Care and Feeding

My Grandma Is Awful and I’ve Always Said So. Now I Feel Bad When My Kids Trash-Talk Her.

It’s hard being the end of the line in family dysfunction!

A boy whispering something in a girl's ear, both smirking.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Blue Jean Images via 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 come from a long (very long) line of dysfunction that has, thankfully, improved a bit with each generation. While my great-grandmother was cruel, violent, manipulative, abusive, and neglectful, my own mother was mostly just absent. I’ve tried very hard to break that cycle and have a warm and close relationship with my own children. My grandmother (who fell more to the neglectful and manipulative end of the spectrum) is still alive, but lives in another state and we are mostly estranged. I send Christmas and birthday cards, and occasional brief notes with photos of my children and we speak on the phone about twice a year. She hasn’t seen me or my children in a decade. Unsurprisingly, she has no idea who they are. When I force them to wish her a Merry Christmas during our semi-annual phone call, she has no idea which child is which. I do all of these things, by the way, not out of love or affection, but out of some perverse need to “take the high road” in the relationship and try to insulate myself against regretful recrimination when she eventually dies, if that gives you some insight into how things work around here.

Over the years I’ve been brutally honest about her to them. They know that she was a miserable mother and a pretty terrible grandmother. But now that they are starting to copy the way I speak about her (her drinking, her total lack of maternal instinct), it makes me a little uncomfortable and ashamed. I cringe inside and want to yell that they should respect their elders! I have no idea why I have this urge to defend her, but I have told them about her own cruel upbringing and tried to make them empathize and understand that she didn’t have much of a chance to turn out any other way. That hasn’t changed the way they speak about her at all. I think a lot of it is their way of expressing that they are hurt and baffled by her disinterest.

I can’t articulate why it makes me uncomfortable, so I can’t really reason this through with them. And I can’t hypocritically tell them that they can’t repeat the very same things they’ve heard come out of my mouth. Should I just let this go and try to be more mindful of my own language in the future?

—Don’t Say as I Say!

Dear DSaIS,

I think that you should likely explore seeing a therapist, with the goal of detaching from the remnants of this unpleasant and pointless relationship. Your children are, as you can clearly see, responding to your own internal inconsistency, which is making you upset in turn.

You do not know this woman. You don’t need to force your kids to continue this weird charade with someone you also trash-talk periodically (and somewhat deservedly). I want you to work on raising your children to be authentic adults who have friends and strangers and (OCCASIONALLY) enemies and know the difference between the three.

Drop your end of the rope with your grandmother (I very much doubt if she’ll notice) and if, next Christmas, the kids ask, “Aren’t we going to be forced to say Merry Christmas to your bad grandmother?,” you can reply, “I think it’s better for us to focus on our own family instead of throwing good energy after bad” and then teach them how to play euchre.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Approximately a month ago I hired a young man from a pet store I frequent to housesit for a day. His prices were outrageous, but I agreed since my regular housesitter was out of town. He changed $100 per trip to my house which was required two times a day so he expected $200 for a whole day. For the record I have never been charged that much.

I am disabled and about three days before I was supposed to leave I became quite ill and decided to cancel by text. He told me he charged a cancellation fee (he never suggested such a thing either verbally or in a written contract). I asked what his cancellation fee was and he responded that because it was a holiday (the date of proposed house sitting was Dec. 22) he expected to be paid in full. He outlined a number of additional fees including a “meet and greet” for $30. He then went into a tirade about my mother being the person to conduct my meet and greet and a number of other bizarre texts.

Frankly, I’m kicking myself because he always kind of creeped me out at the store by hugging me and being overly familiar and aggressively insistent on his services. I like his brother-in-law who runs the pet store so I ignored these behaviors and assumed that he was OK if a little weird. Now I’m feeling frightened this guy has a key to my house he won’t give back and is harassing me and my partner via text. He says he “won’t stop until he gets his dues.” I’m not paying someone for no work although. I offered to pay him his $30 “meet and greet,” which I thought was more than fair to offer.

Is housesitting now some high-end business I don’t understand, or is this guy looney? I’m saddened I can no longer go into a local shop I like, but frankly I’ve been avoiding it anyway because I disliked this guy hugging me.

—Am I Insane or Is He?

Dear AIIoIH,

None of this is normal, no. Block his number from your phone, your partner’s phone, and your mother’s phone. Find a new pet store. Have your house rekeyed. It will wind up being more expensive than his extremely jacked-up pet-sitting rate, but there you have it. He seems unstable.

Next time, don’t hire someone you find actively weird and pushy right out of the gate, and get references. Ask your vet for recommendations if your usual sitter is out of town. This was not a parenting question, but I am grateful to have gotten the chance to answer it just the same.

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

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

My son (almost 2) refuses to sit in his own chair at the dinner table to eat. Our family eats dinner together most nights. He usually takes one or two bites, then cries until we let him down, then runs around while periodically demanding a bite from one of us. If we let him, he will happily sit in one of our laps to eat. We have tried a booster seat and a high chair. He’s a good eater, and will try and happily eat many foods, so I don’t think it’s a question of what we are actually serving him.

I’d rather not eat my dinner over a toddler, but the “natural consequences” approach of just not letting him eat unless he sits in his seat seems like using food (or lack of food) as a punishment, and coming from a family that did not always have enough food to eat, this feels really wrong to me. It’s important to both of us that he gets joy from food and eating and has a healthy relationship with food. This is making it hard for our family to go out to eat with him, as we like to do once in a while, and generally makes the family dinner time we work so hard to protect a chore.

Am I overthinking this? Is it as simple as, we don’t let him eat unless he sits?

—Won’t Sit for It

Dear WSfI,

I am so happy to tell you that you are, indeed, overthinking this. He needs to sit in his chair. Everyone goes through the period in which their 2-year-old doesn’t want to sit in their chair and would rather careen around cadging bites from random plates.

It is not using lack of food as a punishment to say he has to sit in his chair to eat the food. I understand how your own background may make you squeamish about that, but I promise you, it’s OK. A little screaming about it now will bear much fruit later when you can eat a Bloomin’ Onion in peace with your kid in a high chair, eating his own Bloomin’ Onion.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My two kids, ages 4 (daughter) and 1 (son), have had chronic ear infections since my daughter started pre-K. Due to their ear infections becoming so severe and frequent, we were referred to an ENT.

I do want to preface this experience by saying my kids are sweet, smiley, and all-over sunny individuals, but they generally don’t do well in cooped-up doctor’s offices, and because they haven’t been feeling well, this was the waiting room to hell. I thought I was prepared for everything, with a stocked diaper bag and a Kindle included as my secret weapon. I was wrong. My son was trying to toddle his way around to the back rooms or touching the giant signs in the waiting room, and refused to be picked up lest he scream bloody murder. My daughter went over to the coffee straws, touched them all, and picked out her favorites. I immediately gave them to the receptionist. After a while it was just me chasing a screaming baby, and my daughter chasing me. I was mortified that others in the waiting room were beyond annoyed with me or just looking at me like “oh you poor girl,” but after 20 minutes I was in tears. I handed my papers to the receptionist and just said, “I can’t do this anymore.” She understood and I left. All I could do after the appointment was sob—I did everything I could think of to lessen the stress of the appointment.

What could I have done differently? Also, should I have apologized to the others in the waiting room? I don’t know if I could have done it without crying, but should I have done it anyway?

—Floods of Tears

Dear Floods of Tears,

I AM HUGGING YOU PROTECTIVELY, like in the first Sex and the City movie when Charlotte holds Carrie and screams “NO!” at Big. In this scenario, Big is the reality of juggling two sick kids in a boring waiting room.

You had a bad day. There’s nothing you could have done. You could have kept the 1-year-old snapped in his stroller, but then he might just have yelled louder. Sometimes you just have to declare a mulligan and go home and make a nice cup of tea.

I’m so sorry.

—Nicole

More Advice From Slate

I love our babysitter but not the nickname she’s given my daughter. My child is 2 and doesn’t speak in clear sentences yet. My babysitter passingly joked that she calls my daughter “the Chinaman” because of how she speaks. I can pass as white, but I’ve referenced visiting family in our country of origin. For obvious reasons I am really upset by this nickname. How do I tell her to knock it off?