Care and Feeding

Who Gets to Be Grandma?

I want my stepmother to be a grandparent to our new child, but I also want to honor my deceased mother’s memory. What names should we use?

Photo of a heavily pregnant woman looking thoughtfully at a framed photo of grandparents.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Queensbury/iStock/Getty Images Plus LightFieldStudios/iStock/Getty Images Plus, and Creatas Images/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,

When I was in my mid-20s, my siblings and I lost our mom to an ugly battle with cancer. Since then, my dad met a widow (“Jane”) with her own adult children, dated her for a while, and married her last year. Jane is absolutely wonderful, and everyone from both families gets along well. Recently, my husband and I found out we are expecting a child. This will be the first baby to be born to both my siblings and Jane’s kids, and everyone is thrilled. Jane and my dad are already excitedly ramping up into grandparent mode.

I absolutely want Jane to be in my kid’s life in a grandparent-type fashion, but I feel weird and sad about the idea of her being called “Grandma” when my mom is dead and not able to be here to meet her grandchild. I also want to be able to refer to my own mom to my kid when they’re older in a way that they understand who she was and what her relationship to me/my family was. The best idea I can think of is to have Jane be “Grandma Jane,” while my mom could be “Grandma Susan.” However, I’m worried this may come across as othering my father’s wife when he is going to simply go by “Grandpa.”

My husband thinks I’m overthinking this and that Jane will probably go along with whatever I ask. He’s probably right about that part, but I still don’t want to hurt her feelings or alienate her, especially since she only recently married my dad. On top of all of this, I also worry that whatever I pick now is going to place pressure on my siblings and/or Jane’s kids to conform to whatever I went with when they start having their own kids. Am I overthinking this? Is there some alternative I’m not thinking of, or is “Grandma Jane” an acceptable idea to propose?

—What’s in a Name?

Dear WiaN,

You didn’t make any reference to your husband’s parents. Will your child be meeting them, or, if they are unable to do so, will they learn about them as they will be learning about your late mother? The easiest solution here is to refer to all grandparents by their familial title and name, including your father. Jane is unlikely to feel snubbed by your interest in ensuring that your child is made to understand and appreciate the life of her maternal grandmother. In fact, this may help her and her children establish their approach to discussing her late husband with any grandchildren that may be born to her side of the blended family.

If you are truly concerned that choosing names will create a problem for your siblings or Jane’s kids, open a dialogue with them about the topic before you do so. However, I think it’s pretty unlikely that they will feel trapped by your very reasonable inclination to refer to the grandparents using their first names. And if they do, they can choose something else that works for their households.

It also is possible that “Grandma Jane” and “Grandpa Jack” will eventually be shortened to Grandma and Grandpa, or Grammy and Pa Pa. That’s not a snub to your mother or anyone else, just a very natural thing that can happen if these are the grandparents children in your family most often speak to and/or about. Grandma Susan will remain present in your family thanks to the photos and stories you share, as well as her indelible impact on you as a woman and a mother. Sending you best wishes for a healthy, safe delivery and a warm welcome into the world of parenting.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter, 10, has been diagnosed for several years with precocious puberty, which means she’s experiencing puberty a bit earlier than most kids. She’s fine and receiving excellent care from an endocrinologist. However, among the more visible signs of her condition is hair growth. As she is quite observant, she realizes that she’s having an experience unlike her peers, which is troubling for her at a point in life where most young people want to fit in. This difference (and the other unseen differences) are profound to her, and she can be hard on herself over them. We are working through that by having her see a therapist, letting her express herself creatively, and providing lots of love and listening ears.

We’ve taught her how to shave her armpits when they’ll be visible or when the hair bothers her, which has been an effective solution. Recently, she’s expressed concern over the fine-yet-dark hair above her upper lip. It is noticeable, and I hate that she’s self-conscious about it. However, I’m what you might call “granola,” and not even remotely up to date on techniques regarding appearance. I’m afraid I have no clue how to help her.

Is there an age-appropriate hair removal or hair-lightening treatment available? My biggest worry is that she ends up with thicker/darker/faster-growing hair, or a five o’clock shadow. Her doctors aren’t concerned so much with her cosmetic appearance, so they have not provided much help here. I’d love to be able to lead her down a path of having greater control over her diagnosis; I wish she could say, “Pfft, who cares?” som day, but I also realize that not having to face it every time she looks in the mirror could be quite empowering. What to do?

—Compassionate Yet Conflicted

Dear CYC,

The majority of women in this country do not sport visible facial hair. Most of those who do are making a deliberate choice to subvert social and aesthetic norms. It is important that we affirm their right to do so, but also important that a little girl who has not (at least yet) embraced such an attitude is supported in her desire to do what she likely would do if her mustache didn’t appear until she was 16 or 17, which is to remove it.

It is to be expected that your 10-year-old daughter would want a mustache-free face. Just as you are concerned that the wrong hair-removal process could have long-term ramifications, I think you should also consider how your personal desire to see her unbothered by her hair growth could cause some lasting damage if you allow it to determine how you proceed.

As a somewhat “granola” and very much leftist parent myself, I empathize with the internal battle over what may feel like giving into a heteronormative, misogynistic cultural practice. However, your daughter should be able to develop a “who cares” approach to hair removal on her own if she is so inclined, and I think it’s for the best that you put your personal feelings about the matter all the way to the side and focus on the task at hand: finding a solution.

Common hair-removal methods can stimulate hair growth, but that only means that you and your daughter will have to be consistent in using the one that you chose. It’s highly unlikely that she’ll end up with a five o’clock shadow from shaving, and if her hair grows that fast, then it wouldn’t be the appropriate method for her anyway. Bleaching creams can work depending on her completion, but they are very difficult to use and may make her facial hair even more visible. I still remember when one of my fifth grade classmates came to school after someone had attempted to bleach her very dark and very thick mustache…it wasn’t a good day for her, to say the least.

It’s disappointing, though not surprising, that your daughter’s doctor isn’t more concerned about her hair growth and the impact it’s having on her spirit. The best thing to do in this case would be to see a dermatologist, who can recommend the best method for safely removing her mustache based on her unique skin type and grooming capabilities. Best of luck to you both!

• 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,

My oldest son, “Tariq,” is a 17-year-old junior and has late arrival every day at school, meaning he doesn’t start his schoolday until a little after 9:15. My husband works early, and I am always busy at home with a baby and toddler. Since we don’t receive bus service, Tariq takes his little siblings (a seventh grader and fourth grade twins) to their respective schools every day at 8.

Lately, he has been complaining about this, as he would like to sleep in and relax at home in the morning, which is apparently why he chose the schedule that he has now instead of one that starts and ends earlier.

Tariq says it is unfair that he is the “family chauffeur,” which I don’t think to be true or reasonable, and is also bothered by having to pay for the gas it takes to get the younger kids to school. To be fair, he did purchase the car himself and pays for all costs associated with it on his own; however, the two schools aren’t even that far from his own, and gas is very cheap in our area.

Next semester, Tariq and his best friend have made plans to choose the same late-arrival schedule so they can hang out before school, and he has informed me that he will not be driving the little ones anymore. I told him he had a choice: Clean both our cats’ litter boxes every day for the rest of the school year, or keep doing the drop-offs. Now he is incredibly angry with me. Was I out of line? Really, is it so unreasonable to expect that he pitch in once in a while and take his little siblings somewhere so that I don’t have to load up five small children every morning?

—Being Fair or Nah

Dear BFoN,

Tariq doesn’t seem to have any other chores aside from this one, but has that always been the case? I strongly suspect that you didn’t require much from him in regard to contributing to the household, but now that he is in a position to do something that eases you and your husband’s morning stress, you’ve introduced a concept to him that probably should have been integrated into his home life much sooner.

Did you know why he chose the late schedule? Or did you simply see an opportunity to get some much needed help and hop on it without considering his needs or plans? Was contributing to the family’s driving needs a condition of his ability to purchase his car?

Loading up five kids in the morning is certainly a big task. But those are your kids, not Tariq’s, and it doesn’t sound like you’ve found a way to make him feel the sense of responsibility necessary for a 17-year-old to take on such a substantial obligation on a daily basis. Furthermore, it is likely that he is not bothered simply by the work of dropping his sibs off, but by what seems to be a lack of consideration towards him in your decision-making.

Possible compromise: You take the kids to school every other day. One week, he does Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; the next week, he does Tuesday and Thursday. On the days that he doesn’t have to drop off his siblings, he cleans the litter box.

In order to make this work, you and your husband may have to make up for some lost time when it comes to making Tariq understand why he should be doing this labor without complaint. If he’s like most 17-year-olds, he’s likely very clear that he didn’t request a house full of siblings (and cats?) and will remain resistant and/or hostile unless he’s able to make some sort of emotional connection to the work you’ve asked of him.

How much does he know about your day-to-day life as a SAHM? Perhaps on an upcoming school holiday (ideally one where the three middle children are elsewhere), he can accompany you and see just how hard you’re working each day. Also, if he is likely to leave your home after next school year, try to help him understand the value in having time with the siblings who will be coming of age in his absence.

Approach this as a project in which the three eldest members of your household are working together to find a solution that works for everyone, as opposed to a punishment handed down to a cranky teen who’d rather not be bothered to help support his family. Best wishes to you all.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m having my first kid in April. My in-laws are planning an out-of-state family reunion in June and have assumed we’ll be attending. The baby will be just around 10 weeks old. Is this a thing that people do, travel with a newborn? Honestly, I don’t want to go for other reasons (standard-issue in-law gripes), but I’m afraid my general reluctance to spend time with these people is clouding my judgment. I’ve never done this before … will my body be ready for travel by then? Will the baby?

—Can I Stay or Should I Go?

Dear CISoSIG,

Do people get on the road with babies when they are just 10 weeks’ postpartum? All the time. Is every formerly pregnant body ready for such an undertaking? No, especially not if they had a C-section or any unforeseen complications that may require bed rest.

A new baby is, perhaps, the best excuse under the sun for not doing things that you don’t wish to do. Conversely, it’s also a frequent reason for not being able to do things you do wish to do, so let that balance absolve you from guilt.

You don’t want to go to this thing that happens at a point where, in an ideal world—and in societies with better birth practices than the United States—most new mothers would still be staying close to home, resting and getting constant care as they adjust. So don’t! Anyone who complains that you didn’t travel with a tiny new baby (and the body that just gave birth to it) does not have your comfort and health at the forefront of their concerns, so you needn’t overly concern yourself with their photo op. Have someone FaceTime you if they want to see the baby that bad. Stay home. Good luck and I hope you have a peaceful, safe pregnancy and delivery.

—Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

In college, I started having a series of flings and casual sex with no consequences. I’m now 30 and I’m still hooking up. I love Tinder. The trouble is, now that I’m older I’m getting a lot of judgment thrown at me. My sister says I need to find a nice guy and settle down. So I’m wondering—can you get too old for casual flings?