Care and Feeding

My Wife Is Taking Our Kids to a Kindergarten Play Group Despite the Coronavirus Lockdown

I think this is a horrible idea. She says the gathering house is clean and low-risk for the children. Who’s right?

Three kids work on drawings with a mom.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo 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,

Am I right to be annoyed that my wife is taking our kids out during a pandemic? We have a 2-, 4-, and 6-year-old. Some of the moms in our community have started a “kindergarten play group” at one of their houses; the younger siblings play in one room while all of the kindergartners learn from one of the moms, a teacher, in another. While I am glad that she is continuing to learn, and from someone with experience teaching that age group, I am upset because we are in a state that has issued a stay-at-home order, and I am worried the kids will unnecessarily catch the virus. My wife insists that they are careful to sanitize the house frequently, and they make sure the kids are practicing good hygiene and that the risk of them catching the virus is very low. She also states that our daughter, who is not a strong reader, needs continued education in a classroom setting to set her up for success in school. Who is right?

—Sounds Like Koronagarten

Dear SLK,

Social distancing has been widely suggested and, in your state’s case, mandated by local governments as a way of slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus. While the folks in this group may be exercising great caution around hand-washing and avoiding physical contact (good luck with that with small children), it is unfathomable that they are remaining the recommended 6 feet of distance between parties who do not live in the same household—and if one of the families has a home large enough to allow upward of four children and their moms to walk around with that much space between them at all times, then I’d wager that they and anyone they’d be hanging out with willfully has high-speed internet and the ability to host a virtual gathering.

Remember that 1) folks are out here asymptomatic, which means they could have the virus with no discernible signs; 2) that while most children are not considered “high-risk,” there are those who may be made more vulnerable thanks to asthma or other medical conditions, and even otherwise healthy kids are capable of spreading it to others; and 3) it’s unlikely that the moms and children in this group are abstaining from all contact with other human beings. They may be going to the grocery store once a week or living with a second parent who is making the grocery runs or going to work each day. There are Amazon packages and UberEats deliveries coming through people’s homes, etc. Everyone in this group is both capable of exposing other folks to the coronavirus or being exposed to it by participating.

So this isn’t little wrong; this is BIG wrong.

Those moms (hopefully) wouldn’t make the case that it’s cool for five or six adults to link up daily or weekly for an at-home happy hour or Tupperware party, and the necessity of keeping kids academically engaged does not require parents to put them, nor themselves, in harm’s way. Sure seems like the reports that young and “healthy” people would be OK have led to a lot of folks failing to properly shelter in place.

I hate to be That Guy, but please remind your wife that school success will be a moot point for her or any other adult or child who does not survive this pandemic to see the return of the traditional classroom. Your letter didn’t indicate your gender, but if you are a dad, this is certainly a point for your side of the board. You are right. The play group moms are wrong, wrong, WRONG. A friend who works in emergency medicine agrees with us. Tell your wife she’s been outvoted and shut this possible germ factory down.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a single parent of a now 13-year-old daughter. Her biological father has nothing to do with us. Since she was born, I’ve gotten by with considerable help from my wonderful family. With their help and a lot of sacrifice and struggle on my part, I was able to finish college and even law school (with honors!). Here is the issue: I am in love with a man I hope to marry someday. I have known him for years; we had dabbled in a romantic relationship in the past, but the timing wasn’t right. We have been going strong for almost two years and are actively attempting to have a baby. However, my daughter could not be less happy about it.

After all this time, she still acts in disgust toward him and throws a fit every time he comes over to our house (which is about twice a week). Last night, in addition to a screaming, stomping tantrum, she sent over 100 text messages and called over 50 times as we watched a movie. When I have tried to talk to her, she has said that she doesn’t like his age but won’t offer anything beyond that. I recognize and understand that she is jealous of someone else having my attention. I have a very demanding job that also takes up a lot of my time, but she seems to have no problem with that. I know at least part of the issue is the fact that she is a teenager and going through some significant changes. During this time of development, as I understand it, she feels emotions more intensely and reason/logic sort of take a back seat.

Yet most of the time, it’s still just the two of us like it’s always been. Even when he comes over, it is later in the evening, so we have dinner and time together beforehand. I let her have friends over multiple times a week and nearly always agree to sleepovers. My boyfriend never stays over when she is here. At least one weekend day is dedicated to mommy-daughter time, although nowadays she often abandons me for her friends.

My partner is a great man and treats me with respect. He reminds me that I am not only a mother, but also a person with my own needs and interests. He brings me joy and has taught me to love myself. He has been nothing but nice to my daughter in their brief encounters. I keep encouraging her to join us for dinner or a movie or any other activity, but she refuses. I don’t want to force him on her, but I’m not going to stop seeing him and planning our lives together because my teenager is being an asshole. I’m afraid of how she’ll act when I get pregnant and when the time comes for us to move in together. I believe I have a right to be happy. It has been two years. I’m tired of it. Any advice?

—Mom Just Wants to Be Happy

Dear MJWtBH,

As the president of the “Mama Gotta Have a Life Too” club, I will say that one of the most important rules of our organization is asserting our right to happiness before it creates a drastic change or disruption in our kids’ lives. This runs counter to everything we’ve been taught about motherhood, single motherhood in particular, and I am certainly not chiding you if that isn’t something you worked on trying to instill in her from an early age. Rather, I’m just saying it here for the spectators so that they won’t find themselves in the same predicament. (Ladies, do not wait until you have a new partner to introduce your child to the version of yourself that prioritizes your own desires and needs! Do it from birth! You is smart, you is important, you is a human being.)

That said, I think this not-quite-little one needs to hear an earful about what it means to be a single parent, the many sacrifices you have made on her behalf, how poorly society at large treats us, and why she should be glad to have a mother who has not cast aside her humanity entirely in order to serve a child who will, eventually, grow up and have a life all her own. Do not discount any anxieties and frustrations she may feel about having a stepfather and new sibling (which should not come as a surprise to her once you’ve gotten pregnant, by the way), and let her know that no one will ever take away the special bond that the two of you have created over the past 13 years. Make it clear that you are not resentful of all that you have done for her, but that you simply owe it to yourself to prioritize your own happiness in a meaningful way as well.

It may require the assistance of a family therapist, but you need to get to the root of her issues with this relationship if they run deeper than what she has shared and/or the outsized reactions that teens tend to have in the face of stress. You say the only complaint she’s made about this man is his age. Now, if this is a younger man whom you connected with when he was too young to partner with you, or an older man who took a shining to you before it was legally or morally appropriate to do so, well … her gripes may be less unfounded than you imply, in which case it is even more critical that you have a professional step in to help you two sort through this. I hope everything works out in peace and happiness for 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,

I’m a teacher and doing so much work to both keep my child at home engaged during the school closure as well as teach my students via online learning. The parents and families are doing an absolutely amazing job of working with their kiddos, but it is not the same as home schooling. Please stop referring to the work that parents are currently doing with their kids as home schooling. In most cases, teachers are still the ones planning, prepping, and instructing the students.

—Not the Same

Dear NtS,

First, allow me to say thank you for your service. As a former teacher, I thought I had a grasp on how difficult your work can be, but I left the field long before becoming a parent. Like for most of us who don’t do this for a living, this is my first experience with attempting to balance some of the responsibilities of your job while performing my own; that you are teaching from a distance while caring for your own little person is no small feat, and I tip my virtual hat to you. That said, please forgive all among us who have, perhaps, used the wrong language to refer to what it is we are doing (or trying to do) with our kids right about now. Also, don’t forget that there are families who don’t have internet access to engage in online learning or have schools that are unable to provide such instruction for their students or a whole host of other scenarios under which parents have found themselves having to create and administer supplementary or substitute schoolwork.

To paraphrase Big Mama, the matriarch of the classic film Soul Food, the fingers of the hand are much stronger together than they are apart, and when they come together, they can deliver a powerful punch: “This family has got to be that fist!” Replace “family” with “teachers, parents, and other community stakeholders” and the possibility of our kids’ brains rotting into TikTok mush as the opponent. We have to support each other right now!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a single mother of an out and proud gay 11-year-old boy, “Abel.” I’m bisexual myself, so he says he has always felt safe confiding in me about his sexuality. Abel came out to me two years ago, and I have been supportive and mama bear protective of him as he’s weathered some of the expected pushback from conservative family members and cruel kids alike. In short, he knows I have his back. But there’s been a new development, one I’m having trouble fully getting behind.

Abel has discovered the “furry” community online and took to it like a fish to water, if you will. He now says that he is a skunk and would like me to exclusively refer to him by the name of his skunk “fursona.” Abel, or rather “Zephyr,” bought a large fake skunk tail that he attaches to the back of his jeans and wears around the house and also sometimes out of the house. If large gatherings of people are ever something that happens again, he wants to attend his first furry convention later this year.

I’m not really opposed to the idea of Abel being an anthropomorphic skunk per se, but I’m not sure about my 11-year-old kid jumping into a culture that (based on my reading) sometimes has a sexual element tied into the cuteness. If “Zephyr” were to attend one of these conventions, I would insist on coming along, which he has already complained about. I’m generally open-minded and accepting, and it’s certainly possible that I would come around on the whole thing once I met some of his friends. But I’m still struggling. Do you think I need to pump the brakes on this entire furry thing until Abel is a little older? I’m admittedly not great at telling my son no when he really wants something, but I absolutely will if I sense danger. What do you think?

—Mama Bear Loves Her Little Skunk

Dear MBLHLS,

According to FurScience, the public-facing arm of the International Anthropomorphic Research Project (a “multidisciplinary team of scientists studying the furry fandom”), furries are essentially devoted fans of animal characters that behave like human beings. Many of them are adults, but there are, naturally, many children who identify as furries as well. The fan communities that exist in the furry world are not much different than those that have been formed around, say, anime, Harry Potter books, or Marvel’s many superheroes.

Unsurprisingly, as is the case with those other fandoms, there is adult furry content that depicts sex, and there are furries who integrate their passion for anthropomorphic critters into their offline sexual lives as well. Furry identity, however, is not inherently about or connected to sex or eroticism. You say that Abel feels very comfortable with speaking to you about his sexuality, which is awesome. Have you asked him if his connection to furry creatures is a sexual one? Or if he has come across any sort of sexual propositioning while exploring this world online?

In any case, I can’t think of any conventions that an 11-year-old should, would, or could be able to attend without adult supervision, and even if we knew nothing of furry sex, it would be absurd to allow him to go to a furry gathering of strangers without you. Similarly, you wouldn’t let a prepubescent boy make a bunch of adult online friends under any other circumstances either. The rules for his furry fandom should mirror those you’d have for him in general.

There’s good reason to be sensitive to his interest in this fan space: While some furries are said to simply enjoy watching and/or dressing up as these people-esque animals, others turn to the fandom for a bit of escapism—according to Fur Science, some see their fursonas as a way to mitigate anxiety while socializing. Stay engaged with what he is engaging with, keep those parental controls on point, and help him identify other children to connect with in cy-FUR-space and, if possible, IRL as well.

Speaking of, considering that he’s already having some challenges with relatives and classmates who suck and don’t accept his sexual orientation, it is worth being clear with him that most people are highly unfamiliar with furry life and that it may be easiest for him to share that passion only with folks who are mature and tolerant enough to accept it without derision. In other words, while I would NEVER suggest that you encourage your son to keep his queerness under wraps, I absolutely recommend keeping his furry identity on a need-to-know basis. People are awful, and he needn’t have this beautiful experience that he’s found to be sullied by ignorance. Best wishes to you both.

—Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

Three months ago, the woman who was having an affair with my husband died suddenly from an accident. I found out about the affair only two days after her funeral. I thought she was simply a co-worker and I was wondering why my husband was so disturbed and emotional. He quit his job, saying it was too traumatic to go to work. She was in the early weeks of pregnancy when she died and my husband doesn’t know whether he or her husband was the father. So, on top of everything, he’s also grieving for a baby which may or may not have been his. I find it extremely difficult to be emotionally supportive when he wakes up at 3 a.m. crying and trembling—yet I don’t have the heart to yell at him like I want to. Do I need to give him time to mourn the loss of his mistress? Or should I demand he focus on our marriage?