Dear Care and Feeding,
So my wife and I had a disagreement about whether to learn the gender of our second child. (We did learn for the first.) Chatting with family on the phone, I said I wanted to know, and my wife said she wasn’t sure—that she was thinking about being surprised—and made a joke about how the gynecologist wasn’t going to tell me without her permission. Afterward, I asked my wife if she was serious, and she said yes, absolutely: While she very much wanted to make the decision whether to know together, she thought it was important that we do the same thing.
I’m pretty firmly on the side of wanting to know, since it seems like one less uncertain thing in a process with a lot of uncertainty. I didn’t like the feeling that she was making the decision for me. It doesn’t seem to me like that big of a deal if I know and she doesn’t. But to her, that feels like I’m the one deciding for both of us—that I’ve made up my mind to know regardless of what she thinks.
What’s your take? We left the situation unresolved, and I’d be interested in hearing what you think.
—I Want to Know!
Dear I Want to Know!
You have since emailed me to update that you’ve talked about it and elected to find out together—which I think is a great solution—but that you’re still interested in my opinion on the matter. I love sharing my opinion, especially when asked, so I’ll tackle it.
Me, I always want all the information I am even remotely entitled to in any given situation, so I want to know right away. I think that it’s almost certainly going to be a mess for one spouse to know and the other to be in the dark—just think of the pronoun slips!—so I am sympathetic to your wife’s wish for you to pump your brakes on this one.
That being said, I don’t love the idea of her forbidding her gyno from telling you, because it seems a little threatening and a little anti-teamwork as you embark on the greatest team project of your lives, but then again, her gyno is her own medical provider, not yours, and until that baby exits her body, this is her show.
I am delighted that the two of you have worked this out, and even more pleased that you did what I would have encouraged you to do: talk about your mutual reasons for wanting or not wanting this information, get all those feelings out there, and then make a decision as a family. Good job, gold star.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I recently spent a kid-free weekend with a childhood friend who has a 10-year-old daughter. During the course of said weekend, my friend mentioned her daughter so relentlessly and to such a degree that I wanted to throw myself off a mountaintop. I mentioned how stunning the color of the sky was in our vacation spot and my friend immediately launched into a pointless anecdote about how her daughter also noted that the sky was blue or some other inane commentary that served no purpose. This literally happened with every single thing I mentioned in a conversational way. Her response would immediately swerve to what her kid thought about something or had experienced or had said, ad nauseam.
This lasted for 48 long hours. I have an 8-year-old child whom I would never even think about bringing up unless directly asked. What is a normal amount of time one can reasonably spend talking about her child unprompted in an adult setting? Is there a way to shut this nonsense down next time? I usually see this friend one to two times a year, but this time was especially grating. Please help!
That does indeed sound tedious. I am surprised that a mother of a 10-year-old is still in this particular conversational black hole, as usually that’s a thing you’ve grown out of by that point. To be fair, “I would never even think about bringing up my 8-year-old unless directly asked” is also pretty weird. You are allowed to bring up your child in conversation, unasked, to friends who are presumably interested in the things in your life that matter to you! Just, you know, not as much as this lady is doing.
My advice is that next time you get together with your friend, pour a nice glass of wine and say, “I feel like last time we got together we spoke of nothing but our kids!” and so, “Let’s take an hour and catch each other up on what they’re up to and then spend the rest of our visit discussing other things.” Make a damn list of topics ahead of time, whatever it takes.
Be polite, but firm, and I think it’ll work out.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My mother-in-law has a habit of discussing her own weight, size, and eating habits at every meal—always negatively. For example, she often orders just a side at dinner and will explain to the table, “I already ate a meal today,” as if a person is permitted just one meal per day. Her comments on weight and appearance are not limited to herself either. She almost always includes a comment about personal appearance when she’s talking about women—sometimes approvingly and sometimes not. “She’s so tiny and cute, don’t you think?” “You know, the bigger one.”
I have a 14-month-old daughter. We live a stone’s throw from my mother-in-law and see her frequently. I do not, however, want to raise my daughter to be afraid of food and focused on outward appearance. At what point will my daughter start to hear and internalize these kinds of things? That is, at what point do I need to intervene and explain how hurtful and harmful this kind of example can be to a child? I assume we’ll have to have the conversation more than once and I don’t want to start too soon. When the time does come, how do I have this conversation in a firm and meaningful way with someone in whom these thoughts are so obviously deeply ingrained?
—Could We Talk About Something Besides Calorie Count?
Oh, yes, I would have zero time for this. This is how multigenerational disordered eating happens.
You have not mentioned your husband, or his opinions on this matter. Does he share your discomfort? Have you shared your discomfort with him? Ideally, he would be the person who sits down with his mother to talk about how there are certain topics you don’t want your daughter to hear at a formative age.
If, after decades of having this sort of deeply unhealthy patter in the background, he’s more blasé, you’ll have to do it yourself. You may bypass the “Oh, she’s a baby, she doesn’t know” rejoinder by saying that these statements are upsetting to you, and you would be more comfortable sharing meals together if those topics were (literally) off the table. But do it now. Why wait? Why create a situation where your daughter understands what’s being said, your mother-in-law says something terrible, you say, “Myrtle, please,” and now your daughter knows this is important?
Also (and this is for the readers at home) talking about your diets and your weight is boring and tedious and you should especially keep those priceless little gems to yourself around children and young adults. Read a book.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I read Archie comics voraciously in the ’90s, and my parents have held onto them. In hindsight, they can be funny, but they’re also sexist and violent. Mostly I think we should just get rid of them. Keeping them seems like a tacit endorsement of their values. I don’t really want my daughter reading them!
But then I think about how thrilled I was as a kid to spend time at my grandparents’ house reading their ancient Superman comics (speaking of sexist and violent). Do we keep storing them as a future source of enjoyment, or chuck them because they’re so dated?
—Return to Riverdale?
Have you already reread them yourself? You should, if you haven’t. If there are some individual issues that really grind your gears, chuck those ones out, and otherwise present them to your daughter when she’s 10 or so with an explanation: “These are kind of dated and sexist, but I loved them as a kid.” And then, you know, talk to her about if she’s enjoying them or not. I think this will be a pleasant way to share your childhood interests with your kid, and the world is full of dated things we nonetheless consume avidly for their other charms.
On a personal note, I love old Archie comics and associate them with spending one perfect summer weekend each year at my aunt and uncle’s cottage in Muskoka, Canada, so if you decide you really don’t want to pass them on, you can mail them to me. I will send you my address and the relevant postage.
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