Dear Care and Feeding,
My daughter, “Amanda,” is 12. Her best friend, “Amber,” has a 15-year-old sister, “Mara,” who, less than a month ago, got her learner’s permit and started practicing to drive. She has not taken driver’s ed yet. But today Amanda told me that Amber and Mara’s parents allowed Mara to drive, with my daughter in the car, for a long trip involving the highway! I am livid because I was not asked if it was OK with me that the safety of my child be put in the hands of a brand-new driver. Should I say something to the parents, keep my child from hanging out with Amber, or just let it go?
Though it is entirely possible that Mara has had extensive practice behind the wheel, her parents absolutely should have asked permission before allowing a teen student driver to transport your child for any significant distance, especially on the highway. This isn’t the sort of thing that should force you to restrict the girls’ friendship, but it is definitely time for a serious conversation about what takes place when Amanda visits her buddies.
Reach out to politely but firmly explain that you are glad that Mara is preparing to become a licensed driver, but that you are not comfortable with Amanda riding along during her lessons and that it will be a while before you will be willing to let her be in a car driven by one of her peers. Reasonable, respectful parents will simply apologize and make sure it doesn’t happen again; if they react otherwise, you then may have a case for evaluating the terms under which the girls are allowed to hang out. Best of luck to you.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I come from different countries; we share the same native language, but he’s white and I’m Latina. We’ve been together for a little over three years and married for one year. He has a 10-year-old son from his first marriage, and we travel to see him for two weeks at a time every three months. I was introduced to “Timmy” as Daddy’s “friend” back in November 2017, and my husband has never attempted to explain the true nature of our relationship for fear of how he’ll react.
Earlier this year, we found out that Timmy’s mother had informed him that I was his father’s girlfriend; we got this information while my stepson threatened to jump from my in-laws’ rooftop terrace in a fit of jealousy. We just got an apartment in the city where Timmy and his mother reside this past May. Prior to that, I’d stay at a hotel, while my husband would return to his marital home, and his ex-wife would go stay with a friend (sounds odd, but this was part of the divorce arrangement and customary in their home country).
Now that Timmy has a better idea how serious our relationship is, he’s adamant about not wanting me in the same house with him and his father. He also says often that he finds me disgusting and ugly and that he doesn’t want me to touch him because my (darker) color will rub off on his (blond-haired, blue-eyed) body. I’m asked not to talk while he plays video games online so his friends won’t hear me. Meanwhile, his dad does practically nothing to correct him when he says these and other deeply hurtful things, nor his general manners (throwing food wrappers around, not showering for days, and a very long etc.).
I stay out of Timmy’s way when he’s angry, but I normally try to make peace: I took him to Disneyland Paris. I side with him when he wants his dad to let him eat fast food and buy him stuff (including a replacement gaming headset that he broke while yelling at me). In all honesty, I don’t blame the kid; he’s just close to his dad and doesn’t like sharing him. Plus, his parents don’t know how to manage this situation. However, this is taking a toll on me. Any advice?
—Stepmothers Have Feelings Too
I wish that this were a video blog so that you could hear me say this in a voice that carries the weight of every woman who has ever watched another woman suffer in order to keep the peace in her relationship. No font can adequately capture the gravity of this utterance, for it is coming from the depths of my soul, of our foremothers’ souls:
Part of me wants to tell you it’s time to leave your screwed-up husband, his screwed-up white supremacist–in-training of a child, and his screwed-up ex-wife to handle their scandal so that you can find a life with someone who will treat you with the respect you deserve. It is the largest part of me. However, if you are deeply invested in making things work with a man who is not bothered by his child coming just short of calling you a racial slur, you still owe it to yourself to demand some radical changes in your relationship with him and his son.
You should not be called out of your name or bullied by a child. You should not be asked to keep your voice low so that your stepson’s friends don’t find out that there is a woman of color in his family. You should not be told to avoid physical contact with a child because he fears being tainted by your race (I can’t believe I am typing this, sis; I’m very close to offering you my couch).
Most importantly, you should not be expected to lead the charge on addressing any of those issues, because it isn’t your child who has caused them. Your husband has failed in his spousal duty by subjecting you to cruel, unnecessary harm; he is shirking the responsibility of fatherhood, which mandates that he (and his ex) teach his child how to conduct himself with respect for other people and cultures—which most certainly includes the woman he married and her ethnic background. I’m curious to know 1) why and 2) how you are treated in other facets of your life with this guy.
Does your husband have other folks in his life who look like you? Friends? Trusted colleagues? Has the diversity in his social circle been relegated to his bedroom? How does he speak of people with your background? Other “darker” folks? “Tolerant” is too low a bar for an interracial/intercultural relationship—does he respect them as equals? Are you clear that this man doesn’t share the same contempt for your people that his son has but sees you as an anomaly or outlier of some sort?
If that is the case, you need to get the hell out because this family is putting your emotional wellness in peril. If that isn’t the case, then your husband needs a change of tune and ASAP. He can’t give bigotry and bullying a pass simply because his child didn’t react well to his parents’ breakup. And, by the way, being unable to recognize that on his own is a very good sign that he’s got some latent bias issues that he hasn’t confronted and/or he is so deeply blinded by his white/white-passing privilege that he doesn’t realize the magnitude of what he’s putting you through.
I don’t know if you have designs on having a child of your own with this man, but I think it would be incredibly cruel to bring a new life into this mess as it stands now. This is worse than cultural insensitivity or apathy. You are being abused by a 10-year-old, and his father is either OK with that or too cowardly to address it. Either way, this cannot and must not go on any longer, and you need to make that clear to your husband ASAP.
If you have access to counseling or therapy, I strongly urge to speak to a professional who can help you develop the language and, perhaps, the courage to confront your husband about what you require going forward if the marriage is to continue. Sending you all of the strength I can summon, and wishing you all the best.
• 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,
I’m a single mom who lives in a building full of very polite but mostly closed-off tenants. There’s a new neighbor on my floor with a very young baby who cries often, as babies tend to do. I suspect she is single herself, and my heart goes out to her when I hear those sounds coming from her apartment because I’ve been there. I wish I could go over and give her a break for a few minutes or do some chores or something. That would be inappropriate, no?
—Momma, I Understand
I’d start by initiating a more comprehensive introduction (“My name is MIU. I live in 3E, and I’m a single mom to a 5-year-old son … ”) and explaining that you simply wanted to do a better job getting to know the other parents in the building. Compliment her on how adorable her child is and ask how she’s doing, because you know how difficult this time period can be. But don’t talk about how “awful” it is to have an infant or how glad you are that those days are behind you—so many people talk to burned-out parents this way, but it isn’t helpful at all. See what she offers up about her life and how she’s feeling. If it seems that she’d be open to help, let her know that you’d be happy to offer some support from time to time and suggest starting with a walk to the park or lunch date to get to know each other a little better first.
If the initial conversation doesn’t feel like the right time to offer up your assistance, make a point to chat her up when you can and work on establishing yourself as an ally. Think about how you’d want to be approached by a relative stranger when you were in her position. Consider the possibility that this woman could be quite shy or simply uninterested in your friendship. No matter what, good on you for being willing to step up and provide a fellow mama with a helping hand.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m a 22-year-old college student who still lives with her mother. When my mom drinks, she likes to talk about the men she fantasizes about while masturbating, and it makes me wildly uncomfortable. She acts as though I am a regressive prude for feeling this way. Am I behind the times or wrong to think she’s crossing a boundary, or are masturbation fantasies a normal topic that families discuss?
—Concerned in California
I am wildly uncomfortable for having read your letter, so I can only imagine how you feel. But to answer your question, there are families that would consider the contents of one’s spank bank to be a totally normal topic of discussion—which is great for them, if everyone has agreed on engaging in this line of conversation. Your mother is out of line not because she wants to talk about this sort of thing with you, but because she is dismissing your feelings about the personal nature of sexuality to force you into gossiping with her about her masturbation habits.
The next time your mother wants to tell you what she feels when MSNBC’s Chris Hayes adjusts his tie, remind her that you have made your refusal to talk about these things with her known and explain that you feel frustrated by her refusal to respect your wishes. Let her know that, going forward, you will politely excuse yourself when she brings up the topic and that you refuse to be subject to something that makes you so uncomfortable any longer. If she cannot come up with anything else to gossip about, it may be time for you to start planning an exit strategy from her home.
More Advice From Slate
I am a single mother with a 14-year-old son who will not stop pleasuring himself. I knew this time was coming but now I fear I am close to my wit’s end. I have seen evidence in his bedroom, the laundry room, and the kitchen. I know this is normal, but how much is too much?