Dear Prudence

Help! My Friend Is Demanding I Buy Her a New Washer and Dryer Because I Put My Child’s Diaper in It.

Read what Prudie had to say in Part 1 of this week’s live chat.

A washer with a hand reaching in with an illustrated diaper.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

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.)

R. Eric Thomas: Hi everyone! This is my last week subbing in for Prudence and I’m so excited to get to read Jenée’s sage counsel again. I have to say I’m a little shocked by how deeply this community and these letters affected me. This was a beautiful and enriching experience for me and I hope I’ve done Prudence justice. Once more, shall we? What’s on your minds this week?

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Q. Poo Panic: My husband and I are currently renting, for the summer, the house of an old sorority sister of mine and her husband, who are on vacation in Europe. We have two-year-old twins whom we cloth-diaper. My friend’s college-age stepdaughter came over to do laundry, which we had agreed to, and discovered a load of diapers in the dryer. While clean at that point some of them do have indelible stains. She apparently told my friend, who is apparently a hysterical germophobe. She was a little bit like that in college but has obviously gotten worse over the years. She is now demanding that we replace their super high-end Swedish washer and dryer before their return. She claims she cannot bear to wear clothes, sleep on sheets, or use towels that have been washed in machines that were previously used to wash items soiled with human waste. Just how unreasonable is this, and how should I respond? If we do end up replacing the washer and dryer, would it be all right to ask if we can have the “ruined” ones?

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A. Yes, the purpose of washing machines is to take things that are dirty and make them clean. And yes, anything later emerging from this washing machine should be clean. And yes, it’s possible for you to run a self-cleaning cycle and clean the lint traps and do a bunch of other things to return this machine to near-factory standards. Yes, this is all true. But people who are notoriously phobic of germs do have a tendency to be germaphobic. And it’s her house. That said, buying someone a new washer and dryer is a big leap.

Do you have a rental agreement in writing? If so, are there stipulations for damaged property or the like? I hate to immediately jump to being litigious but it seems extreme to purchase a fancy Swedish washer/dryer on the strength of a handshake agreement. Whether you have a contract or not, I think you should respond by apologizing for washing dirty clothes in a washing machine, and tell her that you’ve already run the fanciest self-cleaner you could find through the unit (which you should do in advance), but that it’s just not financially feasible for you to replace her unit. If she threatens to take you to small claims court over it, then you can decide how much hassle you want to put up with. If you do buy the new one (please do not), definitely take the old unit with you.

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How to Get Advice From Prudie:

• Send questions for publication here. (Questions may be edited.)

• Join the live chat Mondays at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the discussion.

Q. Stuck In the Middle: My parents, my brother and his family, and I somehow managed to end up in the same city for the last eight years. Knowing our parents’ aversion to change, my brother has been prepping them for his family’s inevitable move to another state for the last FOUR years. My brother and his wife have two little girls and my parents adore them. However, when it comes to the topic of my brother’s move (next May), despite having ample time to prepare, my parents remain petty and vindictive, making comments to me like “We will just never see them again,” “They’re taking our grand-babies away from us,” etc. I’m disappointed in them and their pettiness and it would crush my brother to hear their comments. Any advice on getting them to see that they are retired and if they really value their grandchildren, they will stop at nothing to see them?

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A. Your parents seem to be quite comfortable with how things are, which is understandable given their station in life and the relative ease of having their whole family in the same city for the last eight years. However, their children are not at the same point in their lives and don’t have the same options available. Your parents don’t have to like this but they should accept this. Tell them that it bothers you to hear their petty comments, that it’s unfair to you and your brother. Remind them that they want their kids to pursue their destinies in life and that, for your brother, part of that destiny is in another state. If they can’t find a way to be happy about that part, at least, they might want to talk out their feelings with a therapist and work on their acceptance. But even if they don’t, you should tell them that their comments to you aren’t welcome anymore. It’s not solving anything and it’s making life harder for you.

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Q. Yo Momma So Troublesome: I told my seven-year-old nephew a “yo momma” joke the other day, and I said that he could use it on somebody that really deserves it. It was just a harmless bit of fun, and the joke itself was not inappropriate. Today, my sister-in-law called me angrily and told me that my nephew had told the joke to his teacher in response to her assigning him extra work. She wants an apology, but it isn’t my fault he used the joke! She should have told him whom he could say it to and whom he couldn’t. What should I do?

A. Typically, 7-year-olds don’t exactly have a handle on context and comedy. So, some guidance would have definitely been helpful here, especially considering a joke that to some may be harmless, but has some fraught cultural implications. I’m not trying to cancel your nephew, but we can all admit that “yo momma” jokes aren’t exactly comparable to knock-knock. Also, I don’t really understand your objection to the apology. You gave your nephew instructions on how he could use the joke. But then you write that your sister should’ve given him further instructions. Why would your nephew seek out instructions when you already gave them to him? Apologize for getting him in trouble and continue your comedy coaching career with a little more discretion.

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Q. Maybe an Auntie: Is it OK to keep a friendship just because you like a friend’s kid? I’ve known Jane for over 10 years. We met at a party in college. She was the life of the party and going out with her was so much fun. But over the years, my desire for relationships changed. I wanted supportive friends I could talk to about important things. I think Jane wanted more of this too, but she still liked to party, and partying was often more important to her than emotional attachments to friends. Once I realized Jane wasn’t giving me the support I needed, I found some new friends and continued to go out with Jane on occasion.

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After a while of having these new supportive friends, I started to wonder whether Jane was actually happy for me. I came from a middle-class home where my parents placed great importance on learning. I got a scholarship to the “good” school in town and got amazing fellowships which helped me to excel fairly quickly after I graduated. Jane, however, came from a lower middle-class background. Her parents didn’t think education was important and she was expected to work for everything she needed from a fairly young age. She loved school but often didn’t get great grades because she was too busy working. As such, she didn’t get into a good school. She has not excelled much in her career. I found out a few years ago that she blames everything on her upbringing and I’ve wondered if she actually resents me for what I’ve achieved.

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I started to notice that she seemed happy when something bad happened to me or jealous when something good happened, especially if that good thing was something she wanted. This didn’t happen all the time but it happened enough to make me question our friendship. COVID hit and we drifted apart. Well, she got married during COVID, in a small virtual wedding, and then got pregnant shortly after. Her daughter is adorable and fun. I don’t want children but I’ve always wanted to be an auntie. It doesn’t seem like my brother is going to settle down anytime soon and none of my other friends nearby have children. I absolutely adore Jane’s daughter. Jane has mellowed out a bit since giving birth and we don’t talk much about the same things we used to. I’m finding that it’s much easier to be around her when she’s talking about her baby or finding out she likes to cook (something I like as well). I still don’t quite trust her, but I love being around the baby. Is it terrible for me to keep up this relationship just because of the baby?

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A. Are you really an auntie if you’re not close to or trustful of the baby’s mom? While baby proximity is a powerful draw, I’m really doubtful about the long-term prospects of this arrangement. If you think Jane is resentful of your life, you need to find a way to talk to her about it before continuing to ingratiate yourself into her child’s life. Otherwise, the same problems you’ve been having with her will continue to fester, despite how cute her kid is.

Q. Re: Poo Panic: If it’s an expensive and/or foreign machine it might have a steam cycle so run that a few times. And if it does or doesn’t run the machine on the hottest cycle with bleach. Don’t do anything else. You can’t clean something any better than this.

A. I did wonder what state the cloth diapers were in when they went into the machine. If they’d been pre-soaked and bleached elsewhere, I think this also changes things. But you’re right, the standard cycle won’t fully sanitize but many modern washers have sanitizing settings and if this one doesn’t, there are other methods.

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