Care and Feeding

My Mother-in-Law Wants Her Grandma Name to Be “Ama,” but That’s Too Close to “Mama”

My heart would break if I didn’t know whom my son was calling for!

A mother holds her baby, while looking upset at an older woman.
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? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My mother-in-law requested not to be “Grandma.” That was fine until her decision to be “Ama.” I said it was too close to “Mama,” and I wasn’t comfortable with that. My husband asserted our son would come up with his own name for her, like my husband had for his grandma. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of it. At our shower, she pushed me to open her card, signed “Ama.” (We had planned on not opening anything.) She bullied me in the hospital, continuing to push to be called Ama. I was too emotional to resist both times. I hate the name Ama—my heart would break if I couldn’t tell whom my son was calling. If she had healthy boundaries, I would let this go, but I don’t want to share any motherly position with her since she would get rid of me in a heartbeat. I was willing to find a different name, but her behavior (hogging my son, reluctance to give him back when he’s hungry, playing favorites with his cousins) has me feeling unaccommodating. The topic will definitely come up—she has angrily corrected someone who called her Grandma. How do I tell her that she is not “Ama” without a huge argument?

—Ama-Hating Mama

Dear AHM,

I can’t say that I know how the two pet names sound coming out of your mouth, but they don’t sound identical enough to be mistaken for each other when I say them: “A-muh” versus “Mah-Mah.” Do you intend to be “Mama” forever? Or would you be transitioning into “Mommy,” “Mom,” or “Ma?”

But from what I’m reading, the issue isn’t that “Ama” sounds like “Mama,” but that “Ama” sounds like a pain in the ass. Alas, many grandmothers are to some degree, which leaves us mothers to do the difficult work of respecting their authority while establishing our own. Meanwhile, the “Amas” struggle to relinquish the most powerful role that the vast majority of them will ever know to a younger, less experienced person, while also dealing with a new title that establishes them as officially old as fuck—even if they aren’t old at all! And that’s not me saying that being old is a bad thing (though “injectables and fillers” is my top search term on Groupon) but that women are socialized to fear aging and have that fear legitimized via the shift in their social station as they get older.

You likely have a number of gripes with Grandma Ama that ought to be addressed, and I’d wager that this pet name business is relatively benign compared with most of them. Please consider allowing her to have this silly little moniker. I’d wager that this goodwill gesture will be worth it, both in terms of avoiding a silly conflict and making it clear that you’re willing to compromise with Ama when her desires are reasonable. There’s a good chance that your son may end up giving each of you titles that he deems suitable and that neither of them will sound anything like “Ama” or “Mama” anyway. Best of luck to you all.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a 13-year-old son who resists most activities and whose only motivation seems to be making money. I also have a 12-year-old daughter who is very self-motivated and participates in numerous sports and clubs, as well as being generally helpful around the house when asked. In an attempt to get our son more engaged and active, my husband offered to pay him to mow the lawn. My daughter became very upset because we don’t pay her to decorate cakes, one of the ways she helps out on special occasions. She also pointed out that she doesn’t have time to do things like mow the lawn since she is doing her various activities which she doesn’t get paid for. How do we continue to encourage our daughter’s self-driven and helpful nature while keeping things fair if money is the only thing that gets her brother off the couch? I am personally not a fan of paying kids for chores, but we’re at our wits’ end with our son.

—Mother of Money-Focused Kids

Dear MoMFK,

It’s not fair to pay one child for chores, but not the other. Establish a schedule that allows both kids to help out around the house and pay them for their contributions. You can treat your daughter’s extracurricular activities like work-study: She won’t get the same amount for them as she will for tasks that she actually performs in the home, but she can get credit for them so that, in tandem with whichever one or two chores you can fit on her busy schedule, her brother and she receive the same amount per week.

However, it’s also unreasonable to pay a child for every effort he makes to maintain his own home and support his parents. Give your son both paid and unpaid responsibilities; for example, if he is paid $10 a week to keep the grass cut, $10 for dishes, and $10 for folding clothes for a weekly payment of $30, his leaf-raking and room-cleaning responsibilities should be considered his mandatory contribution to the household. You can hold his “check” based on fulfilling them all, which provides the financial incentive to do the unpaid work, while also falling short of putting a price on everything that he needs to do to be a responsible 13-year-old. Good luck and blame capitalism, not your kids.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

We have a 4-year-old daughter and a newborn son. For the past two years our daughter has been attending the same day care center, where she has enjoyed her teachers and friends. The facility is clean and new (we were among the first families there), and we have enjoyed the experience very much. However, the teachers keep quitting. I am connected on social media to a few of the former staffers—some of our very favorite ones—and they have posted publicly about being underpaid, overworked, and disrespected while on the job.

I’m sympathetic to the teachers’ experiences, but the director of the day care has treated us well (she is obviously overworked herself), our daughter likes it, and I have no qualms about finishing my daughter’s last year there before kindergarten. But I’m not sure whether we should send our son there or not. I have until January to decide. I guess I’m afraid of the day care attracting negligent caregivers based on a bad reputation. Or is this just how all day care facilities are operated? The logistics of dropping the children off at different locations would be annoying but certainly not impossible. We’re at our max budget with two kids in day care so the main trouble is that a “better” establishment or an in-home nanny would break the bank. My positive experience hasn’t changed, but my perspective has changed based on the experiences of others. Is this a legitimate concern?

—One Kid in, One Out

Dear OKiOO,

Considering the unpleasant and public nature of the departures from staff, it is highly likely that you would have a very different experience at this day care with your son than you’ve enjoyed with your daughter. If you take the former employees at their word, the best thing to do would be to allow your eldest to finish and find another facility within your budget for your son—“overworked and disrespected” are not words that you want to hear from someone tasked with the care of your infant. (“Underpaid,” sadly, is so common in the world of child care that it’s quite possible to come across staff who love their jobs in spite of not earning what they should; however, you absolutely should be concerned by that as well.)

Since you have a bit of time before making this decision, you should also speak to the day care director about the changes on her staff and listen to what she has to say about it. Speak to other parents and see what sort of insight they have as well. Try to get to the bottom of this and make your choice accordingly. Happy hunting!

(Note: to see another columnist’s take on this question, read Sunday’s Care and Feeding column.)

Dear Care and Feeding,

Long story short—I inadvertently outed a trans middle schooler to his mother, and it was a whole thing.

Here’s the background. My middle schooler “Terry” has many friends that are LGBTQ. I know enough to know that it is inappropriate to ask about someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation, so I typically refer to his friends by whatever name he uses and leave it at that. One of the friends, “Ashley,” invited a bunch of kids over to hang out and for a sleepover. As part of my regular due diligence when my kid is going over to someone’s house whom I’ve never met, I contact the parent(s) or guardian(s) to make sure there is going to be a responsible adult around and everything is on the up and up.

I contacted Ashley’s mother to confirm that the kids had permission to sleep over and that someone was going to be around. Terry got the number from Ashley and both kids knew I would be contacting Ashley’s mom. No one said a thing about her not knowing that Ashley is trans. When I called her, I referred to her child by the name and pronouns that I have known them to use. She seemed a little confused, but did not correct me. The sleepover happened and I thought everything was fine. I was quite wrong, apparently.

I don’t have all of the details, but Ashley is no longer in school and Terry says it’s because I outed them to their mom and she freaked out. Obviously, this isn’t what I meant to do, nor would I want to do it again. I suggested that Terry just give me a heads-up for any similar issues in the future, but he tells me that it’s none of my business who is out or not, and that the solution is to just stop contacting his friends’ parents before events. This seems unworkable to me, at least for now. We’re dealing with sixth and seventh graders, not high school kids. (As an aside, Terry does not have his own phone for disciplinary reasons—think irresponsible and unsafe behavior directly tied to the use of the phone.)

Is there a compromise here? Am I being overprotective? My 13-year-old does not seem old enough to be let loose upon the city without having contact information for a responsible adult and some sort of game plan. What to do?

—Not Trying to Out Anyone

Dear NTtOA,

You are definitely doing the right thing by keeping track of where your child is and with whom. Your only mistake was not considering what information that your son and Ashley shared with you had been shared with his friend’s parents, and I doubt it’s one you will make again. Let your child know that you are deeply sorry for what happened but that he has to give you a heads-up about those things, because you will continue to contact his friends’ parents as needed, as you should.

He’s got every reason to be sad, mad, and perhaps scared by what happened to his pal, but he may also be feeling a bit guilty because it was his mom who triggered the reveal. Let him know that his friend’s mom’s terrible reaction is not his fault but that the two of you have to be able to work together to make sure nothing like this happens again.


More Advice From Slate

I am about to turn 30, and we are discussing the possibility of having children, although we are both leaning no. I have never felt a maternal need for kids, though I would love to have a dog. They are expensive, we won’t be able to travel, and I have a family history of mental illness and some other diseases I would hate to pass down. There is one thing that keeps me from saying “no,” and that is that I am afraid of being alone when I am old and can’t fend for myself. I see my grandmother and have no idea what she would do if it weren’t for my mother and her siblings. I recently visited my old nanny in a state-run nursing home and it left me with nightmares. Should we have a child to make sure someone is there to care for us?