Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat. (R. Eric Thomas is filling in as Prudie for Jenée Desmond-Harris while she’s on parental leave.)
Q. Mother Dilemma: My mother had me at 15 and raised me as a single mother until I was 16, when she married “Abe.” Abe has been wonderful to my mother, and I even consider him to be the father I never had.
My dilemma is that I am now 20 and pregnant, and when I confided in my mother, she revealed she too was pregnant! I’m happy for her, but now she wants to do baby planning with me! I know she’s excited that she’s now able to do all of this with people she cares about (me and my step-father), but it makes me a tad uncomfortable since my half-sibling will be the same age as my child when they are born.
I really am happy for my mother, and I know we’ll eventually find a way to navigate this uncommon situation, but I’m having trouble expressing to her how this situation makes me feel. I don’t want to sound as if I’m unhappy, or even jealous, that she’s now pregnant, but I want her to give me some time and space to be able to digest everything.
A. You’re not the only person in uncharted waters here—your mother is venturing into the unknown, too. And while it excites her, your response is totally valid as well.
I think there’s a way of sharing your apprehension—or even your mix of unnamable emotions—to her without making it sound like you’re unhappy. Try something like “I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by how much is changing for both of us right now. Can we hold off on baby planning for a while? I want to take some time to work through this.” She may not understand and she may have more questions. Or she may get it right away. See where the conversation leads you. And, as you process, reach out to someone outside of this unit (so not your mom or Abe) to listen to your thoughts and help you process them with an outside perspective.
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Q. Not a Blended Family: My father’s wife, “Sandra,” is turning 80 this year. She and my father, “Louis,” got married in the mid-90s, while I was in high school. I’ve met Sandra perhaps a dozen times total, as she and my father live on the other side of the country. Sandra’s daughter is organizing video tributes for Sandra’s birthday, and included me on the list of people she wanted a clip from. The thing is, I have no sentiment to share. The handful of conversations I’ve had with Sandra, or her kids, have been polite small talk. My younger sisters and their families are much closer to Louis and Sandra. They, along with Sandra’s children, and her other family members, will likely submit truly heartfelt messages. If I can barely muster a platitude, should I even bother, or is a polite declination in order?
A. While politely declining would relieve you of stress in the short term, I fear it will cause more issues down the line. You’d probably be conspicuous by your absence in the video, which would invite others in your family to come up with their own reasons why that might have been. It’s possible that whatever stories they tell themselves about why you’re not in the video could lead to hurt feelings or force you to have to explain yourself. I think it’s easier to just say something nice. Think of it like a birthday card being passed around the office. Express a simple platitude, well wishes and congratulations and all that, and send it off.
Q. One Foot Out: I’ve been with my company for four years, and generally liked the work, the people, and the career progression. Last year, it came under new ownership, and in the resulting reorganization, the team I managed, along with multiple other teams, was dissolved and moved around to different existing ones.
I was moved to managing an underperforming team, and since I can’t go without health insurance I agreed. I’ve helped the team improve to an extent, but I hate the process and the politics. I’m actively interviewing for jobs elsewhere. Recently, my star employee confided in me that she’s being pursued by recruiters but turning them down because she really enjoys working with me and the change in direction at work. Ethically, I want to tell her to go for the recruitment—-I don’t have a job offer in hand but I will leave when I do. How do I handle this?
A. It stands to reason that some recruiters will still be interested in your star employee once you’ve left the company, or, if not, that her skills will attract new recruiters. So I don’t think you’re compromising her career success by not telling her you’re planning to leave. She’s got to make the choices that are right for her. You’re not holding her back. And while you can encourage her to pursue the other opportunities, I think you’re probably best served keeping your business to yourself. Simply telling her you think she should meet with the recruiters should suffice.
Q. Not Ready to Co-Parent: I recently found out (the hard way) that my fiancé and the father of my child is an alcoholic. A few weeks ago, he hit rock bottom and he put my son and I in a very uncomfortable and unsafe position. I cancelled the wedding for obvious reasons. However, now I’m really scared and don’t know what I should do. I have a baby with him, and he’s always been so good with him. I feel betrayed and violated. I already have trauma related to alcohol from previous relationships and suffer from anxiety. I’m scared to stay and experience additional trauma and continue to feel like I’m drowning, but I’m also scared to leave because I don’t know what would happen to our son’s custody. When I say rock bottom I mean alcohol, drugs (legal and illegal), cheating, and illegal actions. I feel like such a fool for still loving him and wanting him to get better. I’m confused why I put myself in such a dangerous position and also why I keep wanting to save this relationship.
A. There’s a saying that you’ll often hear in recovery communities: “One day at a time.” Right now, you’re being bombarded with crises and the emotions they bring up, and I’d encourage you to take things one day at a time, as well, as best you can. What is your immediate priority? Ensuring your safety and the safety of your child. Your partner needs to get help and I hope that he is in a position to seek that help out, but before you can assist him in getting that help, you have to make sure you’re taken care of. This doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning the relationship forever or no longer loving him; it means taking the space and time that you need. Custody questions are not today’s problem; they may not become a problem at all. But the only way that you can really find that out is if you separate yourself from a person who is causing you and himself harm. Please reach out to family, friends, community resource groups, or trained professionals to either help you find a new place to stay or keep you protected in your home as your fiancé goes someplace else.
Q. What Is My Name? I am in my mid-30’s with two in elementary school. I have been going through a terrible divorce for the past three years. The kid’s dad is unstable and mentally and verbally abusive (still) and has never held a job. I should be divorced in the next six months or so (fingers crossed). I don’t make a ton of money, although have a steady job and good benefits. I support the kids 100 percent. But I do live with my parents so that I can continue to pay my lawyer’s fees.
I have recently started my first romantic relationship since the separation. I have known the guy since middle school, and we have been friends for years. He is super great and everything that I would need in a relationship, plus, I really like him. Prior to beginning this relationship, I was of the opinion that I would keep my married name, since my kids also have that name. My new BF is looking to the future and says that he would not be able to stay with me if I kept my ex-spouse’s last name. This is a deal breaker for him. I am not sure where to go from here. I think that my kids and I should have the same last name. Is an ultimatum this early in a relationship a red flag? Any suggestions on how to address this? Help!
A. Ultimatums, particularly about things that don’t have any impact on the person giving the ultimatums, are a big red flag for me. I presume that this guy has been socialized to believe that part of being in a heteronormative relationship in our patriarchal culture involves having a partner who shares his last name, but who cares? Or, maybe his objection is to the specific name and that it also belongs to an abuser. But, again, he doesn’t get a say here. You’ve had a life before him, you have kids whose names you’ve opted not to change, and at the end of the day your name is your business. You and/or your kids may get to a point in life where you no longer want to share a last name with your ex-spouse, but that’s your decision to make.
I fear that by saying that he wouldn’t be able to stay with you, your current partner has already made his intransigence clear, which is unfortunate. You may want to try to have a conversation with him about it, expressing the importance of having the same last name as your kids and asking him to work on accepting that because your kids are obviously a huge part of your life. And of course, if he’s dead set on having the same last name as a future spouse, he can always change his name.
R. Eric Thomas: Thanks for your questions and comments! See you next week. Take care of yourselves.
From Care and Feeding
My 11-year-old just got her period for the first time. This is early, but not outrageously so, according to her pediatrician. My daughter is embarrassed and doesn’t want to tell her father. This would be the first time I’ve ever kept a secret from my husband regarding my children, and I’m really torn.