Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My wife is pregnant with our first kid and has obviously stopped drinking. She has asked me to stop drinking for the duration of her pregnancy out of solidarity with her. We used to do a lot of craft beer tastings, and I would characterize us as moderate drinkers.
Well, it’s been three months, and I want to start drinking again. I don’t see any actual harm in doing it behind her back, if I’m discreet. Is this forgivable or shitty?
—I Just Miss Beer (and Scotch)
Things can be both shitty and forgivable, for the record.
Drinking behind her back is an asshole move. You’re about to have a child, so let’s not kick it off with an elaborate plan of deception. If I were you, I would decide that my wife’s various pains and sufferings during this time period (culminating with labor) make it reasonable enough to ask you to share one small, small part of it with her, to make her feel like you’re a team. She misses craft beer tastings too!
So that’s what you should do. If you don’t want to do that, then I want you to say to her: “I really admire and appreciate everything you’re going through to have this baby, but I really miss the odd craft beer. Would it be OK if I drank a little when you’re not around? I don’t want to do it in front of you.”
Also, if you have genuinely found it difficult to stop drinking, maybe explore that a little. I am not suggesting you are a problem drinker, but it might be worth sitting with and thinking about why you’ve found it so challenging.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My wife and I have adopted several siblings from foster care. Our oldest is a genuinely nice and responsible preteen and has been recently diagnosed as mildly autistic. The diagnosis helped us understand some of her quirks—like her aversion to loud and/or repetitive noises. Our youngest has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, so he also has his share of quirks, including a ton of nervous energy.
So the youngest will be laying on his belly on the floor, playing with Legos or on his iPod, and he will lightly bang his feet against the floor. He doesn’t even realize that he is doing it—it’s just his body’s way of releasing that energy. His sister will be sitting on the couch, watching TV. His foot-banging drives his sister up the wall and creates an immediate downturn in her mood, i.e., “Melchizedek, STOP IT. GOSH, you are so annoying. Why can’t you stop it and lay on the floor like a real person? Daaad, Mel won’t cut it out and he’s doing it just to annoy me!” No matter how many times I explain to her that he isn’t doing it to annoy her, she won’t accept that explanation because he does do it every day. And I can’t get him to stop because he doesn’t even realize he is doing it until she yells at him. And neither will accept being moved from the living room for very long because neither one feels at fault. I can move them, but within a few minutes, the kid who got moved will return to his or her spot.
How do I handle two kids with biological quirks that are guaranteed to set each other off?
—The Kids Can’t Help It!
First of all, you’re doing great. Parents raising kids without diagnoses often have a nervous tapper kid and an “l will murder you if you tap your foot again” kid. Kids learn how to live in the world by seeing what annoys other people and what must simply be endured as part of human society.
Bag-crinklers and gum-chewers and cuticle-pickers, we’re all here to learn. Now, for your autistic daughter, who is older and, it seems, better equipped to get through daily life than your son, I recommend she watch TV with headphones and use headphones in general when it’s noise that’s setting her off. She’s also old enough to start really talking about the fact her younger brother has issues that, as a family, you need to live with and around in peace.
Your son has a lot of nervous energy. He needs to express it. It’s not a great idea to tell him to stop, since a) it hasn’t worked and b) kids with a whole constellation of conditions use this kind of stimming to allow them to focus on other things. What I want you to do is find a different way for him to stim. Something that lets him vibrate like a hummingbird if he wants but won’t aggravate your daughter and his future classmates to tears. It could be a fidget spinner, it could be a chewy necklace, it could be any form of stimming jewelry (I love this company), which has plenty of more butch options if you’re worried he’ll find it “too girly.”
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Dear Care and Feeding,
Earlier this week you answered a letter from a parent whose 14-year-old is a chill vegan. I would sell my soul for a chill vegan. I have a very noisy raw fruitarian (16-year-old), and I am going crazy. Mine is a boy, and he does show his younger siblings horrible videos, and he does complain about our regular meals. His pediatrician is not thrilled with his weight—he’s been sliding down the charts since he started this nonsense about a year ago.
—At Wit’s End
First up, you are the adult, and he cannot show his siblings horrible videos. Whatever form of consequences exist in your family for bad behavior, use them going forward. That’s a hard no. Factory farming is absolutely revolting, and he can have all the opinions he likes about it (not out loud during dinner—he may have to eat alone), but he cannot be showing graphic animal abuse videos to younger kids.
Secondly, although it’s more common in girls, really restrictive diets like fruitarianism can mask disordered eating. He could just be going through a phase, or he could absolutely be trying to hide a full-blown eating disorder. Either way, he’s not getting the nutrition he needs (whatever they may say on YouTube about bananas). Talk to his pediatrician, and raise the issue more forcefully. If he’s already experiencing excessive weight loss, it’s past time to treat this as a medical and psychological issue and not an acting-out teen behavior. It’s been a year.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I wrote to you in May about my daughter’s relationship with her father and wanted to provide a mixed-bag update.
I expressed my worries to my ex. My ex started going to therapy but alone. I think he tried once to bring my daughter, but it conflicted with her school schedule, and since then I believe it’s still been a solo venture. I asked my daughter if she would like to see someone on her own, but she declined. Since I last wrote, she turned 12 and is now in middle school, so her focus has been on getting the hang of the new school, new teachers, and more homework. We’re also preparing for the arrival of a baby, which all of us, including her, are excited about.
While I still worry, I kept in mind your caution that their issue just might be a personality clash and that he cares very much and is actually trying his best. After carefully asking questions and watching for a while, and after my daughter backtracked regarding the plan of me taking her for an agreed-upon extended period because she missed her dad, I do think there are merits in what you said.
Things aren’t perfect between them, but many things are much more stable now in terms of custody schedule, the fact her dad is seeing a therapist, and the fact that she is able to reassure me with words and behavior that she is OK. I am breathing a little easier. At least before this new baby turns everything upside down. Thank you!
Dear Co-Parenting Blues,
Thank you so much for the update. I’m glad to hear that things have progressed in a positive way. Sometimes a little time and a little waiting, especially at this age, can result in a better outcome than overreacting. I hope your ex continues his work in therapy, and that your communication with your daughter remains open and transparent.
Best of luck with your new baby!
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