Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. Audience of One: My spouse and I are expecting our first kid. It’s still pretty early, not yet the second trimester, but we’re having some tension about what delivery will look like. I know that you can only prepare, not plan, but no matter what happens or what birth looks like, I want my spouse (and only him) there with me. He’s been a great source of comfort and support through the pregnancy, but he has some trepidation about being “the person in the room.” He comes from a country and culture where the husbands usually stay at home during the delivery or at most hang out in the waiting room. He’s shared a cocktail of thoughts that all combine to affect his thinking: he’s not sure how he can help, he’s afraid of getting paralyzed and ending up doing or saying something counterproductive, and has hinted a little at witnessing the “grossness” of it (using far more tactful words, though this aspect does sting a little, as we are both “love is letting your hair down in front of them” people).
We have many more conversations yet to come, so I was hoping for some outside perspective about how to navigate them. While I realize that the considerations of the birth partner matter, I also have this critical little voice in my head saying that this is a profoundly vulnerable and challenging event in a birthing person’s life. Can’t the partner put aside their preferences to support the birthing parent in whatever is going to make the process more comfortable and supportive for them? How do couples balance things when the needs feel mutually exclusive?
A: Let me get this straight. You have to deliver a baby, with all the pain and risk that entails, and he is not willing to just stand there, totally intact and experiencing no physical discomfort. You know what? Fine. Tell him he can do whatever he wants. Because he’s showing so much weakness right now that I don’t think he’d be a supportive presence anyway. Get your mom, a friend, a doula, or a combination.
Next, I want you to take the information he’s shared with you about his unwillingness to be there for you and his limitations and use it to make some practical plans for after you give birth. He’s telling you that he’s almost certainly going to be the kind of dad who decides to be helpless in a way that means you end up doing everything. That really sucks but the baby is coming and you can’t choose a different partner at this point. I don’t want you to waste any of your limited energy negotiating with him or trying to change him. So, rally your friends and relatives and tell them your husband has revealed himself to be a “not sure how he can help” person (they’ll know what you mean) and when your child is born you are going to need a lot of support from people who have a little more to offer. If he surprises you and is able to show up—either in the delivery room or as the spouse of a new mom—that’s great, but I definitely wouldn’t count on it.
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Q. That Wasn’t What He Meant: I am a biracial American woman who went abroad with an organization similar to the Peace Corps. While overseas, I met my husband “Jax” and we’ve been married for just over two years. We’ve settled down in his home country and because of COVID and visa issues haven’t been able to travel to the U.S. So Jax’s communication with my family is primarily over video chat.
The other day, we were talking to my sister “Lily” who is white (she’s my half-sister). Lily was asking Jax if he’d ever dated any of the other American volunteers. I could tell Jax was a bit uncomfortable and kept trying to change the subject, but Lily kept pressing him. Finally, Jax responded that he wouldn’t have dated any of the volunteers, because he didn’t date white women. Lily changed the topic but I could tell she was upset. Later, she told me that my husband was racist toward white people and that since I’m half-white, I shouldn’t let him say things like that.
Lily has spread this story within our family and people are starting to ask me about it. If it were just me, I’d tell Lily to go kick rocks but Jax hasn’t met any of my family and I don’t want this one comment to become a bigger deal than I think it is. I’m also not comfortable asking Jax to apologize to Lily. I get what Jax was trying to say but it involves a lot of issues of race, power, and colonization that I don’t think Lily and my white family can understand. Can you help me find a way out of this?
A: “It involves a lot of issues of race, power, and colonization that I don’t think Lily and my white family can understand” is almost exactly right. Except I’d edit your statement to say, “It involves a lot of issues of race, power, and colonization that I don’t think Lily and my white family want to understand.” They are being obtuse on purpose and believe me, their acting as the reverse racism police signals an ignorant (and very likely actually hateful) worldview that means this isn’t going to be the last problem you have with them. Your response to Lily is: “That’s ridiculous. And I’ll never need your help deciding what’s racist, especially when it comes to my relationship with another person of color.” If they want to continue to make it a big deal, that’s not a sign that you need to negotiate with them, it’s a sign that you need to take stock of the kind of relationship you want to have with them moving forward.
Q. Smothered: My father died 10 years ago. His wife, my stepmother “Joan,” is a kind, generous woman who, for 29 years, rarely if ever, got involved with my day-to-day business, beyond appropriate interest and concern. When my dad died, she literally ran away for over a year. Traveled with friends and all but forgot about her kids and grandkids. When she returned she was distant from family but involved with friends. This caused a lot of pain in our family, which we worked through the best we could.
Since then, she is present but very difficult to deal with. We are learning that my father really covered her passive-aggressive behavior. She gets upset over little things and her newest is that she feels I don’t tell her about my life enough. But my life is boring. I work, I read, I watch movies, and I go to bed. I’m an introvert with grown kids. I love my quiet life. We live in different cities, but we talk weekly. She presses me for details that don’t exist and then gets hurt as if I’m keeping things from her. I tell her everything that is appropriate to tell. When my dad was alive, she barely cared, now I’m the center of her world and I’m drained and angry. I feel like she expects me to make things up to help her feel more involved. It’s to the point I don’t even want to talk to her anymore. I’m trying to be compassionate and understanding, but I hate feeling like my existence hurts her if I don’t read her mind and respond to her every whim. How do I set a boundary without hurting her feelings?
A: Can you think about what, if anything, you would like to talk about with Joan? Could you add some structure to your chats by watching the same movie each week and discussing it? Or focusing on something else instead of your introverted lifestyle, like a meal you’ve cooked? Or what about this: “Joan, I know you’ve felt like I’m keeping things from you but the truth is my life is very boring! I would love to stay connected though, so how about when we talk each week, we’ll take turns sharing a memory of my dad?” I’m hopeful that you would actually get something out of this, and it would offer her the deeper connection she seems to be looking for.
Q. Lunch Lady: I’m a new mom in my 30s. I live and grew up in a diverse college town of about 50,000. I’ve been a member of a group that gets together twice a month to walk and relax in the park and eat lunch together. I’ve made some of my best friends in this group. Others, I’m polite with but we don’t really align in our values.
Recently, “Rebecca,” one of the women who are in charge of organizing the group, added me to a private group chat along with a handful of other members, and proposed that we make the group moms only because many of us have had kids and that would make it a “safe space” to talk about the “challenges of modern motherhood.” I was skeptical since Rebecca has shared some posts on Facebook that are very snotty and dismissive about safe spaces.
I pointed out that making it moms only would exclude some of our members: two Japanese sisters “Hana” and “Yuzu” who are transfer students, a Black woman “Ava” who recently moved to the area, a lesbian couple who are long time members and would be hurtful to “Lena,” who has fertility issues. I also added that I’ve been enjoying having a place I can get away from being a mom for a while! I was respectful so I was surprised when Rebecca immediately removed me from the chat. I suspect that Rebecca is doing this on purpose. Ava, Hana, and Yuzu are the only women of color in our group. Lena is white but has clashed with Rebecca on Facebook. I know Rebecca is somewhat homophobic—she says things like “hate the sin not the sinner” about the LGBT+ community—so she may also be trying to exclude the lesbian couple.
What should I do? I want to confront Rebecca or relay what happened to the rest of the group. My husband thinks that would just start drama and that “the trash will take itself out” when Rebecca and her friends self-segregate. I don’t think it’s that simple. What should I do?
A: Totally agree with your husband. Start your own chat with the people who aren’t bigots!
Q. Graduation Grudge or Gracious Understanding: My daughter is graduating from high school. I wanted to throw a party for her and checked with three close friends for their availability before setting a date. All was good and all three friends RSVP’d yes to the evite. The night before the party one friend said that her husband really wanted to go see a band in Seattle for his birthday and that if he got tickets, they wouldn’t be coming to the party. They got tickets. I have supported her children for years financially and on their special occasions. And while I have done that willingly and with love, I feel hurt that they said yes to my child’s celebration until something better came along. Am I wrong to feel hurt and offended?
A: Well, I admire your friend’s honesty (a lot of people would have gone with “I can’t believe I forgot we had tickets! I was absolutely planning to be at the party and I’m so sorry!”) but this is absolutely hurtful and you are not wrong to feel offended. But don’t go straight to holding a grudge. This is a close friend and it sounds like this behavior is unusual for her. Tell her you were hurt and offended and hear her out.
Q. Re: Audience of One: I disagree with Prudie’s advice. All throughout my pregnancy, my husband was firm, he didn’t want to be in the delivery room. He’s incredibly squeamish and he was afraid he’d faint or something. Well, the day I gave birth the hospital was short staffed and he ended up wheeling my bed into the delivery room from the labor room. And once he was there he stayed and was fine. But most importantly, he is an incredible dad. He was always there for me and our daughter. They have a very tight bond. Just because he’s squeamish now doesn’t mean he won’t step up on the day and it definitely doesn’t mean he’ll be a bad father.
A: You know what? I feel like I had read a bunch of letters involving awful people and it all built up and I was a little hard on this guy as a result. I still don’t like what he’s doing. I mean, the LW doesn’t have an opportunity to be squeamish, have trepidation, and take a pass on the experience. And I don’t think it reflects well on him that he’d rather have her suffer alone than experience discomfort himself, or find a way to step up. But maybe there’s something to be said for knowing your limitations.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: That’s all we have time for, friends. Thanks for joining me and I’ll talk to you next time!
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