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 husband is a thrill-seeker. He races motorcycles, scuba dives, and climbs mountains. He has looked forward to sharing these passions with our son ever since we found out I was pregnant. Our 5-year-old son, however, is not the adrenaline junkie my husband is. He’s been diagnosed with sensory issues and is extremely sensitive to motion. Even swinging on his swing set is “too fast” and “scary” for him. My husband is very sensitive to our son’s needs with one exception: roller coasters. He desperately wants to pass along his love of roller coasters to our son. He bought season passes to a large theme park and takes our son there regularly. These visits always end horribly. He either tries to coerce our son onto a roller coaster and our son refuses, which leads to my husband getting angry at our son for ruining a fun day and making us all leave, or forces him onto a roller coaster, which ends in our son crying. I don’t like thrill rides myself and have a medical condition that does not allow me on them, so I’m perfectly happy taking our son on little kid rides while my husband rides roller coasters, but my husband doesn’t like that. He believes it’s important for our son to get over his fears, and that the only way to do that is to ride more roller coasters. My explanation that I never liked roller coasters, even after exposure to them, has done nothing to change his mind. What are your thoughts? I want to leave my son alone because being scared of roller coasters is not going to negatively impact his life, but my husband insists we can’t let him give in to fear.
—Wife in the Fast Lane
Your husband needs to come to terms with the fact that he’s not raising a small clone of himself but a son who has both sensory issues and an aversion to roller coasters. All he’s doing—aside from behaving like a petulant child—is making amusement parks, thrill rides, and perhaps even himself sources of anxiety and dread for your little boy. His actions are incredibly selfish, and surprisingly so given that the sensory issues have been diagnosed. It’s maddening that he’s still convinced that your kid can just get on board with what he considers to be fun. Tell him it’s time to drop the obsession and find other ways to connect with his son, and that there’s no more discussion to be had about the issue.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m just a regular 14-year-old boy trying to have a regular life, but I don’t really have a regular mind. I have a slight bit of self-diagnosed arrogance and a bit of depression and anxiety. My brother doesn’t help matters at all. He is obnoxious, embarrassing, and downright disgusting (he has poor hygiene and chews with his mouth open). That’s just the tip of the iceberg! He calls me an idiot when I already have low self-esteem, and calls me fat even though he is the one who eats platefuls of chicken nuggets straight out of the microwave! He claims I care more about my friends and myself than I do my family, but he doesn’t do anything except eat and watch YouTube all day—and my mom lets him! He got his ass beat because he called a kid the N-word. If it had been me, I’m sure Mom would just call me stupid and make me return to class and face what I did, but she decided to home-school him. I feel like he’s the favorite kid because of how spoiled he is. But I guess this is my divine retribution for calling him a loser who will live with his mommy at age 48. Any advice?
—The Tired Brother
Oh, honey. I’m sorry that you are faced with some difficult stuff, both on the inside and in dealing with your family. Your wit is certainly above and beyond that of many of your peers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if your brother has a hard time keeping up with you in a war of words. You’ve diagnosed yourself with a bit of arrogance, but what about the depression and anxiety? I hope a trusted counselor or therapist is helping you with those issues, and if not, you should consider speaking to your mom and asking that you get some professional help. As an adult coping with those same challenges, I can attest to the importance of having the support you need to keep them under control.
As for your brother, his behavior toward you isn’t divine retribution, though I might categorize the ass kicking he got at school as such. Is he older or younger? Was there ever a time when the two of you got along and enjoyed each other’s company? Is there anything that happened, or any reason you can think of why you don’t like each other? How does your mother react to the tension between y’all?
You say your mom spoils your brother. I don’t want to make excuses for her, but I wonder if perhaps she sees him as needy in ways that you are not and is compensating for that. As you say, he’s made at least one awful choice at school and doesn’t have good manners or grooming habits, whereas I’d bet you don’t typically find yourself in that kind of trouble and probably take your hygiene seriously. Moms are not perfect, TTB, and I’m sure you’ve noticed that by now. Taking your maturity for granted to address your brother’s alleged shortcomings is not a great approach, but it is a very common one, and one many parents do subconsciously. She may also feel closer to him for a number of reasons (e.g., if he’s her first born, if they have more interests or traits in common, if you have been less interested in her company than he has, etc.). Again, none of these are excuses, just possible factors.
Have a heart-to-heart with your mom about what you are feeling, at home and beyond. Let her know that you are struggling and could use some support. If you don’t feel confident that you can explain that to her, find a trusted adult to help facilitate the conversation—a teacher, relative, your doctor, etc. Let her know that you need things to change between you and your brother and that you are willing to do your part, even if it’s a matter of agreeing to peacefully coexist with limited interaction.
If you don’t already, keep a journal so you can document your feelings and determine what some of the common factors and triggers may be for your anxiety and depression. Also, document good moments and things that you appreciate about yourself so that you aren’t simply keeping record of your pain, but also recognizing the better parts of your life.
I know it may feel like you aren’t leading a normal or regular life, but trust me … you are! So many of your classmates and peers are experiencing the same issues, and so many of the adults around you are locked in the same battles, often without your ability to recognize what they are dealing with. Don’t take the gift of self-awareness for granted—most folks live their whole lives without it. Wishing you all of the best, little one.
• If you missed Tuesday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.
• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!
Dear Care and Feeding,
We are having our third baby, and it seems like the naming process becomes harder each time. I’d like to choose the name of a badass historical figure for our new daughter’s middle name—there are a lot to choose from! Do you think it’s problematic for a white couple to name their baby after a woman of color from the past that we admire?
—Admiration or Appropriation
Congrats on the pregnancy! There is nothing problematic about naming your child after a person of color, though you should be mindful that a name (even a middle name) can create an assumption about your child’s background—for example, Sasha Harriet Tubman Jones will very likely be perceived as black, which could very easily cross that line from appreciation to appropriation and can also expose your child to the sort of discrimination faced by people of color when it comes time to apply for schools and jobs. Luckily, there are many inspirational women of color to choose from—so many that you have no shortage of names to pick from that won’t put your daughter in a position
to constantly explain that she’s not Japanese, Puerto Rican, or Cuban, just named for someone awesome who was. Best of luck!
Dear Care and Feeding,
I work as an educator for an organization that runs residential programs for students between the ages of 16 and 18. It is quite literally my dream job. In our programs, sleeping arrangements are divided by gender, often in large dorm rooms. This makes me very uncomfortable, and I think it is based on a lot of bad assumptions (i.e., to prevent students from having sex). It is not uncommon to have 20–30 percent of our student group openly identified on the LGBTQ spectrum. I am queer myself and on the trans/gender fluid spectrum. My queer friends and I totally took advantage of rules like this when we were in high school and had lots of sex in the rooms we shared with friends of the same gender. Beyond that, I feel like it reinforces rigid binary lines that serve no one and can potentially make queer students feel as uncomfortable and unwelcome as it did when I was younger.
I am confident that if we did have a nonbinary student, we would be asked to encourage them to sleep in the room of their assigned gender, which I don’t think I could make myself do. That has not happened so far, but I did have a gay student in the past who was closer with the boys in our program and was frustrated and upset that she was always asked to sleep in the “girls’ room.” When I was in school (not so long ago!), these things were frustrating and uncomfortable, but they also felt non-negotiable. Things have changed a lot in the last few years, and I meet a lot of students who recognize that another way of operating is possible. I want to be part of this cultural shift in making things better for those who are walking this path after me. How do I navigate this? My organization is generally very progressive and aware of and employs many LGBTQ people. This is definitely an ongoing conversation, and one I’m working hard to be a part of, but there are concerns about parents, legal liabilities, student comfort, “it’s not that big a deal,” and the feeling that it’s maybe a little bit too far too soon. I’m one of the younger staff members and feel a bit of a generation gap on this topic, even with people just five or so years older, since culture around this topic is evolving so quickly. Thoughts?
—Trying to Be Better
The world around us—or at least the world around some of us—is slowly but surely beginning to adapt to norms that better reflect the people who have to adhere to them, as opposed to simply meeting the standards of people who use religion, gender, and history to lord over the rest of us. However, we have a long way to go in many regards, and for that reason, fully gender-blind sleeping arrangements for teenagers are going to be a hard, hard sell in most situations.
Predators come in all gender expressions and sexual orientations, but the long history of (cis, heterosexual) boys posing a threat to girls is one that most adults are likely to take into consideration in situations like this. And yes, queer kids are able to get away with hooking up right under the noses of adults tasked with caring for them because of gender-binary sleeping arrangements, but that won’t help you make the strongest case for changing up the way things are handled now, because you could argue that you’d simply expand access to unmonitored sex from one group of teens to all of them. Because consensual sex is, of course, the worst thing that can happen to a kid, right?
I’d wager that most of your colleagues would understand the value of allowing queer or gender nonconforming kids to find the roommates that would make them feel most at home. Continue to make this the focus of your advocacy for policy changes; fight to have kids placed with the group where they feel the safest and most comfortable. Explain why expecting nonbinary children to sleep in the room with the kids who share their genitalia by default is not the right approach to a conundrum that is a lot less complicated than it may appear to be. You are unlikely to destroy the rigid “boys here, girls there” practice at your job, but you can certainly begin the shift toward a policy that works better for the young people you serve.
BTW: I know that working with youth is often a thankless gig, so if no one told you today, you are appreciated!
More Advice From Slate
My son, a high school freshman, is a very laid-back and relaxed 15-year-old. This was great when he was younger—rarely was there a tantrum or strong resistance—but as a teenager it makes me so worried. We cannot get him motivated about school, or to find his passions. He puts in little effort and does fine. But he is very bright, and with even a modest effort he could do quite well. He doesn’t get in trouble at school, has many friends, and hasn’t pushed our boundaries beyond what is appropriate at his age. Perhaps this is our own hangup about how he should be successful. Do we just let him find his way?