Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers on Mondays at noon ET. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. What’s in a Name?: I am about to give birth to my second child and I’d like to prevent my in-laws from ruining my birth experience this time around. When my son was born two years ago, my in-laws first met him over Facetime due to hospital covid restrictions. They had received a text with the baby’s full name and details an hour ahead of time, which should have been exciting news since he was their very first (much wanted) grandchild.
As my husband was showing off the baby, one of the first things they asked was what sort of nicknames we were considering. When we brushed them off, they continued to press the issue and it became clear that they were trying to come up with different names to call him because they didn’t like the name we chose (his name is classic and easily spelled and pronounced, think something like “Harold”). My MIL then suggested we call him an entirely different name! At the moment, I was tired and upset at what they were saying, so I stayed quietly seething while my also irritated husband handled it. An hour later, a concerned cousin called to let us know that after they hung up, my in-laws began making fun of my son’s name in front of the whole family, asking things like “what were we thinking.” It was upsetting for both myself and my husband, but we decided to focus on our precious newborn rather than confront his parents. Well, we never really resolved it. Two years later, they called him by his full name without using any unauthorized nicknames, and as far as we know they haven’t been complaining about it to anyone else.
I am aware that the best time to deal with this would have been within a few weeks of it happening, but instead, I’ve let it fester inside of me this whole time. The closer we get to the new baby coming, the more I want to say something to them. It’s clear this issue is on my MIL’s mind too because she keeps asking about the name and suggesting her own ideas of names that she likes. We have very clearly told her that we do have several names in contention, but we won’t be discussing them ahead of time.
How can I ensure that when we are in the hospital, holding our brand new precious baby, the experience isn’t ruined by my in-laws passive-aggressively dissing their name? I’m furious every time I think about what happened. My idea right now is to send them a text when we are on the way to the hospital, something along the lines of “We aren’t interested in opinions about the baby’s name this time, and we’d like you to follow the rule ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’” (As some added context, we originally did try to include my in-laws in the name-choosing process, but my MIL, in particular, hated every name we suggested and did not hold back telling us how “awful” the names on our list were. So giving her a heads up on the next name is not an option.)
A: When it comes to people like this, the question “How can I make sure they don’t say something that ruins my experience?” is a tough one. Perhaps a better goal is “How can I make sure I don’t let the rude comments they’re very likely to make ruin my experience?” As I’ve written before, Slate does not pay me to say “How about you decide not to care?” in response to people’s tough problems. Plus, that’s much easier said than done! I get it. But seriously, is there any way you can decide to care a little less? It’s just so hard to worry about controlling what other people might or might not do. Especially when so much of your emotional energy is being used to bring a baby into the world. Use the script you’ve written, absolutely. (Better yet: Have your husband use the script you’ve written! This should absolutely be his job!) But also remember that you have different tastes than they do, they have a history of behaving inappropriately, they are unlikely to evolve a ton at this point in life, and dealing with parents and in-laws who go through life saying things that should have stayed inside their heads makes you part of an experience that, while not pleasant, is almost universal.
Q. Overly Emotional: My husband and I have been together for nearly 20 years (since college) and ended up starting our family during the pandemic. He’s 100 percent convinced he is not the father of our first baby and I’m currently pregnant with number two. He’s already suggesting he’s not the father and has made some awful commentary to our 3-year-old in my presence about me being unfaithful. He’s 100 percent the father and I’m overly emotional this pregnancy. Crying makes the commentary worse. Leaving isn’t an option, I cannot afford rent in this housing market for two places and I think he would call the police for kidnapping and theft if I left with the toddler. We don’t live near family and I’m afraid if I try to talk to family, they’ll believe him since he almost has me convinced during our arguments that I’m misremembering and making things up. I’ve priced therapy in my area for myself and I can’t afford it. He will not go to couples therapy either because, in his view, I’m the one with the problem.
I’m really at a loss for what to do because I don’t want to leave our toddler in his care more than I have to. He’s able to work entirely for home and has for many years whereas I am not able to work from home. This is saving us a lot of money on child care but he makes sure to point out how little time I spend with our child during the week. I don’t want to force him to leave because we moved out of state from my family so I could have a good job that is willing to give me a career in my field at the pay I deserve. I’m at a breaking point and I really don’t know what to do.
A: OK, you know there are paternity tests, right? That could have solved this a while ago. But obviously, there’s a much deeper issue at play here, which is that your husband doesn’t trust you and doesn’t treat you well, and you are only with him because you think you can’t leave.
You’re wrong. Leaving is absolutely an option. I’m not saying it’s an easy option, but it is an option. Do you have one good friend or trusted relative who can approach this situation with less emotion than you bring to it? Please talk to them. Because I don’t know the legal or financial details, but I believe there is a way out and you need someone who is not as hurt as you (justifiably) are by this man’s behavior to help you evaluate through them. For example, I can see a couple of areas in your letter where your thinking is off, potentially clouded by a combination of love, fear, and having been mistreated for so long. First, you would not have to pay for two places if you split up. You also would not need to “force him to leave.” You could leave! Again, you should seek legal advice and this is not it, but I seriously doubt moving out with your child is going to get you charged with kidnapping. You don’t have to commit to anything, but talk through the possibilities with someone who has your best interest in mind. You might be surprised at what you come up with. Divorce almost always feels overwhelming but what’s more overwhelming is the idea of raising two children to adulthood with someone who makes you feel the way your husband does.
Q. Not All Nausea Is Pregnancy: I have a co-worker who is pregnancy obsessed. All she wants is a baby. On her first round of IUI (by herself because of insurance issues), she immediately thought she was pregnant. Chalked up every sign to it. Gained some weight around her belly, skipped periods, was nauseated, etc. Only her multiple tests were negative, and her visit to an ob showed nothing. She said she must have miscarried before the appointment.
We are now on attempt #2 and it’s starting off the same. No positives but a list of symptoms that “proves” she is pregnant. How do I keep supporting her and being there without constantly having to be super excited and then (acting) super crushed if she “loses” this one or the next?
A: It sounds like your co-worker is more than just pregnancy obsessed, she’s struggling with her mental health and her grasp on reality. If you consider her a friend, you should gently nudge her to therapy, perhaps through an employee assistance program if there is one available to you where you work. Not “because you keep thinking you’re pregnant when you’re absolutely not” but because “pregnancy loss is extremely challenging.” There’s no need to push back on her version of events when the goal is to get her some help. Either way, if this pattern continues, you can respond to the way she’s feeling and mirror her emotions rather than discussing the facts that you may or may not believe: Try “I’m so happy you’re excited. I know how much you want a baby” and/or “I”m so heartbroken for you. I know how much you want a baby.” You can be there for her without buying into the delusions.
Q. Tripping or Trip: My sister has three kids: “Zach,” “Emma,” and “Lisa.” Zach and Emma both had kids in high school. My sister and her husband are basically raising their grandkids while Zach and Emma flit from failure to failure. Neither seems capable of finishing any kind of education or holding down a job or staying out of trouble. Emma is on probation again for shoplifting and Zach quit yet another job because he disliked his boss. I have told my sister more than once she isn’t helping Emma and Zach by coddling them. At least, they should be doing more with their own children instead of passing the babies off on her. My sister told me to stay in my lane.
The problem is Lisa. Lisa is a very bright, very adventurous young woman. She got accepted into an overseas program that offers dual credit for high school and college. Her parents told her there is no way they can afford for her to go- both because the family finances are tight and they depend on Lisa to babysit on weekends when they work overtime. I want to pay for Lisa to go. She deserves to go and it will be the experience of a lifetime.
If I do, it will cause a huge familial explosion. I am pretty sure my brother-in-law would accept the offer, but my sister will hit the roof. She would accuse me of trying to cause trouble and playing favorites with her kids. I never offered anything like this for Emma and Zach (mostly since neither one ever applied for anything like it). How do I have this conversation with my sister? The deadline for the program is in January.
A: It can be so hard to be an aunt! You love a child like your own but you ultimately don’t get to make any decisions for them. If what you want for them doesn’t align with what your siblings want, you’re out of luck.
So all you can do is make the offer—to both parents, not just your brother-in-law—as delicately and diplomatically as possible. Maybe you could even add, “If Emma or Zach ever have a similar opportunity I’ll do the same.” (Assuming you have the money or are certain Emma and Zach won’t get their lives together.) If your prediction comes true and your BIL accepts the money but your sister hits the roof, your absorbing that anger while Lisa (hopefully) packs her bag to head overseas will be incredibly selfless and loving. Which is exactly the kind of aunt you are.
Q. Bothersome Burials: Is it appropriate to hold a funeral on a Saturday? I have recently noticed that funerals are more frequently being held on Saturdays instead of weekdays and I think it is bad etiquette. On most Saturdays, we already have plans for weddings, baby showers, birthday parties, ski trips, softball tournaments, etc. and I am perturbed when we are expected to change those plans to attend funerals. It seems to me that when you lose someone very close to you that you should be taking time off of work anyway rather than waiting until your scheduled day off to have a funeral and grieve. When you lose an acquaintance, or perhaps do not know the deceased but still want to support your friends and family, you should be able to limit it to a few hours during the week and not give up your weekend plans. Also, it seems inconsiderate to make the funeral home and cemetery staff work on a Saturday. I believe that Saturdays should be off-limits, am I mistaken about this?
A: Yes, you are mistaken about this.
Re: Q. What’s in a Name?: Please don’t say anything to your in-laws about being on your way to the hospital for your baby’s birth. Wait until after the birth is over and then announce the birth and the baby’s name. Shut down any comments or inquiries about the name with something along the lines of a firm “[Baby]’s name is not up for discussion. We are not going to talk about this with you or anyone else.” and change the subject. My MIL burst into the room while I was laboring (she managed to elude the nurses on duty—no one was ever prepared for the force of nature that she was) and while it has turned into a funny story 20-plus years later, it was painful and nearly ruined the experience for me after many awful years of infertility and a medical pronouncement that we would never have a biological child. She also took something from my own family, who had respectfully waited to be invited to the hospital (as we had asked everyone to do). Take charge of this now, practice what you need to say, role-play different options or contingencies, and recognize that you cannot control other people’s comments and actions. You can only control your own.
A: Great advice. (And I’m sorry that happened to you!)
Re: Q. Not All Nausea Is Pregnancy: Prudie, your answer was spot on. I’d like to add as someone who did a year-plus of fertility treatments, the hormones make you crazy. They just do. They are hormones, in higher doses than most of us are used to during our worst periods. My mental health was saved by my spouse, who was patient and kind with me. The fertility industry ignores every issue they can’t control, including how well they succeed and whether the patients have the right support systems to help them through what is an awful and draining process. It is not the LW’s responsibility to help the colleague “solve” the problem, other than to help them get the appropriate professional support. This issue is way beyond the bounds of friendship.
A: Yes, been there with the fertility treatments and drugs! I’m now convinced that anything we think is our actual personality or temperament is actually just a reflection of where our hormones are at the moment. Not to mention, infertility is an experience that involves a lot of anxiety and grief that we don’t really have a great shared language to talk about. Definitely not LW’s responsibility to help solve it.
Re: Q. Trip or Tripping: I think it would be worth the family blow-up to send Lisa to the overseas program. Lisa didn’t have babies in high school and shouldn’t be punished for her sibling’s choices. The siblings should be watching their own kids on the weekends. This just might force that.
If you wanted to try to keep some peace and can afford it, find a reliable babysitter for a few weeks for those weekend overtime days after Lisa leaves. Good for you for standing up for Lisa!
A: I think it would be worth it, too!
Jenée Desmond-Harris: That’s all we have time for today. Thanks for joining and I’ll talk to you next week!
More Advice From Slate
My husband and I are expecting our first child. We’re both in graduate school and have a pretty tight income right now. We have lots of flexibility with our schedules, but both have a lot of work to accomplish, and that work takes a lot of mental energy and focus. We qualify for a child care subsidy that would put day care within the realm of possibility. My husband is open to this but has offered up an “alternative.”