Care and Feeding

Am I a Grinch?

I can’t pretend that I believe in Santa in front of my friends’ kids.

A woman telling a disappointed little girl that there is no Santa, with Santa crossed out.
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,

I’m a (happily!) childless twentysomething with several friends with kids. I’m happy to listen to my friends’ stories and look at endless pictures of their cute babies.

I identify as Jewish. I buy holiday presents for my friends’ kids (which I’m sure they open on Christmas), and I’m beginning to get anxious now that more of the kids are old enough to understand the concept of Santa. I have no desire to lie to children and say that I believe in a Christian tradition when I am part of a family that has experienced persecution, forced conversion, murder, and general inconvenience by said religion.

My previous script when I was asked by a kid if I believe in Santa (an event that has been surprisingly frequent) was along the lines of: “I don’t believe in Santa, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t. People in the world have different holidays that they celebrate and different ways they live, and that’s what makes the world an interesting place to live.”

One of my friends texted last year to ask me if I could pretend to believe in Santa so I don’t “ruin Christmas” for their kid. I told them that to ask that of me made me feel deeply uncomfortable, and they dropped it, but I can’t shake how upset I am by it. It’s making me anxious that it’ll happen again. I don’t want to ruin someone else’s holiday, but I feel like “please don’t force me to pretend I’m Christian or that I believe in Santa” isn’t that unreasonable of a request. Is there a better script for this if it happens again? How do I make people understand that this is a completely bananas thing to ask and not as harmless as they think it is? Am I being the unreasonable one?

—Am I a Grinch?

Dear AIaG,

If you feel evincing belief in a largely secular rite to indulge the children of your friends is an affront to your own faith, well, that’s how you feel. The question of whether you’re being unreasonable isn’t salient.

Your friend asked you not to ruin Christmas for their kid by puncturing their own belief; I’m sorry this is still making you feel deeply uncomfortable one year on. I do indeed think there’s a better script for this, so here you go:

Friend’s kid: Auntie G, do you believe in Santa?
You: Hm, I don’t know. What do you think?
Friend’s kid: But really, do you believe in Santa?
You: I just don’t know! What are you excited to get this year?
Friend’s kid: But is Santa real?
You: I don’t know, but I hope he brings you a bike!

Your previous answer made the mistake of taking the kid’s question at face value. No young child cares what you or any grown-ups think; they are, always, talking about themselves. You don’t have to participate in what you feel is a lie; you can simply redirect with lots of questions, and avoid the ire of your friends.

If you truly feel you cannot even do this—play dumb, essentially—then yes, I do think you’re being unreasonable, and for no particular reason. Ruining your friends’ kids’ ability to suspend disbelief—to be a kid!—is not some intellectual or religious victory for you. You might think Santa is bananas (he is), but you’re an adult and surely you know that life sometimes demands that we roll our eyes and keep our opinions to ourselves.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 15-year-old stepson told his dad that he doesn’t want me to tell him what to do—he would rather his dad tell him what to do.

My husband has always handled the heavy lifting with discipline, and I handle the daily tasks: homework, chores, bedtime. My husband and I spoke about this and he asked me to “let him be the bad guy” more. Apparently telling my stepson to take out the trash and get ready for bed (he didn’t want to go yet) was too much.

We’ve been married for five years but together for seven, so I am not new to these children. I’m willing to back off, but I told my husband I’m also going to back off on some of the stuff I’m doing. I’ll still do his laundry; he can sort it and put it up. I’ll let his dad deal with homework and chores when he gets home from work, though this will cut into their time together.

The reason I try to make sure homework and chores are done before Dad gets home is so they can spend that time together. I get being a parent and especially a stepparent can be thankless, but I am a maid, chauffeur, chef, scheduler, personal assistant, etc., and I don’t have enough authority to tell the kid to brush his teeth?

My husband backs me with the kids, but I don’t think he is seeing the logistics. For example, I let my husband sleep in during the mornings and get the kids out the door in time to catch the bus. This involves a lot of me saying “hurry” and “it’s time to go” that he doesn’t see. I want to turn this over to him as well. I’m at a loss at what to do here. I love my husband, I love the kids, but I’m not a doormat! Please help!

—I’ve Had It Up to Here

Dear IHIUtH,

While parenting a teen generally sounds like a thankless proposition, I’m sorry for what’s happening in your household because it seems especially unfair.

I understand that navigating stepparental responsibilities is tricky. But for more than half of your stepson’s life, you’ve been there. You wash his clothes, and you do the million other things we expect from parents; you’ve more than earned the expectation of his obedience. You don’t mention the larger custody arrangement, but even if he and his siblings divide their time between their parents’ homes, you are still a figure in their lives and worthy of respect.

I think your husband needs to communicate that to his son. He might not enjoy it when you remind him to take out the trash or hurry up so he won’t miss the bus, but that’s immaterial. You should still be respected as the adult in the house (the adult who is not sleeping in!!).

In fact, you sound (rightly) hurt and taken for granted. I think you should communicate that to your husband and let him remind your stepson of all you do for him. I think you’re right that he’s probably old enough to sort his own laundry, but I also think you do it for him in part because you love him and that’s what parents—whether step- or otherwise—do. Your stepson may not get that right now (he is a teenager), but I hope that someday he feels chastened by the way he treated you.

I’m glad your husband is supportive, but I agree that this plan won’t work—it’s less good cop–bad cop than crossing guard–bad cop. There’s no predicting when matters of discipline will pop up, and if your stepson knows that you exert no actual power over him, that’s a different can of worms. Of course he doesn’t want to be told to get up for school or take out the trash; there’s no teen out there who wouldn’t complain about that. Your stepson is trying to find a loophole to wriggle out of this and neither of you should allow that.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

We have a healthy, happy 11-month-old. From the beginning, he has been an enthusiastic eater and consumes most of everything that we give him. We switched from purées to cut-up food fairly early and he can easily hand-feed himself.

The problem arises when we try to incorporate a utensil into mealtime. He loves the spoon and fork we use—too much. He refuses to let us help guide the utensil into his mouth. Instead, he drops it and picks it up, twirls it like a baton, and gesticulates wildly with it. By the time it makes it close to his mouth, any remnant of food on the utensil is gone.

I’m not concerned with him eating enough, but rather having him actually learn to use a utensil for its designed purpose. My mother-in-law, a former teacher, mentioned that kids who don’t learn how to use utensils have learning issues at school. I have friends with slightly older kids and they all seem to at least try to use the fork or spoon as it’s meant to be used. What are we doing wrong?

—Utensil Battles

Dear Utensil Battles,

I would love to see your mother-in-law’s research drawing a line from poor fork performance to subpar academic achievement. And I would love to know why your mother-in-law would say something so ridiculous and cruel to you! You don’t have a problem; you have a baby. Give your kid two spoons, or four, or 10, and let him play with them while you help make sure some food actually makes its way into his mouth. I assure you that by the time he goes to Stanford he’ll have mastered eating meals.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter is a wonderful kid. At 16 she has finished high school and is now taking full-time college classes that are being paid for by our district. She’s worked the same job since she was 15; she volunteers and is involved in several extracurricular groups. She is the type who will stand up to a bully and stand up for herself.

She’s also extremely generous. For Christmas, my daughter received a laptop from her grandparents. She has a laptop she prefers to use for school, since it has a different operating system. We also have several older computers around the house that none of us really use.

Her best friend needed a laptop for school and her parents can’t or won’t pay the use fee for her to get the one the school will issue. So my daughter gave her friend the laptop her grandparents got her. We love this girl and aren’t upset that my daughter wants to help. But we would’ve preferred it to have been one of the older laptops, not the expensive gift. I asked my daughter to get it back and told her she could give her friend one of the others or we could help pay the (minimal) use fee for the school-issued laptop. My daughter is hesitant and is pushing back on my request. Am I wrong here? It was given to her as a present and does belong to her, so maybe she should get to decide.

—Love Her Generous Spirit, But …

Dear LHGSB,

You should be so proud to have raised such a great person. I’m not sure I understand your concern; is it because she gave away something that was expensive or because it was something that was meant to be a gift to her? Either way, it was hers to give and she’s right to resist your request that it be returned. That’s not how gift-giving works.

Your family already has more computers than it needs, and your daughter wasn’t making use of what her grandparents gave her, however kind their gesture was in giving it. Offering to pay for her friend’s school-issued computer is generous; subbing it out for some older model is less so. Either way, the matter is concluded. If you’re worried that her grandparents might be hurt that she’s handed off something they meant for her, perhaps they will feel better knowing their grandchild is so generous.

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