Care and Feeding

It’s Complicated

How do I tell my kids they’re adopted, even though my wife gave birth to them?

A pregnant woman with a toddler and another woman stand together.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by 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 wife and I (a same-sex couple) went through two years of trying to get pregnant. Our doctor mentioned embryo adoption, and we found a couple who donated embryos to us. We now have the most amazing 1-year-old anyone could ask for. We decided to try again. We found another couple to donate and are pregnant with baby No. 2 now. My question is around talking to the kids about this. Our little girl is 15 months. We have a semi-open relationship with her donors, and she has two genetic siblings. The next baby will be the same way.

There are a lot of resources about adoption, but this isn’t the same thing, since my wife carried them. We want them both to have whatever relationship they want with their genetic donors/siblings, but we also want to express how much we wanted them and how they have been the best decision we ever made. Just a little lost on how and when to explain, since it is kind of complicated—most adults don’t get it when we explain how we had kids.

—Adopted, but Not That Kind…

Dear AbNTK,

Congratulations! Regarding the how and when: Take a look at some of the literature for families made by adoption. Not all of the advice will be salient, but I do think it could be a good resource to answer some of your questions.

As I’m sure you know, every kid matures at her own rate, and as your children get older, you’ll develop a pretty good gauge of what your children can handle, and when. I suspect you’ll find, “You grew in Mama’s tummy, and we both love you to the moon and beyond” will suffice for a couple of years.

Beyond that, I advise making a book for your kids (incredibly easy to do these days at sites like Shutterfly or Blurb, though honestly, you could make one out of construction paper, it doesn’t have to be fancy). Write out the story of their genesis as you’d like them to understand it, using the language you think is best to talk about this. Draw pictures—they’re kids, they won’t care if you’re not an illustrator—and let this book establish the tale of who they are and how they came to be. You can update it as they grow up, or talk more frankly as they grow old enough to better understand.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 4-year-old seems to be having some difficulties at nursery school. He seems to be fixated on one other child—despite other kids greeting him in the morning—but it looks to me as though the other child isn’t as keen.

There have been some biting and hitting incidents (both as aggressor and victim)—and recently the teacher called to say that my son and this boy had been showing each other their penises. We had a chat about it not being appropriate to show anything that goes in your pants at school/in public/with anyone other than parents and grandparents. This seemed to sink in. Then he pissed on this child on the playground because he “doesn’t like him.”

I am fully aware of how insane this sounds. I’m not sure what to do. I don’t know any of the other parents in the school—it’s quite insular here—and I’ve struggled to make friends. Unfortunately, I’m stuck being a stay-at-home parent because child care isn’t really available. I have ADHD and anxiety, and I struggle with the requisite small talk, especially in the morning. Is a move of school for a fresh start a good idea?

—Golden Child

Dear GC,

First of all, I don’t think what your son is going through sounds that insane. Kids are strange! They do odd things, and when they do, it’s not a moral failing—not for the child or the parents.

Obviously, what your son did is … outside the bounds of typical behavior. But he may not have known that, being only 4 years old. You can have the exact same conversation you had with him about showing his penis in public (not cool) about wielding his penis as a weapon (not cool). I imagine you’ve already done this.

I don’t think moving schools is the answer. It might be a pointless disruption for him, more labor for you, and I’m also not convinced that your son has done anything so awful that you need to start fresh somewhere new.

I appreciate that reaching out to fellow parents is difficult for you for the reasons you list. But please try. You probably feel more anxious fretting about being known as the mom of the boy who peed on Dylan than you would talking to other parents. Look: Every parent’s kid has done something weird, naughty, or troublesome, at some point. And every parent knows that a parent’s job requires a certain amount of peer collegiality.

If you had friends in the community, people who truly knew you and your son, that would make a big difference. You can ask the teachers who in the class brings out the best in your son and reach out to those families for a play date. (Also: Ask the teachers for email addresses so you don’t need to wing it during drop off, when everything’s chaotic.) Or volunteer at the school once or twice to get to know some of the other parents organically. Know that it might be awkward and that it will most likely require small talk, but know, too, that it might help.

You describe feeling “stuck” as a stay-at-home parent—been there!—and I can appreciate that dealing with this kind of thing isn’t your dream. But there you are, at least right now. Just remember: While this incident might seem really dire at the moment, you’ll probably be laughing about it in couple of years.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a woman in my 20s who has had to move back in with my mom and stepdad due to my disabilities. Due to their work schedules, I watch my three younger siblings (2, 5, and 7) much of the day. I’m happy to help out except for one thing: YouTube.

The TV plays YouTube educational videos for the baby almost 24/7. The older kids watch regular YouTube on tablets. The videos they watch make me uncomfortable. One channel is a group of preteens acting stuff out with stuffed animals, which involves a lot of gross humor and mild swearing. Another pretends to be a vlog but presents things like haunted dolls as part of everyday life.

Recently, the oldest kid started using a mild swear word that’s used often in the stuffed animal videos. I caught the two older kids doing something dangerous in a game of truth or dare after watching a truth or dare video. And the older two let the baby watch a haunted doll video.

The kids say, “It’s just pretend. Mom lets us watch it.” When I raised concerns with her, she said, “Not your kids, not your rules.” I understand those perspectives, but not only are the videos annoying, they seem like they’re negatively impacting the kids.

Can I say, “No YouTube when I’m watching you”? Since these are not my kids, what rules would be reasonable for me to make?

—Not a Killjoy

Dear Not a Killjoy,

I don’t think you’re a killjoy. I think you’re a responsible adult. That YouTube has a separate app for kids shows that the company itself, hardly a responsible social entity, understands that kids should not have unfettered access to its wares. I’m not anti–screen time, but the scenario you describe is unsettling.

Your mother has made her position clear. I wish she’d reconsider, but that’s not your battle, really. That said, I feel that when a babysitter is on the clock, she’s in charge. If you can’t outright ban YouTube, you can try to divert your siblings. Fill the hours with card games and coloring, puzzles and picnics, field trips to the park far from a Wi-Fi signal—whatever it takes—and save screen time for a rainy day. Also, just FYI: You’re a good big sister.

Dear Care and Feeding,

In our town, we have two kinds of beaches: the one on the ocean regularly kills people with cold water and a dangerous riptide, while the beaches along the bay have warmer water and gentler waves.

I always take my kids to the bay beach—they love it, and I love not being scared to death. I have asked their dad to please not take them to the ocean beach because they always want to get in the water, and that beach scares me.

He says it’s fine because he’s watching (yeah, right…) and they know how to swim. They know how to swim in a pool, not the ocean, and even experienced swimmers and surfers routinely get into trouble at this beach. He says he doesn’t want the kids growing up afraid of the ocean, and he takes them to this beach despite my pleas.

We have a safer bay beach within the same distance as the ocean beach, so I just don’t understand why he refuses to take them there, when he knows it freaks me out to have them in the water. Also, we’re in divorce mediation. Is this something I should bring up to put in our parenting agreement?

—Feeling Like a Fish Out of Water

Dear FLaFOoW,

Your request seems perfectly reasonable, and honestly, your healthy fear of the ocean on behalf of your kids seems pretty rational. I appreciate your husband’s point of view, but for him to disregard your stance on this feels cruel.

The simple fact is that having kids means worrying about them all the time. But the added pressure of divorce means you’re probably worrying about them even more than usual, while also feeling annoyed with your husband and possibly yourself.

Which is to say, you may be feeling your anxiety about the kids at the beach more keenly right now, given what’s going on in your family life. I’m not trying to suggest you’re being unreasonable, just that your frustration may be over something larger than the question of what beach the kids visit with your soon-to-be-ex-husband.

I’m sorry your husband is not respecting your wishes—especially given that they’re not outrageous. I do think it sounds worthwhile to raise in your divorce mediation, which I’m guessing you and your husband are in to make this process of splitting up as easy as it can ever be. I’m hopeful that this shared desire to split as amicably as possible, plus your valid concerns about your children’s safety, will mean that you and he can come to an agreement on this. Good luck.

—Rumaan

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