Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m recently married and looking forward to having children within the next year or so. The problem is, so many of my friends—including the women whom I consider my besties—are vehement about not having kids. This would be fine with me—hey, it’s their choice!—except they frequently make comments about finding children disgusting or repulsive. For example, when some neighborhood kids rang my friend’s doorbell to raise money for a school club, she was annoyed and referred to them as “brats.” This type of thing is typical with them. They know I want children, but these comments have started to make me feel pretty bad. What do I do? Do I need to find new friends?
—All My Friends Are Child-free
I’ve found it increasingly common to hear women complain about children or straight-out say they don’t like them at all. I have a theory about this. You see, kids are incredibly challenging people to manage, something we all know firsthand as ex-children ourselves. And the vast majority of us grew up in homes where the mother was the parent who did most of the child care—work that is often thankless, uncompensated, and misunderstood. Knowing this, I think it’s surprising that so many of us do choose to become mothers at all.
It’s fine for your friends not to want kids. But it’s pretty wack that they can’t temper their loathing for children enough to be kind to the sole member of the crew who is eagerly anticipating motherhood. Even if your buddies decide to get on board with your pregnancy, and perhaps yours alone, you absolutely should begin to seek out new friends who share your interest in starting a family. That isn’t to say that you need to cut off your child-free peeps—but moms need mom friends (at least a few) who can provide support that others simply cannot. You’ll need to talk about the body changes and the night feedings and the school search with people who have more to add than, “Yuck, could never be me!”
You’ll also need to talk about stuff that has nothing to do with your kids and maintain parts of your life that don’t revolve around them. Be sure to nurture those relationships with your existing pals as best you can. You may be surprised and find that the loudest kid-hater is the one who falls most deeply in love with your little one and becomes the best play-aunt ever. Best wishes to you!
Dear Care and Feeding,
My 10-year-old son “Tommy” recently got into trouble at school for making racist comments. He has been struggling with making friends and tries very hard to fit in with the popular crowd. Tommy has had quite a few run-ins with authority figures at his school by being sarcastic or saying “shocking” things to impress his “friends.” The latest phone call I received from the school centers around a racist comment he made to a young girl on the school bus. I am horrified. At home, Tommy is a sweet, thoughtful boy. At school, he is getting a reputation as a bully and now a racist. I’m at a loss on where this behavior is coming from and I’m at a loss on how to approach it. Help!
—Not My Boy
Without intervention, it’s likely that Tommy will soon forget the bus incident. I’d bet the young lady involved will remember it for the rest of her life.
How have conversations about racism gone with Tommy? Have you given him a comprehensive explanation about how it works, who is harmed most by it, and who typically benefits? Or have you simply told him that everyone is should be treated with respect, “no matter what they look like?” That common approach is categorically insufficient. It’s telling a kid that the N-word is simply a really bad curse word, like the B-word or the F-word, and expecting that to be reason enough for them to think against using it.
It’s time for Tommy to get a real education about racism before he causes his classmates, and perhaps himself, some real harm. The bigotry could be his attempt at fitting in, or it could be his way of standing out—but it could also be a worldview that he has developed over the years and will require some serious deprogramming. I know this behavior at school runs counter to what you’ve observed at home, but just because Tommy may understand the consequences of using racist language in front of his parents doesn’t mean he’s only using it to make friends at school.
You can also address his desperation to fit in while taking this on; there are countless examples throughout history of white (I’m going to assume here that he’s white, but this approach could work with any child) kids who have chosen to align themselves with racist peers instead of standing up and doing what was right. There are also those who made names for themselves by having the bravery to rise above the crowd and speak up against hatred. Ask him to consider who he wants to be in the world and why.
You’re gonna need to put some time in at the library, on Amazon, at local museums. This may need to be a whole family project, especially if Tommy has siblings. If white families are not extremely proactive about raising anti-racist kids, the result will be generation after generation of racist adults. This isn’t something you can assume will just go away when he makes a few friends, nor can you leave it to the diversity of children’s TV programming and the internet to just make him “woke” without having to put in real work. This is no small undertaking, but it’s also not that hard either. You just have to be ready to be uncomfortable, and to make him uncomfortable.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m a 30-year-old trans man. I transitioned as a teenager, long before my 10-year-old brother “Ronald” was born, so he has only known me as his big brother. My older sister and I encouraged our dad and stepmother to speak to him about this at an appropriate time, but they didn’t.
Ronald recently stumbled upon my birth name and old photos of me when looking at some family memorabilia (which I have asked to be whisked away or trashed, to no avail). Dad and stepmom didn’t handle this well—first attempting to lie to him, then telling him he had to talk to me directly, and eventually coming up with something close enough to the truth. I’ve seen my little brother once since then, and in a quiet moment to ourselves, I told him that if he wanted to talk any more about what he’d recently learned, we could do so at any time. He simply said “OK” and we continued with our Nerf gun fight.
Do I need to do anything else here? I’m fine with not talking about this again, and also fine answering any questions my brother might have. I’m going to treat his parents as nonfactors in this; how they handled this issue is pretty consistent with their slapdash parenting style overall, so if there is anything that Ronald needs to hear, it would likely have to come from me. What to do?
In theory, you can totally engage with Ronald as you always have and hope that at some point, he’ll start a conversation that would allow you to share with him what you think he should know in order to understand trans identity and your transition in particular.
However, there’s a good chance he may never feel comfortable or compelled to start that dialogue. I do not think that you or any other trans person should feel that it is your duty to demystify or explain your experiences, or your humanity, to cis people. However, this isn’t a random stranger or a colleague or a potential partner—it’s your baby brother. Someone who is not just a dear relative, but a child who is still getting a great deal of his education on how to understand the world around him from his parents—and you’ve been clear how useful they’ll be on a subject that you are uniquely qualified to discuss. I think you see where I am going with this.
Again, you shouldn’t feel pressured to have the trans identity talk with Ronald, but you may want to consider that you are the probably the best person in his life to do so. He has always loved you as his older brother, so it may be quite easy for him to wrap his brain around the idea that people aren’t always born with the physicality that matches who they are inside; after all, he’s been looking at living proof of that all his life. Maybe he grasped that quickly, and that’s why he didn’t feel the need to talk about it with you further.
However, Ronald may have some questions that he can’t get answered at home; he may also find in you, if you are willing, a person who can talk to him about his own gender expression or sexual orientation. There very well may be trans or gender nonconforming children in his peer circle who may benefit from having an empathetic, understanding friend who learned about gender identity from his wise older brother.
You have a responsibility to protect your peace and make space for conversations as they seem healthy and productive for you. But as Ronald’s much older brother, you also have a responsibility to help him make sense of the world around him. It seems there is an answer here, but ultimately, this is your call. Good luck to you both.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I am a father of two boys, ages 9 and 5. Instead giving them a traditional allowance, I wrote a little app for their shared tablet that tracks redeemable “points.” They get points for doing chores, doing well in educational games, school performance, etc. They can trade them in for money for toys, candy, and other special treats. This worked great for quite some time.
About a week ago, I went on a road trip and came back to my eldest son having about triple the number of points he had when I left. Long story short: He figured out what program I use to edit the app and, thanks to YouTube coding videos, figured out how to award himself points. He has been punished for cheating, but in truth, I am thrilled. He showed incredible drive and ingenuity, and I want to encourage these traits in him. How do I go about praising the good (self-teaching, dedication, learning a new skill) without also rewarding the bad (cheating, hacking)?
—Stanley Jobson Sr. (Apparently)
Dear Mr. Jobson,
That is one of the most impressive kid scams I have ever heard!
This is a great opportunity to talk about why what he did was wrong, and what the impact of those actions, aside from his punishment, has been. You took the time to create something that had meaning for him and his little brother, and he disregarded that meaning by attempting to cheat the system. How did that make you feel inside? Hurt? Sad? Disappointed? Kids need to hear about it when they stir these emotions in their parents. There’s no need for an extended guilt trip, but he should come to understand that parents don’t get upset when kids do mischievous things simply because mischief has occurred.
There’s also a conversation to be had about the value of work. The system is designed in part to help him appreciate what it takes to earn something, and his little stunt ran afoul of that. As you make him aware of just how and why his actions were wrong, you can also make a point to explain how impressive his hacking was and how valuable that skill can be for doing the right thing in the future. You should encourage him to learn more about coding and consider finding ways to help him to continue honing those talents. Good luck, you are gonna need it! Hopefully he is the next Stanley Jobson and will make you wealthy one day.
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