Dear Prudence, Here’s What You Should Have Said
I usually like Slate’s Dear Prudence column. I like advice columns in general, and I like Prudie specifically because she usually doesn’t coddle or mince words. She gets to the point quickly, and that’s how I like my advice from strangers.
By covering each situation quickly, she can get through multiple situations in the same column. Two days ago, I was reading about a girl who doesn’t think she is pretty enough for her boyfriend and a big-breasted woman who wanted to go bra-free, when I came to a conundrum that hit a little closer to home (not that I don’t have big breasts, but I don’t want to go bra-free): a sister who is requesting funding for IVF.
Namely, her sister asked the family for funding in lieu of baby shower gifts in the future, and some of the family members had concerns. The woman asked Prudie if she should tell her sister the family’s concerns.
And Prudie answered:
Of course people have concerns when they get a mass email requesting money to help fund someone else’s personal activities—such as, I’ve got my own needs to take care of, and this is out of line. Your sister’s request was presumptuous and very unlikely to come close to funding what would likely be multiple procedures. What people would spend on a few onesies is not going to cover IVF. You should direct your sister to Resolve, the support group for people dealing with infertility. They have a Web page about getting loans for IVF, and that’s the way your sister should go.
There was so much wrong with Prudie’s answer.
One, family building isn’t a personal activity. Running a marathon is a personal activity. Writing a book is a personal activity. But family building is actually a group activity because the person produced becomes part of the… wait for it… family. In other words, they become another member of this social system which was created for the sole purpose to collectively share resources and provide mutual protection and comfort. Humans invented this concept of family, and families need members to be replenished in order to keep existing. This doesn’t mean that every member needs to reproduce — that would cause the family to explosively grow and need to fragment out into smaller groups. But it does mean that family building ceases to be a “personal activity,” as Prudie labels it.
Requesting money is not “out of line.” It’s just a request. The sister isn’t holding the family hostage or threatening to leave the family if she doesn’t get her money. She is merely stating her need and asking the family to step forward to help. Again, we created this system of family for precisely THIS type of situation: someone has a need and other people come forward to fill it. This is the way all animal groups work. And while we’ve expanded where we draw comfort, joining into communities that are beyond the family, the core group that the vast majority of people turn to first and foremost is family. So, no, not “out of line,” Prudie. Nor is it “presumptuous.”
I agree that it’s unlikely that small donations will add up to enough money for multiple IVF tries, but IVF loans through fertility clinics (which are the plans listed by Resolve) is not a great idea. In fact, SLATE (yes, Prudie, your publication) had an article about fertility financing just a few years back pointing out the problems with these loans. Resolve has a note on their site that they don’t endorse any of these programs; they list them for the benefit of users without comment. Better to recommend a book such as Budgeting for Infertility, which covers the financial side of infertility, and allow the sister to come up with additional ways to fund her treatments.
Here’s what Prudie could have said:
A: You’re obviously close, so yes, voice the concerns of family members in a non-judgmental manner. Your sister may not have thought through all the possibilities in her request, and alerting her to questions could help her chart the best route through infertility. As you know, treatments are very expensive. A book such as Budgeting for Infertility would be a good starting point to helping your sister think outside the box in funding IVF. All that aside, it sounds like your sister trusts family and wants to perpetuate the family by producing more members, the sort of people who will be taught to turn around and help out the next generation. So congratulations to your family for remaining so close in a time when families are increasingly splintered. And good for you for wanting your sister to succeed rather than making the “lack of funding speak for itself” which is what my totally thoughtless alter-ego would have said.
You know, something like that.