Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
I am an educated, middle-class, single woman with a stable job. I recently earned a promotion that came with a raise that made it possible for me to do what I have always wanted: adopt a child. I have been interested in adopting since I was a teenager, and the desire to start a family this way has stayed consistent through my life (I’m now in my mid-30s). I love children, now work in higher education, previously trained and worked as a K-12 educator, and nannied two kids for three years during grad school—obviously, a lot of experience with children. In addition to this, all three of my sisters have little ones that I have pretty good relationships with. My eldest sister has entrusted me with the care of her two children, and I often end up as the “default babysitter” at family functions.
However, when I asked my father and eldest sister to write me letters of recommendation for the adoption process, they both said no. I had been open about the fact that I was planning to start the adoption over the previous year, had had conversations with them about it, and so they shouldn’t have been surprised at the request. I honestly had no idea they would be unsupportive based on those interactions. My dad told me that he didn’t believe that single parents could both parent and hold jobs, and he basically insinuated I’d lose my job and be financially ruined because of my terrible choices. He told me I was making a huge mistake and that he couldn’t support it. My eldest sister told me that she thought it was “not the right time” for me to be adopting and that I should wait to have a biological child since I “wasn’t too old.” She also criticized my support network of friends, saying that I hadn’t planned enough for how hard parenting is. I was extremely hurt by their refusals; while my dad eventually apologized for the language he used, neither he nor my sister have reversed their decision.
My issue is that I don’t really understand how to interact with them now. I always thought I had a close relationship with these family members, but it feels like both of them don’t even know me or understand my want to be a parent. I have the means, desire, and stability to take care of a child, even if it is just me. How do I interact with people who I feel have betrayed me? Is it ok for me to distance myself? Am I being petty for not going to holidays and family events, or reducing the number of visits I plan? It’s so hard to not feel like I’m being a terrible daughter or sister when I think about these options. Last, do I allow them to have a relationship with my child once I have adopted? What am I supposed to do?
— Wishing for Support
Dear Wishing for Support,
Ever heard the term “chosen family”? It’s time for you to get one. You need to be surrounded by people who believe in you, think you’re capable, and support you in doing what you want with your life. Are there any good friends who you can draw closer to? Nannying families who you can reconnect with? Other relatives who have shown that they can be there for you? Maybe an online group for single mothers by choice, or others pursuing the adoption process?
It’s ok to decide that your father and sister have hurt you and that you aren’t over it and don’t feel up to seeing them. You don’t have to decide that it will be forever. That’s just how you feel right now, and it’s not petty. When you do have a child, you can reevaluate whether and how you want to be around them, but you won’t be desperate and won’t subject yourself to poor treatment if you already have a good community full of people you can count on in place.
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My best friend and I got engaged around the same time, we ended up booking our wedding at the same venue, and now things feel very tense. I ended up moving my date to make them further apart (they are originally only a few weeks apart). I have no problem with a wedding being at the same venue, it is just a building. However, my friend seems to be taking it very hard. We weren’t open about our planning/venue choices so it’s no one’s fault. However, I did not think the chosen venue was on her radar since she initially told me it was too small when the place was brought up at one point. I thought things were resolved and it was ok; however, she is being very distant and short with me. Sometimes she won’t even answer a text or takes hours/days to respond. I don’t really know how to handle the situation anymore; I don’t want to keep approaching her if she doesn’t want to speak with me. Is this petty behavior?
— Venue Drama
Dear Venue Drama,
Hmm, the line that’s jumping out at me is, “We weren’t open about our planning/venue choices.” Why? This is supposed to be your best friend. So that statement makes me feel like before the venues were even selected there was some feeling of competition or a lack of trust between the two of you. I wish I knew more, but I would encourage you to take an honest look at the relationship you have with this woman. Are you two really, truly close (or have you just been calling her your best friend out of habit)? Do you feel like she supports you? Do you think she has your best interests at heart? Do you sincerely like her and want the best for her? If you can’t say an enthusiastic yes to each of those questions, you may want to stop pushing, continue to observe her (distant, short) behavior and take your time during the lead-up to your weddings and after to decide whether the relationship has run its course.
That said, if this latest episode is the first instance of weirdness, sit down and have a heart-to-heart before you get too busy with wedding planning. Get her in person and say something like “I wanted to talk to you because I’ve been really worried because you’ve been slow to respond to me ever since we realized we booked the same venue. Are you upset with me about anything? I know wedding planning is stressful and if you just need space, I’ll give it to you, but I wanted to make sure I hadn’t done anything to upset you, because your friendship means a lot to me and I want us to be there for each other, especially this year.” I hope she opens up and you two can have a little cry together and clear the air. But if she’s evasive or cool to you, I want you to stop pushing for now, and probably through your wedding. You’re only engaged once, and you want to enjoy the experience without worrying about whether someone is stressed about, as you rightly put it, a building.
My daughter keeps stealing my clothes and wearing them to her dad’s house. (He and I are divorced and on ok terms, but we are by no means friends.) Now, I’m normally pretty okay with her borrowing my clothes, but I really don’t enjoy coming home to find my daughter dolled up in my 2022 designer jacket ready to go to her dad’s. I’ve tried talking to her about it, at the very least to bring these articles back! And while she sometimes remembers to bring my clothes home, more often than not I get a “oh I’m so sorry mom, next week I’ll pick it up!” I also don’t wanna be seen as the villain who keeps her from dressing like me by more firmly putting my foot down on this behavior. Am I overthinking this?
— Don’t with Donatella
Dear Don’t With Donatella,
I’m am going to recycle a great piece of advice I got from a S. Hultquist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, when I interviewed them for a recent column: “The more parents focus on the internal world of their child, rather than on their child’s behavior, the more trust they are sowing in the relationship.”
So you could lock up the clothes, I guess. Or you could go over to her dad’s and get them. Or you could make her promise not to borrow anything designer, or refuse to buy her new clothes until she stops stealing yours, or check her from head to toe and pat her down before she leaves for the week. But I don’t think any of these are great ideas.
I think your daughter, who’s spending a lot of her time at another home at a time when she is (I assume, since your clothes fit her) getting closer to becoming a woman, wants to feel closer to the most important woman in her life. I think you should get curious about how she’s feeling about being the child of divorced parents who don’t talk, about spending so much time away from you, and about whether she’s getting enough connection and bonding time. Make time to chat with her about those things, rather than about articles of clothing. So no, you’re not overthinking at all, but you may be thinking about the wrong thing. The designer jacket is valuable and it makes sense that you’d care about it a lot. That may be why she’s using it to get the attention she needs from you.
Catch up on this week’s Prudie.
More Advice From Slate
What is the current policy on allowing young children to urinate in public parks? I let my 3-year-old son pee in a park recently, in a secluded spot among some bushes, and another adult said, “That’s disgusting!” (to her partner, but really for me to overhear). I used to pee in urban parks all the time as a child, but it seems to have gone out of fashion. Plus, this park is overrun by dogs every morning and evening, all of whom urinate wherever they see fit. What’s the difference?