natural. You’ve been honest with your partner about your feelings and related anxiety, you haven’t tried to keep secrets or see how far you can push on the boundaries with your professor, and you’re committed to keeping this relationship professional. You’re not doing anything wrong, and you shouldn’t punish yourself by treating your feelings as if they were actions.

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That said, if working closely with this professor makes you feel more uncomfortable than otherwise, there might be a limit to how much his mentorship can help you in your studies, and you might be better served by scaling back on how much time you spend with him. That doesn’t mean you have to recoil from conversation with him as if you’d just touched a hot stove—you’re not going to suddenly abandon your values if you discuss your latest project with him—but if you’re having too difficult a time focusing your attention on your work when you’re together, there are certainly other places to look for help, both on- and off-campus. You’re also allowed to have more than one mentor! Consider this permission to look for more resources rather than an injunction to stop talking to someone you have a harmless crush on, and go easy on yourself. I suspect you and your partner will continue to be just fine.

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Dear Prudence Uncensored

“It just smells like a whole bunch of denial.”

Danny Lavery and Elizabeth Sampat discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,

I am a married, middle-age man with children. My wife and I love each other very much. We have excellent communication on things we can do to continue to develop our relationship. However, since we got married, our sex life has been lacking fire. My children often spend weekends away, and we have ample opportunities for doing all the stuff we would like to do. We just don’t. Our sex drives are not in sync. We’ve tried a few things: Once we watched porn, and a few times I blindfolded her. But it’s rare. Our sex has a very low erotic factor. Her body is not what it used to be, which makes her insecure. (I find that she is sexiest when she feels sexy.) I also don’t necessarily give her the regular attention she deserves, with the expectation that I can just turn up the heat at night. So how do long-term couples continue to have a passionate, healthy, fun and intimate sex life?

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—Stuck in Neutral

I’m afraid a passionate, long-term sexual relationship usually does start with at least a certain baseline amount of regular attention, so that seems to me an obvious place to start. If you know you’re neglecting your wife, whether in favor of work or other commitments, and you think that’s part of why she’s less interested in sex than she used to be before you got married, the simplest solution is to pay your wife more attention on a regular basis. And while I can certainly understand why you experience a greater sense of chemistry when your wife already feels somewhat confident in herself, I hope you don’t say things like “her body isn’t what it used to be” when you talk to her about sex. (Very few people feel sexy when any of the lyrics from “The Old Gray Mare” come into play.)

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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,

We have an elderly neighbor next door, “John,” who we know is bored and lonely. He moved in about five years ago, and the first thing he did was build a waist-high deck from his back door that looks directly over our privacy fence. We call it “the observation platform.” We planted trees and shrubs to regain a sense of privacy, but every time we’re in our backyard he looks over the fence and starts hollering things like, “Working hard, or hardly working?” Ugh. He’s trying to be friendly, but we want privacy! Often we just don’t respond, but on the occasions that we do, it’s just to say “Hi” and go back to whatever we were doing. He used to ask us for a lot of favors, like to borrow our lawn mower (which he’d return empty on gas), until we finally just told him it was broken. We’re happy to be friendly, but he wants to talk all the time. Every time we’re outside gardening or sitting on the deck, he starts shouting over the fence (“Hot enough for ya?”), or comes over through our yard to find out what we’re doing.

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He wanders around the neighborhood and peers into everyone’s yards if they’re doing construction or paving their drive. I know that I need to set a firm boundary with him, and I know that I’ve bent over backward and spent a ton of money on plants and a yard guy to try to maintain our own privacy. So how do I do this? Is there a polite way to establish boundaries with a nosy neighbor like this? He’s even come into our yard before without an invitation, and I had to ask him to leave. My husband is annoyed by the guy, but doesn’t want to start a feud. I don’t want that either, but I do want to enjoy being outside our own home.

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—Never “Just Saying Hi”

Trees and fences are good enough, but they’re no substitute for clear language like “I can’t talk right now” or “Please don’t come into our yard without an invitation” or “I just want to focus on gardening, not have a conversation, but have a nice afternoon.” All of those things, by the way, are perfectly polite things to say, and not an invitation to a feud! It seems like you and your husband have feared anything more direct than “Oh, sorry, the lawnmower must be broken” or hastily averted eye contact is tantamount to loading your shotgun and yelling about property lines, but there’s no reason to offer a lot of evasive hints when what you want to say is “I don’t want to talk every time I step into the backyard.” Say those things to your neighbor! Say them politely but unapologetically, and without acting like you’re doing something cruel. It might feel uncomfortable at first, and he might be disappointed that you don’t want to gab over the fence all afternoon, but you’re not hurting him and you’re not doing anything wrong. Set the boundaries you need clearly and cheerfully, because he’s never going to take the hint.

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Classic Prudie

Six weeks ago my husband of almost three years took off. I came home from work to find him standing in the kitchen with a suitcase, saying that it was nothing personal but he needed to get away for a while, and then he left. I didn’t hear from him or see him for five weeks. I was hurt but I was also frantic with worry. I thought we were very happy, and this came completely out of the blue. He didn’t go to work (they said he’d taken a leave of absence), hadn’t spoken to any of our friends about this, and his parents claimed he wasn’t in touch with them. He came back last Thursday. He refuses to answer any questions about where he was and what he was doing. He is also a little angry with me for “involving” our friends and family in “his” personal business. I am torn between thinking that he was having some kind of crisis and thinking that he’s spent the last five and half weeks with another woman. Now that he’s home, he seems to want me to forget this ever happened and pick up right where we left off. I have told him that he needs to tell me where he’s been and what he’s done, or he can leave again. He says he’s not talking about it anymore and is not going anywhere. What should I do?

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