Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Happy Monday. I hope everyone in the Northeast did OK with this weekend’s storm; I’m happy to report that my pocket of California was smoke-free. But even when we’re dealing with natural disasters, we have personal disasters to deal with, too. So let’s get started …
Q. Not on the verge of a nervous breakdown: My husband and I are currently going through IVF, which is hard and scary and sometimes exciting, but mostly just emotionally exhausting. I have a friend who is currently pregnant who tries so hard to be conscious of my feelings that it actually borders on irritating. For instance, when she was going to announce her pregnancy on social media, she sent me a paragraphs-long text about how hard my journey has been and to feel free to block her and her spouse in case the posts would be triggering for me. Now I just got another novella about how I would be receiving an invite to her baby shower and how they want to include me, but understand if it may be too hard for me, etc.
All of these texts have just made me feel like I am encased in bubble wrap and am constantly on the verge of a breakdown, which I am not! I have a wonderful therapist, hobbies, and adorable pets. Infertility is hard, but it is actually not my entire life or identity. Am I being overly sensitive here or is there a way I can tell my friend that her trying so hard to be accommodating is actually making me feel worse?
A: I’ve been exactly where you are and had the same feelings, so I’ve thought a lot about this. Learning via one of these super-delicate announcements that people assume you’re in misery and extremely sensitive makes you wonder like “Should I be in misery and extremely sensitive?? Is this worse than I thought it was? Is everyone feeling sorry for me? Should I feel more sorry for myself? Do I need to panic?”
But the people who do it are almost certainly coming from a good place. I think they are either projecting the feelings they had during their process, if they had struggles with fertility, or going off of what they’ve read online. After all, most of the content that’s publicly available about individual responses to IVF is in Facebook groups and on Instagram, and naturally, the people posting the most and trying to find community are the ones who are having the hardest time with things. So there is a “lot” of content about feeling really, really upset by friends’ pregnancies and baby shower invitations and being super hurt by any news related to procreation. And it can be easy to assume that everyone feels this way.
I suggest just receiving the sensitivity your friend is offering and taking it as a reminder of how much she cares about you. She’s misread the situation, yes, but she’s approaching you with love. And dealing with her overdoing it is probably less painful to you than an unexpected announcement for a baby shower invitation would be to someone who was truly struggling with this kind of news. So all in all, she made the right decision. (The only better one would have been to ask before: “If I ever get pregnant, how will you want me to talk about it with you?”)
My typical response when someone approaches me in this way is to reassure them that I’m not someone who is upset by pregnancy news, I know I’ll become a parent one way or another when the time is right, and that I’m happy for them. Sometimes, to lighten the mood, I add “Unless I find out that you somehow stole my eggs.”
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Q. My kid’s safety is more important: My sister-in-law recently relocated to the city where I live with my husband and our young toddler. SIL lives alone with the pit bull she adopted slightly under two years ago. We now host SIL at our house for dinner once a week and invite her along for other activities. It’s been great that, after the long separation of the pandemic, she is getting to know our kid.
However, we are not comfortable having her dog around our kid, and we’ve asked her to leave the dog at home when she comes over. (We’ve said that it’s OK for her to bring the dog over after kiddo is asleep, which she has done once.) The issue is that SIL is quite passive and hasn’t trained her dog at all, and the dog has demonstrated issues with aggression, mostly involving fighting with other dogs. I’m not willing to jeopardize my child’s safety or risk making her scared of dogs for the rest of her life. SIL is upset that we’ve laid down this boundary, and she bristles at the suggestion that she needs to take her dog to formal training. We have hosted other friends’ dogs at our house—all of whom are very well-trained and respond to commands consistently. SIL seems to think we have a double standard because we let other dogs around our kid, but not hers.
My husband is increasingly upset about the tension this is causing between him and his sister; they are otherwise extremely close. I know that we need to be a united front on this issue. How can we clearly communicate that we feel it’s not safe for SIL’s dog to be around our kid unless she no longer behaves aggressively, stops jumping on people, and responds to commands every time?
A: It sounds like you’ve already done the right thing by clearly stating the rules for your home, and now you’re just dealing with the consequences of that. Which, unfortunately, can be a little uncomfortable.
But “uncomfortable” might be the best possible outcome right now. Your sister-in-law is mad, but she’s not bringing the dog over. Your husband is understandably upset about the tension with his sister, but he’s not suggesting a change to the rules. And your kid is safe.
If it would make you feel better, maybe you could agree with your husband on what exactly would have to happen (no longer jumping, responding to commands, etc.) for you to to invite the dog back over and make that clear to your sister, if you haven’t already. That way, you’re all on the same page about what the requirements are, and she’s aware that you really would like her and the dog to come back when it’s safe.
But remember, you don’t have to engage in any discussion of whether this is a double standard, whether people have unfair stereotypes about pit bulls, or what amount of training is reasonable. Some parents don’t let their kids see a screen before age 5! Some parents treat sugar like it’s a deadly substance! You get to do whatever you want to protect your toddler’s well-being and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Sadly, this often comes with judgment and pushback. But when that starts to get to you, just remember that it’s better than living with the fear that a visit will end with a piece of your child’s leg getting bitten off.
Q. Trying to fly the coop: I’m turning 23 in a few weeks, and I’m ready to make a major change in my life: moving to another state. I grew up in a cultish home-school environment where I haven’t been allowed any privacy, and being gay has meant I haven’t had a dating life. Moving out was my source of motivation throughout college, with health problems as the only major roadblock, but I finally have an opportunity with a company about 300 miles away that has great insurance.
Everywhere I turn, though, I keep feeling like I’m making the wrong decision. My parents are afraid of being alone during the pandemic, and they keep bringing up that my sister’s a single mom, so no one will be available to help her with my nephews if I move (my parents are unvaxxed and she refuses to have them over). I also got an offer for a room at my friend’s place for cheap. He’s been hit hard by COVID, and his roommate moving out has put him in a tough financial position. It’s very close to my parents’ home, which my family has all jumped on as a perfect compromise.
I’m aching for independence. I don’t want to make life harder for my family, but I need time to reform as a person away from where I’ve been trapped, and moving farther away will allow that. Am I being selfish? (he/him)
A: Go, go, go! There will come a time in your life when your parents are much older and will have a more legitimate basis to guilt you into being around them, but you’re likely not there yet. As far as your sister, well, it’s nice to have an uncle to help out while raising a child but plenty of people are single parents without that kind of assistance. She’ll be fine. Plus, if your parents are really worried, they can simply get vaccinated and be cleared to babysit within a couple of months.
Think of it this way: You could have left at age 18, so your parents have already had five bonus years with you. You can love them from afar, and visit frequently if you decide you want to. Go!
Q. I’m just doing my best: My partner and I are in our 30s and managed to bring a baby into the world at the height of the pandemic. None of it has been an easy task due to the extenuating circumstances of their birth. Because of this, we have been given fair warning and guidance on safe practices to maintain mine and the baby’s health.
Unfortunately, many of our immediate family members are taking this lightly and have berated our parenting choices, feelings, and so on. They have made it clear that all they see is “baby!” and they are entitled to spend time with them regardless of the dangers that presents. They also continually lie and say they practice social distancing, when they very clearly aren’t. One family unit in particular exposed us to COVID and never mentioned it.
Our baby became very ill and we took all necessary precautions to care for them. Days after our ER visit, the family posted all over socials they had contracted COVID. But they never reached out to us! And haven’t acknowledged that they did this or made the mistake of not telling us … they have since recovered and continue to go out as if everything is normal. They continue to lie and promote their “safe” practices.
It has gotten to a point where their very emotionally manipulative behavior has become the norm to try and get their way to see the baby, making very uncomfortable situations for everyone involved. It’s hostile at some points. How do we continue on with this and not hold a grudge? It’s been months since they contracted COVID, but it seems to have not made an impact even with how ill they were.
At this point, all we hear is we are ungrateful, that they are lonely, and our child will only make them feel better. Our child is not some happy pill to remedy everyone’s sorrows. Is this normal behavior? How do we escape this without being the terrible ungrateful children??
A: Sadly, based on the many letters I read, I do think this is pretty normal behavior in a couple of ways:
1) People who don’t take COVID-19 seriously refusing to respect the boundaries of people who do; and
2) People thinking new babies, however loosely related to them, are their property and disregarding the parents’ (especially mothers’) feelings
But normal doesn’t mean it’s OK.
Maybe you and your partner can decide on what it would take for you to feel comfortable inviting these relatives over to see the new addition to the family. Proof of vaccination? Vaccination followed by a rapid test on the doorstep? Vaccination followed by a rapid test on the doorstep, combined with infection rates under a certain number in their communities? It’s totally up to you. Then let them know what these rules are, and if they continue to bother you, block their numbers and social media pages until you feel moved to give them another chance.
And by the way, if the fact that they have berated and criticized you means you don’t feel like seeing them at all, regardless of pandemic concerns, that is fair too. You’re not obligated to hang out with people who are jerks to you, when you have a new baby or ever.
Q. Re: My kid’s safety is more important: What if, when friends with trained dogs come to visit, you take a video of how they will sit, stay, etc., and show it to your sister-in-law? If necessary, take a video of HER dog as well, so you’ll have a basis for comparison. She may accept this visual evidence better than someone saying “You need to train your dog.” But in no case should you cave to her emotions and put your child in danger, until your sister-in-law gets the message.
A: That’s a good idea. I don’t think the letter writer should feel obligated to do it—after all, it’s not that hard to understand what responding to commands looks like. But if she’s up for it, it could definitely help make her point perfectly clear.
Q. Re: My kid’s safety is more important: Both dogs and young toddlers can be unpredictable. The parents don’t have to but may find it easier to enforce a “no dog around our kid until kid is 5” (or whatever age kid is less likely to suddenly provoke a dog by normal toddler rambunctious) if they don’t want to single this dog out. But either way, kid safety trumps adult hurt feelings about a dog visiting.
A: I worry a little that this rule could rob them of time with people who have perfectly safe, fully trained dogs. But it would definitely make things more simple and might make the sister-in-law feel better.
And “kid safety trumps adult hurt feelings about a dog” is the perfect way to summarize what’s important in this situation!
My sister has never had a romantic relationship that ended well. Most recently I objected to her dating my fiancée’s brother, but she told me it was none of my business. A month before my wedding, they broke up spectacularly. I really don’t care who cheated or who got drunk with whom—I am tired of it spilling over into my life. My brother-in-law has been very quiet and personally apologized to me. My sister got drunk at my bridal shower and picked a fight with my sisters-in-law. My mother and I laid down the law; my sister sulked. She burst into tears and said that we didn’t care about her broken heart. I am ready to tear my hair out. My mom tells me to give my sister “time.” But she only dated him for three months. I have been planning my wedding for three years! We are paying for everything ourselves. My sister and brother-in-law are both in the wedding party. Can I just ban my sister for my peace of mind?