Help! I Agreed to Babysit My Stepdaughter’s Newborn. Then I Received Her List of Demands.

Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)

Dear Prudence,

My husband had his twin daughters when he was in college and we had our three when we were in our late 30s/40s. I am a stay-at-home mom and work part-time for a family company that lets me set my own hours. My stepdaughter is pregnant. She wants to immediately go back to work since she is the breadwinner between her and her husband. They don’t want to pay for child care and I would be happy to help out but she treats me like I don’t have a functional brain.

I have been emailed basically a book on what I am not allowed to do with the baby—from sleep schedules to how to hand-make organic baby food. There were footnotes. The baby isn’t even here yet. My youngest is 11. Parenting hasn’t changed that much in a decade. Our relationship has always been challenging. She, unlike her sister, has never responded well to her parents having their own independent lives. She nearly tanked her relationship with her own mother because her mother decided to remarry a man 10 years younger than her and move to Spain (this was after she and her sister both graduated and got married). I understand that she is a nervous new mother-to-be, but I am already regretting the offer. My husband insists it will all be fine. I am not so sure. Help?

—Regretting It

Dear Regretting It,

Here’s what you should say to her: “Before the baby comes, let’s have a talk about what it would look like for me to babysit. I want to make sure this is going to be a good fit for both of us, and I hope to avoid any conflict or miscommunication that could stress you out once you become a new mom.” Your questions could include, “Will I be expected to prepare the baby food?”; “Is organic the only acceptable option to you?”; “What will happen if I depart from the schedule?”; “Is there any aspect of caring for the baby where you will be comfortable with me using my own best judgment?” And you can share your very real concern that you may be unable to meet her expectations, and that there isn’t yet a plan for the two of you to resolve any conflicts. It’s possible the exchange will be productive.

If it’s not, say, “You deserve to have your baby cared for in exactly the way you want but I have to be honest that I’m not sure I can meet your expectations and I’m concerned about the toll it will take on our relationships. The baby might be better off in the hands of a professional, and I will be happy to babysit once a week. I can manage doing things exactly the way you ask for an evening, but probably not all day, every day.”

Dear Prudence,

I am in my first relationship ever at 29 and I am so in love with my kind, curious, and communicative partner. We’re six months in and we’re very serious about each other, and often say how easy it is to imagine the future together. I’m shocked by my luck and feel so glad to have found this wonderful person to love. I am also contending with a lot of anxieties about being in my first relationship (I’m talking first date and first everything).

My partner has dated a good handful of people and obviously has a lot more experience with relationships than me. I catch myself worrying about whether they’re harboring resentments toward me, whether I’m a good partner, whether I am emotionally capable of being a good partner, and whether I can maintain a relationship long-term. I have OCD, and because of that, I try to compare my worries against reality. And in reality, I am told daily that I am a good partner, a good lover, a lovable person, and a warm presence in my partner’s life. I say the same to my partner because it’s all true.

And yet these worries persist! We talk through our needs, our preferences, our dreams, our philosophies but I’ve realized recently we haven’t talked about our fears very much. I’m wondering: How can I approach a conversation where I lay out my anxieties around being in my first relationship without making it seem like I don’t want to be in this relationship? And what do you think I could say to mitigate the reassurance they’re likely to give me? I am trying not to indulge in compulsive reassurance-seeking, but I do feel like it’s worthwhile for them to know that I get anxious about a huge, new facet of my life. I also want to know what their fears around being in a relationship with me might be! Any help with sensitive phrasing would be very appreciated.

—Learning to Love

Dear Learning to Love,

I’m going to tell you something you don’t want to hear: You two might break up. That’s right. This might not work out. Most relationships end! I know that’s jarring, but I encourage you to read it out loud several times to yourself. Keep breathing. If your heart is beating fast, that’s OK. Read over it again. Say this out loud: “It’s possible that we’ll break up.” Acknowledge that the thought makes you scared and anxious and just, as they say in therapy, sit with that. Keep sitting with it until your heart slows down a little and it feels less intense.

What is your intention when it comes to this conversation about your fears? What’s the goal? I suspect your fantasy is that if you share what you’re afraid of in the right way, your partner will really understand you and will somehow give you enough reassurance to eliminate your worries. It’s not going to work. There is nothing they can say that will convince you that they’ll never become resentful of you, take issue with some of the dynamics in your relationship, or simply get bored or fall out of love. Honestly, they can’t even guarantee any of that to themselves. People change. Feelings change. Partners promise each other lifelong devotion in front of all of their friends and family and then say, “Actually, I love someone else” or “Actually, the spark is gone” or “Actually, we’re growing apart.” This is why love can be so scary! Not just for people like you who are in their first relationship and worry about their inexperience, but for everyone. You may be new to this dating thing but you’re actually having a pretty universal experience.

So give up on the project of laying out your fears as a way to ensure these fears don’t become reality. Besides being ineffective, this approach risks weighing down the still-new relationship by introducing negativity and neediness where there should still be a sense of fun, lightheartedness, and ease. I’m not saying you have to hide the way you feel, of course. If it comes up naturally, that’s one thing. For example, if your partner invites you to be their plus one to a wedding taking place three months from now and you get so excited that you tear up a little and they ask what’s going on, you can say, “It’s just that this is my first relationship and sometimes I fear messing up and losing you, so making plans like this feels surreal and unfamiliar. It really means a lot to me.” If you lose control of yourself and text them 12 times in a row, asking if they hate you, because they had a dead phone battery and didn’t respond, you can include in your apology, “I’m new to this and sometimes I worry so much about things that might go wrong that I overreact. I’m working on it.” But you don’t need an official “Here are all my persistent negative thoughts about our future as a couple” summit.

Think of the way you’d hope to feel if you had the conversation about your fears and they were somehow able to put your mind at ease. Eliminate the middleman and give yourself that comfort. The key is to convince yourself that you will be OK if the worst happens. Not that you’ll be happy about it, but that you will live and get through it. To get there, you might think about the fact that even if this does end, you’ll have one relationship under your belt, and be in a much less vulnerable place if you have to reenter the dating world. You might make a plan for who you’ll reach out to, the days you’ll take off work, the movies you’ll watch, and the trip you’ll take if you find yourself in the position of mourning a breakup. You might focus on maintaining balance in your life and making sure you keep up with your other relationships and always have something outside of your partner that makes you feel alive and excited. You might reflect on how you’ve managed other disappointments or setbacks in life. If you can accept that this relationship might end and begin to believe that it won’t kill you, you’ll have a lot less to fear. Then, you’ll be able to enjoy it while it lasts, whether that’s one more month or a lifetime.

Submit your questions anonymously here. (Questions may be edited for publication.) 

Dear Prudence,

This might sound low stakes, but it is honestly driving me crazy. I am a college sophomore at a school in the Rust Belt. It is probably in the 40-50 degree range most days now that it’s March, but it does still get to around 30 some days. I do not get cold easily. So if it is above freezing, I usually go outside in a t-shirt, gloves, and leggings. You’ll have to take my word for it that I am legitimately not cold and am not being some form of childish or immature to prove a point (yes, I have been accused of that by multiple people since the age of 10). I have also never gotten frostbite or any kind of injury from being outside without a jacket on, as I do wear some kind of jacket or sweatshirt if it’s below 30 degrees. I have always been this way, and very few people can resist commenting on it.

I don’t mind the one-off comments from strangers when I’m on walks (random comments happen probably around twice a week in the wintertime) but it is incredibly irritating and kind of offensive to have people I work with, do activities with, etc. consistently call me insane or tell me, “You need to put on a jacket” or that “You should get checked out by a doctor because this isn’t normal.” These people don’t have medical degrees! When I was younger I didn’t mind as much because I assumed people would stop it once I was an adult, but I’m 20 now and for the love of God, it seems like people will not accept that I am not cold! It is everyone from my friends to my colleagues to a few of my professors. Ignoring the comments does not make people shut up. I can probably suck it up for the next few weeks until April, but come next November, I’d really like a script that will get people to believe that I am not cold, or at the very least, make them understand that what I put on my body is not their business so they don’t need to comment.

—For the Love of Jack Frost

Dear Jack Frost,

“Yes, I run hot. For some people, the hardest part of winter is the cold. For me, it’s having to constantly explain that I’m not cold!”

Dear Prudence,

One of my friends, who is trans and non-binary, moved away last year to take care of an aging family. The state they moved to has been in the news a lot recently for violence against trans people. I want to check in on them but I’m a cis straight woman raised in the evangelical church and I have no idea what to say. I left the church but a lot of this language or ideas don’t come naturally to me. Our friendship was built through a shared hobby and shared interests so we have not spent a lot of time talking about identity. What’s the right way to do this? We’ve remained in touch and see each other a couple times a year, but this feels like something I don’t know how to talk about. I want them to feel and be safe, and I know that’s probably not the case right now.

—How to Ask

Dear How to Ask,

I love that you’re thinking this way, and you should absolutely do something with the empathy and care you’re feeling. But I’ll give the disappointing disclaimer that I add to my response to every letter like yours: Everyone’s different and I really can’t say for sure what would make your friend feel good right now. They might be incredibly touched by a simple text saying, “How are you doing? I read the news about the horrific violence against trans people and I can’t imagine what the effect on you might be. If you ever want to talk or if there’s anything I can do, I’m here. If not, please know I’m thinking about you.” Or they might go, “That came out of nowhere… We’ve never even talked about this stuff. Weird.” But maybe you can do more—more to show them you care and more to honor the values you hold outside of this friendship and the kind of person you are.

In general, I think it’s great when a person who hopes to be an ally to a marginalized group goes beyond saying, “You must be so upset because you’re [whatever identity]” to demonstrating, “I’m upset too, because I’m human and a decent person.” So I’m guessing your friend would be even more touched—and you would feel even better—if you were to put some skin in the game through participating in advocacy or activism meant to protect trans people or even just by publicly stating how unacceptable you find the recent violence and what you think needs to change. You don’t have to do a press release or anything—this could be on your Instagram story. Telling them, “I want you to feel safe” is kind, while telling the world, “I want all trans people to feel safe” shows a different kind of commitment. When they see that their old buddy from the knitting group is speaking out in this way, it has the potential to make them feel more supported than a “checking on you” text ever could. It might also provide a basis of a conversation that deepen your friendship. If that happens, the next time you want to talk about something like this, you won’t have to wonder how to do it.

I’m a man in his mid-40s who has been happily married for 10 years. I particularly enjoy my wife’s dry, some would say sarcastic, sense of humor. Her wit not only attracted me to her as a partner, but it was one of the things that got me through a difficult time in my career, enabling me to see the humor in absurd and uncomfortable situations. About 18 months ago my wife’s mother passed away suddenly and my wife began seeing a counselor. After a few appointments, the counselor prescribed an antidepressant medication, Paxil, and my wife’s has been taking it ever since. As a result, my wife’s personality has changed…