Care and Feeding

My Niece Wears Her MAGA Hat to Family Parties

What should I do?

An 18-year old wearing a Make America Great Again cap.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Wavebreakmedia/iStock.

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

What do you say to your 18-year-old niece wearing a Make America Great Again hat at a family party? Respect her autonomy as an adult to peacefully display her political views? Counsel her privately that her choice to wear the hat makes you and other people uncomfortable? Ask her why she’s wearing the hat?

—Make My Niece Great Again?

Dear MMNGA,

I don’t think there’s a hard and fast rule about what to do with someone rocking MAGA gear. Sometimes I’d advise backing off; other times I would probably say that certain people could stand to be confronted. But even though the situations differ, the goals, to me at least, remain the same. Less harm, violence, and oppression for people and more kindness, equality, justice, love, and connection.

It is my personal belief that if fewer people thought Donald Trump was good, the world would probably be better off. But it’s also my belief that I can’t—nor should I—feel responsible for changing the mind of every such person I encounter. As a black person, that strikes me as absurd. I didn’t create the mess of this country’s wild history with race and violence, so why should I be consigned to be running around trying to fix it for people? I have to pick and choose my spots.

However, I am assuming that you are a white person (call it a lucky guess), so the situation is different for you. And in this case, you have a unique opportunity. You love and trust someone who currently supports Donald Trump, which means that you have an existing relationship with that person outside of politics. This means that you can talk with your niece without her having to doubt that you love her, and loving your niece has an extra value here. Not only are you motivated by an objection to bad forces in the world, but you also have the chance to be motivated by a desire to keep someone you love from being a part of bad forces in the world. I do believe that love is one of the most powerful forces of change. It does not mean that loving your enemy will keep them from killing you (people really love getting that message twisted). But it does mean that we are generally more courageous, clear, and therefore effective when motivated by love than we are when motivated by hate or fear.

You may hate seeing your niece in this hat. You may fear what her wearing this hat means about her, or what it means she may think of you. But what you must prioritize above those things is love. Love for your niece, love for the people who are harmed by what your niece’s hat represents and supports. With that in mind, not only can you talk with her, you must talk with her. Tell her what your concerns are. Listen to hers. Give her things to think about. It is not about the hat. It is about who she is and who she can be. But I have a feeling you already know this. Good luck.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My boys (10 and almost 7) share a room. They both have a lights-out time of 8 p.m., after already having 45 minutes of reading time in bed. But I think my older son may need a later bedtime, given his early wake-ups (and his not being able to go back to sleep). But how do you institute different bedtimes for kids who share a room? (Not sharing is not an option.)

—Bedtime Brothers

Dear BB,

There are obvious tactical solutions here: curtain in the room, reading lights for one kid, etc. But beyond that, there’s one thing that’s even easier: Give them both a later bedtime. 8 p.m. is quite on the early side for kids this age. Unless your farmhands have to wake up at 5 a.m. to milk the hay or whatever it is people do on farms, I don’t see any reason they need to have lights out by 8 (nor, I’m certain, do they). I might suggest 9 or 9:30. That way, the older one gets his late-night kicks, and the younger one feels excited for increased freedom but is still free to fall asleep earlier if he absolutely needs to. I think at 3 years apart, your two kids can have the same bedtime from here on out, at least until the older one discovers the dubious joys of YouTube rabbit holes that press into midnight. At that point, he’ll have to find his own space.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Advice or feedback needed: I am the mother of a 9-year-old girl. I have no other children. We have a Dalmatian and a terrier mutt whom she loves … along with being around me. Constantly. I’m a very independent person, and I believe I’ve raised her to be one as well. We play board games and do crafts or activities together. I’m a teacher and I have summers off with her, so I try to have play dates arranged with her friends often. The issue is, when there aren’t friends to play with, she’s incapable of being by herself. She begs for me to play pretend or jump on the trampoline, or Barbies, etc. When I was a kid, I played by myself … how do I get her to do this? Or am I a mean mom who doesn’t want to play 24/7 in the summer? She has a playroom on the main floor of our house, but she won’t play in it unless I’m in the same room. She has a very strong need to be in the same space as me. How do I encourage independence?

—Please Release Me

Dear PRM,

You mentioned that when you were young, you played by yourself. I couldn’t help noticing you didn’t say that you enjoyed playing by yourself. Maybe you did; what do I know? But my guess is that more often than not, if you had an opportunity to have a playmate, you would have taken it. Since we are, you know, social creatures, it makes sense that we would prefer being social over not. And just because the adults in your life didn’t give you that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give your daughter that—as much as you can. And that right there is the key part. You must give what you can, but you must know and respect your own limits. Playing with kids, even the ones we love, can be boring and mind-numbing, and when you’ve had enough, you’ve had enough.

And that’s where you have my sympathies. 9 years old is a hard age for only children. Not young enough to be transfixed by little things but not old enough to go into the world searching for kicks. It’s perfectly normal for her to want to play with you, but it’s also totally possible that much of your current struggle is driven by the fact that she has the expectation of playing with you. If you want more independence for each of you—which I think is fine—then you have to begin finding strategic ways to break that expectation.

So after you’ve given what you can, you are perfectly free to tell her that Mommy’s going to read her book right now, and she should find something to do on her own. Speaking of books, it probably wouldn’t hurt to plan an afternoon in a bookstore or library in which she can find all the graphic novels, comics, short stories she needs to make her heart content. Or to even make this a regular thing. She can learn to spend time alone, but you have to teach her how. And it’s not going to happen overnight. You are a teacher, so consider it a lesson. Show her what worked for you. Get ideas from her. Introduce her to the wonders of solitaire, or of solo board games like the ones listed here. Teach her to mix it up. A little reading, a little watching, a little playing outside, a little pretend with toys in the bedroom. Learning to be alone is something that, as funny as it sounds, you two can learn to do together. And perhaps most important, be clear about boundaries. Let her know that you’re going to be unavailable to play for 30 minutes, 40 minutes, an hour, and that she’s going to have to wait, but that you’ll be happy to do something together when you’re done. You’re making an investment that you hope will pay dividends. Be clear, kind, and consistent, and I think you’ll see progress.

—Carvell