Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I usually have sex in the evening, for unsurprising reasons (“day is done, let’s have fun,” etc.), but we like to be able to do it whenever the mood strikes us. We have a 12-year-old son, and usually if my husband’s home, my son is home too. I want to know how to go about having sex when our son is home, now that he’s a bit older. Usually we make sure he’s busy doing something (video games or whatnot), or we’ll tell him that “we’re going to have a talk” in the bedroom and that we need privacy. He accepts all of this and doesn’t question it. Is it a big deal that we have sex at home while, say, he’s reading in the next room? We’re not particularly loud, but I don’t know what sounds carry through the walls. I just want to be considerate, and not potentially scar him or whatever.
—We Were Playing … a … Wrestling Game?
I consulted with a former sex and parenting educator for this one, who pointed out that this letter might be focused on the wrong question. It’s perhaps not so much about whether or not your kid knows you are having sex. Sex, after all, is a healthy, natural, and—under the appropriate circumstances—pretty good part of life! Twelve-year-olds know that sex happens. They know that people like sex. They probably even know that their parents have sex. So, as long as you are being conscientious and creating proper boundaries—not boning with the door wide open, leaving strap-ons in the dishwasher, or yelling “yes daddy” loud enough for half the city to hear—no damage is done by your kid just knowing that sex between his parents exists.
What is a potential issue, however, is if your kid feels neglected, alone, or uncared for because his parents are unavailable for love, caring, or recognition in that moment. Much of the pain that comes for kids when the adults in their lives are … uh … occupied is not from the activity itself but from the fact that kids can be made to feel unimportant and unwanted, as though they were a burden. This, in turn, makes them feel detached from their sense of belonging and safety. What an agonizing thing that is for a young heart to feel in its own home!
So when you guys are ready to do your thing, make sure your kid is truly and honestly occupied and happy. Make sure he knows that he can reach you if he truly needs to, that if he knocks on the door, you’ll respond without making him feel like an annoyance. Pick times in which he might not want to hear from you just as much as you may not want to hear from him. And while I know it’s hard to put a timer on such things, make sure your skyrockets don’t stay in flight for hours per session. The sad reality of parenting with older kids is that if you want true, long-form, uninterrupted boot-knocking, you’re going to have to find a kid-free weekend or something. But when the kid is home, you’ve got to get in where you fit in.
Congrats on having a great sex life with your spouse. It’s a beautiful thing, and I hope you are counting your blessings.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I have an amazingly awesome 12-year-old son who is going to two different sleep-away camps for the first time this summer. I’m excited for him and think he’s going to have a great time, but I’m also slightly concerned.
My son is 1) neurodivergent and 2) gay—he just came out a few months ago. The intersection of these two things makes him extra awesome, but also maybe complicates the current situation just a little more too. His neurological disability is well-managed, and he “passes” in most situations as an average kid, but it does have a mild impact on his social skills, especially his innate gullibility. He has a hard time ascribing any kind of ill intent to anyone, and as such, we’re finding that he isn’t always able to discern whom he can share certain pieces of information with.
This would be generally OK except that while the world has come a long way, we’re finding that among 12-year-old boys there is still a lot of homophobia and bullying of kids who are out. Our son usually takes these things in stride as much as possible, but I really worry that in a roommate situation with kids he’s never met, being the slightly socially odd kid plus having a not-great filter for sharing information plus being open about his sexuality could cause a seriously uncomfortable—and even unsafe—situation.
I love my kid, and I’m glad he feels good about himself and wants to be out and transparent in every aspect of his life. But I’m struggling with whether to try to have a talk with him about being out at camp. I don’t want him to feel like he has to hide any part of who he is; by the same token, I worry about bullying, ostracism, and physical and emotional safety if he ends up coming out and then realizing that the kid who’s sleeping in the next bunk is really not OK with having a gay roommate. I’m just not sure how to say to a kid who doesn’t do all that well with social nuance, “Hey, try to keep your identity on the D.L. unless you’re 100% confident your roommates are OK with gay people,” without it coming across as somehow shaming.
Thoughts? I know I could be worrying for no reason, but unfortunately, experience tells us that I could also be worrying for many good reasons.
—My Kid’s a Rainbow Unicorn
Dear Unicorn Parent,
You are not worrying for no reason. You are worrying because you love your kid and don’t want him harmed. I don’t know a parent who has ever sent their kid to sleep-away camp without fearing for their safety on some level, and I trust your instinct that there is reason to be cautious here.
Neither being neurodivergent nor being gay should mean your kid doesn’t get to go to camp, but it may mean that some camps are better than others for him, and I would first start by having a very detailed and open talk with the staff of these camps to determine if they are the best for your family. Have they seen this before? How do they plan on supporting him while he’s there? How does the camp work with issues of bullying and inclusion? Is there a parent community, Facebook page, or alumni group you can connect with? I would do that quickly, because I also think it is absolutely appropriate to talk with your son about the situation he’s entering into. He is old enough to provide some input on his decision, input you should take seriously and consider carefully. But he is only 12, and it is a big world. If what your research turns up doesn’t help you feel more comfortable, then I think you still reserve, at this point, the parental right of veto.
I would also look at camps for LGBTQIA youth, of which there are many. There may be a reason you didn’t mention this strategy in your letter, but whatever that reason is, it’s worth revisiting. Summer camp is about a lot of things, but the main things it’s about are fun, growth, and the experience of self-sufficiency away from home. It’s hard to have those things if a kid is afraid of bullying and abuse. Prioritize his safety and freedom over everything else, and I think your kid will have a chance at a great summer. Good luck and do let us know how it goes.
• If you missed Monday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.
• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!
Dear Care and Feeding,
A family friend recently went through a divorce. He and his ex-wife share a 4-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son. When one parent has the kids, the other one often takes vacations to remote, sometimes dangerous, locations. They’re both experienced travelers, but an issue has recently arisen about what their respective duties should be now that they are divorced with kids. How often should the traveling parent be expected to check in with the other to let them know they’re fine and to get kid updates? Their kids are young (too young for their own phones), and while the separation took some time, the divorce and new households are very new.
—Off to the Lost City of Z
This is framed as a question about divorce, but it’s really a question about parenting, and I can’t imagine the answer would be any different if the couple were divorced or if they were vampires happily entering their 800th year of matrimony. When you have little kids, you should most assuredly check with them or the person taking care of them pretty regularly. Period. If your life is such that you have to (or get to) be away from text, internet, email, semaphore, carrier pigeons, and/or messenger falcons, well, bully for you. But you should then definitely make clear and conscientious plans with the person taking care of them about how you’ll be out of touch for a set amount of time and here’s how they can reach you in case of time-sensitive emergency.
It is natural, in a divorce, to feel a newfound sense of freedom, and to maybe even want to flex that freedom at your former partner to whom you were so resentfully chained for so long. But Rule No. 1 of parenting after divorce is you have to keep parenting after you divorce. You’re still co-parents. Your ex should know where you are, they should be able to express concern or worry about situations in which you put yourself at risk, you should take that concern or worry as seriously as you should take any feelings from a co-parent, and you should remain connected and reachable at all times where kids are involved. Divorce may mean that your marriage is over, but it does not mean your family is.
Ask a Teacher
“My daughter is a freshman in high school, and she recently got an assignment in life sciences that seems inappropriate. The assignment is for the kids to identify someone in their family who died of cancer, and then students are supposed to research that kind of cancer. They’re supposed to create a poster presentation to display for the entire school. My daughter told the teacher she thought this wasn’t a great assignment, especially since two classmates lost a close relative to cancer earlier in the school year and are still grieving. Should I step in?”
Get more Care and Feeding
Slate Plus members get more parenting advice every week. They also help support Slate’s journalism.Join Slate Plus