Care and Feeding

Gone Girl

My ex’s parents always find ways to keep my daughter longer than agreed. Can I cut them off?

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Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Jean Gerber on Unsplash and Thinkstock.

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

My older son wants to dress as the Black Panther for Halloween. He’s obsessed with superheroes (of course) and has heard that Black Panther is undefeatable, and concluded he’s the best one. Is that OK? Like, is it tantamount to blackface, similar but not as bad, or totally different from? I feel so ignorant even asking, but I’m trying to learn every day and do the right thing!

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—Is This OK?

Dear ITO,

Please explain to him that Thor is the best one, closely followed by Steve Rogers’ New Edgy Beard, but that yes, Black Panther is absolutely in the Top 3.

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A kid dressing like Black Panther, like a kid dressing as Doc McStuffins, is always in style. No dark skin makeup, no problem. Dressing respectfully as an individual person, as opposed to an archetype? Go to town.

Wakanda forever!

More Care and Feeding:

My Child Avoids Chores at All Costs. How Do I Teach Him to Be a Team Player?

I’m a No-Soda Mom at Home. When My Kid Visits Friends, Can I Demand Other Parents Do the Same?

I’m the White Parent of a Biracial Child, and My Father-in-Law Uses the N-Word a Lot. What Should I Do if My Son Starts Saying It, Too?

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Slate Plus Bonus: Can I Cut My Sister Out of My Life?

Dear Care and Feeding,

My in-laws were THRILLED when I gave birth to their first grandchild. Not with me, I mean—they could take or leave me—but with the kid. They’re from a culture where grandchildren are prized, and they have been extremely attached to my child from Day 1.

When she was a few months old, they offered to take her for two weeks so I could “relax.” Overwhelmed and tired, I accepted. Three weeks later, I was told they’d return her “when they had time,” but that I was welcome to drive 13 hours to pick her up myself (when they knew my ex and I were too poor to do so). They returned her after a total of six weeks. I missed my first Mother’s Day with her, and that was just the beginning.

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Over the last nine years, she’s never been returned to me on time. Sometimes it’s weeks late, sometimes it’s hours; once they visited and said they were taking her to meet a family friend for dinner but ended up bringing her back the next morning. I thought this was over when we moved to a different country, but I agreed to let my child spend the summer with her grandparents and father. We set a specific date, together, on which my kid and her father would return. Two days beforehand, there was a minor issue with the timing, and the grandparents changed everyone’s flights to later in the week without telling me.

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This was the last straw for me, and I nearly spent $2,000 going to pick my kid up myself just to make a point before a friend talked me out of it. I have made it clear that my kid will no longer be going on trips with her grandparents, and if they would like to spend time with her, they can do so when and where I can watch her and take her home with me.

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Am I being harsh? My kid’s father thinks so. Her grandparents DEFINITELY think so. But I’ve spent almost a decade feeling like I’m in a Lifetime TV movie called Give Me My Daughter Back.

—Feeling Like Liam Neeson

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Dear FLLN,

I don’t think I need to lecture you about nipping things in the bud in the future, as you’ve almost certainly spent the last few years kicking yourself for not setting better boundaries. You are not being harsh; you have been overly patient! Were you tackling each late return as it happened, or letting it slide without comment?

Regardless, you do need to be a little careful from here on. Grandparents’ rights are usually not a real legal issue, but depending on where you live, a history of what LOOKS like a virtual custody split and not just a series of lengthy visits can get you into trouble if their access is abruptly cut off. It’s worth looking into in your country and, if you’re at all worried, talking to a local lawyer who specializes in family law.

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Quite apart from those considerations, because your kid has been spending so much time with her grandparents, it’ll be better for her if you back off a bit more slowly. My recommendation is that the two of you are a matched set going forward. You want to see my daughter? Sounds great, I’ll bring my tennis racket.

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Deciding her days of solo visits are over until she’s old enough to leave under her own steam is exceptionally reasonable. As long as your daughter reports that she’s been treated well and lovingly on those visits, however, pulling back slowly and carefully (and firmly) without causing a lot of strife that she will find confusing and upsetting is the way to go.

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Dear Care and Feeding,


My 6-year-old daughter has been aware of her clitoris for some time now and occasionally shows it to me in a playful way when we’re in the bath together. (I live overseas, in a country where communal bathing among parents and children is the norm.) I’ve never discouraged her from showing it to me or tried to make her feel embarrassed about it. I just let her do whatever she wants in that regard and smile and laugh about it when she does. Sometimes I’ll say things like, “Yes dear, some people have clitorises and other people have penises, like Daddy.”

My only dilemma about what to do is when, every so often, she wants to see my clitoris. I just don’t feel comfortable showing it to her. When she asks, I just say no in a laughing way and then tickle her or suggest blowing soap bubbles or something to change the subject. So far, she’s never pressed further.

Am I handling this OK? I don’t want her to feel ashamed of her body in any way, and I don’t think I’m ashamed of mine. I just really, deep down don’t feel comfortable showing my genitals to my daughter. What would you advise me to do?

—Am I an Excessive Prude?

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Dear AIaEP,

I am confident that no one needs to show anyone else their clitoris unless they have a genuine desire to do so, and it will not scar your daughter or send her down a path of eating disorders to hear “sometimes we like to be private about our bodies, and you can always say ‘no’ if someone who isn’t a doctor or Mommy or Daddy asks to see a part you don’t want them to.”

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Since she’s not pressing the subject, I think you’re going to be just fine sticking with soap bubbles and giggling. I’m glad she’s fond of her clitoris; it’s a fascinating biological creation.

Dear Care and Feeding,

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My 3½-year-old son has started to ignore me when I say it’s time to leave a place (he’ll ignore me, or worse, run away when I say we have to go). I refuse to chase him, so when he says he won’t leave I wave “bye” and tell him I’m leaving without him. This immediately ends the “battle,” and he follows suit, but not without yelling “don’t leave me!” first. I usually respond that I’d never leave him but that when I say it’s time to go, he has to listen. Am I mucking this up? Should I change my phrasing so he understands that I’m leaving the place/situation because it’s time to go, but I’m not abandoning him? Just silently walk away knowing he’s watching me? Or should I find a new way to handle these situations?

—We Really Have to Go!

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Dear WRHtG,

I don’t think threatening to leave without him is a great solution, but we all wind up making our own compromises when faced with the reality of toddlers, and it’s good to have SOMETHING in the bag as a backup.

What I do encourage you to do, if you haven’t, is to start working on a series of reminders about when we’ll be going. My aunt was the champion of “we’ll be leaving in 10 minutes/five minutes/two minutes” notifications, and it really helped my little cousin get less anxious about the fun suddenly coming to an end. I use it now myself, and it’s especially helpful for kids who aren’t neurotypical and need those graduated warnings.

Maybe at the five-minute mark you also begin picking up the toys together, maybe the two-minute mark is saying goodbye and hugging our friends! You’ll figure it out. Zero hour? That’s when you go for real, so don’t let him push you into extending it. The sooner you establish that the end is really the end, the fewer negotiations you’ll have to engage with. Blessedly, you can still lug a 3½-year-old out of the room.

—Nicole

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