Care and Feeding

A Surprise Bris?!

Excuse me, what is my mother-in-law planning?

Photo illustration of a mother holding an infant son close.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by tatyana_tomsickova/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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 fiancé was raised as a Reform Jew; I am a casual Christian. We have mutually decided not to circumcise our forthcoming son. His family is, to put it lightly, up in arms about our not hosting a bris. (“Because it’s a Jewish rite of passage!”)

I’ve tried reasoning that I won’t be up for hosting 20-plus people seven days after giving birth; I’ve tried explaining that we just won’t be circumcising; I’ve tried making the argument that it’s not sterile for a random rabbi to cut our newborn on the dining room table. I’ve done everything short of saying “Because I don’t want to host a penis party to expose my son to the world.”

Through my fiancé’s sister, we were warned of my future mother-in-law’s plan to host a “surprise” bris at our house a week after the birth! I’m ready to fly off the handle. This isn’t completely out of character for her, but it seems like a new level of crazy and violation. My fiancé has intervened in the past, but never on something of this magnitude. I feel that as the baby’s mother, this is not a situation I should just leave to him.

How do I confront her about this and, God forbid, deal with a “surprise bris” if family and a rabbi show up at our door in a few months?

—We Do Not Want a Bris

Dear WDNWaB,

You may be the baby’s mother, but your fiancé is the son of the lady who appears to be planning to toss you a “surprise” bris, and it’s absolutely his job to have this conversation. He needs to talk to her, preferably in person, immediately.

I guarantee that she does not think the decision was mutual. She thinks that you, “a casual Christian,” have pressured her Jewish son into forgoing something intensely important to his cultural heritage (not just the bris, but the circumcision itself), and nothing you say to her on the subject is going to make a dent in that.

Your fiancé has to have this talk. He needs to look her in the eyes and say that this is what he wants as well. You are blessed in your future sister-in-law being willing to narc on the “surprise!” bris; perhaps she and you and your fiancé could plan a party, a month or so after you’re truly back on your feet, that will celebrate his side of the family and his Jewish heritage, minus any mild surgery. It’ll be later than usual, but would you be open to a naming ceremony? I think that might do a lot to heal this relationship.

I do think she is behaving outrageously, but I also think, like so much outrageous behavior, it’s coming from a place of fear. That your family will be closer to your grandson, that your holidays will take precedence over the ones she raised your fiancé to celebrate, etc. Even as he lays down the law on the bris, I want your fiancé to do it with great kindness and provide her a degree of reassurance that this beautiful boy is still 100 percent her grandson, and (I assume) you plan on keeping his Jewish heritage alive in his life.

If that’s not the case, well, I would reconsider that. I wish you the best of luck, and if a rabbi does show up with a medical kit, you can lock yourself in the bathroom with the baby until he goes. [Ed. note: In a bris, the circumcision is performed by a mohel, who is trained in the religious and surgical aspects of the ritual.] I am hoping that your fiancé and his mother can have the sort of conversation that renders that unnecessary.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 2½–year-old daughter is delightful. She is smart and curious and ridiculously funny. My issue is that she constantly refuses to let me, her mother, help with anything. My husband and I share responsibilities with parenting and household chores pretty equally, but over the last few months, she has only allowed him to help her get dressed or get her bath going, etc. I’ve tried hard to be patient, assuming that it was only a short-lived phase. I’ve politely smiled and walked away when she refused me for the 10th time while my husband stepped in and did the thing. He’s also been very supportive in this, and every time it occurs he talks with her about her behavior and how it affects us all, especially me. She even apologizes to me sometimes and talks to me about it at another time, saying things like, “I say no to mommy in the bathroom and hurt your feelings. I’m sorry.”

So how do I correct this behavior? Or do I continue to grit my teeth and curse when I’m out of earshot? I’m sick of us both being late every morning.

—Left Out

Dear Left Out,

I promise you with my entire heart that this is a phase. There will be times when you will be the one she wants, and your husband will be chopped liver. It does hurt, though, so go ahead and feel your feelings.

On the plus side, I am very impressed by the emotional maturity of a 2 ½-year-old who can say something like “I say no to mommy in the bathroom and hurt your feelings. I’m sorry.” That’s a smart and kind girl you’ve got there. Now, you don’t want to make her feel responsible for your feelings, so I recommend doing a way better job (you and your husband both) reacting neutrally to these moments. Unless she is actively rude to you, I would ask your husband not to talk to her about hurting Mommy’s feelings, which will make her feel bad about something that is really hugely normal, and it’s never too early to make sure your kids know they are not responsible for your feelings.

One of my kids was only interested in Dad for months, and then one day decided that only I was acceptable to provide bathroom assistance. I also discovered that when they were sick, Mommy was the port of call for cuddling and soothing.

What you have here is a child who is developmentally right on target for “I can do it myself!” mixed with a temporary preference for her dad. Normal, a little hurtful, and soon to pass.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

We recently found out my preteen daughter has a multisystemic rare disease that is causing her kidneys to fail on top of affecting her liver, lungs, pancreas, sight, and hearing. My best friend didn’t mind when she just had physical disabilities (deaf-blindness), but he’s backed off and has stopped responding to calls and texts since we found out that she’s in renal failure.

I’m hurt. I miss my friend, we’ve been through so much together, we have supported each other through transitioning (FTM), we’ve all travelled internationally together, and he’s been a part of her life for so long. She keeps asking why he hasn’t been around, and for now I’ve just been telling her that he’s busy because I don’t want her to hurt like I am. I’m not sure if he’s processing grief or if he just doesn’t want to deal with me while I grieve? If he comes back, do I welcome him with open arms? I’m scared I’m too hurt right now to make a rational decision.

—I Miss Him

Dear I Miss Him,

Oh, what a difficult and painful situation. First off, I am very sorry that your daughter is struggling with this disease and glad she has a devoted parent to help her at this time.

Of course you are hurt. Who wouldn’t be? I will briefly give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he has known and loved your daughter so long that he needs time to process and doesn’t want to dump his sorrows on you (as per the genius dump-out-comfort-in model of grief).

There are also people who just disappear when things get really rough and you truly need them. Those are very difficult relationships to put back together.

My personal recommendation is that you email him and explain that you’re not here to scold him for being absent, you are here to let him know that your daughter loves him and is asking questions about why he hasn’t been around. That it would mean everything to her for him to show up. And that your current story has been “He’s very busy,” but if there is a more accurate explanation, now is the time to deliver it. Tell him right now you only care about the present and the future (I know you are, in fact, pissed as heck about the past) because it’s the most likely thing to bring him back into your daughter’s life, which is your top priority.

If this does nothing, it’s unlikely your friendship will survive. If he is, in fact, simply frozen at the thought of losing her or stuck not knowing what to say, I think there’s hope that you will get back what you have lost.

Please keep me posted on this. You and your tough-as-nails daughter are in my thoughts.

Dear Care and Feeding

I am hoping that you can solve a (what I think is a really silly) disagreement between my husband and me. We have a baby girl, our first, and she is 10 months old. I am an adjunct professor at a local community college, so I am home a lot with the baby. She is a typical baby in all respects and is growing beautifully according to her pediatrician. Like most babies, she is interested in everything, but especially items that aren’t “traditional” toys. For example, she loves, loves, loves plastic water bottles. She loves to crinkle them, throw them, mouth them, carry them around. I drink a lot of water because I am breastfeeding so there is always an empty bottle around for her to play with. I let her because a) babies are weird and they like what they like; and b) who cares?!

My husband has the opposite approach. He thinks it’s weird and we should teach her about appropriate toys and if he sees her with one, he will take it from her and replace it with a block or ball or something. Of course, she will cry and fuss because her “favorite” thing just got taken away. He thinks that she needs to learn and eventually she won’t cry. In all other areas, he is an amazing dad and super attentive and indulgent so for me, this feels like a strange hill to die on. Is he correct that I am teaching her bad habits about getting whatever she wants with this? Or he is being over the top?

—It’s Just a Water Bottle

Dear IJaWB,

You are correct (but also wrong, we’ll get to that), and your husband is wrong. Please make sure you are only buying disposable water bottles that don’t contain BPA, etc., and also don’t let your baby share your mouth germs, so please pour the water into a glass and drink it instead of downing the bottle and then handing it to your kid. Then buy yourself a reusable water bottle and stop drinking multiple disposable bottles of water a day.

She’ll move on (as fewer plastic bottles are present in her environment), but in the meantime, give your husband the task of finding more crinkly toys (crinkly toys are almost uniformly beloved by babies) so that he has something to do.

It’ll be better for the environment if you can replace your habit in time, but in terms of the baby, it’s a normal and fun toy and she’s not missing out on anything.


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