Care and Feeding

My Sister Is Marrying a Registered Sex Offender and Wants to Include Him in Family Events

Am I allowed to keep him away from my daughter?

Photo of a Catholic church wedding ripped apart where the bride's family is separated.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by marconofri/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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 younger sister has made a lot of choices in the last few years that my family has struggled with. After shocking us with a divorce, she’s now engaged to a man twice her age who’s in prison for an inappropriate relationship with a previous student (also half his age).

My sister met him at church before he went to prison, and says that he’s turned his life around and is heartbroken for his past transgressions. They plan to marry this fall.

The entire situation has been tough for our family, but I’ve worked hard to support her and love her through everything, even though she knows I don’t necessarily agree with her decisions.

The issue is how to handle this when her fiancé gets out of prison, and they get married. My husband and I live across the country and only come home a few times a year, but we have a young daughter, and I’m not comfortable with her being around a registered sex offender.

I know that my sister believes him to be a good guy, and I don’t want to be unreasonable, but I feel like I want him to be around my daughter as little as possible, and absolutely never without me present.

My sister casually mentioned that next year they could join us for our yearly family vacation, and my heart stopped. The thought of being under the same roof with that man scares me.

Am I being irrational, or is this a valid concern? I’m a Christian, and I do believe that God can change people and that everyone deserves forgiveness. But his past behavior landed him in jail, and that seems severe enough for me to create boundaries.

If my feelings are valid, how do I address this without hurting my incredibly sensitive sister?

—Conundrum

Dear Conundrum,

Hell no. Feelings will be hurt. That’s OK. That’s sometimes just what has to happen. Your child is never to be unsupervised around Uncle Bert, and that’s just how the cookie crumbles. If people get up your ass with “but whyyyyyy” or “he’s chaaaanged,” you can say “my job is to protect my children, and that’s what I’m doing.” I would also make sure there are not, in fact, restrictions on his ability to spend time around minors, because that would be helpful ammunition for you.

I’m very sorry. This sucks. It will cause a rift. You will get nasty emails from random relatives about not putting family first.

Delete them.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Our son is uncircumcised, and we were lucky and took for granted that his doctors all knew to only “clean what’s seen” and to otherwise leave the foreskin alone. Literature against circumcision has been on my radar for the 17 months since having our child, and from the stories about well-meaning but ill-advised doctors forcibly retracting babies’ foreskins, I count my blessings that our child has been done right by all of the adults who care for him … so far. Now that we’ve moved and need a new pediatrician, I’m anxious about the possibility of injury from forced retraction. I’m comfortable telling babysitters to only clean what’s seen, but with doctors, I feel like if I just bring it up at the beginning of a new patient visit, I might come off as overprotective (“Do not manipulate the foreskin” or “We’re keeping his diaper on”) or as if I thought I knew better than the doctor (“Are you aware of the AAP’s new recommendations against forcible foreskin retraction?”) and potentially damage the doctor-patient rapport that I would want with a pediatrician. Are my anxieties unfounded? Do you have advice on how to make sure our doctors are up-to-date on caring for a patient with an intact penis? Thank you in advance!

—Worried

Dear Worried,

Blessedly, I have found that U.S. pediatricians (this is a pretty American issue, as the stats bear out) are way, way better at dealing with uncircumcised kids than they once were—the falling rates of this once nearly automatic procedure have made that rather necessary.

Before your pediatrician even takes off your son’s diaper, just say “we’ve been following the AAP’s policy of not forcibly retracting his foreskin and just cleaning what can be seen until it begins to retract naturally” and if they have an issue with that, that’s when you can say “please don’t yank back my son’s foreskin” and not when, you know, they’re already doing it.

This is normal, this is current best practices, do not feel like you’re being patronizing. A good doctor will say, “Great!” as what you are describing is your behavior, and not making assumptions about their own level of knowledge or ongoing education.

I am sorry in advance for what will certainly become a lengthy discussion of male circumcision in the comments, but there’s really no way around it.

Dear Care and Feeding,

When I was pregnant with my eldest child, my mother was killed by a stranger with a gun. My child is now 5 and knows that grandma is dead, but doesn’t know the details of how. I’m wondering if this kind of thing is the same as, say, a child who was adopted—should I have casually dropped this into conversation already so that it’s just a part of our family story? Any suggestions on how and when to introduce it? I’m not worried about extended family or friends spilling the beans, but my kid has big ears, and I don’t want the truth to accidentally slip out before we’ve talked about it. We also have a baby now, and we could do things differently with our second if the advice calls for it.

—When to Disclose

Dear WtD,

I’m so terribly sorry for your mother’s shocking and wholly unexpected death. My personal sense is that you generally wait until a child asks, which sometimes they never do (few kids are like, “Was it an aneurysm? Aspiration pneumonia?” about the deaths of grandparents, especially those they’ve never met).

If your child asks in the next few years, I would tell them the truth, phrased as age-appropriately as possible, which is a challenge under these particular circumstances: “Grandma was killed by a gun” being a decent first step (apologies to the NRA), which can later become a clearer discussion about crime and violence and consequences.

If your child has not asked by the cusp of puberty, I would sit them down and tell them the full truth at that point. I know a child whose mother died of suicide when he was quite young, and this is the general plan they followed: never lying, never saying anything they would have to walk back, but with an eye to what that child can safely emotionally process at this time in his development.

I think following this course with your second child is fine as well. Violent death is not the same as adoption, and it is best to ease your child into learning the full details over time.

Again, my very deepest sympathy.

If you missed Friday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My sister recently gave birth to a healthy baby girl. I have two toddlers of my own, and after all the unsolicited advice I received when mine were babies, I told myself I wouldn’t try to tell my sister what to do when she had her kid. But now that her baby is here, I’m having a hard time keeping my mouth shut, because some of the things she’s doing with her baby aren’t safe.

The worst issue, at least at the moment, is that my sister and her husband often fall asleep with the baby laying on them. She’s brought it up in conversation (“I know you’re not supposed to sleep with the baby on you, but …”) and has sent me several “cute” pictures of both herself and her husband snoozing with the baby on their chests or cradled in the crook of an arm. Often they’re in a bed with pillows and blankets.

I’ve also seen her let the baby sleep in the car seat carrier when they’re visiting people, which is another safety no-no.

Another thing my sister is doing that I question is that she’s having her mother-in-law watch the baby a lot, and her mother-in-law may have a drinking problem. A few years ago, her mother-in-law’s other granddaughter accused Grandma of drinking while babysitting. According to my sister, the other granddaughter is “crazy” and “a liar,” and indeed the story does sound far-fetched. But the girl’s mother believed her, and now Grandma has to take a Breathalyzer test before being left alone with the kid.

I don’t know if Grandma is an alcoholic for sure, or if she drinks while babysitting or not, but I do know that she drinks pretty often. I also happen to know that she’s been arrested for and convicted of theft, though I don’t know if my sister is aware of it. My sister does know, however, that her brother-in-law is a recovered substance abuser, and that two of her husband’s stepsiblings are active addicts. So even if Grandma’s sober, there might be other people stopping by her house who are not.

So far I’ve kept my mouth shut, because I don’t imagine my sister and her husband will change their behavior based on me saying something. But should I speak up? And how do I know if I’m speaking up because of a genuine desire to look out for my niece, or if I’m just saying something because I’m being judgmental? I’m worried about my niece’s safety, and simultaneously worried that the real problem is that I’m nosy and judgmental.

—Help

Dear Help,

We get a lot of nosy and judgmental letters here at Care and Feeding, and I am happy to tell you that this is not one of them. Your concerns are legitimate, and your wish to raise them respectfully increases the chance of changing the behaviors that worry you.

Now, let’s pick some battles:

Alcoholic Grandma: Tell your sister exactly what you know about her mother-in-law, with no editorializing, and from that point on, it will be up to her to make her own decisions. You can open with “this is an awkward conversation, but I have some information about Myrtle that makes me nervous with the idea of her around unsupervised kids” (print out public records if you think she won’t believe you). Then you have to move on.

Sleeping in Car Seat While Visiting Family Members: This is not a big enough deal to say anything. No, it’s not best parenting practices, but it’s not at the level of intervention by a family member.

Falling Asleep With the Baby on You: This is something almost everyone does, at one point or another, because you’re exhausted and babies usually DESPERATELY love sleeping on you. That doesn’t make it a great idea. What I would do, in your position, is say, “Oh, I remember those days!! So sweet. I talked to my pediatrician and she gave me some tips on safety.” Then you can send her the new AAP guidelines about how to co-sleep as safely as possible. From then on, it’s up to her.

I hope that you are able to have relaxed, loving conversations about your niece, filled with compliments about your sister’s parenting and the cuteness of her child, occasionally punctuated with careful attempts to nudge her into a place of greater concern for current best parenting practices.

—Nicole