Care and Feeding

My Daughter Wants to Spend the Summer Planting Trees in the Wilderness

How do I shut this cockamamie plan down?

A young girl taking a picture of pine trees.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by torwai/iStock/Getty Images Plus; Elise Zimmerman/Unsplash.

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 daughter has always been an independent soul, from the time she was a tiny baby. In grade school she loved to sneak out and sleep in her treehouse, and she’s done every Outward Bound–style activity she can get her hands on. Now she’s in her last year of high school and has just presented me with an extremely detailed plan she has concocted to spend the summer planting trees in the Canadian wilderness, which is apparently a thing you can do? For money? I’m worried that this is a terrible idea and she’s more likely to fall out of a tree than arrive at university intact. Should I shut this plan down? She has secured full financial aid for four years, so it’s not like I can threaten to withhold her tuition if she doesn’t listen to sense.

—This Is Too Much

Dear Too Much,

Is your daughter the girl from Hereditary? I will assume the treehouse sleepovers are merely a coincidence, but if your daughter is the girl from Hereditary, your problems are way far above my pay grade and I suggest you contact a Roman Catholic priest. OK, back to reality. Tree planting in the Canadian wilderness is a real job, just a very hard one, one at which an inexperienced young woman will be lucky to make the amount of money the promotional materials have dangled in front of her.

That being said, really, what on Earth do you think can be done to keep her from going? She seems like a smart kid with a lot of hustle, and if she’s sorted her young life out to the point of setting herself up to graduate college without tens of thousands of dollars in student loans, it seems to me she’s going to be more of a threat than a victim in life, even in the Canadian wilderness. Make her watch the documentary linked above, talk to her about your concerns, and then drive her to the airport and hug her goodbye when the time comes. And make sure she knows you will support her bailing if things are a little Too Real out there.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My mother died when I was 16. I am now 35 with four children of my own, a high-pressure job, lots of kids’ sports and activities, and not a lot of free time.

My issue is my father. He is the only parent I have left and he is largely absent from my life. He does not call, doesn’t text me back, doesn’t email me back. Basically he will pick up (sometimes) if I call. But that is about it. My father is relatively young (55) and doesn’t work. He has the ability and means to visit me but never does.

This year, the day before Christmas Eve, I got a text saying that if I did not make it to Christmas dinner at my grandmother’s by 3, he would have to see me some other time. My kids are almost guaranteed to get up at the crack of dawn on Christmas and I told him we leave the house as soon as they open gifts and are fed. But I still have four kids and a four-hour drive (I’m traveling the furthest). It’s impossible for me to control my timeline. Meanwhile, he has complete control over his. I was in the hospital just a few days ago for a chronic and dangerous condition, and am also pregnant with my fifth child.

This might be my breaking point. If I bring up any of these issues, he says he doesn’t want to intrude; I tell him it’s not intrusive to contact your children and grandchildren, and that it’s a sign of support and love to reach out. He always says things will change. They never do—and at this point I don’t think they ever will. Is it appropriate to end a relationship with a parent? The bottom line is my father would rather sit at home ranting at the news and playing games on his iPad. I love him (I really do) but dealing with him is exhausting and heartbreaking, and it’s an endless cycle at this point. I just want him around, but he’s not interested.

Should I tell him I just can’t manage our relationship anymore?  

—Very Tired Mom and Daughter

Dear VTMaD,

I truly know the allure of deciding you’re done with this. If only you could call your father and say, “You have been utter crap at staying in touch, and I’m righteously angry and moving on!” and get whatever sense of closure or validation you’re seeking.

You won’t, though. Instead, I give you permission to drop your end of the rope. Just let it fall. If he wants to do the work to make this relationship work, great. If he doesn’t, well, there’s your answer. You’ve done as much or more as anyone could expect of you. There’s nothing to be gained by making an eleventh-hour plea to be taken seriously and appreciated.

Focus on being the excellent mother you are, secure in the knowledge that you’ve played the role of daughter right to the best of your abilities.

• If you missed Wednesday’s Care and Feeding column, click here to read it.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m expecting my first baby in a few months, and since I live in a pretty crunchy community, there’s a lot of pressure to make homemade everything. I’ve made my own choices around a lot of this stuff but am hung up on making my own baby food versus buying the little jars. Is it worth it?

—Medium Crunchy

Dear Medium Crunchy,

Is it worth it? Nah. You certainly can; my own interest in doing so plummeted when I picked up one of the extremely cheap jars of carrots, checked the ingredients list, and saw “carrots” and nothing else. But I’m lazy as heck.

That being said, there are no real startup costs associated with giving it a whirl. You don’t need a baby food­–maker to steam and mush veggies, just whatever pots you already have in your kitchen and a fork. There are plenty of healthy (and not-so-healthy) adults running around today who got a month of lovingly homemade food followed by six months of little glass jars.

If you like the idea, give it a whirl! You’re not locked into a commitment either way. Congratulations on your pregnancy.

Dear Care and Feeding,

There have been so many posts on social media about parents on planes handing out little Ziploc baggies of earplugs and candy to their seatmates to pre-emptively apologize for their crying babies. Can you please weigh in on them?

—Just Curious, Honestly

Dear Curious,

I feel like the shiny crab from Moana being asked to talk about himself. Thank you so much! I would like to opine on this.

You do not have to do that nonsense, not one little bit. We live in a society! We cried, now we hear others cry. It’s a metal tube in the air, we are all unhappy, and the most aggravating flights of my life have all involved adults misbehaving. Smile apologetically if you make eye contact with another passenger, do your very best to hush and comfort your child, and let the world go hang!

Of course, I have frequently bought drinks for those around me when my kid has been a fire monster. I would rather die than be the villain on the flight. So if you want to hand out goodies, you’re not setting back the revolution or anything.

In conclusion: optional.


Ask a Teacher

My very bright seventh-grader hates school. He says that in most of his classes, students do lessons and work on computers without much teacher interaction, and that most students spend their time playing games on their computers or on their phones. When I ask him why this is allowed, he says the teachers don’t care. What can I do?