Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
I don’t dislike kids, but I work in a day care. When I am done, I don’t want to focus on them in my downtime. I have a great group of friends, a wonderful boyfriend, and have even taken up figure skating again (I used to win awards as a teen). My problem is my mother. My brothers’ wives are both expecting, and she is over the moon about being a grandma. Except neither of my sisters-in-law are particularly close to my mother. There is no bad blood, but they have their own mothers to come to about parenting and pregnancy issues. My mother will stalk their social media in order to get the latest news. She has set her phone to ping when they post. And now, all our conversations revolve around the pregnancies and speculation about the babies. I honestly don’t care if the nursery has a zoo theme or not. I especially don’t want to discuss it 15 different times. I have tried redirecting the conversations or bringing up new topics, but my mother just bulldozes back to babies.
For example, recently, while figure skating, the rink owner came up to me and asked me if I wanted to earn some extra money as a part time coach since it was obvious I had the right experience. I agreed. I met my mother later for dinner. When I entered the house, I told her I had exciting news. She stopped cooking and exploded into a smile: You are having a baby! I told her no—I got offered a job because of my figure skating. All my mother’s enthusiasm leaked away. I got a “that is nice dear.” Dinner was awful. I was hurt and my mother kept pushing and pushing more baby talk at me. I snapped and told her I was sick of the subject. Could we talk about something else? My mother told me not to be “jealous.” I didn’t want to fight (and those were fighting words). So I claimed I was getting a headache and went home early.
I have always been close to my mom, since my brothers are much older and dad died when I was young. I understand she is excited, but it is like I don’t exist anymore. My only use in life is to be a road to grandbabies, and if I don’t (and I am leaning towards don’t), well, what do I matter? My boyfriend thinks I should limit my contact with my mother because it is only going to get worse when the babies are born. My mother has her priorities set and interest in me is in the negatives. I am hurt. I am lonely. I miss my mom. I have better conversations with my one sister-in-law who thanks me about asking about her writing and not the baby. I am not “jealous” … but I am. My life, my goals, and my passions are worthless to my mother, all because she is going to be a grandma. All talk about her garden and her volunteer work and even her lifelong friends has gone away. What should I do?
— Rather Talk About Roses
Dear Rather Talk About Roses,
The dynamics of your family are shifting and, as always happens when family dynamics shifts, the process of realigning is a little rocky. You’re about to get two new family members, and it sounds like the advent of grandchildren has opened up a deep well of enthusiasm in your mother. Maybe this was a surprise to even her or maybe this has been a very strong desire that she held close for a very long time. Either way, when you pushed back, rightfully, it may have sounded to her like you were rebuffing a new source of joy for her. It’s the same thing that happened when she didn’t respond to your news about your skating work (congratulations, by the way!); it hurt because you’re excited about it and you wanted her to share the excitement. The places where the two of you are misaligned around excitement isn’t a break so much as a growing edge.
Grandmotherhood is going to change your mother, her priorities, and her interests. Some of the enthusiasm may wane as the babies become a part of the everyday fabric of the family, but most of it probably won’t. What you’ll both need to work on is how to be in relationship with the new people that you both are. Your mom is changing as you are changing, and you get the opportunity to meet each other on the other side of those changes. It may be worth having a calm, low stakes/low expectation conversation with your mom about the possibility of limiting the baby talk with you. It sounds like much of the conversation so far has been at moments of heightened emotion. If that’s not possible, however, consider your boyfriend’s suggestion—use this time to build up relationships with your sisters-in-law, with skating friends, and perhaps either temporarily reduce the time you spend with your mom or go into every conversation knowing that it will be about the babies. She hasn’t joined a cult; but she has enrolled in a graduate program in Grandma Studies. She still cares about you; she’s just working on her dissertation right now, as it were.
My girlfriend (a lesbian) and I (a bisexual woman) are in our late twenties and have been together for about a year. Prior to this, I’d introduced various partners to my tight-knit family. I did the same with her, and it went normally. Her coming-out with her own family was met so poorly that she has never even mentioned a girlfriend to them. They live more than 3000 miles away, refuse to cross the border down into the U.S., and she makes a duty visit once a year.
In the beginning, she made it clear that introducing someone to her family was so high-risk that she’d only do it if she was going to marry them. I understood. Her parents are deeply evangelical, and her dad has anger issues and was physically abusive. Her siblings are all distant as adults. After a recent visit with my family, she’s been mentioning wanting to introduce me more, saying it feels like she’s hiding me and this has morphed into her fantasizing about a family Christmas together.
I do not want this. I don’t think the magic of her childhood Christmas will be available to her if she shows up with me in tow, and I do not want to break bread with the people who gave her the worst years of her life. I also don’t know if it would be safe for me or not, and doubly so in an unfamiliar country. In addition, it’s high risk for her: I love her, but it’s early, and we might not last forever (she’s got a contract work visa). How do I lay this out in the most practical and kind way possible? I understand her wishful thinking, but her parents have shown no remorse or signs of softening so …
— (Don’t) Meet the Parents
Dear (Don’t) Meet the Parents,
Nothing puts the kibosh on the romance of Christmas like a mountain of logistics. In every family that has a magical, Hallmark-movie-worthy holiday tradition, there’s at least one person who is buried under to-do lists and schedules. This person understands in a way that far too few do that the holidays are work and they are stressful and they last too long. Remind your girlfriend of these truths—that family Christmases are always high-emotion events with a lot of moving pieces and a lot of opportunities for misunderstanding and bruised feelings. Tell her that if and when you meet the parents, you both owe it to yourselves to do so in the least emotionally fraught way possible. Tell her that the parents have a long way to go to become the kinds of people you’d feel comfortable spending a long time with and while that work is possible, it’s not guaranteed. A happy Christmas is the end result of small, meaningful interactions, not the first step. Suggest starting with a Zoom and seeing where that takes you.
A friend and coworker recently expressed to me (very suddenly) that she and another friend had issues with me and quote “being around me exhausted them,” and then proceeded to tell me she didn’t think that my actions reflected who I am. The actions that she accused me of were basically not being as accommodating as I have been in the past before I was together with my husband. When she confronted me, (while drunk I’ll add!) I apologized profusely.
The more I think about this situation the more upset I am. I consider her a close friend (we have worked together and been friends for over 15 years) and was deeply hurt that she has been talking about me with our other friends (some of them fellow coworkers!) instead of coming to me. I reached out to apologize to the other friends after we spoke, and basically, it seems that my friend was the only one who was mad, but she said my other friends and coworkers felt the same as a way to deflect the uncomfortable confrontation with me. This made me feel horrible, obviously. I feel blindsided and confused about what the root of her anger at me is, and I can’t help but feel mad that she has been dragging my name around without any actual examples of things I’ve done that bothered her—particularly since these shared friends are the people I work with on a day to day basis and this could affect my career.
I want to keep on good terms because I have to maintain a professional relationship with her, and honestly, she means a lot to me. But this has made me reflect on our friendship—what do I go from here?
— Office Hurt
Dear Office Hurt,
My first thought is that you and your friend may be work spouses going through a work breakup because you got real-life married. I don’t know if you’d categorize your relationship with your friend and coworker that way, but it seems, from the drunken confession and the accusation of not being accommodating, that she’s lashing out as a way of expressing a complex hurt. But just because it’s understandable doesn’t make it fair to you. Work breakups can be hard and messy because, while 40 hours a week spent together is no small investment, you don’t have any formal commitments to each other. So what are the rules? Are you obligated to always be available to her? And what happens when she starts to turn your work sister-wives against you? Life is hard and everyone should retire!
I think it’s possible to remain on good terms while still shifting your boundary with her. Maybe have a “clearing the air” talk, since when she confronted you she was drunk. See if there’s anything she wants to bring up while sober, or if she’d frame her complaint differently, add nuance, etc. And ask yourself if you think the things she brings up are places where you want to change or if they’re simply ways that you’ve grown apart. If there’s anything you want to say to her, this is also your chance. Maybe you’ll come to an understanding or maybe you’ll both leave feeling the way you do now. But it’s useful to find out what is felt strongly enough to bring up in the daylight.
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