Care and Feeding

My Parents Keep Feeding My Kid Candy and TV

The problem is we live in their basement.

A kid biting into a bar of chocolate.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

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 fiancé moved in with me and my parents last year. He has a 2-year-old son whom I’ve taken on as my own and plan on adopting as soon as we’re married, as the mother is no longer around and doesn’t want anything to do with him anymore. Our living situation is unique, but it works for us. We have the basement for us and my other kids, and they have the upstairs. We are saving to get our own place.

Here’s the problem. We have chosen to limit certain things when it comes to our 2-year-old. We don’t want him watching much TV at all. We DO NOT want him playing with a cellphone or a tablet, period. We do not give him a lot of candy or sugary drinks during the day as it keeps him up at night. We also don’t give him certain foods as they upset his stomach and then he is up at night crying or sick.

My parents do not listen to us at all. We come in, and he is on a phone. Or he is eating a handful of pepperoni, and we know it’s going to be a long night. Or they have him in front of the TV watching a show we despise, and we have to take him away from it, and it starts a huge two-hour tantrum. Or they sneak candy to him when we say no candy. They call us bad parents for not allowing this. We are not bad parents. We just know what’s best for him.

We are at the end of our rope with this. We are not wanting to just move out, but we can’t handle much more of this. Are we in the wrong here, or are they?

—End of My Rope

Dear End of My Rope,

I’m so sorry to tell you this, but you are going to have to move out. I could certainly say “no, of course they shouldn’t feed him pepperoni/let him watch Dateline/use the garbage disposal” as much as you like, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re living in their house (or at least a house that predated your fiancé and son) and they clearly have no intention of changing their behavior to accommodate your parenting choices.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I are not seeing eye to eye on this. Our son, who is almost 4, had a testicular torsion when he was a little over 1 year old. That means that one of his testicles twisted, lost blood flow, and needed to be removed. The doctors said that his other testicle will grow larger and produce all the testosterone he needs to go through puberty and allow him to have children if he wants. He will need to be careful with contact sports, but otherwise he will lead a normal life.

Fast forward to now. He is curious about his body and was asking questions after getting out of the bath. I replied that what he was asking about was his testicle, which will help him grow into a man. He seemed satisfied with that answer and hasn’t brought up anything else yet. I think, however, that we should get ahead of things and explain what happened before it’s some big reveal that will upset him. I don’t want him remembering the day we told him about this—I just want him to always know this about himself. My husband wants to wait until he is much older before telling him. He doesn’t want him to think he is different at this age. We agreed doing it before puberty would be best because at that point hormones will be high and I don’t want him thinking we kept something from him about his sexual health. We disagree about when exactly to tell him, and I worry it will get pushed out too late. Do you have any ideas on when to address this with our son and what to say to him?

—Timing Is Everything

Dear Timing Is Everything,

I’m inclined to agree that this is a case of “the earlier the better,” and I would recommend getting one of the (thankfully many!) age-appropriate books about bodies with anatomically correct drawings. You can talk about parts and how lots of people have differences (“our friend Jason wears glasses, and Monica uses a wheelchair because her legs don’t work like yours,” etc.) before a very matter-of-fact “and you have one testicle instead of two, which happens to some kids.”

You can do that whenever you like, and repeat it when you reread the book together every couple of months. I would absolutely save the big-picture “no rugby for you, son” talk about still being able to have kids, etc., until closer to puberty.

Let me warn you of this much: It is extremely likely that your son will begin asking strangers if they have two testicles or one, or volunteer that HE only has one testicle, because it will simply be a curiosity to be shared until he’s significantly older.

I would not mention that he had two and lost one until he’s older, past the age when he’s going to become panicky the other one will suddenly disappear (though of course that stage actually never passes, even for adult testicle owners).

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a white parent with a white family, in a predominantly white area. When my kids get closer to school age, we’d like to move into a more diverse area, and for now I try to choose books and media with diverse characters. However, yesterday, at a company party, my 4-month-old met a black person (the significant other of a co-worker) for one of the first times. He had just finished telling me how much babies love him; then, my infant took one look at him and started crying. I gave a weak excuse about her being hungry, but it was pretty transparent.

I’m embarrassed and unsure if I should address the situation with my co-worker or pretend it didn’t happen. Any thoughts on how to handle my racist infant?

—She Didn’t Know Any Better!

Dear She Didn’t Know Any Better,

I firmly and unreservedly forbid you from ever speaking or thinking about this utter nonevent ever again.

That being said, please spend more time around black people. It would likely be good for both you and your baby. Mostly you.

Dear Care and Feeding,

You have probably gotten many questions along this line, but I could not find any with a very cursory Google search. My question is about what seems to be a major parenting issue in our society right now: vaccines.

My older sister has two wonderful kids. She and her husband have chosen not to vaccinate their children. My sister is not an informed consumer of news and has expressed to me before that she doesn’t read the news because she doesn’t know what types of sources to trust. I understand that being a mom of young kids is not the most conducive environment to staying up on current events. She also works in health care, which adds an interesting layer to her decision.

Do I have a civic duty to talk to my sister about vaccinating her kids? Sometimes when I think about this, I get very angry at her. I’m not a parent, but I think this decision says a lot about someone, and I don’t think I would choose to be friends with someone who did not vaccinate for no real reason. Is this situation any of my business?

—Vaccinated Sister

Dear Vaccinated Sister,

It’s a tricky one! This is something that is both none of your business AND a pressing public health concern on a population level.

As you do not have kids, the immediate issue you might otherwise face—“You cannot bring your children around mine until mine have finished their first few rounds of shots”—doesn’t apply. On one hand, that’s a relief, and on the other hand, it means it’s very easy to just pretend there’s no problem at all (which there is).

As your sister is both in the health care field and a parent, I am extremely confident that you are not going to manage to budge her from her position by clutching stacks of medical studies and papers and firmly worded directives. Should you attempt to speak to her about the issue once, respectfully and lovingly, even if only for your own conscience? Yes. But it’s unlikely to change her mind.

If your sister does come around on vaccination, please do get back in touch and tell us what did the trick. Researchers are desperate to know how best to make the message stick.