Dear Prudence

My Brother and Sister-in-Law Are Demanding I Pay for IVF Treatments

They say I owe them because I’ve helped out other family members.

left, a dollar sign. right, an egg and a sperm
Photo illustration by Slate. Image by Lars Neumann/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)

Dear Prudence,

My sister-in-law is obsessed with having a baby. It is all she can talk about or post online. She and her husband have tried IVF three times unsuccessfully, paid out-of-pocket by her parents. Both sets of parents have told them they can’t afford this anymore, so they turned to an unsuccessful crowdfunding.

I have been very successful in the last few years and have bought a townhouse, new car, and a few expensive toys. I worked like a dog for years to get here, but I have been generous to my family, sending my sister’s family on vacation and paying for my parents to have their house re-piped. Now my brother and sister-in-law look at me and see dollar signs. They told me I “need” to pay for their next round of IVF. They said I owe them because I helped out the rest of the family (despite them living off our parents for six years counting), and it is my only chance to do good in the world. I don’t think there was even a “please” in the speech. I told them I needed to talk to my accountant and look at taxes. I am not giving them the money.

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—Not the Family Donor

Dear Not the Family Donor,

The only place you messed up was when you told them you needed to talk to your accountant. It’s wrong to get their hopes up about something you aren’t going to do. But I’m glad you have decided not to fork over the money. I feel for them because I know from personal experience that needing medical help to have a baby can be very expensive and can lead to the most intense sense of unfairness and desperation you can imagine, a sense that the world owes you something.

But reasonable people, even when they want something desperately, know that you can’t demand other people’s money. There are a lot of ways to have a family, and they will be parents if they really want to, with or without your help. Even if they’re committed to having a biological child, there are options. They should look into grants and loans for IVF. If they want to be irresponsible, they can even put the next round on a credit card. I hope they’re successful, and if they are, set the tone early that it’s not your job to support their child.

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Danny Lavery has a new Slate podcast! Listen and subscribe to Big Mood, Little Mood, where Lavery will be chatting with special guests, doling out advice, and talking about feelings, from the monumental to the minute. New episodes every Tuesday and Friday.

Dear Prudence,

I am 37 with a 19-year-old son, and I’m a very real, up-front person who will always give you the hard answers and not pat you on the back. My friend of about 10 years got married a few years ago. She and her wife bought a house, and now her wife is pregnant with twins. My friend recently reached out to me to say that she is having a lot of feelings about becoming a mom. I said it was completely understandable. It has been a hard year and a half. She never expected to have kids, and now she was having two. She has made sacrifices to be where she is today, and a lot has changed. These feelings are bound to happen. Her response was not what I thought it would be: She said she was just looking for me to tell her that all new moms experience these feelings, not to be told that I thought her wife hoodwinked her into her current life.

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Contrary to what my friend seems to think, I am actually very happy for them, with their new house and their coming babies. I responded to her with, “I am very sorry if what I said hurt you and came across the way it did.” I told her I would try to choose my words better in the future so that there is no confusion about what I am trying to convey. I was just trying to validate her feelings and point out that these are a lot of life changes in a short amount of time. That I will continue to be here for her, that she is important to me, and that I love them both. I have not heard from her since.

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—What’s Next?

Dear What’s Next,

It sounds like you handled this perfectly. But since she’s having a hard time, why don’t you extend yourself again? Try a card, email, or text that does the following: reiterates how sorry you are that you said something hurtful, along with your commitment to choose your words more carefully. Emphasize that you think everything she’s dealing with is normal, and she’ll be a fantastic mom. Invite her to spend some time together doing something light and non-motherhood related

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If she doesn’t respond, either she’s really struggling more than you know, or she’s frustrated with you over an issue that’s bigger than this one exchange. Your description of yourself as “a very real, upfront person, who will always give you the hard answers not the pat on the back” made me wonder whether you have a history of being blunt to the point of being hurtful. I know that if I’m feeling vulnerable at all, I steer all the way clear of people like that. Have an honest conversation with yourself about whether you might owe her a larger apology paired with a promise that you will hold back on the “hard answers” at this sensitive time in her life, and maybe forever.

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Dear Prudence,

About a month ago, my fiancé just lost his dog, who was 15 years old and had been sick for a while. He is already talking about getting a new dog. The problem is that I just don’t like having a dog as a pet.   Especially now that the pandemic is (hopefully) coming to an end, I really want to have a flexible schedule to do things like travel or just anything I want to without worrying about taking care of an animal. My fiancé and I both work at the same company that has amazing flex schedules and a very generous allotment of vacation days, which we have mostly been saving for two years. He and I had talked about maybe traveling for several months while working remotely part time, but we can’t do that if we get a new puppy. Between the wedding and possibly buying a house shortly after, I don’t want to have a dog for a couple of years. My fiancé loves dogs and is so sad that he doesn’t have one right now. Will it be terrible for me to tell him I don’t want a dog for a while?

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—Demanding Doggos

Dear Demanding,

Not terrible at all. That’s a perfectly fair thing to say. My only suggestion is to be honest with yourself: Is it that you don’t want a dog for a couple of years, or is it that you don’t want a dog at all? There’s never going to be a time when having a dog doesn’t make traveling—or really, anything involving leaving the house—a little more complicated. Dogs are a really big deal for dog people, and I can completely understand how someone who really loves them would think life without one feels sad and empty. So while I’m not suggesting that he’d call the wedding off over this, it’s something you should discuss and give him a chance to think about as you’re starting to plan your life together.

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Dear Prudence,

Right before the pandemic, I moved to a new city. I knew very few people aside from a friend from a hobby group, “Cindy,” who I was very close to and saw often. I was also going through a lot—my relationship had ended, I was estranged from family, and most of my fledgling acquaintances disappeared with lockdown. In short, I was incredibly lonely. Cindy began talking a lot about how we would form a bubble, get lunch, take a walk, etc. It was exactly what I needed to hear, but she never followed through. Every time she brought up the idea of seeing each other, she’d get almost to the stage of setting a date and then totally drop it. This went on for months, and always felt like getting the rug pulled out from under me. Eventually, I started giving noncommittal answers, and she shifted instead to post-vaccine plans.

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Well, we’ve both been vaccinated for weeks, and we still haven’t gotten together, despite her talk of how much she wants to. I know the pandemic has left everyone a little shaky socially, and she’s had her own problems (some professional turmoil and a spouse whose mental health also took a hit during lockdown). Plus, she has made the effort to text and call me often during COVID, which was a lifeline during the darkest periods. But I miss seeing her, I’m still having a difficult time, and she’s mentioned seeing other people. The repeated (unprompted!) offering without following through has started to feel … cruel?

This week she said “I’d love to go on a picnic sometime soon!” during a call and I found myself wanting to shout “You don’t mean that!” so this situation is unsustainable. How do I talk to her about this, when she’s been a good friend in other ways?

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—Are We Friends?

Dear Are We Friends,

I’m getting the feeling that her flakiness is not personal. Professional turmoil and a spouse’s mental health issues during a pandemic sound like a lot to deal with, and I’m sure there are many people who want her time now that things have opened up. The people she’s meeting up with are probably the ones who have been pushier than you’re willing to be. In a perfect world she’d be clear that she just couldn’t commit, but that’s a hard conversation to have—it’s much easier to just keep kicking the “we should hang out” can down the road, especially when you’re emotionally overwhelmed.

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Do you value her as a phone- or text-only friend? If so, just leave it at that, and accept that you probably won’t hang out unless things get better for her and she initiates something. If not, you can leave the ball in her court and wait to see whether she makes actual plans, or you can reach out with a plan of your own: “I’ve been wanting to try brunch at [restaurant]; are you free next Sunday at noon?”. Either way, start looking for other hobby-group meetups and ways to rekindle your relationships with those pre-pandemic fledgling acquaintances who can’t wait to get out of the house and know how to say what they mean.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From Pay Dirt

Recently, my younger sister got tossed in the streets after her boyfriend bailed on rent. Her options are move home, move in the suburban hell with our sister and her babies, or stay with me. I offered to put her up free for six months on an air mattress. She declined because she “deserves” her own space and wants my office. I start work at 5 a.m., and my sister is notoriously hard to wake up. She says I “owe” her because I am her family.

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