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,
I am 17, and my little sister is 7. My parents are now totally different than the parents I remember having at her age. Her allowance is much larger than mine was, they say yes to basically everything (she can have food in the living room, which was strictly forbidden), and I can’t see how she’s not going to wind up spoiled. Can I talk to my parents about this?
Your parents are just old and tired and wise enough 10 years on to know what things to let slide. The allowance? Let’s call it inflation. Food in the living room? They’ve given up on that carpet, which likely is a lot less pristine after 10 years of family use.
Let it go. You’re 17. I recommend doing any one of the thousand incredibly fun things you can do that your sister cannot, and counting your blessings.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I just had a complete hysterectomy and bilateral oophorectomy due to endometriosis. I am 36 and about to start menopause. My mother-in-law has been hounding me for weeks to talk about “her experience” with menopause (nothing special, she just started like you normally should) and today she called.
She’s a big-time anti-vaxxer and generally does not believe in medicine. She’s told me things like her sister got breast cancer from not nursing, JFK’s head was stolen, ducks don’t have blood, etc. We have had some knockdown fights and we’ve come out OK. I’ve let go of a lot of the shit she’s said to me about myself, my husband, her other children, her grandchildren, my parents, and my own kids. This is all to say, it’s always a thing with her.
But right now I am in an emotional wasteland. My kids just started kindergarten and middle school, I’m recovering from major surgery, trying to just generally be a person in 2019 and not succumb to the news of the day, and my hormones are about to change majorly. I am depressed from being alone so much and having to manage these feelings mostly by myself. My husband is wonderful. He listens and supports and is a phenomenal partner and father. But he has a job and isn’t here to handle his mom most of the time. She knows I am home and calls relentlessly. She is very serious and humorless, generally never listens, has no capacity for empathy, and isn’t very smart. And she’s a Trump supporter. I try to keep the peace with her, but I don’t know how to tell her to back off while I recover without it being a Huge Thing.
They will likely visit over Christmas. I try to maintain a happy relationship so that our kids can have one with their grandparents, which is important to me. I get along wonderfully with my mom and my dad passed away a few years ago (he called my mother-in-law a “sour woman” because she insinuated he was responsible for Sandy Hook in some way that none of us really understand). I know my mother-in-law thinks she is doing a kindness by warning me that the hormones I truly need due to lack of ovaries are dangerous. Everyone in the family lets her behave this way and her husband is a classic enabler. No one really ever calls her BS and it’s always a massive fight if you do.
I’m not sure why I wrote this to you. I’m just kind of alone right now. It’s not healthy to keep telling my husband that his mom is a bitch. It’s not going to solve anything and he doesn’t need that. It’s complicated for him in many different ways and he’s just now able to see the ways she was harmful and emotionally abusive to him and his siblings. He was very upset that she called me about this and said he will intervene and talk to her if she tries to initiate a conversation like this again.
You’ve had really sound family boundaries advice before. Maybe you have a better route than how I’m handling this.
—I Just Cannot
You poor thing, of course you cannot! What a nightmarish person. I must admit to giggling a few times at the sheer outlandishness of her particular brand of fiction. “JFK’S HEAD WAS STOLEN!” while someone asks her to pass the peas.
Here’s what I want you to do: focus on your health, first and foremost, and then your children. When she is not physically present, you need her to be vacant from your mind. Put a rubber band around your wrist and snap it if you find yourself thinking about her. It’s goofy, but it works.
Answer the phone one out of every 10 times she calls. Let her drone on and on about menopause. When she’s tired herself out, say, “Thank you so much for sharing your experience with me, I will seriously think about this,” and then go get some ice cream and eat it.
Over Christmas, I recommend a lot of “Oh, medical things are the last thing we should be focusing on when we’re all so lucky to be here together,” and then simply refuse to engage. I think that if you do not allow her to take up space in your brain on a daily basis, you’ll find her more bearable in the moments when you have no choice but to interact with her.
She insinuated that your father was somehow responsible for Sandy Hook.
I, also, Just Cannot.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
Our daughter is off at college, and we had to put down her beloved cat. He was hit by a car, and there was no alternative, or we would have called her at once. Well, we still haven’t called her. She sends us perky texts and calls about the fun she’s having, and neither my wife nor I have had the heart to say, “Oh, by the way, Mitch is dead, we’ve put the ashes in an urn in your closet.” Do we have to do this now, or can we wait until Thanksgiving? I already know the answer, but I’m asking anyway.
Dear RIP Mitch,
Well, to be honest, most of the questions we receive are from people who already know the answer and just want to be firmly told what to do. Which is fine! Please, everyone, continue to do so.
Yes, you have to call her tonight. You can be a little … hazy … on exactly when it happened. In fact, you have my permission to lie about it. It will not be a fun call, but it will be much better than her saying “Hey, where’s Mitch?” at Thanksgiving. I once ruined a Christmas dinner by asking my cousins, “Hey, where’s Dudley?” and everyone burst into tears.
RIP Mitch and Dudley.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband is deployed indefinitely, and has left me in charge of our four girls. Our youngest is sick, quite dangerously so. My middle two do nothing but fight (one burned some very important papers belonging to the other, who is, to be fair, extremely dramatic about everything), and my eldest is having what I believe to be a serious flirtation with our wealthy neighbor’s tutor. My firm religious faith is helping me cope, but do you have any advice on how to remain on top of it all?
—Overwhelmed in Concord
Dear Overwhelmed in Concord,
Bitch, that’s Little Women, who do you think you’re trying to play here? An amateur?
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