In the 2004 film Raising Helen, a young woman becomes the guardian of three children after her sister and brother-in-law die in a car accident.

Dear Prudie,

I'm a 56-year-old single professional woman in Manhattan who is childless by choice. I have a great job, travel a week or two a month, primarily to Europe, and love taking advantage of all the cultural opportunities New York offers.

My 45-year-old sister, my only sibling, desperately wanted children. She took massive doses of hormones and has a daughter who is now three years old. They live in a small city in the Great Plains and I have seen my niece only twice: once at her christening and once for Christmas last year.

Like so many others who gave birth late (do these women truly understand the risks?), my sister developed breast cancer. She likely has only a few months to live.

My sister is now begging me to adopt her child. She has a difficult personality and does not make friends easily, nor is she close to other relatives.

I find children fairly irritating. Moving a three-year-old who just lost her mother to New York and trying to fit her into my well-established life seems impossible. I think my sister should contact her church or local social services agency, maybe even the press.

Once the word gets out that this (presumably) adorable little girl needs a good home, people will respond and my sister can help pick her daughter's new parents. Do you have any other suggestions? I don't want to seem insensitive, but there's just no way I can take on this responsibility.

Not a Mother


Dear Not,

I'd rather not imagine what you sound like when you do want to seem insensitive.

You've managed to blame your sister for her breast cancer, and even though you actually flew out for a second gander at your niece last winter, you're not willing to go on the record that she's adorable.

How odd to think that the many strangers who read your letter will have a more powerful emotional response about this soon-to-be orphaned little girl than you do.

I agree with you that it would be madness, and cruelty, for someone so lacking empathy to take in this child. I also believe that relatives who for whatever reason (age, health, professional commitments, financial stress) feel unequipped to raise a relative's child should not be shamed into doing so.

But surely, given the exigencies here, you can put your cultural activities on hold and find the time to help place your niece in a loving home. Dying takes up a great deal of bandwidth, so your sister desperately needs someone to oversee this agonising process.

You can start by reading a guide to private adoptions. Then you should contact a reputable adoption attorney or adoption agency in your sister's state to get the process going. Take some vacation and fly out to help your dying sister vet the potential parents.

If you open your heart even for this short time, you will feel a sense of satisfaction and comfort knowing that though your sister won't be able to raise her little girl, you helped find your niece a home where she is loved and cherished.




* Emily Yoffe is an advice columnist, using the name Prudence. Please send your questions for publication to [email protected] Questions may be edited.

Washington Post/Slate