Care and Feeding

Grandma and Grandpa Secretly Baptized My Child

And I just found out, five years later.

Child being baptized.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Thinkstock.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I were both raised Catholic but are now essentially atheists. When we had our first child, our parents were all horrified to hear that he would not be baptized. My father was prepared to stop talking to us. After a while, things calmed down. I thought they made their peace with it. Turns out, my son was baptized by all of his grandparents as an infant without our consent. He is now almost 5 and we are just learning about this. My daughter was just recently born, and I foresee a similar fate for her, as we do rely on them for babysitting.

They do not yet know that we know. My husband and I were thinking of writing a letter. I don’t know what else we can do except express our feelings of complete betrayal and loss of trust. We wanted our children to be free from any religion and will continue to raise them that way, but this has really angered us.

—Dipped Without Permission

Dear DWP,

Oh, good gravy. What a massive boundary stomp. I’m so sorry. Both sets of grandparents have behaved disrespectfully and abominably. I am intrigued by the fact they managed to get your child baptized, as the vast majority of Roman Catholic priests will not even consider performing a baptism without speaking to the parents. If your collective parents lied to a real live priest and informed him y’all were dead or in prison, they are next level. I suspect that this baptism was more in the mode of “Let’s read this thing aloud in our basement and then dip our fingers in holy water and at least he won’t go to limbo, a thing Catholics don’t even believe in anymore BUT BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY.”

Something helpful about (essentially) atheism, of course, is that you can take comfort in the fact that to you the act of baptism is a meaningless fictional charade, and they might as well have offered your son’s soul to Splinter from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (He could do worse!) Your child is not somehow magically Catholic at this point.

Your plan to write a letter is a pretty good one. It’s hard to deliver a speech in person about something so close to the bone—I sense that this is dredging up all sorts of feelings about how your parents have responded to your atheism over the years—so even just marshaling your thoughts on paper and sharing them with your spouse before any (pardon the expression) come-to-Jesus talks can occur might be wise. What really matters is cutting off a repeat performance and also setting boundaries before their disrespect translates beyond water sprinkling into repeatedly telling your children about their immortal souls and the need to save them.

You are the parents. You have every right to dictate whether your child is raised in a religious or atheist or agnostic home. If they tell you that they will never give up on bringing your child into the bosom of the church, believe them. As we’ve said before, there is no such thing as free babysitting, just babysitting that costs money and babysitting that doesn’t. It may be cheaper in the long run to pay for it.

As a Christian myself (and as a real bitch when crossed), I want you to call the priests who run the show at each of their parishes, explain the situation. and demand to know if they participated in this sham. If any did, you can extract an apology (and ask about how to get your kid off the rolls, if you’re sufficiently irked), and even if they didn’t, you can ask that they speak sternly to your parents about baptizing a child against his parents’ explicit wishes. It’s aggravating but true that it’ll mean more coming from men of the cloth than their adult children.

I may seem to be encouraging you to be rather more scorched-earth on this than you might expect, but the history of surreptitious baptism has had real and horrifying impacts on the lives of children, and even if it’s all meaningless bull hockey to you at the end of the day, it deserves to be quashed with extreme prejudice.

More Care and Feeding:

My Daughter Isn’t Out to Everyone. Do I Have to Lie for Her?

What Will Everyone Think of Me if I Give Up Breastfeeding?

My Nail-Biting Kid Won’t Get Her Fingers Out of Her Mouth!

Dear Care and Feeding,

My older son is 2½, and there has just been too much going on in our lives to focus on potty training. I’m about to leave my job to be with the kids full time, and I’d like to jump right in and finish training. However, I know from experience that my younger son, who is 10 months old, is going to get in the way.

If I take the older one out of the room to use the potty, the little one will stand at the baby gate and scream his head off, even though we are 3 feet away and he can see us. If I take him into the bathroom with us, I have to hold him and don’t have a free hand to help his brother. If I bring the potty into the playroom, he will try to climb it and his brother.

How can I build a consistent potty routine for my older son when his younger brother wants to be on top of us at all times?

—Already Pooped

Dear AP,

Let the 10-month-old yell his little heart out for the (hopefully short) time it takes for your older son to use the pot. Put it just outside the baby gate, speak soothingly to the little dude, and be as implacable as death itself. He’ll get used to it.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I work full time and am a grad student, my husband works seven days a week, and we have two kids— 8 and 1, both girls. It’s been difficult lately to keep the house as clean as I would like it, and my husband and I have been talking about hiring a cleaning service. It would help us out immensely and give us more quality time with the kids, but I do wonder what message that is sending to them. The oldest understands the time constraints, but what about the youngest one growing up in a home where someone else cleans it? Is this a nonissue? Am I unconsciously feeling some type of way about not being able to keep up with my house?

Also, I was going to have the cleaning service clean main areas but leave bedrooms alone. The cleaning in ours would be minimal, and I want the kids’ rooms to be the kids’ responsibility. My husband disagreed and said if we’re paying someone to clean, let them clean everything.

Above all, I want my kids to know that they are ultimately responsible for keeping their spaces clean, now and as they grow into adults. And frankly, I want them to know how to clean as well. Can I teach that while also outsourcing the work?

—The Meaning of Cleaning

Dear Meaning,

It’s so fascinating which things we develop a sense of emotional responsibility around doing “ourselves,” versus which things we outsource without thinking twice about it. I had a very similar conversation with a friend who could not bring himself to take his car in for an oil change, because he felt that it was his job as a man to do his own.

There is nothing innately special about housecleaning as opposed to haircutting or tree trimming or oil changing or any one of a dozen tasks that you could technically do yourself but instead opt to pay someone else for. You and your husband both work or attend school full time, so it seems eminently reasonable to engage a periodic cleaning service. If I may make a teensy gendered comment here: It is not uncommon to find a woman having more feelings about getting a cleaner than her husband, because a woman is keenly aware of the ways society still thinks cleaning is her job.

Here’s what really matters. Treat your cleaner well. Try to hire an individual and not a service—ask for recommendations, try Thumbtack, etc.—in order to ensure that the money you pay is going to the person who actually has their hand inside your toilet. Avoid attaching the sort of emotional baggage to the act of housecleaning that has you all up in your feelings about it and passing that on to the next generation. And make sure your children know there is nothing demeaning about their labor. That’s the best way to model values.

Your younger child being 1, it seems a bit premature to expect her to keep her own space tidy, but I think it’s perfectly reasonable to draw a compromise about the older child’s bedroom for now, and for the younger child’s as she grows up. Let the cleaners do your bedroom, and have you or your husband help the kids clean their own, so they can learn how it’s done.

So yes, teach them how to clean. And also teach them that sometimes when grown-ups work long hours, they hire other grown-ups to help keep things tidy. It’s honestly as simple as that, and as they get older, you can have the bigger-picture conversations about wealth and poverty that you should be having anyway, cleaners or not. Offer respect, fair pay, and good conditions—and put your own undies in the hamper.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My fiancé and I are in the process of looking for a bigger house and would like each of our children to have their own rooms if possible. We have four children between the two of us, between the ages of 5 and 11. Most five-bedroom homes around us seem to have the fifth room on a different floor than the master and other bedrooms. We are a little uncomfortable with the 11-year-old being on a floor by himself. Especially a basement, even though the ones we’ve seen are all finished and really nice. We are worried that if he doesn’t feel well in the middle of the night or something, we wouldn’t hear him. He is a good, responsible kid, and I don’t think he minds. It’s we parents who are feeling a little on edge about it! Are we being overprotective and unreasonable?

—Pleading the Fifth

Dear Fifth,

Congratulations on your whole Brady Bunch situation! He’ll be fine. Your 11-year-old can absolutely make it through the night on a different floor, as long as you don’t live at Versailles. Give him a baby monitor with a “talk” button so if he feels sick he can turn it on and cough plaintively at you. My kids were on different floors from much younger ages, and the few disasters (knocked-over pots and water glasses) weren’t really things that being on the same floor could have prevented. Unless he manages to break his legs, he can come find you. Please start a wholesome family band.