Care and Feeding

My Friend’s Teenage Kids Still Don’t Know They’re Adopted

Their mother has no real intention of telling them. How can I convince her this is a horrible idea?

Two smiling sisters with a confused mom behind them.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by 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,

My friend’s kids don’t know that they’re adopted.

My very good friend, let’s call her Stacy, was married years ago, to a man whose niece had a daughter at 16. My friend and her husband stepped up and took care of the baby most days for 18 months, until the birth mother came to them and announced that she just couldn’t do it anymore. They ended up adopting the baby. A couple years later, the birth mom came to them with the fact that she was pregnant again. Stacy and her husband adopted this baby at birth. They raised both girls for the next two years before divorcing.

Skip ahead 10 years: Stacy is a single mom and she’s done an amazing job. The birth mom has gotten back together with baby No. 2’s father and given birth to a full sibling (which she seems to be doing OK with raising), but neither of her girls have any idea they are adopted. They are now 15 and 12, and Stacy has never brought it up to them, even though they see birth mom multiple times a year as “Ms. Blank,” along with her daughter. Stacy explains this away by saying they are “family friends.”

I will never be the one to tell these girls, but Stacy seems to vacillate between “they will never find out” or just being completely unconcerned. She shrugs and says, “I guess we’ll see when we get there.” I’m looking for some idea on how to support Stacy and her girls; I think this will blow up in her face, and I’m terrified for all of them.

—Not Dropping the Bombshell

Dear NDtB,

Oh, why are people like this? You are correct that the girls need to hear from Stacy, not from you, but I am extremely concerned they will find out in the worst possible way from a third party.

I think you need to write Stacy an email, with links to stories such as this that illustrate the chaos and anger and betrayal that can come from sudden, non-parent-led adoption disclosures. Talk about the likelihood they’ll get a 23andMe kit as a present from a friend. Talk about the likelihood their birth mother will let something “accidentally” slip. Ask her how she would respond to having her daughters finding out badly, and emphasize that they will find out, almost certainly, and then her chance to control the narrative and stop actively lying about “family friends” will be gone.

She may not listen. I am sure you have tried. But sometimes laying all the cards on the table and saying, “This is your decision, but I want you to have all the information possible to make the right one” can help. Every day she doesn’t tell them is a mistake and makes it harder. You are a good friend, and you are close to Stacy, and you are her best chance at not having two adult daughters who never speak to her again.

Please update, if possible.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My second grader refuses to dress appropriately for the weather. All winter he’s been fighting us about every single piece of appropriate clothing—snow pants, boots, gloves, hat, zipping his coat—the works. His teacher makes him wear his snow pants to go out for recess when it’s below 30 degrees, but my kid fights with his teacher about it too, and frequently “forgets” to put on his boots or sneaks his mittens off.

I’m at my wit’s end with this. My kid relayed, with enthusiasm, learning about frostbite and hypothermia in health class—without, apparently, making any connections to his own chapped and windburned hands. We live in Minnesota. Frostbite is real. I am sick of him coming home with his hands red and raw and his socks and shoes muddy and soaking wet from the slushy playground (he complains mightily that wet socks are uncomfortable but pointing out the obvious cause and effect at play here does not seem to make an impression on him).

I don’t know what to do. His teacher already puts in a ton of extra time and work for my kid in other areas, in addition to having 29 other kids to deal with. My child is as stubborn as several oxen, and every incentive or threat we’ve tried in this department has failed. Help!

—Just Wear Your Freaking Mittens, Already!

Dear JWYFMA,

Usually, “natural consequences” is what I suggest in these matters. Your son, however, seems utterly impervious to the painful natural consequences of dressing like Mowgli in Minnesota. So we have to move to “artificial consequences.”

You mention “every incentive or threat,” but there’s a big difference between “threat” and “actually doing what you said you threatened to do.” You have to remove things from his life he wants if he doesn’t dress in such a way as to meet the bare requirements of life in a harsh climate. I don’t know if that’s screen time, or an anticipated trip to a fun place, but you have to do it and you have to follow though. Decide what your minimum mandatory outerwear requirements are and become Ivan the Terrible until he accepts them. I would not bribe him. He is extremely stubborn, and sometimes you have to have a win or you’re setting yourself up for years of nonsense.

I might also probe if he has sensory issues of some kind that make outerwear smothering or weirdly painful to him. I cannot imagine raw, chapped hands and wet feet are more desirable if sensory issues are at play, but letting him go pick out mittens and snow pants of his choosing might make him feel a little more on-board with being told, “Look, it’s happening. I will ride you like Secretariat until you dress like a human being who wants to live.” That’s not bribery; that’s just being smart. You also mention his teacher already must put in loads of extra energy to keep him from being a colossal pain, and this level of pure willfulness would, to me, warrant a bit of extra evaluation. He might just be a naturally stubborn soul, but he also might have some kind of conduct disorder. Why not figure that out now, in second grade, by talking to a professional, while the fights are still small and relatively low stakes?

This teacher is willing to put in extra time, but the next one may not.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m currently 30 weeks pregnant with my third child (one step-daughter, one biological daughter, one daughter on the way!). Both of my girls seem really excited about the new baby, but it appears to be causing my younger daughter some anxiety. She’s been extra needy lately, and it’s been an emotional roller coaster in our house. From me “not waking her up early enough” to “you’re not going to love me as much as the baby” to a meltdown over a missed school function (that she didn’t even tell me about), she’s been hyperemotional. I’m sure it’s not helping that she can’t comfortably lay on me anymore because of my growing baby bump.

I’m getting over the flu, so my patience is admittedly thin, but I have tried to be understanding, and she just pushes me away even more and says mean things, which I sometimes respond to in frustration. How can we get through this? I honestly have worried that I won’t love the baby as much as her, because she’s so fiercely awesome, so her concern about me not loving her as much seems even more ridiculous to me.

—Anxious Mama-to-Be

Dear AMtB,

I wish I knew your younger daughter’s age, which would be illuminating, but, regardless, this is very, very common. Sometimes it happens when you’re still pregnant, sometimes it happens after the baby comes, but very few people with multiple children totally dodge “you love the baby more than me.”

You’re 30 weeks pregnant, you’re recovering from the flu, you obviously have very little bandwidth, but this would be a good time to talk about all the great things that “big kids” get to do that babies don’t, and then try to get out and do some of them. Go to the movies. Do a puzzle (or any game she loves). Have a snowball fight, or if your climate is not conducive to snowball fights, go play minigolf. Babies are boring. Talk about how much fun it is to have a kid and how you loved when she was a baby, but you have also loved watching her grow and learn.

This will pass, this is normal, and this is so upsetting in the moment. All of these things are true at once. I hope the rest of your pregnancy is straightforward and that your growing family will experience this as a hiccup in a happy family life. I have every reason to think it will.

Can You Work With Kids, Have Your Own, and Still Remain Sane?

Dan Kois and Jamilah Lemieux are joined by Emily Farranto on this week’s episode of Slate’s parenting podcast, Mom and Dad Are Fighting.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m grappling with a specific question, but this is also about how to make parenting judgment calls in general.

I have a 5-month-old son with positional skull deformation. Basically, his head is a little flat in the back. It’s not a medically dangerous condition, purely cosmetic (the doctors assure us), and he will probably just grow out of it. I’ve read a number of blog posts by parents who opt to treat their kids with helmet therapy, but also studies that say helmet therapy doesn’t actually change the results, it mostly just reduces parental anxiety.

On the pro side: There are no medical downsides to helmet therapy, insurance will cover it, and it might alleviate our and our families’ concerns.

On the con side: It will be costly in time to take him for fittings and appointments, it may not actually make a difference, and him wearing a helmet may open us up to comments from nosy strangers.

I don’t want to put you on the spot to make a medical call (though an opinion on that would be appreciated). My question is basically: As a parent, should you always be doing everything in your power for your kids, even if the benefits are possibly nonexistent? Are we bad parents if we don’t exhaust every option available to us?

—Cranial Conundrum

Dear Cranial Conundrum,

Short answer: Ask your pediatrician or cranial specialist what they would do in your position. Get the helmet if they say they would get the helmet.

Long answer: No, you don’t always have to do everything in the world for your children. But you do want to be able to tell your children that when it comes to medical issues (which this is, or your insurance company would have zero interest in covering it), you did what their doctor said was correct. You can always stop using the helmet if it does not result in change: You’re not putting him in an Iron Maiden, and I see a kid wearing one at the supermarket or the playground a few times a month. It’s been the trade-off for the success of Back to Sleep campaigns, and it’s not a massive deal, but they’re also not handing out helmets to toddlers like the Battle of Agincourt needs children to conquer the north coast of France.

If you don’t like it, you can stop. If you don’t start, you’ll never know. That’s my advice, as a layperson. Will people make the odd comment? Yes. People will make odd comments if your baby isn’t wearing a hat in August. He’s a 2-year-old—if he has a helmet for a year, he’s not going to notice the comments.

I wish you the very best in whatever direction you follow.

— Nicole

More Advice From Slate

I have a 5-month-old baby. My mother came to help out when he was born, and my husband and I are grateful to her for that. But we both began to notice while she was here that she would disparage my ability to breast-feed. I didn’t think that much of it, even though my husband felt she wanted to be holding our son more than I did. Now when she visits she routinely says that my son is “making do” with the mother he has, that it’s unfortunate for him that she isn’t around us most of the time. When she comes, I feel constantly judged, which is making me feel more distant from her. I don’t know if I should bring any of this up to her. She is a very touchy person and I’m not sure it would do any good. How do I deal with this?