Care and Feeding

Should I Let My Child Have Play Dates Under the Supervision of Someone in Recovery?

My son’s best friend’s mother is 90 days sober from drugs. How do I remain supportive of her progress while keeping my child safe?

Photo illustration of a mom looking worriedly at a calendar with a "playdate with Jason" circled in red on Day 10.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo 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 7-year-old is best friends with a little boy named “Jason.” Recently, Jason’s mom friended me on Facebook, where I learned that she is in recovery from street drugs and just marked 90 days clean. Meanwhile, her husband will be home soon from what I assume is rehab or jail. I’m so proud and glad that she is taking these steps, for herself and for her family.

My in-laws are friends with Jason’s grandparents, so I have always known they’ve played a strong role in Jason’s life. It also seems that he has always lived with his mother and that they have lived with the grandparents off and on over the years.

Am I being overprotective to quietly not let my son play at Jason’s house? They live several miles away, so all play dates have to be arranged in advance and require a driver anyway. Jason is delightful, and I have no problems with my son playing with him at school or our house. His upcoming birthday party is at a supervised public venue, and my husband will drop him off, see who is all present, and hang around if necessary.

Am I being too harsh on this poor woman? I want her to succeed in recovery, but I don’t think 90 days is long enough to claim success or responsibility for my not-street-smart son.

—Possibly Paranoid

Dear PP,

Unless Jason and his mom currently live with his grandparents, and you know that they will be present for any play dates, no, you aren’t being paranoid at all. You can wish Jason’s mom all the best and cheer for her continued sobriety without creating a situation that will cause you undue anxiety. Ninety days is not a long time, and having spare kids in the house without their parents present is stressful under normal circumstances—I’m not in recovery, but I avoid that shit at all costs.

Could there be a play date at Jason’s house with you present? Since your kids are besties, a little mommy time would be appropriate at least once in a while, and it may be good for Jason’s mom to have someone outside of her typical circle to talk to about parenting, life, etc.
This would also allow you to gauge her state of mind and see who is usually around the home. Otherwise, create other opportunities for the kids to hang out. She’s being public with her journey, so she has to understand that folks will react to what she has shared. Be sure to treat her with kindness and respect, but not like a charity case or child of some sort. Good luck!

Dear Care and Feeding, 

I am about to have my first child. My husband’s family, who all live locally, are anti-vaxxers. We strongly believe in vaccines and will get our son vaccinated according to our pediatrician’s schedule. Until that time, should we let our nieces and nephews meet our infant? If not, any suggestions on navigating the tricky family dynamics?

—Frightened of Measles

Dear FoM,

Should you let unvaccinated children meet your infant who will not yet be old enough to be vaccinated himself? HELL NO. Your in-laws made their choice and have decided to put their kids at risk for diseases that were largely under control until the lady from MTV’s Singled Out, that one Kennedy guy, and other leading minds decided to foment a movement to bring said diseases back in style. There are consequences to that choice, and not being allowed to meet your child at the point in his life when he is most vulnerable must be one of them. Once he is old enough to be fully vaccinated, have a conversation with your pediatrician, do some research, and gauge your comfort with exposing him to his poor, vulnerable cousins then.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a divorced mom who shares joint custody of my 17-year-old son with a narcissistic ex. There has been no communication between the two of us for about a year; I text with his girlfriend to keep him abreast of what’s happening with our child.

I have asked my son to clean his room for weeks to no avail, so I recently prohibited him from visiting his girlfriend as a consequence. When I picked him up from work later that day, he broke a door handle off of my car in anger. Thankfully, my mechanic found a low-cost fix, and I will be making my son pay for it.

My son is prone to slamming things when he is angry—I can think of at least two other incidents where he did something similar out of frustration. He used to be in therapy for anxiety/ADD and he’s unmedicated, because his father always does the direct opposite of anything I ask (and my son will follow his lead). Does he need to go back to therapy or anger management?

—Mom Is Mad Too

Dear MIMT,

I’m a little unclear about the medication thing—is it the case that you’d wanted your child medicated, but his father objected? Either way, there are two very clear issues:

1) Your son’s anger. Why did he leave treatment in the first place? If you are able, get him back into some sort of counseling routine ASAP. He is at most one year away from being a legal adult, and depending on what you all have planned for his future, it may be difficult for you to mandate that he take that step once he’s turned 18. His inability to control his rage can render him a danger to himself and others; that car incident could have led to him being arrested if he’d done it in public and/or to the vehicle of someone who is not as invested in him as you are.

2) Your lack of communication with your ex. Is this a matter of safety or comfort? If the former, then continue to do what you think is best to navigate a difficult situation. Otherwise, it may be in your child’s best interest to create an additional channel for sharing information aside from using his father’s girlfriend as a carrier pigeon. You don’t have to like each other or behave as friends, but the lack of unity between the two of you leaves your son able to side with the person who best represents his desires … which will not always be in the best interest of what he truly needs. Let his father know that you are concerned about your child and that you want to put your issues with each other aside to make sure that he is on track to be a happy, healthy young man. You say your ex is a narcissist? Play to that and speak of knowing just how committed he is to being a great father, and that you know he’d only want to do the right thing for his child.

Sending you all the best and urging you not to retreat if reconnecting with a former partner that you can’t stand is predictably difficult. Your son needs you to fight for him right now.

Dear Care and Feeding, 

Our next-door neighbors have four kids who are frequent bike riders but do not have helmets (despite local laws that require them). I imagine that raising a family that size is expensive and good bike helmets are not cheap.

My wife and I were wondering, would we be out-of-line to buy helmets as a gift? The complicating factor: The neighbors are a different race than we are, and we don’t want to offend them. Is there any way we can keep these kids safe, and keep them from getting bike helmet tickets, without ruffling anyone’s feathers?

—Safe Ride Enthusiast

Dear SRE,

Come up with a good lie and approach the parent that you feel most comfortable talking to with it. A few suggestions:

• You saw a group of kids who got pulled over and harassed by the cops for not wearing helmets, and you’d hate to see this happen to your neighbors. You’ve also got a gift card to a bike shop/wherever people buy helmets that is collecting dust. Would it be cool if you purchased them some?

• When you were a kid, a classmate/neighbor passed away after getting hit by a car without a helmet. You’ve been haunted by this ever since, so can they please accept these four cool helmets that you purchased already? (This actually did happen when I was in high school, and I hate bikes with every fiber of my being as a result. Tried to convince my kid she was allergic to them, but it didn’t work.)

• You can also just send them to their house as an anonymous gift with a note explaining how much you love seeing their kids riding around the neighborhood and that you don’t want them to get hurt and/or in trouble. Most reasonable parents would be glad for the help, but be prepared for them to decline the gesture while knowing that you did the right thing for the right reason.

P.S.: If any of my neighbors of other races have noticed that my kid is going to need a condominium’s worth of dental work and keeps growing out of her shoes like mad, please know that I will not be offended in the slightest if you decided to step in and save her.

—Jamilah

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