Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
My husband and I (both white men) decided to become foster parents several years ago, with the ultimate goal of eventually adopting. We took the classes and our first placement came to us in September 2020, during the pandemic. In my estimation, we have done an excellent job with the day-to-day, but something has come up that I’m at a loss about. I’ll try to be brief.
In short, the agency has decided that the children’s extended family (they are two siblings, both parents are incarcerated for unknown “drug-related” reasons) is ill-equipped to care for them, despite owning a home, seeming to have a stable income, and already having raised two children previously. They have asked us to step in and proceed with a full adoption. My husband wants to do this as he has always wanted children, and these two are pretty awesome. I am very hung up on a number of things that can be boiled down to: I feel like we are stealing someone else’s kids. We don’t know (and the agency won’t say, for “privacy” reasons) why the parents are incarcerated, and we don’t know why the extended family has been ruled out and denied custody (they really seem fine, stable, nice, and they are interested in the kids), also for “privacy” reasons.
This seems insane to me. What if the parents are in jail for possession, or some other goofy crime that God knows I’ve committed 8,000 times myself (in bygone years)? What if the extended family is perfectly fine but has been precluded due to some bureaucratic nonsense issue like lacking paperwork? We live in a large urban area and the foster system is known, according to them, for its diligence, but this still feels icky. Both our families are pro the adoption, and I’m the only one pointing out red flags. They think it’s because I’m not “fully committed” to the idea of adoption or having kids, but I can tell you I’ve been agonizing over this and can’t get past the lack of data we have on how the kids have come to this point. They are Latinx kids caught up in foster care and the carceral state. Am I overthinking this? Should we trust the agency’s process? What should I do?
—Stealing Someone’s Kids?
I think your concerns are very, very real and very thoughtful. But the thing is, they are about the system, not about this one adoption. Declining to move forward won’t free your kids from that system and all of its problems—it will (as far as I know; hopefully a reader will correct me if I’m off base here) simply lead to them being placed with another family that may or may not be as loving and sensitive as you are.
I think you should do it, and make it a priority to give the kids as much contact as possible with their family of origin, and as much reassurance as possible that they are not terrible people.
So no, you’re not overthinking it at all. You are thinking about it the perfect amount. And I have a feeling you’ll put the same amount of thought into all the future aspects of raising Latinx kids and the many complicated issues that come with being an adoptive parent.
My husband and I don’t fight often (think once a month), but when we do, it is horrendous. I’m not perfect, but I have made great strides in not yelling and not yelling back when I am being yelled at. I have PTSD and, honestly, emotional control is difficult and historically I have not been good at it. However, the past year or so I’ve been much better at not letting it get the best of me. My husband does not have PTSD, but still has difficulty with controlling his anger when it comes to fighting (all verbal). I’m afraid we’ve gotten in a pattern where our fights involve yelling matches, but I’m the only one trying to get out of that pattern.
Today we argued about letting our future child play soccer (I’m pregnant, so while this is years away, it’s not an illogical argument). I was on the side that the benefits outweigh the negatives to the extent that heading isn’t allowed until a certain age and most kids wind up hating soccer before then. He believes that it would be irresponsible to allow them to play because one day heading will be allowed, and we’ll have to tell them that they are not allowed to do it or be pulled from the sport. I have also had a traumatic brain injury, so he knows trying to avoid that is a priority for both of us.
For background, I grew up in an argumentative household, so I am not meek and don’t mince my words when I disagree. I’m not one to say things like “I understand where you’re coming from, but…” I did say I knew better than him because I played soccer from 4-to-12, whereas he hadn’t been on a team (though I learned today, did play soccer in gym). This is to say, I’m not coming here with “clean hands.”
While talking about this, it got contentious, but I didn’t realize how contentious until he abruptly said that he didn’t want to talk about this anymore. I tried to say that we don’t have to talk now, but we will eventually and he snapped. He started yelling that I always have to be right and take the joy out of disagreement, that I should have known that he was this upset before he got there based on his social cues which I obviously hadn’t learned adequately as a child, and that I should know that when he said he didn’t want to talk about it, he really meant that I shouldn’t say anything at all. The kicker was when he yelled at me that I was being a bitch and, when I told him not to call me that, he told me that he would stop when I stop acting like a bitch.
I want him to vocalize that he’s upset before it gets to this point and to generally not yell or name-call. I can get behind the fact that I need to be more conscious of his social cues and be quiet when he’s already gone over the edge, but not being called a bitch.
Prudence, we’re having a son! Adults argue and they even sometimes yell, but how do I get it through my husband’s head that no matter how mad he is at me, he can’t use gendered swears at me? If not for me, he needs to do it so our son won’t to any woman.
—Lost but Still in Love
OK, so I think we agree that this isn’t about soccer or brain injuries.
The issue is that you are two people who love to argue (I say that because you identify as a person who doesn’t mince words and has trouble with emotional regulation, and he mentioned that until you took it too far, he found joy in disagreement which is … unusual), but you each have your own rules for what crosses a line. His name-calling and yelling are obviously wrong, and you shouldn’t have to put up with those things. But it sounds like even before it gets to that point, you two don’t know how to communicate effectively.
You need the help of a professional to learn how to disagree without agitating and attacking each other. It’s a skill! And you don’t have it. This is urgent, because you don’t want to be living like this after the baby comes. When you have an actual child, you’re going to have a lot more material than imaginary future team sports scenarios to fight about. Listening to nonstop conflict and parents who are attacking each other and hurting each other—and even lower-level “argumentative household” fights—could very well do much more damage to them than a soccer ball to the head.
How to Get Advice From Prudie
My 80-year-old dad recently had emergency surgery, and I’ve been his transportation and errand-runner throughout his hospitalization. He’s home now and recovering. I live 45 minutes from him and work as an adjunct instructor at four college campuses along a 50-mile stretch of highway. My sister lives at home with Dad and does not work. She is caring for him at home, but while she’s able to drive, she refuses to drive him anywhere. The morning he needed to go to the ER, I drove to him and took him there while she stayed in bed. This was risky as it added more than an hour delay to him seeing a doctor. Now he’s got a follow-up appointment, and I’m having to cancel a whole day of classes to take him there. I don’t mind helping him, but why is she sitting out when she’s literally got nothing else going on?
I can think of a couple of possible explanations:
1) She has some kind of driving anxiety.
2) She is overwhelmed by being a full-time caregiver and has decided that driving him to get medical care is one thing she can ask someone else to do, while she takes care of three meals a day, bathing, medication, and everything else that must be done.
Or it could be a combination of these things. Maybe she’s extremely stressed and the added pressure of getting him in and out of the car while worrying about COVID precautions just pushes her past her limit. I’m speculating and obviously, you’ll have to ask her if you really want to know. But I think you should approach the conversation with a lot of appreciation for what she’s doing by caring for him. Do not—I repeat, do not—use the phrase “got nothing else going on.” You want to make sure she understands that you appreciate exactly how much she’s doing and how tough it is. Then show some curiosity about why she’d rather have you drive him to appointments. And see what she would think about a tweak to the plans. For example, you could tell her that if she’s able to handle all the appointments during the week, you’ll repay her by staying with him during both weekend days so she can get a break. Good luck. You dad is lucky to have both of you looking after him.
My dear husband enjoys drinking and I don’t. He’s having some of his friends and colleagues come over to our house in a couple weeks. None of them are married or have kids like we do. I always feel like the world of single people and kids is so different. When DH is around these types of people, he tends to be more social and “free.” He will drink more, cuss more, and sometimes around the kids. I just can’t get comfortable with this behavior and have confronted him about it many times. We’ve gone to therapy about this. His defense is that he is in his own home enjoying a good time and not out running around getting drunk. He feels I’m not supporting him with activities he enjoys. I am always left feeling like an outsider at these types of gatherings. I don’t drink. Rarely swear. Not a verbose or loud person.
—Am I a Prude?
Dear Am I a Prude,
Hmm, I was waiting for the part where he got into fights, or yelled at you, or got behind the wheel drunk, or missed work while nursing a hangover. I just don’t think “being more social and free” and occasional cursing really sounds that awful. If I were you, I would focus on specific behaviors that you don’t like, and ask him to watch his language around the kids. He should be able to control that, even with a few drinks in his system.
If he can agree to that and you’re still upset, it’s probably time to think about why. Did you have bad experiences involving adults drinking as a child? Is there a deeper reason that his enjoying the company of friends doing something that you don’t take part in is so upsetting? I didn’t get a sense of how often this is happening, but since you are already anticipating an event in a couple of weeks, my guess is that it’s not an every-night or even every-week thing. But if you can really articulate to him why it’s so upsetting—something beyond “I don’t like it”—he might agree to take a pass just to protect your feelings. Or perhaps you can come up with a plan to be elsewhere (or even just in your room reading a book) when he decides to get tipsy.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“She would be just as mad if they were playing video games!”
Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
I have never gotten along with my younger stepsisters. Their father never disciplined them or made them do chores. My mother always expected me to set a “good example,” which meant I was more the live-in babysitter than the actual part of the family. I got into an accelerated college program at 16 and moved into the dorms. My visits home were fast and furious.
I am 24 now, with my masters, and have just bought a townhouse near my alma mater (I work for a company that has a contract with the college). Ground floor is the living area; two bedrooms, one bath on the second; and an open loft on top with a private bathroom.
My 18-year-old stepsister got accepted into my college, but our parents can’t afford the dorm fees or to help with rent. They “need” her to move in with me and I “have to” because she is “family.”
My stepsister has never worked a day in her life, is a huge slob, and sounds like a herd of elephants when she gets up in the morning (her childhood room was above mine). As of last Christmas, we got into an argument over her tracking mud on the floor I just cleaned and stealing the leftovers of the lunch I bought—her winning response was to whine to Daddy.
I would rather burn my home to the ground than live with someone like that. The bind is my stepfather and mother did support me somewhat during school, even though I had money from my late father and worked. I do feel an obligation of sorts. And I would not like to start a family feud.
A friend suggested I offer to match what my stepsister makes when she gets a part-time job and only if I see the paycheck. I could afford that to a point. What should I do?
Dear Home Alone,
Nope. This is not your job. You don’t have to let her move in, and you do not have to send money to her. You barely have a relationship with this person! Your stepsister can do exactly what she would do if you didn’t exist: Go to a college closer to home. Take out more loans. Get a side job. The options are endless.
You’re just getting started in life, and you owe it to yourself to do it free from the people who mistreated you during your childhood—and who still don’t seem to have much regard for you.
I understand that you don’t want to cause a rift, but think of it this way: If you move her in, there will be a rift! Just a different rift that involves you suffering instead of your stepsister being inconvenienced. And I can tell by what you’ve said about your family that nobody will care that you’re being annoyed and taken advantage of in your own home. So choose the rift that lets you live without a herd of elephants running around you every morning.
Now, if you want to pay your parents back for supporting you during school, that would be really nice. Tell them you’re going to do that. And they can use the money for your stepsister if they choose to. It sounds like you could rent out a room to help make a little extra money—to a roommate who does not track mud and steal your leftovers.
Give Prudie a Hand
Sometimes even Prudence needs a little help. Every Thursday in this column, we’ll post a question that has her stumped. This week’s tricky situation is below. Join the conversation about it on Twitter with Jenée @jdesmondharris on Thursday, and then look back for the final answer here on Friday.
I am almost 70 years old and was alone for six years when I finally tried online dating. I met a very sweet divorced man, and we’ve been married for just over a year. My older sister, who previously was very close to me, took an instant dislike to him. She started spreading bigoted, untrue lies about him to my other siblings and mutual friends. Example: She didn’t like that he had a Southern accent (duh) or that he’s opposite politically from her (as am I). Everyone I’ve mentioned this to all say they feel like she’s jealous because now she doesn’t have me at her beck and call. I am beyond hurt because of all my siblings, I thought she would be happy that I’m happy after some very lonely years. Our relationship is now surface cordial, and while I’ve given up the anger I held, I’m having trouble moving on from the hurt and forgiving her. I’m very happy with my life now, but definitely need some strategies so I don’t obsess about this all the time.
— Still the Little Sister
I have been in a relationship with my boyfriend for three years, and it has been a difficult one. Between poor communication, frequent arguments about his immature tendencies, and a clash of ideals, I came to the decision a few months ago to end things. When I told him, he begged me for another chance to improve. I reluctantly gave it, and there has admittedly been significant changes. He’s much more open-minded, talks more about his feelings, shows more consideration, and is earnestly trying to reconnect with me. So what’s the problem? I still want to break up.
My desire to end things had not been borne out of a single bad day or spur-of-the-moment impulse. I had agonized over the consequences to ending a three-year commitment (including but not limited to how close he is to my family and the awkwardness that would stem from shared friends) and decided it was for the best to walk away. I have affection for him, but am not in love with him. In other words, while my boyfriend is arguably a better one in recent weeks, it’s too little, too late. I’m at an age where if I want to get married and have kids, I can’t afford to wait to see if I’ll fall for him again.
A part of me rationalizes that his “changes” are temporary, merely an effort to lure me into false contention before going back to how he was. Still, I don’t want to be cruel in ending things because he does seem genuine in his attempts. I also don’t want to continue in the relationship I have no emotional investment in because he decided to get better after the fact. How do I do it?
—Out of Love, Out of Time
Dear Out of Love,
You’re in turmoil because you’re making him the main character in this story. He’s not! You are!
He could be the kindest person and best communicator in the entire world, and it would still be OK for you to break up with him because … wait for it … you want to. Making a break will be easier if you think of this as something you’re doing for yourself rather than something you’re doing to punish him. Because that’s what it is. And you don’t have to justify it. “My feelings have changed, and I don’t see a future for us anymore” is all it takes. If you want, you can even add “I appreciate what you’ve done to improve and I think you’re a great person but” before that statement. Yes, he may be upset. But that doesn’t mean you’re being cruel. And believe me, he’ll be fine.
I really dislike hugging my parents and family and have no idea how to tell them that it makes me very uncomfortable and anxious. When I was younger, my mother was especially distant and rarely hugged me or told me “I love you.” My father was more open but was not around as much because of work commitments. Since they’ve gotten older, they seem to think this was not the case and that we have a close relationship (including lots of hugging), which simply does not exist for me. We’ve never been antagonistic toward each other, simply cold. I left at 18, joined the military, and have never lived with them again or been financially beholden to them. At most we text or talk every four or five months and see each other annually. I don’t want to be cruel, but when we do see each other in person, it’s exhausting to fake these feelings of affection in my 40s. How do I tell them that I do not have the same desire for physical interaction that they seem to have developed in recent years and would prefer to keep a physical distance with a handshake or just polite conversation?