Care and Feeding

Am I Allowed to Join a Church Just to Get Into Its Day Care?

I’m an atheist, but day care is really competitive.

A woman praying at a church pew.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Zbynek Pospisil/iStock/Getty Images.

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 husband and I are expecting our first child, and we happen to live in a city where day care is extremely competitive. I’m talking two-plus-year waitlists everywhere we toured. I want to increase our chances of getting into one of these coveted programs any way I can. The majority of these great programs are run by churches. While we happen to be atheists, I’m not opposed to religion, and I think it’s good to expose our child to it as an option they may want.

My in-laws are super religious and will demand we get baby baptized in their religion. I’m fine with that. It’s just a little water, and they’re not trying to make me convert (yet).

Here’s the problem: In an effort to dramatically increase our chances of getting into a good day care, I want to join the church of my No. 1 pick. It’s not the religion of my in-laws. My husband thinks we should just hope for the best and let the chips fall where they may.

Is it ethical for me to join a church because I want the day care, given that I like the community aspects but don’t currently believe in God? My husband thinks this is a horrific abuse, since I am directly benefiting from a community I don’t belong in and would not be a part of without the day care.

He has no issue with the baptizing, since we get no benefit other than making his parents happy. I think they’re both on the same ground ethically, since I am not particularly fond of my in-laws’ religion and will never attend a service there or join that community.

—Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Dear Wolf,

I agree that both of these ideas are pretty much ethically equal, and that your husband obviously prefers the one that gets his parents off his back.

I myself am a practicing Christian, and let me tell you: All kinds of people show up. Cold people, hungry people, believers, immigrants seeking sanctuary, unbelievers praying to be freed from their unbelief, unbelievers who just want to get out of the rain, people who are mentally ill, unbelievers who have been showing up for 20 years to stay in Aunt Margo’s will, smug believers who are annoyed by the cold and hungry people, people who thought they were entering a museum, etc.

Is it a church whose values you think are appropriate for your child? This is what matters. I couldn’t enter a homophobic church if it meant my child ascending directly to the finest school in all the land, but could I hang out an hour a week with the Episcopalians and stand and sit when everyone else does and sort-of listen and then steal some cookies on my way out and say, “Great sermon, Pastor Tim”? Why not. If getting into this day care means enough to you to show up, go for it.

Also, they know your little game. Plenty of churches attached to day cares are keeping the lights on by contributions from uninterested parents hoping to get a leg up on the competition.

What’s ethically broken is the lack of universal day care in this country. What you’re proposing is up there with jaywalking. I am more comfortable with the idea of you showing up and being technically open to what this church is saying than I am with you verbally pledging to raise your child in your in-laws’ faith, knowing as you say so that it’s a lie. But, you know, that’s because I think God can hear you. If you don’t, why would you care? If it all turns out to be malarkey, I’ll see you in the great Void or in Valhalla or the afterlife of whoever’s right soon enough. But yeah, your husband is totally overplaying his hand.

Have a day with the exact amount of blessing you desire!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I don’t have kids of my own, but I love being an aunt.

I have a question about body boundaries and my 3-year-old nephew. He is a super sweet boy, and my husband and I love to play with him when we visit. Play kitchen, chasing, tickling, typical 3-year-old stuff.

Every once in a while when we’re playing, I’ve noticed he’ll touch/grab my breasts (usually after chasing or tickling). My read on this is it’s purely out of curiosity; I’m a much larger person in general than my sister-in-law, his mom, and I think he’s just kind of like, What are these things?

The two times it’s happened, I’ve gently redirected his hands and moved on without saying anything about why. It’s been fine, he’s never tried to keep it up, and he doesn’t do this every time we get together.

My sister-in-law is also a feminist ,and I know she is talking about consent in an age-appropriate way with him and my niece (6 years old), stuff like, “It’s only a game if it’s fun for everybody.” So I’m not worried it’s the only time he’ll hear these lessons. But I was wondering if it’s something that I should be more actively engaging with him on versus just letting it go as he grows out of tickling play.

What would you do? I have a good relationship with my sister-in-law, and I think she’d be understanding of a conversation if it seemed warranted—I just don’t want to raise any alarms needlessly.

—Breast Wishes

Dear Breast Wishes,

Everything is fine. You are an excellent aunt. Breasts feel amazing. They’re squishy/firm/fun/buoyant, yours are larger than the ones he is used to seeing, and he’s not making the slightest fuss about being redirected. He’s obviously being raised in a healthy, thoughtful environment. Toss in a “those are private” as you move his hands—you’re set.

A child of my acquaintance loved doing this so much when encountering more zaftig women that her parents finally said she had to ask permission and never do it to strangers, and after a few months of “Can I push your boobies?” she got the message that, well, the game is probably up.

Your 3-year-old nephew is doing great. Continue enjoying your time with him!

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a woman married to a woman, and I’m pregnant with our third child. My wife’s boss wants to throw us a “sprinkle” and has said she’s looking forward to meeting me at the event. Is it weird to be included, even though I don’t work there? It’s a large (many-thousands-employee) organization, I’ve never met any of my wife’s co-workers, and she’s worked there almost two years. (The org has not held baby showers/sprinkles for men in the past, but when they’ve held them for pregnant employees, the nonemployee husbands have not attended.)

My wife thinks it would be rude not to go, since the invite was extended to me, but I feel like I’m only really being included because I’m the gestating person. To me, attending feels awkward. But is this a situation where I should just suck it up anyway? Or do you think the invite was extended in a moment of the boss not knowing how to handle the nonemployed pregnant person and declining will feel like a relief to everyone?

—The Gestating One

Dear TGO,

I don’t think it’s weird to invite you at all, though I do find it super weird for a large corporation to be involved with throwing “sprinkles” for third children of employees, like they have nothing better to do. I suspect the extra enthusiasm has a lot to do with your wife’s boss wanting to emphasize They Are Cool With This. In terms of your own invite, you are indeed the one with a baby on board. Your wife draping onesies over not-a-bump is likely just a weird prospect.

Speaking as someone who has worked in H.R.-adjacent positions, I would just go. It’s an hour of your life, you’ll get some presents, meet some of your wife’s colleagues, say thank you, and go home.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I divorced in the fall last year and shortly afterward began dating a wonderful, kind man who proposed after four months. We are planning to be married this coming fall. My 14-year-old daughter has adapted very well to the changes so far, and her father and I have remained amicable.

My ex thinks that I am getting married again too soon, and I am damaging my child in some way. She was upset when I told her about the divorce (of course), but I did everything I could to try to minimize other big changes in her life (she is in the same house and same school as she was before the divorce). She is doing well in school, is active in sports, and has a great group of friends.

She was also initially upset about the engagement (of course), but we are working on making sure she is getting to know my fiancé better, and we talk often about her feelings.

I have offered to take her to a therapist if she needs to talk about anything with an objective adult, but she declined. I told her if I noticed her grades dropping or if she starts isolating herself from friends and family, then she would need to talk to someone else, and she said she understood.

Overall, I think things are going well, but my ex insists she was “violently opposed” to my engagement when she talked to him, and that I am remarrying too soon. He also says I am mistaken to believe that she is simply exhibiting normal adolescent behavior (when she was initially upset about the engagement) and that I am sweeping it all under the rug.

I suspect my ex is projecting his feelings onto her, but is there something else I need to be doing to make sure she is doing OK? I waited years to end an unhappy marriage because I was anxious about how it would affect her. Am I not waiting long enough to remarry?

—Too Soon?

Dear Too Soon,

I myself am inclined to think that mostly it is your ex-husband who finds himself rather undone at the prospect of a swifter remarriage than he would like. Which is not to say your daughter does not feel concern, or loss, or sorrow at the prospect. And that’s not something to take lightly, even if you know her father’s bringing it up whenever he sees her.

For now, I would like you to close your ears to your ex on this issue, and instead really dial into how your daughter is doing. Just with you, and then, with her permission when she’s ready, with your fiancé. A lot of things have happened to your daughter without her input or consent in the past year, which is a common enough aspect of childhood or adolescence, but how you handle this situation may have lasting implications for your relationship with your child, as well as your child’s relationship with this man you plan to spend your life with. You don’t want decades of “Oh, hi, Chrissy! … Yes, I’ll put your mother on the phone.”

I want you to also think about who your fiancé will be in her life. A 14-year-old is not in the market for a stepfather. Which is not to say she should be permitted to be rude or disrespectful to him, but the best-case relationship for them to form is likely to be a good-natured civility for the remaining years she lives in your home.

You are remarrying very quickly. Would it make a difference to your daughter were you to ask her if a spring wedding would allay some of her concerns? Is that something you would be prepared to do? Is it something your fiancé would be open to? A man who proposes within four months is a very particular kind of man, and I would be more comfortable with him knowing that he is prepared to spend a little more time being engaged, living together, becoming acquainted with each other’s preferred breakfast rituals and sports teams and holiday traditions.

Give it some thought. You’ve been unhappily married for so long; a longer happy engagement is nothing to sniff at.

—Nicole

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