Care and Feeding

My Brother Wants Nothing to Do With My Disabled Children

Do I have to be nice to him anymore?

A woman looking exasperated at her apathetic brother.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Motortion/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Paul Bradbury/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,

I have two very young children with severe developmental disabilities (physical and cognitive) who will need lifelong care. They are sweet, lovely, funny small people, and everyone in our extended family has rallied around us and visits often to support us in looking after them. Everyone, that is, except my brother, who has seen them twice for a few hours each time and never calls or emails. When my daughter was hospitalized for epilepsy, he called my mother to ream her out for not telling him how serious their genetic condition was, as it affected his plans to have children with his wife one day. He did not contact me to see if she was OK.

Recently we redid our wills and had to decide who we wished to be guardians of our kids if something were to happen to both my husband and me. Because of the physical strength needed to care for the kids, we decided it wouldn’t be right to ask the grandparents to take that on when my husband and I each have a brother. My brother-in-law is a great guy and agreed to be first in line, but our attorney suggested we name a second guardian just in case.

I thought that since my brother and his wife are financially well-off, plan to have kids, and are at heart the sort of people you’d expect to rise to the occasion in such a dreadful scenario, he would say yes. He said no, and gave no reason other than “we’re not comfortable with it.” At this point, I really want nothing further to do with him. Taking care of my children and giving them a good life has become such a big part of who I am now that I don’t feel I can have a relationship with someone who doesn’t want to be around them. He texted me to wish me happy birthday, and I just deleted it. Is it worth keeping up the appearance of a relationship? Or is it OK to simply ghost him until he apologizes for his coldhearted behavior?

—Callous Brother

Dear CB,

There are two separate issues here, I think. One is that your brother is extremely selfish and completely uninterested in your children and apparently you, and that’s extremely frustrating and unfortunate. You may or may not care enough about him at this point to try to get an apology or even seek to attain civility at family events. You are the only person who can answer that, but you are under no obligation to interact with him in any way.

The other is that when asking people to be possible guardians for our children (even second-tier just-in-case guardians), especially our children who will need a high level of support as adults and for the rest of their lives, the thing we need more than anything else is … complete honesty.

He certainly gave you that. He doesn’t want to do it. He told you so. He doesn’t feel about them the way you do. He would be a bad guardian. And it’s good that he told you so, no matter how much it hurts.

Find a secondary guardian who will agree fully and also, please, make sure these conversations include some very serious estate planning to do the best you can to make financial provision for their care. You have a lawyer walking you through this, so I highly doubt this has not occurred to you.

I wish you the very best of luck.

Enjoy special holiday content from our Care and Feeding columnists, including a gift guide of classic toys for children of every age from Nicole Cliffe, coping strategies to survive the holidays from Jamilah Lemieux, and educational (but fun!) kid gift ideas from Ask a Teacher columnist Carrie Bauer.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 3-year-old has a strange habit of peeing on purpose during naptime at day care. At other times and places, she’s consistently potty-trained, but she pees on her mat at day care while she’s wide awake and will tell you that she did it on purpose.

I think she does this because she’s either bored or doesn’t want to stay on the mat. The thing is, her teachers will usually offer her a book or let her get up and draw if she asks to. She just seems to resent being asked to stay on her mat in the first place. Recently, she actually laughed while one of them had to clean up the mess. How do I address this?

I’ve offered good behavior charts and plenty of stickers and compliments when she doesn’t do it, but it seems wrong to reward her for not peeing on a mat on purpose! That should just be standard behavior.

—This Can’t Be Good

Dear This Can’t Be Good,

Man, kids can be such jerks. She’s being a colossal jerk. She knows it. It’s kind of funny if you’re just reading about it in your email, but less funny if you’re cleaning up her pee or receiving increasingly grim missives at day care pickup.

I am giving you an imperfect answer (they always are). None of us wants to do “good behavior charts” and the stickers and the rah-rah treatment to a kid who is deliberately being a pill because she doesn’t like what you’re asking her to do, which everyone else is doing, and for which she has been presented with numerous pleasant alternatives.

But.

You’re gonna get kicked out of day care if your kid keeps deliberately peeing on her mat like a cat who is aggravated you brought home a cheaper brand of wet food. You do not mention (and I wish you had!) if your child is generally well-behaved or kind of a hellion. If, apart from this truly impressive deliberate and literal piss-taking, she’s a pretty good kid, you’re gonna have to grit your teeth and do the nonsense good-behavior charts. You have my permission to bend the knee to Her Majesty this one time and reward her for not angrily peeing on her play mat.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter is 2 years old. Six weeks ago we switched her day care, and it is going very well except for one issue. She has refused to poop at her new day care. Before the switch she pooped every day. Now she only goes two to three times a week and only at home. I am trying to increase her fiber intake, but I think the issue is she just is not comfortable going there and is holding it in. Is there anything else I can do to help her get more comfortable? I want to potty-train her soon but don’t know if I need to resolve this first.

—Pooped in Boston

Dear Pooped in Boston,

Generally speaking, I recommend pushing a little more water and a little less milk (a lot of toddlers request extra milk during a transitional phase). Is she struggling to go when she goes? Are her poops hard? Is there any blood? If yes, hang up the internet and call your pediatrician.

If not, well, it’s really extremely common for kids to be so busy and distracted by a shiny new day care that they simply have more important things to do than poop. Or, depending on how long she spent at her old day care, she might just need a little more than six weeks to want to poop there. She might also be eating differently, so check on the school’s provided snacks (if any).

I don’t think this is a reason not to potty-train, as long as she’s adequately hydrated and isn’t showing signs of discomfort or straining when she does poop.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I volunteer at my local Y twice a week, teaching English and civics to refugees in our community. We also supervise the students’ kids in the next room with playtime and homework help while their parents are in class. Everybody learns better with a snack, parents and kids alike, so I always keep an eye out for snacks on sale. Last week boxes of those six-packs of peanut butter crackers were BOGO, so I brought them to class and everyone munched away happily.

As perhaps you can tell by the time stamp of this submission, I just randomly woke up in the middle of the night with my mind racing about what I would have done if any of the people who ate them were allergic. Mercifully I don’t have any experience with food allergies, so I’m not sure what is a considerate way to handle this situation in the future. Is it just common protocol now to avoid peanut butter products for environments like this altogether?

—Is This … OK Now?

Dear Is This … OK Now,

I do not think it’s a problem to offer clearly labeled, sealed packages of an obviously peanut-containing product to adults for their kids. I definitely wouldn’t be tossing them to small children if I didn’t specifically know about their allergy status.

It sounds to me like this snack was for parents and kids together, and no one had an issue. If you’re working with a primarily non-English-speaking population, as in this case, it does seem worth emphasizing if a product contains a very common allergen. Might be worth a very brief English and civics lesson on Jimmy Carter’s favorite legume.

—Nicole

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