Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
My brother-in-law’s girlfriend is my close friend. She’s confided in me that he’s crossed the line into emotionally abusive territory, and they’re heading toward a breakup. I’m not sure how many details to tell my husband. I don’t want to ruin my husband’s relationship with his brother, but I don’t like keeping secrets from him either. Help!
—Wish He Was a Better Man
Dear Better Man,
Unless you have your friend’s permission, don’t share anything. It’s great that they’re heading for a breakup. Once she’s safely separated from him, you can tell your husband what you know, he can talk to his brother about it if he wants to, and what happens with their relationship will be up to him. But just a warning: Now is probably a good time to start thinking about what you’ll do if your husband excuses or denies his brother’s abusive behavior. Your real dilemmas are going to come when, and if, that happens and it affects the way you think about him. Or the next time your brother-in-law is dating someone and you suspect he’s treating them horribly.
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I’m pregnant and am due December 2nd. My mom wants to stay with us from December 9 to early January (as she normally does) for the holidays. But I am stressed about her being here while my partner and I are learning life with a fresh newborn—in a very small NYC apartment. I know it’s important to her to be part of this process (and to me too) but she is physically incapable of being much help in the house/with the baby—I’d actually need to help her in various ways—so I’d really want at least a few weeks to settle into life with our new baby but I don’t want to hurt her feelings by asking her to wait until Christmas to come, which would give us a few weeks of nucleus time. How do I ask her to wait before coming? I’m her only remaining child so there’s also that pressure.
—Not Much Room at the Inn
Dear Not Much Room at the Inn,
This is what FaceTime was made for. Your mother can see the baby every day, multiple times a day, without being in the bathroom during the one moment you’re able to take a shower, creating extra laundry, or asking you to change the TV channel for her while you try to breastfeed. It makes all the sense in the world. I know that doesn’t make it easy to explain, though. I suggest focusing on the following things when you break the news to her:
1. Give the message a little bit of a, “It’s not you, it’s me” feel.
2. Acknowledge that this is probably disappointing and be transparent about the fact that you love her and are concerned about hurting her feelings.
3. Share your vision for what her relationship with you and the baby will look like before she arrives, and then when she’s finally there in person.
So, something like this: “Hey Mom, I wanted to talk to you because I’m starting to get anxious about how I’m going to feel and what it will take to get adjusted right after I give birth. Since the space is so tight here and I know there’s a possibility I will be overwhelmed and exhausted, I’m thinking I would rather have you come at the end of the month. That way I’ll have recovered a bit and we’ll have a routine, so we’ll be able to treat you more like a guest and give you a chance to really enjoy the baby. I know you planned to be there in the very beginning so I hope this isn’t too disappointing. Before you arrive we were thinking we could do a daily FaceTime and of course, I’ll be calling you if I need advice on anything.”
Any advice on how to handle different financial situations within families when it comes to the holidays? As background, after following our interests in STEM fields, my husband and I are in a significantly better financial position than his brother and sister-in-law are—they both got liberal arts degrees they were passionate about and now she’s a stay-at-home parent and he works in a public service field. It seems like my sister-in-law in particular is very insecure about this income disparity.
In general, if we mention a purchase, big or small, around her, she’ll immediately respond by talking about wanting to buy something or actually buying something. A few years ago, while making Thanksgiving dinner, I mentioned that we were planning on finally replacing the car my parents bought me in high school. Her response was to stop helping cook, pull out her phone, and start shopping for her friend’s MLM holiday sale “before it ended.” It constantly feels like she is trying to prove they too have money to spend. I don’t think I have ever done anything to indicate I look down on their financial situation. I’ve just lived my life in front of her, but have made an effort to not mention money or vacation plans in front of her after I noticed the pattern. During the holidays, she is so focused on making sure that they give us exactly the same value of presents that I got a gift card and a makeup sample set labeled with its value that she obviously got as a gift with purchase. It just so happened that the gift bag brought the combined cost to the exact cost of the gift we give her husband each year (a renewal of an annual subscription). This is absolutely unnecessary and I don’t know how to address it! I just want them to spend what they can comfortably afford and let us be generous!
The biggest problem is now we both have kids. And I want to spoil my nibling! But I don’t want them to feel like they have to match our budget when shopping for our kid. We’ve tried to be very cautious about our gift suggestions for our son, making sure that we suggest specific items that are lower cost or come in a variety of price points (like just saying LEGO and no specific sets so they can pick whatever they can afford), but it still seems like they know how much we spend on them and match it as closely as possible. I feel like I can’t bring this up without sounding like I’m calling them poor. I know I could suggest that we don’t do gifts for the adults or add a cap on adult gifts, but that would ultimately cost my brother-in-law more money since the gift we get him annually saves him money (it’s a video game subscription). Do you have any suggestions on how to navigate this?
—Just Let me Be the Rich Aunt
Dear Rich Aunt,
My first thought was that you could make it a point to let your sister-in-law know that she is valued for who she is, outside of her income and the material things she’s able to provide. Things like complimenting her parenting, asking her for advice, and seeking her opinion on issues related to the subjects she studied. And if at all possible, keeping any conversations about money or purchases to a minimum. I do think that’s worth a try, but honestly, healing another adult’s relationship with money, status, and jealousy is too big a job for you to take on during the busy holiday season!
Think of it this way: Just as it makes you feel good to use your money to spoil your nibling, it makes her feel good to spend her money to create the impression that she’s on an equal financial footing with you. Is it a great plan? No, but it is her plan. Give them both their money’s worth and tell your sister-in-law how impressive and amazing her gifts are.
My husband and I have been married for three years. We have a 4-year-old son and 16-month-old twins. I have four older children. My husband was briefly married once before me; I was previously married for 12 years. We were both going through our divorces around the same time, messed around, and got pregnant. We hadn’t planned on anything serious, but we gave it a shot and ended up falling in love. Early in our relationship, I shared something vulnerable with him: I got pregnant with my oldest at 16, and I never told her birth father.