Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Good morning! As always, I hope you had a great weekend. And if you had a bad one (or a bad week, or month, or life), let’s try to figure out how to make it better.
Q. Doting grandmother: I love my daughter-in-law. She’s the best thing to ever happen to my family—she’s sweet, caring, funny, compassionate, and always there. She and my son got together at age 21, and her family had passed away the year before, so we really took her in. She gets on well with my husband, my two daughters, and the whole extended family.
My son has had a somewhat rocky time. He and his sisters went to a world-class private school, but he was expelled for selling drugs. We picked him back up, supported him, and then a couple of years later, we were bailing him out again from even bigger trouble. We sent him to an expensive rehab center, and after he got out, he started doing really, really well. He met our daughter-in-law, married her, and had two beautiful children.
I was so proud of my son, he had turned his life around. Then it all came crashing down only a couple of years later. It had come out he was having an affair and was in $600,000 of gambling debt all at once.
He asked us to bail him out. We refused. We had already paid for his private high school and college education so he had no college debt; we also paid for his wedding and loaned him $100,000 towards the house. Because of his debts, he lost the house. He moved in with his mistress but was pretty much willing to leave his wife and two sons on the street, so we took them in. We never sold our family home so we have a lot of room.
Four years later, our son is still cut off from our money. But our daughter-in-law and grandsons are still living with us. We have an eight-bedroom house and it is just the two of us, and we appreciate all that our daughter-in-law does around the house—instead of paying rent, she helps us with the cooking and cleaning (not all of it, of course!). She’s doing very well for herself now; she is working as an art teacher and our grandsons are doing very well, and it is a delight to have them around every day.
Anyway, my son is now remarried (not to the woman he cheated with, thank God), but his new wife has always been cold to us. We still see our son for fortnightly family dinners, we just don’t help him financially anymore. His new wife once complained that she was put out because we didn’t help with their wedding despite footing the bill entirely for the first wedding. She is always making snide remarks about my daughter-in-law and how she can’t make it on her own. This is not true—our daughter-in-law offers us just as much support as we do for her, money isn’t how you support people, and we pay for the boys’ education because we want to.
My son and his wife have just had a baby. We have met the baby once but my new daughter-in-law has made it pretty clear the baby is not coming into our house while her husband’s ex is living there. We were sad but we can’t push them. We of course love our son; we have taken a step back financially but never emotionally.
My son recently rang me and said they have had a change of heart—if we invest $100,000 in a savings account for our new granddaughter, to prove we will support her just like we do with our other grandchildren.
Of course I want to help my granddaughter, but when I said I would put the money in a private trust for her once she turned 21, my son said no, he wants the money now to invest in a house (they currently are renting) and says it is for his child. He pretty bluntly implied I had two options to ever see my new granddaughter again:
1) Cut off my daughter-in-law financially, just like he was as “she is a grown up too,”
2) Or provide him with $100,000 to set his new family up.
Money is not the issue and I am definitely not cutting off my daughter-in-law, but the money seems like it is blackmail.
My husband is over this and just wants to give him the money as he wants to see his only granddaughter (we only have grandsons), but I disagree with my husband in this and think we need to stay firm.
So do we provide the money to see our granddaughter or continue the tough financial love? Part of me is worried we’ll give him the money, he’ll keep his promise of visits for a year or so, but then cut us off again when he needs something else. I’m so conflicted as I do want to be a part of my granddaughter’s life. What should we do? Is there any chance there is a third option we aren’t thinking of?
A: This is so hard, and in some ways even harder because money isn’t an issue for you. I don’t think exchanging cash for time, attention, and love typically works well. Plus, it just feels icky.
But because you have the funds to spare, you could throw $100,000 at your son and just hope for the best. My first thought was: a handful of expensive visits over a year are better than nothing, right? But then I realized: No, not right. If your son allows you to deepen your relationship with your granddaughter and then changes the terms of the agreements and cuts you off (and I think your instincts are right—he will), she’ll be the one who suffers most. As sad as it is, I think it’s better for her to have no relationship with you than to have a close one that abruptly ends when she’s older and more attached, and your greedy, manipulative son makes more unreasonable demands. That could be really traumatizing.
Remain firm. Your consistent message to him should be: We love you and your daughter and we want to see her, but we are not going to pay to make it happen. And it wouldn’t hurt to remind him that getting any money at all from your parents is an incredible luxury available to a handful of lucky people, not a right.
It sounds like you have a great, loving arrangement with your daughter-in-law and grandsons. Continue to pour your time and energy into that and do not, under any circumstances, allow your son to ruin it.
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Q. Where’s my diamond? I’ve been with my partner for nine years, living together for eight. I was married before and feel I should be fine to not do that again, but I’m also really wanting him to propose. I’m 41 so it feels silly to want the whole ring and splashy proposal again. He’s so committed to our life together, emotionally intelligent and available—an overall fantastic guy.
Nevertheless, I’ve brought up getting engaged a few times but he still seems hesitant. The reason he’s given me for his hesitation is my lack of commitment to stay in shape (true), which is super important to him but it hurts me that that could be a big enough reason for him. I’ve worked really hard in finding strength to express and prioritize my wants and needs and feel that I deserve to have this, but am conflicted at the same time!
Should I keep bringing it up, or get over it and be grateful for a wonderful partner and leave it at that?
A: Oh God, I don’t care about the proposal. I care about you getting out of a relationship with someone who has basically said he won’t want to be with you if your body changes. I hope I’m not the first person to tell you that his position means he a) doesn’t really love you and b) will make you miserable as you get older, or get sick, and especially if you get pregnant (if that’s in the plan). He’s done you a favor by dragging his feet. Gather every ounce of self love you have— ask friends and a therapist for help finding it if you need to—and leave him.
Q. Cat-astrophe: My husband and I were both asked to be godparents to the new baby of our friends, “Liz” and “Mark.” Liz and Mark, after the birth of their baby, decided to hole up in a cabin for a few months and invited us to come for a week. A couple days before we were supposed to go up, I found out that they had brought their cat. They know that I’m extremely allergic; I don’t mind that they forgot, but I assumed naively that if they were inviting me that meant the cat wouldn’t be there. I found out about the cat and canceled the trip, apologetically, over the phone.
They’ve been giving us the silent treatment ever since. We’ve reached out, multiple times, to check on them. Always polite, and concerned—and we’ve gotten no reply at all. I don’t understand it. It’s so high-handed; I simply can’t spend a week in a house where a cat’s been living—even a couple hours of exposure like that and I’ll get symptoms that linger and have difficulty breathing well into the night, even if I leave the cat house and go home.
I’m starting to worry that this treatment is part of a pattern. My husband and I are both men, and Liz sometimes makes us feel like accessories. She’s a self-proclaimed “fag hag,” or she was before the term became impolite. She once said “What’s the point of gay men if they don’t take you dancing?” On another occasion, she and her husband accompanied us to a gay bar, and from the moment they sat down, the two of them began to make out so aggressively, and kept at it for a good 10 minutes, until finally a young man asked them to stop. (They were in their mid 30s at the time, and I’ve never seen them make out like that in any other setting.) There are countless other incidents; she’s also used language for me and my husband more appropriate to an employer-employee relationship than for supposedly close friends. Sometimes I think Liz uses gay men for her amusement but doesn’t really respect them; ultimately, it’s all about her.
Expecting me to skip breathing so I can help out with their baby seems like such an unreasonable demand. I took the duty of godfather very seriously, but don’t know if I can even maintain a friendship with someone who just expects me to be of service, despite discomfort or even an inability to breathe, and punishes me any time I can’t give her what she wants. Am I out of line? Is it worth trying to maintain this friendship? We were looking forward to meeting the baby, but I find this silent treatment so high-handed, so discourteous, and based on an unreasonable demand. Frankly, I’m furious.
A: No, it is not worth trying to maintain this friendship. I would explain why but you did it yourself.
Q. I don’t want to be a widower: With the U.S. opening up, my wife and I want to take a long road trip in early fall. Unfortunately, she is refusing to get the COVID vaccine (I got the Moderna shots months ago). She has a medical condition that she uses as her reason, even though every reputable medical source says her risks from getting the disease are far greater than the chances of a bad reaction between the vaccine and her condition. She does not find my arguments convincing.
We feel safe at home because our community has high vax and low infection rates, giving us some control over our environment when we go out. On the road, though, we would be going through states where the delta variant is surging and her risk of infection increases drastically. I worry about her health and don’t think the reward is worth the risk.
Should I cancel the trip unless she gets the shots?
A: I don’t think you have the power to cancel the trip for her. She is an adult and can do what she wants. But yes, I think you should refuse to take part and hope that means she’ll back out too, which means she has a much higher chance of staying out of the hospital and a much lower chance of infecting other people who actually have solid reasons to be unvaccinated.
Q. Tired of being gaslit: I live next door to a truly awful person; whenever we are forced to interact with her, our life gets worse. She constantly makes herself a victim and sends us hateful, abusive emails filled with inconsistent lies, usually accusing us of things that she herself does. The latest one accused us of training our dog to defecate at the tree in front of both of our houses, and we supposedly do that because we hate immigrants (she was born in the greater NYC area and is of Western European descent). This was sent in response to us requesting her insurance information because some work she had done on her property (without doing required containment) covered our yard with toxic lead paint dust.
This past week, another neighbor’s contractor recorded a dispute with her over a parking spot where she threatened to call the police and immigration. The video ends with a zoom on her and her $3 million dollar-plus house. Should we upload this video and possibly get her out of our town?
A: Block her email address so she can’t contact you. Then focus on what she’s done to you (not your neighbors or their contractor) and whether you have legal recourse. If you get a lawyer to make you whole with respect to the toxic lead paint dust incident, do it—but from now on, only react to things she’s doing that actually harm you or your property, and not on her bad personality.
Q. Re: Doting grandmother: If money is not an object, the letter writer could set aside money in a trust for granddaughter to go to college, should she so choose. There is also no need to let the son know this fund exists. Ideally, the trust should be managed by someone outside the family who can contact the granddaughter when she turns 18 to let her know the money is there and is to be spent on her education. Considering her son’s character, it’s better to keep him away from any cash set aside for his daughter.
A: Yes, I should have mentioned that the son’s awful behavior shouldn’t keep the granddaughter from any money the letter writer would like to give her now or in the future.
Q. Re: Doting grandmother: Can you do it with lawyers? The sort of thing I was thinking of was: don’t give him money. Buy him a house (since money really doesn’t seem to be an issue), which stays in your name until he fulfills his part of the bargain: at least X amount of visitation every year with granddaughter until she’s 18, at which point, ownership of the house transfers to your son.
A: I don’t think a court would allow a non-parent to buy partial custody this way, but I’m not 100 percent sure. Get a lawyer, and look at your options, letter writer.
Update, 3 p.m.: I just realized I misunderstood what you were proposing. This might work, unless he is more motivated than having a house to live in now than he is by owning one forever.
Q. Instagram killing my romance: I’ve been dating this guy long-distance for four months. Recently, I noticed some odd activity of his on Instagram, and this has devolved into a teenager-esque drama that I loathe. He is on a vacation trip now, for a destination wedding of a friend of his, somewhere exotic. So I all of a sudden see him adding some girls on Instagram and liking all these photos of women in bikinis.