Care and Feeding

My Mother-in-Law Disregards “Western” Medicine and Covers Our Baby With Blankets

How do I get her and my husband to trust our pediatrician on this extremely basic point?

A man stares straight ahead as he cradles a baby toward his chest.
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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,

My husband and I are two dads, raising our first newborn, who is just 3 weeks old. Prior to having our child, we talked through just about everything, and were pleased to see we were almost entirely on the same page about most things: positive parenting, vaccinations, schooling, finances, our faith tradition, and the like.

So I was fairly surprised to find that something we didn’t talk about has emerged as a serious problem. It arose when my husband’s mother arrived in town to help us with child care.

My husband and his mom are from a country with a proud cultural heritage of medical knowledge that dates back thousands of years. His mother is a believer in the traditional ways, and she looks down on “Western” medicine as being something for rich people who have abandoned their culture to follow something trendy. She’s not stupid—she would go to the hospital if her arm were broken, for example, and she’s OK with vaccines and modern cancer treatments—but when it comes to science versus traditional “common sense” practices, she’s happy to dismiss the former in favor of the latter. My husband sides with her.

I think this can be dangerous, and here is one example: For years now, I’ve been taught that safe sleeping for infants means putting them on their backs, in a crib without toys and blankets, to reduce the risk of SIDS. My mother-in-law, on the other hand, believes that colds are caused by cold temperatures, and that if you see evidence of a “cold,” you should make sure the baby is warm by covering them with as many blankets as necessary. When our infant hiccups, or coughs, or sneezes, or spits up (even a little), she sees this as evidence of the baby being cold, and thus being at risk of getting a “cold,” so she adds a blanket or tightens the swaddle. According to our pediatrician, if our baby is spitting up, then we should hold him upright and pat him so that air in his stomach is burped out.

This leads to mild comedy in the daytime, when whoever is watching our baby does what they feel is right. When my husband and his mom watch him, they swaddle him tightly and pile on the blankets with every cough or hiccup. When it’s my turn, I unpack him and hold him and comfort him and everything seems totally fine.

At night though, my mother-in-law insists (and my husband acquiesces to her) that the baby needs many blankets in his bassinet to keep him from getting a “cold.” To me, this is almost reckless endangerment: Everything we know about SIDS says to keep the baby away from things that could get in the way of his breathing as long as he is too young to reposition himself when needed. But my mother-in-law has convinced my husband that the opposite is true, that not protecting the baby from getting a “cold” by withholding blankets in his bassinet is true abuse and neglect.

Our pediatrician sides with me on this, but my mother-in-law dismisses her opinion as being just a trendy Western idea that ignores thousands of years of what mothers know in their gut to be true. My husband is not a scientist and can be persuaded, but unfortunately has been persuaded by her. After all, she tells him, that’s how he was raised, and he turned out fine.

How do we sort this out? We only have a short time until our baby is strong enough (and dexterous enough) to pull a blanket over his head, and that thought scares me to death. Unfortunately, the alternative scares my husband and his mom to death as well.

—Culture Clash

Dear Culture Clash,

She’s gotta go home. Then you and your husband need to go to counseling, because this is bananas. In the meantime, I suggest offering to (slightly) increase the temperature in the baby’s room in order to keep an ever-increasing number of blankets from being dangerously heaped on your infant.

This is … not a good situation. I can tell you have a sense of humor about it, which is great, but if you don’t hash this out with your husband (there is no point trying to hash it out with your mother-in-law, who needs to go home) and get back to being partners, it’s not going to end with Blanketgate.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am the mother of three boys (a 15-year-old and 11-year-old twins) and have a question about the emergence of extreme bashfulness and what, if anything, to do about it. When my oldest turned 12, he abruptly went from comfortably walking around the upstairs naked and happily changing clothes in front of his brothers to never letting ANYONE see him without pants. I assumed this was due to his reaching puberty earlier than most of his friends and his being self-conscious about the whole thing (body hair, etc.). I did not make a thing about it. About eight months ago, his twin little brothers, who, incidentally, show very few signs of puberty, also completely shut down any nudity in the house.

Now, although they share a bedroom, they will not change clothes or get into pajamas with each other in the room (and will even change in the closet if another room isn’t available). They will not even get into swimwear if the other (or anyone, including me or my husband) is nearby. This is both inconvenient and frankly baffling to me. I am the youngest of five siblings and not only did I regularly change in front of my sisters and mother without issue, I changed in front of my friends during sleepovers, changed in front of others at camp, in gym class at school, in the locker rooms of sports teams, etc. I am far from a nudist, but I feel like these were pretty typical experiences for someone of my generation.

In any case, I guess it bothers me because it seems like they are either ashamed of their bodies or have been taught to associate nudity with inappropriate behavior. Which is kind of sad, really. Because bodies are just bodies. I read an article last year that implied that kids no longer change or shower in communal locker rooms at school, so perhaps this is just a cultural trend to limit inappropriate/nonconsensual touching/harassment and as a consequence, kids are generally less comfortable with nudity in all contexts?

I am conflicted about how to handle this as a parent and up to this point, I have not done a good job. I will just say things like “You don’t have to hide—you can change in front of your brothers! Bodies are just bodies! There is nothing to be ashamed of” in a mildly annoyed voice. And the boys just tend to look at me, horrified, when I say things like this! It just makes me sad to think that we are at a place in society where naked/semi-naked bodies are sexualized to the degree that the only time people are comfortable being naked is with a potential sexual partner. I have mentioned the bashfulness thing to other parents with mixed reactions, mostly along generational lines (younger parents seem OK with the no-nudity thing; older parents more like me).

What do you think? Am I totally overthinking this? Do I try some subtle deprogramming at home and hope they grow out of it or just keep my mouth shut and accept the status quo?

—They’re Just Bodies!

Dear They’re Just Bodies!

You need to take it way down. They have a different level of comfort with nudity than you do, and that’s fine, and you are annoying the hell out of them. Leave them alone. Do not attempt any “subtle deprogramming” (there is nothing subtle about your previous attempts whatsoever). They are behaving in an absolutely normal fashion and you sound like you have completely lost the plot. Plenty of 11-year-old siblings would rather change in separate rooms. Why on earth would you care this much? How much “inconvenience” for you, personally, does this cause?

I do not think they are ashamed of their bodies, nor do I think you are correct to draw sweeping generational conclusions about body attitudes. I, despite being quite comfortable with my own (exquisite) nudity, personally welcome the end of Carrie-style mass showering after gym class, which was not exactly a Golden Age of Body Acceptance. A few curtains have not done anyone any harm.

Good gravy. I am sorry to be so firm with you, but this is such an overreaction. They’re not showering in cutoffs.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 9-year-old daughter had a slumber party with five close friends. Two of the girls were caught multiple times “making out.” My daughter had warned me that they might do this, since it’s happened at previous sleepovers. She even talked to her friends, on her own, about appropriate slumber party activities and told them they would have to go home if they started making out.

When we did catch them, we made sure to let them know it’s not appropriate and that there were other things to be doing instead (i.e., watching a movie, playing other games).

I know this is all normal behavior for young kids. But other than letting their parents know, what’s the right response?

—Sleepover Drama

Dear Sleepover Drama,

I am not actually sure that repeatedly making out at a sleepover despite numerous instructions to cease and desist is particularly “normal” behavior for 9-year-olds, but they are not your children and I think you’re handling this pretty well. It’s not unreasonable to forbid “making out” at a child or teen sleepover, and visiting kids who don’t do as they’re told after multiple warnings don’t get to stay.

I would continue to treat this as you would any other Forbidden Sleepover Activity, such as putting a frozen sheet cake in the dryer and turning it on (as a friend of mine once did), or consistently chasing the cat: Call the parents and say their children aren’t following the house rules, and they need to be retrieved posthaste.

If you had reason to think these girls had homophobic or otherwise abusive parents, I am sure you would have mentioned it, but it also seems unlikely that if that were the case they would be constantly making out like bandits despite being told by your daughter in advance that such behavior would result in being sent home.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My ex-wife is making my 13-year-old son pay for his dental bills.

—Concerned

Dear Concerned,

Unless your son is having recreational platinum grills put in, please call your divorce lawyer. I am not entirely sure how your ex-wife is likely to attempt to explain this to a family court judge, but I am quite confident what the judge will say in response.

—Nicole

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