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,
We have two adorable grandchildren, 4 and 6, on the other side of the country. Their parents, our son and daughter-in-law, are struggling with debt and living in a one-bedroom apartment. The financial problems are related to their own bad decisions and to serious medical problems, which are mostly resolved but may recur. Our son works remotely, but he needs to be at work, not caring for high-energy rambunctious kids who get very loud and excited playing video games or watching TV. Our daughter-in-law just got a job that involves a lot of overnight travel.
They have decided that the way to get ahead financially is to give up their apartment and move in with us for three months this summer. They would save on rent and child care. At first we were thrilled. We have plenty of room to put the four of them up. But then we faced the reality that they are counting on us for day care. We are both in our 70s and excited about being retired and finally doing the things we couldn’t do when we were both working full time and raising children. We also get overwhelmed after a few days of nonstop child care (which they have counted on us for in the past so they could escape). Putting the kids in day care for nine weeks, which assumes we would take them full time for one week a month, would cost them over $5,000, on top of the cost of storage and moving the four of them and the dog across country. I think they would save about $6,000 in rent over three months. At first I wanted to lay out the math and tell them to rethink their assumptions about free day care.
But we have savings we could use to pay all or part of their day care over the summer (which would still leave us the recommended cushion but little more). We would treasure the time with the children. But part of me thinks we should just let them figure things out. I am sorely conflicted.
—Is This a Good Idea?
It sounds to me that you absolutely do not have the energy to be full-time caregivers to active kids, which is incredibly reasonable. With the storage and moving costs, and with an eye on your savings, offering to pay them somewhat less to stay put than you would pay to add them (and a dog!) to your household and have them in day care anyway is likely the option that makes the most financial sense and is also best for your sanity. (The downside is that you don’t get to see the grandkids.)You also have concerns about their financial judgment, which makes giving them thousands of dollars in a chunk a bad idea. I would pay for their day care directly if you choose this option.
I am wondering if your daughter-in-law’s new job is on her side of the country or yours? If it’s on hers, even if it involves a lot of travel, I’m very unclear if her employer is going to take, “Oh, I live in Connecticut now” particularly well. I am also aware that three months can turn into an indefinite eternity when someone else is paying your rent and buying the milk, which would be more destructive for your relationship than any awkwardness over making a counterplan to their suggestion.
I don’t have the answer for you. I can only pose the above questions in hopes they will help you figure out the full picture. I want you to chart out the worst-case scenarios for all your options and ask: Which of those can you not live with?
Dear Care and Feeding,
My wife and I are lesbians and recently had a baby via IVF. One of the questions we constantly get from people is, “What is he going to call you?” It’s vaguely annoying in that, like invasive IVF questions, it feels like it comes from a sort of compulsion to remind us that we’re “not like other parents.” We usually tell people that the baby will figure out a way to distinguish us once he can talk, in the way that babies often make up their own names for their grandparents. But some people don’t love that answer.
My mother-in-law in particular has taken to addressing my wife by a completely random name she’s decided we should use. Now I’m having anxiety about whether we’ll confuse the baby if we don’t make a decision ahead of time! As of now I usually refer to us both as mom, but maybe that’s a bad idea. Do you think it’s all right to just let this issue resolve itself naturally? Or should we be teaching the baby that one of us is “mom” and one of us is “mama”? Do you have any good ideas for what we should call ourselves?
—New Moms, Minor Problem
I love a minor problem! Minor problems distract me from wondering if I need to apologize to this probably correct gentleman.
My epic eye-roll at “some people don’t love that answer”! Screw ’em! What will probably happen is similar to how sometimes people make Definitive Baby Name Choices and then meet their baby and say, “Oh, you’re not really an Eric, are you?”
I imagine you’ll figure out what feels right to you. There’s no harm in having a soft plan like “mom” and “mama,” try those names on for fun, and just be ready to stare at your perfect son and say, “I’m … Mommy Carol” like it comes out of your soul. Your baby knows your voice already and will mostly care about you based on smell for the first few weeks. He’s not going to be bothered if there’s a title change.
Thank you for sharing your minor problem.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My almost 4-year-old son is currently obsessed with babies. He wants to play with every one he sees. It’s super cute but also a little embarrassing, as the other parents (strangers) seem to think it’s sweet for a second but then he follows them for as long as he possibly can, and it ultimately becomes a little awkward.
However, this past weekend, when we were out at his soccer class, he spotted a cute baby with a pacifier (he is even more obsessed when they have pacifiers, and he is still working on giving his own nightly one up). The family was black. My son proceeded to—at full volume and very excitedly—exclaim, “A brown baby? I’ve never seen a BROWN baby before!”
First of all, that is not true. At all. He is biracial himself—I am white, my husband is Filipino. I also don’t think I reacted well. I was mortified and unsure what to do. I just wanted him to stop! We were really late to get somewhere, so I played that up and swept him away somewhat quickly, smiling.
Unfortunately, he heard me telling a friend about it later, and I think it reinforced that it was something that would get a reaction, because he did it again the very next day. I know I have to start talking to him about race. I guess I was putting it off because I didn’t think he noticed much—his preschool is pretty diverse, there are really only a handful of “white” kids, and everyone else is Asian, black, Latino, or (mostly) biracial like him.
What do I do when he does it again? I feel like it’s the same as him shouting out any immutable characteristics of strangers, which is always a little embarrassing, but I’m out of my element here.
—A Little Embarrassed
Kids, man. One of mine went through a period of being obsessed with telling bald people they were bald (they already know, honey!), and after we put the kibosh on that, they started instead saying balefully, “I’m not allowed to name you” to bald people, once to a bald black person, who obviously read that sentence … very differently. It passed in time. The same child once asked a fat person, very curiously, if they could be smaller, please. Shortest trip to the municipal pool on record.
If I were you, I would airily say, “He LOVES babies,” smile, and duck down the next aisle at the store. Give it no extra oxygen. Lots of toddlers are obsessed with babies, especially as they themselves begin to separate from “babyish” things. You must resolutely not react to him. Pick up a copy of Let’s Talk About Race, which sounds like an intense title for a 4-year-old but is actually a beautiful and accessible book with lovely illustrations. You don’t even have to read the book to him, just go through the pictures and talk about the people they represent. All the Colors We Are is another great option.
Kids are really just learning to delineate differences very keenly at this age. Answer the questions as they come up, do not overreact when it happens in public, and apologize and correct him if he says anything actively rude, as opposed to basic curiosity. That does not sound like your problem, happily, but it will be relevant for other readers.
Welcome to an embarrassing and very important phase of child development!
See how Rumaan Alam answered this question in Tuesday’s column.
Are You Ready to Be With Your Kids All Day, Every Day?
Dan Kois and Jamilah Lemieux are joined by Carvell Wallace on this week’s episode of Slate’s parenting podcast, Mom and Dad Are Fighting.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I live in a Midwestern state with only a couple of people testing positive for COVID-19. My partner and I are young, healthy people who live in an apartment building with young professionals and a few families with kids. Our building is pretty quiet, and there isn’t a lot of interaction between neighbors. I have a laid-back, flexible job that doesn’t demand much of my attention and also allows me to work from home when I’d like. We don’t have kids ourselves, but I’m aware of the difficult logistics of child care if schools and day cares close and parents don’t have the flexibility to work from home.
If schools and day cares do close, would it be weird to offer to babysit kids whose parents aren’t able to stay home with them? I’m OK with weirdness if it would be genuinely helpful and if parents were comfortable with it. I would be upfront about needing to keep an eye on my inbox and that I would sometimes be working but unless children are very young, I don’t think it would be much of an obstacle. I also have flexible working hours, so I could always log on later to finish work, if needed. If it would be a helpful offer, what would be the best way to reach out to parents? Is there another (better) way to be helpful to neighbors?
—Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
This is not weird at all! A lot of people will need child care and also will not have the paid leave they need to stay home with them and will be scrambling as day cares and schools continue to close.
I would post yourself on a site like Sittercity or Care.com and be very clear about your availability and work situation, like you would if you had gotten this idea a year ago. I have no doubt that you will have a lot of people express interest. Make sure your workplace does not specifically ban children from telework situations (many do!), and go forth with my blessing.
More Advice From Slate
My 14-year-old daughter is a ninth grader at a private school she attends on a significant financial scholarship. She’s done well there and has made friends, participated in activities, and maintained honor-roll grades. My daughter is smart and creative and athletic. And most days she dresses like she’s going to a nightclub. Her preferred outfits are cropped tank tops or halters, short shorts, high heels, bare midriffs or backs or shoulders, exposed bra straps.
Please give me some advice on balancing being body positive, feminist, and encouraging her to find her own sense of style with also guiding her toward appropriate clothing choices for school! I am bending over backward not to use the words my mother would certainly have used, including “trashy,” “cheap,” or God forbid, “slutty”—but when she asks my opinion (and she does most days), and I tell her that I think a particular outfit shows too much skin, isn’t appropriate for a school environment, or might be a better choice for a party, she becomes deeply offended and angry, accuses me of slut-shaming (which I am incredibly careful not to do), or tells me that everyone at her school dresses like that. (They don’t.) She will also rage that I have now ruined her enjoyment of that outfit. Usually this all happens in the half-hour or so before we need to leave for school, so on a large number of mornings we are both furious as well as late by the time we get out the door.
I am really struggling with this—I truly appreciate that she is strong and confident in her body, and I have no issue with her going out with friends wearing a backless shirt, a bare midriff, a short skirt, etc. And I don’t buy into the sexist thinking surrounding most school dress codes (her school doesn’t have one). But at the end of the day, I still think she should dress for school in a respectful way—and that there’s a world of difference between how one dresses for work/school/church and beach/party/play. How do I communicate this distinction to my daughter, whose prime objective is fitting in with the (mainly extremely wealthy and status conscious) kids at her school, without her feeling like I am asking her to dress in a flour sack?