Care and Feeding

Should I Tell My Daughters About My Long-Ago Abortion?

My husband’s unsure, but it seems like they could benefit from my experience.

Photo illustration of two daughters and their mother walking away, holding hands.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Chev Wilkinson/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,

Many years ago, before I got married, I had an abortion. I do not regret it, and it was the correct choice for me at the time. (I was a freshman in college and had no familial support.) Now I have two kind and lovely daughters in their early teens, and I am wondering if this is something I should talk to them about.

My husband is unsure, leaning toward no, and I can’t say I exactly relish the idea of having this conversation with my daughters, but especially considering the current political climate in the United States, I feel like I … should? Just tell me if I should, and if the answer is yes, how to do it.

—Is This Something to Share?

Dear ITStS,

I had an abortion in college as well, and have given this question a lot of thought. I think that you should tell your children about it. I think you should tell them in the context of a larger conversation about the importance of contraception, and I think you should do it when they are approximately 14 years old, give or take, based on their general maturity level and your current degree of closeness.

I respect your husband’s lack of enthusiasm for this, but this is very much your story, and I don’t think he should have a say in what you tell your daughters about it. It will absolutely be a difficult conversation (old emotions may resurface and hang out for a bit, no matter how fine or “over it” you currently feel), but it’s very important for people to know how common abortions are, and that people they know and love have had them.

I can’t predict what kind of emotions your daughters will have, either immediately or as they process it over the following weeks. Just be as honest as you can, answer the questions that you feel emotionally equipped to answer, and you’ll do OK.

I am holding you in my heart this week.

Dear Care and Feeding,

For my preschool-aged son’s birthday party, we bought (zany, colorful) squirt guns as a party favor. Our kids love to run around in the backyard squirting each other on hot summer days, and I’m fine with that—over time, it has given us good opportunities to talk about challenging subjects in bite-size, age-appropriate ways (i.e., guns: never touch a real gun; if you ever see a real gun or someone tries to show you one, leave immediately and tell a grown-up; it is only a game if everyone is having fun, etc.). However, I’m unsure whether giving squirt guns to others’ children is appropriate. If it matters, we aren’t gun owners; my partner did not grow up around them, but I did, and neither of us would ever want a real gun in our home.

I’m debating creating separate gift bags without the squirt guns, making a partywide PSA such as “never touch a real gun—and remember, squirting someone with a squirt gun is only a game if both people are having fun,” or something to that effect. My partner feels my concerns are overblown and says mentioning it would make things weird, but wouldn’t stop me if I insist on it. I feel the conversation is important but don’t know if this is the right place for it or what exactly to say. Any advice?

—Are Squirt Guns Off-Limits?

Dear ASGOL,

Formal ruling: Squirt guns (the kind that are not designed to look like actual handguns) are fine. Do not do a PSA at your child’s birthday party.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

How long do kids get to be dictators? How long should we just do whatever they want to avoid massive tantrums? I know the whole “is this the hill you want to die on” argument, but there are times when I just get tired of the fact that my toddler’s whims and desires completely outweigh mine! And I know that I’m supposed to be the adult and be the bigger person here, but sometimes the frustration gets to me.

My daughter is 3½ and very stubborn. She comes by it honestly: I’m pretty stubborn too. She’s also very dramatic and there have always been a few things that she just has to have a certain way or else she’ll lose her mind. For example, if we’re in the car listening to Disney music, she doesn’t like it if I sing along. She has gotten much better about asking me to please not sing, and as long as she asks and doesn’t scream at me, I’ll do what she wants. If I’m sitting on the couch, I can’t have a blanket on me. (I’m usually cold and like to snuggle under a blanket to keep warm.) If I don’t take it off, she loses her mind. She hates it when her dad and I try to have a conversation because she wants to talk to Dad. The other day she wanted me to put the windows up in the car. So I put hers up and put mine up almost all the way, but left it open some because it was a nice day. She lost her mind because she wanted them all up. I don’t want to have to dance on eggshells and do anything to avoid upsetting her. Sometimes (a lot of times) things don’t go the way you want and everyone just needs to learn to process that as best as they can!

I know she’s a toddler and can’t process things the same way an adult does. And I know that I’m probably fucking up royally by taking actions that I know will result in her losing her mind. But in the moment, sometimes I just can’t handle being bossed around by a 3-year-old. Am I really supposed to just let her have her way all the time? Does that not lead to her becoming an entitled asshole who thinks the world revolves around her? Since most of the time it basically does, I’d like to try to introduce the concept that she isn’t the center of the universe. Or am I just being a complete asshole?

—I Know I’m the Grown-Up, but I Just Want to Sing

Dear Grown-Up,

The terrible twos, in my opinion, have nothing on the experience of having “threenagers.” They can be such little shits. Your daughter sounds like a colossal pain at the moment. This period will end, most assuredly, but you absolutely have the right to take less crap from her—indeed, you’re right that you need to, so that she doesn’t grow into an aggravating person.

This is a great opportunity to teach her about autonomy. She can control a lot of things about her own life, but she can’t control the bodies and lives of the people around her. I know the mechanics of knowing which battles to pick can be very challenging, but I would focus heavily on the ones where she is trying to control other people. If she screams because she doesn’t want you to have a blanket on the couch, tell her she can go scream in her room. This is good for her. This will make her a happier person and will bear fruit in time.

Until that fruit shows up, just try to stay emotionally stable and cherish the good parts. You’re doing a good job, but you absolutely have a lot of room to crack down more on this kid than you currently are. Don’t, like, institute a regime change overnight, but just begin toughening up gradually.

It’s going to get better.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m divorced with an 11-year-old. She’s not the easiest child to parent as she is very independent, strong-willed, and opinionated. I love her though and honestly have no issues parenting her. I share 50 percent custody with her dad. Every week I hear from one of them about a fight they’ve had. He tells me she’s difficult, moody, angry, challenges him. She tells me he’s inflexible, always yelling, and unreasonable.

I sympathize with her and try to give him advice. But what is my role here? I don’t share with her that I think the problem is her dad. He seems out of his depth in parenting and has twice offered to pay me money to take her off his hands. My biggest problem with being married to him has been that he had no empathy and I believe it’s showing up in his relationship with our daughter. But do I keep giving advice (which I don’t know if he even takes or not)? And since I am not there and don’t see the whole picture, I’m afraid I might be giving the wrong advice. Should I take my daughter to therapy to deal with her dad? The angry, moody child he cites is sometimes there when she is with me, but she is also funny, pleasant, and engaging, and has no problems following house rules. Do I just let them figure it out? I’m just worried.

—Co-Parenting Blues

Dear CPB,

This sucks! I’m so sorry; what a difficult situation. I think therapy would be a really helpful start—individual, but if her dad is open to it, a family therapist who would work with the two of them could make a real difference. And always, in these conversations, the deep, deep honesty that this is a super common experience for kids of divorce, that there will be times when one parent or another is the one they really want to live with, and that those times are deeply painful for all involved.

I think it’s entirely possible that your ex is the bad dad that your letter makes him out to be. But I also want you to leave yourself open to the possibility that he is trying his best, cares deeply, and is simply having a very hard time with a difficult 11-year-old girl. He certainly wouldn’t be the first father to find himself in such a situation. And I want to avoid a situation where your current ability to get along with your daughter better than he can—which can often simply be a matter of a temporary personality clash—becomes evidence, for you, that he doesn’t care enough.

If I were you, I would ask to get together with your ex and talk about what’s been happening. I think you can keep this nonaccusatory. If you come away from that conversation convinced that he truly isn’t interested in improving things—if he resists the idea of therapy or dismisses your concerns thoughtlessly—then you could consider reopening your current custody split. He might actually be the kind of dad who can pull it together to be a good dad in smaller doses.

Please keep me posted on this.

—Nicole

More Advice From Slate

Do you have advice for good parenting when your kid is in a judged individual sport? I really have no idea how to balance ideas like “Winning isn’t the only thing,” “Do it for the fun of it,” “Look at your own personal improvement and not how you compare to others” with my daughter’s competitive nature. Right now, she’s at a less competitive level, but if she progresses, it could get pretty intense. Help!!