Care and Feeding

Should I Stay, or Should I Go?

When pursuing your dreams means leaving your kids for a bit.

A mom hugging her crying son.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by ejwhite/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 was recently accepted into an accelerated nursing program out of state (after not getting into the only local program). This program is far enough away that it would mean a flight. It will last 12 months, and my husband and I are considering whether I should go on my own. The concern is that we have a 3-year-old son.

The obvious downside is that he and I will be apart. I will of course have time to come home, and he and my husband will come to visit me. The positives are that he’ll stay in the only home he has known with his dad, next door to his cousins, aunts, and uncles. He’ll continue to go to the same preschool and to see his grandma once or twice a week.

If he and my husband move with me, there will be no one else we know nearby, and I’ll be working and going to school 50 to 60 hours a week anyway. It’s not that I don’t think it will be nearly unbearable to leave my son and husband, but I have a sneaking suspicion it will be better in the long run for all three of us.

People do this kind of thing for jobs or military deployment all the time, but I’m having trouble finding resources on to how to prepare and what to expect. I made the mistake of doing a web search, and it was just a litany of comments adding up to me being an unfit mother for even considering doing this.

—Long-Distance Motherhood

Dear LDM,

Please do not base the big choices you and your family need to make on what internet commenters have to say!

A year apart from your family will be horribly difficult, but I think you have laid out a very persuasive argument for why it makes the most sense for you and your husband and your kid. You do not need to justify the decisions you make to anyone. You are not a bad mother for deciding to make a hard choice in service of your own career! You are not a bad mother for putting your child’s security and stability ahead of your own desire to be with him every day! You sound like a great mother.

Obviously this will be very difficult. But, as you say, many families navigate arrangements like this because of work or military service. It’s one year, and you have the support of an extended family. Make a calendar! Reserve plane tickets! Plan on lots of FaceTime and phone calls and go off with a clear conscience and work as hard as hell. Nursing is one of the most difficult professions I can think of, a job for superheroes; if you’re called to it, I have faith you’re tough enough to survive this one challenging year. Good luck!

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 4-year-old daughter has decided she no longer wants to eat meat. This began around Thanksgiving when she realized the bird we were going to eat was once alive and clucking like our family friend’s pet chickens.

We’ve indulged her. We thought this would pass, but it’s been two months, and the only meat she’s eaten is a cheeseburger. We try to eat plant-focused meals and very rarely eat meat other than chicken or fish anyway. I don’t mind as long as she’s getting what she needs, but how much do I need to do to support her in vegetarianism?

She has been teased by other family members, and it’s been suggested we sneak meat into her food. I do not want to do this—we’ve always been honest with her. But she is only 4, and so far content if I pick the meat out of her serving. Should I feel guilty about using chicken broth in my cooking? How can I best encourage her when some pesky relative makes a condescending remark? Obviously, if she made the decision to eat meat again, I would support her in that, too.

—4-Year-Old Fad Diet

Dear 4YOFD,

I can see why you’d assume a 4-year-old’s commitment to vegetarianism would be a passing fancy. But maybe yours is just one of those kids with a strong compass and a lot of will. I don’t think you’re indulging her; I think you’re respecting her—part of your task as parents.

If your family is already eating a largely plant-based diet, and cooking separate portions for your little one isn’t an onerous task, I would keep it up, regardless of the interference of the rest of your family. I don’t think your daughter is at risk of malnourishment, nor do I think you need anyone else’s opinions on how you raise your kid, so just state firmly to anyone who wishes to chime in that you don’t need their help parenting. Your kid might grow out of vegetarianism, but will surely benefit from understanding that her parents supported her in this.

Personally I wouldn’t feel too conflicted over occasionally giving her meat—not as subterfuge but as accident. That said, it’s easy to swap veggie for chicken broth.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I lost my older brother nearly two years ago, when he was in his early 30s; it did not come as a big surprise. He was in the midst of divorce and left behind a young child, R., now 7. His widow moved to this country as an adult and has only her mother here who lives with them. Her mother does not speak English and cannot communicate well with R. My former sister-in-law lives with her boyfriend.

R. has understandably had a tough time coping. His mom has done a great job of keeping us involved. I don’t live close, but I see them every other month at least. My sister-in-law just announced she is pregnant and plans to marry her boyfriend. The baby is due around R.’s birthday. He is excited now, but I’m concerned that will not last. Right now, R. is still confused about the new child being related to my sister-in-law’s boyfriend’s family instead of us. (His family isn’t really in the picture either.)

What can I do as an aunt to help R. with this situation? When does jealousy normally settle in with new siblings, and how can I help if it does? The bulk of my family is close to R., not my sister-in-law. Can our family still throw her a shower? Is it inappropriate to invite my family to celebrate someone they are no longer related to, for a child who will be related only through a half sibling?

—Grieving Aunt

Dear Grieving Aunt,

I’m so sorry for your loss. I hope that maintaining a relationship with your nephew and sister-in-law proves to be some consolation.

I don’t think it is inappropriate to celebrate her pregnancy, because I agree with your sense that your relationship to your sister-in-law endures even if your brother is no longer alive. But certainly the simplest thing would be to ask her if she’d be open to a shower and then proceed from there.

Your nephew does have a lot to grapple with at a young age. The impending arrival of his little sibling sounds to me like it might be an opportunity for happiness, though. At 7, rivalry doesn’t seem like it will be a huge issue, and he’s old enough that you can probably take his excitement in good faith.

But of course, he’s young enough that you can understand his confusion over how his blended family fits together. Your opportunity is to show him that family bonds don’t work according to family trees. And there’s so much you can do! Continue to see him as often as possible. Perhaps his mother would be willing to send him to you for a visit when she’s got a newborn in the house. If he has a phone or email address, you could stay in touch that way; you could of course always send him notes or postcards in the mail. You could work to cultivate relationships between R. and other members of your family (especially any other nieces, nephews, kids). Geographical distance will make this tricky, but stick with it. I think it will make a difference.

Also, you should make clear to your sister-in-law that this is important to you—that you want to maintain an active role in R.’s (and her!) life. If she truly understands (and shares a desire to preserve this relationship), she’ll have her own ideas for ways you can stay close.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I refuse to post information or pictures of my kids (their names or school) on the internet, and I ask others not to do so, too. Am I out of line? My friend is a semipopular mommy blogger and last week posted a picture of her daughter and mine and included my kid’s real name and the fact that the two girls go to the same preschool. She reviewed the preschool on her blog, so the dots are easy for anyone to connect.

I asked that she take it down, and she refused to do any more than change my child’s name to a pseudonym (an obvious nickname; think Maddy for Madison) because I was being “ridiculous.” I decided to put a ban on my daughter going to her house without me there for fear of more being shared without my knowledge. Am I really making too big of a deal about posting about my children? They deserve privacy, but they are also children of the 21st century and maybe shouldn’t expect privacy in their early life.

—Do Kids Deserve Privacy?

Dear DKDP,

I don’t know how to answer whether kids “deserve” privacy; it’s too big a question, and the technology is too new and ever-evolving. Every person ought to grapple with this issue, and everyone should respect others’ decisions on this matter.

This is why it’s so surprising to me that a person you describe as a friend would dismiss your perspective. Even if she disagrees—little surprise from a mommy blogger—that’s not being a very good friend. So no, I don’t think you’re wrong to avoid a situation where this might happen again. She must be a good friend because if I were in the same situation, I think I’d cease all socializing with her, full stop.

It’s probably inevitable that this will come up again, that your kids will show up on the Facebook pages of the local soccer league or the Instagram account of their teen cousin. But as their parent, you’re entitled to determine how you’ll navigate this stuff, and your opinion should be respected. Stick to your guns.

—Rumaan

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