Care and Feeding

Our Daughter Just Found Out She’s Adopted

She’s 22, and she’s pissed.

Photo illustration of a woman looking askance.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by GMint/iStock/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,

We know we messed up. We did not tell our daughter (now 22 years old) that she was adopted. I know the current best practice is to tell children basically from birth, but we didn’t, and with each passing year it became more impossible to tell her now. And so we just pretended it would never come up.

It came up. (A cousin told her.) She is not sad so much as absolutely furious at us and won’t take our calls or answer emails or texts.

—What Now?

Dear What Now,

This is quite the fuck-up. It was a 22-year fuck-up, so your daughter has a lot of accumulated time to spend being mad at you.

I want you to send her a letter or email via a trusted intermediary that says, “We are so sorry. We also realize we’ve been pushing for forgiveness while you are still processing our horrible mistake. Please know we love you, you are our daughter, and we will stop contacting you until you tell us you’re ready to talk, however long that takes.”

Then, you wait.

Dear Care and Feeding,

We don’t have a lot of money, by which I mean we are living paycheck to paycheck and sometimes put things on a credit card when the next paycheck is landing in a few days and we don’t have any food. This is one of the reasons that our lovely daughter, who is 7 years old, is an only child.

This is the first year that our financial situation has been something she’s aware of, largely due to seeing things other kids have that she doesn’t. We send her to school in clean clothes and with a full belly, but, no, we cannot send her on a class trip that costs $50. How do we talk about this?

—Always a Window-Shopper, Never a Buyer

Dear Window Shopper,

Kids are tough. They also like being treated like adults. You do not need to have a sit-down with your 7-year-old with an Excel spreadsheet listing all your debits and credits, but there is nothing wrong with simply saying “I’m sorry, honey, we can’t afford that” as these things come up.

If she asks why you can’t afford it when her classmates can, you can tell her that your jobs do not pay you enough money for extras. That you have enough money to keep your family housed and fed and clothed (don’t scare her, make sure she knows things are OK), but, unfortunately, that’s it.

This is the reality of life for a massive percentage of the American population. She will grow up knowing what things cost, how carefully her parents made her feel safe, and what the difference between a need and a want is. These are gifts. Not the gifts you wanted to give your child, but gifts just the same.

I hope things improve for you financially, but even if they don’t, honesty in the moment is always the best plan. When she’s a little older, particularly in that seventh grade phase where everything is awful, I do encourage you to sit down and show her your finances. It will be both educational and also, ideally, impress upon her how far you have been able to stretch a dollar.

Do not ever ever ever tell her that you decided to only have one child because of money. She will blame herself for costing you money. That’s something you take to your grave.

I wish you the very, very best.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Our daughter (a 13-year-old) is going through a goth phase. We mostly think this is adorable and kind of retro, but she wants to have dozens of candles around her room, continuously lit, and we think she’s going to burn the house down. How do we broach this?

—Parents of a Goth

Dear Parents of a Goth,

Congratulations, it’s a goth! Goth teens rule. How else does Hot Topic stay in business? I celebrate your daughter’s choices.

Now, the candles. You broach it by parenting! Tell her she can burn one candle at a time, on a safe surface away from curtains, and it has to be extinguished when she leaves the room. Also, buy her a new fire extinguisher along with some lovely candles for the next gift-giving occasion.

If you get pushback, just say no. You’re the parent, she’s a teen. I say this as someone with what could be described as a candle problem. Encourage her in her other goth desires—Baudelaire poems, malachite crystals, thumb rings, old Theda Bara movies, lip biting—but put your foot down on letting her room look like Enya is about to film a music video in it.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have a major ongoing disagreement over a parenting issue. We both read your column and have decided to toss it into your lap and abide by your ruling, either way.

Our son is 16 years old. He wants to learn to drive (naturally). We do not live in a state where formal lessons are mandatory. My husband wants to teach him to drive himself. I have terrible memories of my own father trying to teach me to drive, many of which ended in tears. My husband loved learning from his own dad and is desperate to have this bonding experience.

Now, our son would prefer formal lessons, which we can afford, but he does not prefer them not strongly enough to be a tiebreaker. Please break it.

—How Did He Become 16 So Fast?

Dear Parents of a 16-Year-Old,

I think that some compromise is actually possible here. Most parents do the late-night mall parking lot method for a while before, you know, letting their kid get on the actual road. It’s a lot less stressful than when you have to interact with other drivers. I think your husband should take charge of the late-night parking lot forays and see how it goes. By the time your son’s ready to move to the next level, he will also know if he wants to take that next level with his dad on the passenger side or a trained professional with a brake pedal.

I recommend the latter. But your husband can spend a few weeks bonding with your son, as he has dreamed, and then it’s up to your son to make the call.

Thank you for trusting me with your child’s driving future. Show him the horrifying videos about texting while driving.

—Nicole

More Advice From Slate

I am the mother of a young man with Asperger’s syndrome. He’s a good kid and always has been. He is 19, an only child, and lives at home. The problem is lack of friends, and I don’t know whether the problem lies with me or with him. Except for a select few, he considers kids his own age to be mean and uninteresting, and he has no desire to make friends—either male or female. Should I keep trying? Or should I back away and let a social life for him develop on its own, realizing that it may never happen?