29th November 2023

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

Dear Prudence,

My husband and I host the weekly family dinner ever since my in-laws sold their house for a retirement community. We are the only ones with the space to entertain since we have a lovely enclosed deck, grill, and fire pit. My sister-in-law is going through a divorce. My sympathy is gone because she uses family dinner to dump her three children, ages 3 to 9, and go out and party. My in-laws both use walkers and can’t really watch the baby, let alone keep the two older kids from acting out. I am running ragged trying to cook and keep the kids from killing themselves. My husband usually works right up to dinner in his home office so I am left to shoulder the burden. This wasn’t a problem when both the parents were there to parent. But my brother-in-law is off screwing his coworker while my SIL wants to get her own hot and heavy in.

Recently, I was trying to cook while holding the baby when the other two kids got into a fight in the upstairs den and the younger one hit his face on the glass coffee table and lost a tooth. It was a baby tooth, but the screams scared us all to death and my mother-in-law nearly fell trying to get to the stairs. My SIL decided to ream me out for not “properly” watching her kids. I decided to say I was “sorry” and the solution was her kids wouldn’t be over unless she was there to watch. And that put the fox in the hen house. Everyone is upset with me, especially my SIL who is sulking about my lack of support. My in-laws say they will miss the kids, and my husband thinks I am going too far. I am ready to end it all with the dinners.

—Dinner Disaster

Dear Dinner Disaster,

Before things escalated, you should have had a conversation with your husband, and it should have gone like this: “Can you stop work a little early to watch the kids while I make dinner? Otherwise it’s going to be unmanageable and unsafe to have the kids over, and I’ll have to ask you to let your family know.” I always think it’s best for people to handle their own families—and for men to share responsibility for hosting. It’s actually pretty ridiculous that there is another able-bodied adult in the home and everyone is just going “I guess there’s no way to have the children here because Mrs. Dinner Disaster won’t babysit all three of them while simultaneously cooking.” What the hell? If he’s truly on Zoom calls right until 7 p.m., change the gathering to a weekend day. A simpler fix would be for your sister to choose to attend. You in-laws should be complaining to her, not you! Anyway, your problem is solved for now and the four of them can either choose among the many solutions available to them or just keep sulking.

Got a question about kids, parenting, or family life? Submit it to Care and Feeding!

Dear Prudence,

I recently started dating someone and we fell in love. It’s been six months and he has moved in. He works nights, 9 p.m.- 6 a.m. so sleeps mostly all day. I have asked for $500 for rent, $600 if he can afford it, and help with cleaning. Well, he never cleans, I always have to ask him. Same with rent; he never just gives it to me on the 1st of the month. By the 4th, I’m the one asking if he has it and then he only gives me $200 the next day. He is 33, and I feel he should be responsible enough not to be reminded all the time. He also doesn’t have his own vehicle, so I let him drive mine and I feel like he acts like it’s his. He’s been living with me for two months now. I always buy all the groceries, he never takes initiative to help with that. He just never takes initiative for anything, really. I think I need to break up with him and kick him out, but I’m not sure if that’s right because I do care for him a lot! I literally do everything I can to make him happy. It just saddens me that he doesn’t do it in return. Am I being too rash? How can I bring this up to him? Should I end it?

—Feels Taken Advantage Of

Dear Advantage,

You should bring this up to him with an eviction notice. Seriously! I’m worried that he has found a way to live practically for free, and will not give it up easily. Get the process going.
But the more difficult part is going to be changing the way you feel about him. I can tell by your letter that when it comes to what you expect from dating partners, you don’t ask for much—maybe because you think you don’t deserve it. I suggest that you request an intervention from your most clear-headed, no-nonsense friends or family members. Tell them you’ve gotten yourself into a difficult situation and you need them to hold you accountable for taking the difficult steps to end things with a person who you care about but is unable or unwilling to be a real partner to you. Ask them to remind you that there are people who will love you in ways that do not involve treating you like a bed and breakfast—and you have to get rid of your current squatter if you’re going to find them.

Get Even More Advice From the Dear Prudence Podcast

Dear Prudence,

My younger sister is in the process of trying to leave her abusive boyfriend, toddler in tow. I’m overjoyed that she seems to be really invested in it this time. She tried before her daughter was born, but he showered her with romantic gestures until she returned. But this time, CPS threatened to remove her daughter from the house with him, which I think is a huge motivator to get this to stick. I can’t afford to give her much financial help, although her current job won’t cover her basic expenses. What I can do is offer her the other bedroom in my two-bed apartment for free for a few months, at which point a paying roommate (which I need!) will be coming in. I know she will be a challenging roommate, but I can stick it out for a few months. How do I offer this in a clear way that makes it so I’m not in hot water when that sublet ends and she needs her own place? She tends to stick her head in the sand about this type of stuff, and we haven’t always gotten along well, but I don’t want her or my niece to be homeless. I don’t have much more to offer but I do want to help.

—Temporary Fix

Dear Temporary Fix,

Most people write to me when the sister and baby are already living with them and can’t or won’t leave (but also the sister won’t look for a new job or clean up after herself, and she keeps asking for baby-sitting support, and the guilt is overwhelming). It’s good that you’re not there yet, but that doesn’t mean your current situation—feeling like the only thing standing between an innocent kid and homelessness, but knowing that you’ll all be homeless if you can’t get a paying roommate—isn’t incredibly tough. The fact is that if her job won’t cover her basic expenses, it’s not going to cover them in a few months when you need her to leave. And you’ll all be stuck.

So your first step should be to try to find another way. Look into all the available services and help available to victims of domestic abuse in your area. You may be able to find housing assistance for her. If not, you need to make a plan with your sister that is focused on numbers more than emotions. Lay out the facts to her: “I want to offer you my spare bedroom, but if I don’t have a paying roommate in three months I won’t be able to afford my apartment. So for this to work, we have to make sure you can afford to move out in 90 days to a place that’s safe for you and the baby. Let’s look up how much first and last rent and basic furnishings for an apartment or alternate roommate situation that you can afford will cost and figure out how to set that much aside so we know it’s available, and it won’t be a source of stress when the time comes.”

Then you combine whatever you can kick in, whatever she can contribute, with whatever help you can get from other relatives and, yes, even a crowdfunding campaign. Maybe someone does a little gig work. Maybe someone sells something. The idea is to scramble as furiously now as you would the day before you needed her to move out. If you are able to get the money in place (in an account that you control) you will be able to welcome her into her home—and later, ask her to leave—in a way that feels good to you. If you aren’t able to, then you are not the right person to come to the rescue this time.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From Slate

About six months ago, there was a rash of vandalism and burglaries in our town. Most people blamed local teenagers who were doing virtual school but whose parents still worked. I am lucky enough to work from home, and on my lunch I went out for a run. There was a foreclosed house at the bottom of the hill, and I had the perfect view to watch a group of teenagers break in. I called the cops. All the kids were caught red-handed, including my 15-year-old nephew “Billy,” who I didn’t realize was there.