Care and Feeding

How Do I Stop People From Calling My Son “Shy”?

My parents did it to me, it wasn’t true, and I hate it.

Collage of a boy holding his face hiding behind his own hands.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by khilagan/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,

My partner and I were both “shy” kids, as in we heard our parents say, “Oh, they’re just shy,” a lot. We didn’t like how it felt to be categorized as shy, and I really hate to hear adults say it now. I know that our parents meant it as a way to protect us, but as I’ve grown up, I realized that it became a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. I once had a child introduce himself to me as “I’m shy.”

We plan not to say this around our son, but what can we do if someone else says it? Is there a good way to deflect or redirect this kind of well-meaning comment?

—Not Shy, Sorry

Dear NSS,

This is an odd question. I am not surprised a child told you they were shy. Quite probably, that child was shy and wanted to get that out of the way before proceeding forward with your interaction. Lots of kids are shy. You and your husband, apparently, were not. I am sorry your parents boxed you in with a label that didn’t suit you.

By all means, do not tell your not-shy child that they are shy. That would be weird. If a random person (or, more likely, your parents) informs your child that he is shy, feel free to say, “He’s not, actually. He is just playing with his dinosaurs and perfectly content” or whatever the situation calls for.

I see a lot of people who have dealt reasonably well with their own childhood demons who hit a wall when they themselves begin to parent. It’s very common. This means something to you, and you should sit with it for a while. I’m not surprised you fell in love with someone who is coming from the same place. Don’t borrow trouble for the future. A random person who tosses out a (fairly neutral!) adjective about a kid’s behavior is unlikely to make a tremendous fuss if corrected, and if they do, say, “What an odd thing to harp on” and finish bagging your items. If it’s your parents, well, you’re going to get to be firmer. But I think it extremely likely you will live your whole life without having someone insist that your child is shy.

I also want to prepare you for another possibility: Your kid might turn out to be, in fact, a little shy! They might identify as a shy person, feel the label suits them, and make no bones about informing others of that. Spend some time thinking about how you would respond.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have been together for over a decade. We’ve been notified by the state he fathered a child (who is now in their teens) and is required to make child support payments. It’s clear the mother never intended to have my husband involved. He isn’t listed on the birth certificate. She never told him he fathered a child with her. The state filed on her behalf because she stopped making payments to continue on state-funded support.

We reached out to the mother prior to taking the paternity test but she still has not replied. Now we have the paternity results and aren’t sure how this is supposed to work. We live 1,000 miles from the child and mother. Do we just make payments and live with knowing that someone may come knocking one day? We are at such a loss of how to handle all of the possible scenarios.

—Instant Parents at 30

Dear IP,

Well, that’s a hell of a curveball into a settled existence. I’m very sorry, both for your shock and for this child who missed out on having their father in their life up until this point. As I’m sure you know, there is no direct relationship between paying child support to offset the state’s costs and actually getting to see your child, for a variety of reasons. But if your husband wants to meet his teenager, he should consult a lawyer and pursue contact without relying on sending Facebook messages into the abyss. He needs a lawyer regardless.

Considering our present circumstances and the distance involved, it’s likely to start with emails and phone calls (courts also usually do not force teenagers to talk to anyone they do not want to talk with, and you have no idea what he’s heard about your husband), but in the meantime, all you can do is make the payments (directly to the state) and use a lawyer as a firmer intermediary with the child’s mother.

Try to be gentle and also honest with each other during this time. I know that the child was conceived before you arrived on the scene, but that doesn’t mean you’re not going to have weird feelings, nor that you’re not going to feel quietly annoyed at a new financial obligation during an already-tenuous time (even if that obligation is an actual human being). I hope that one day you will both look back on this as a good thing, and that a relationship can come from this. But I cannot guarantee that, so you will just have to take it one day at a time.

And once more: lawyer.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have 19-year-old boy/girl twins. Despite my best efforts to educate them about the seriousness and severity of the pandemic, both of my young adult children do a lot of eye-rolling, “OK, Mom,” etc. I’m sure they think they are invincible. My biggest problem is getting them to social distance and to STAY HOME. They are legal adults with their own vehicles. I can’t lock them in their rooms. They have both been laid off due to COVID-19, so if I don’t give them any money, it won’t be long before they have to stay home because their fuel tanks are empty. But what do I do until then? I can’t tell them that if they go out, they can’t come home! I mean, I could, but of course I’d never enforce that … there’s a pandemic out there and I want my children home safe and sound. What do I do?

—My Children Will Be the Death of Me!

Dear MCWBtDoM,

They are your children, but they are not children. You can absolutely tell them that if they go out, they cannot come home. They are going to do someone very great harm, if not you, then someone else.

Lay it out: Where are they going to go if you don’t let them come back? What’s their plan? They have no money. You absolutely must not give them any money. Tell them they can stay the fuck home or get the fuck out and then enforce it. I don’t care if you have to rekey your house. (Update, 11 a.m.: Don’t actually do this. You’ll need a formal eviction even if they’re your kids, and we’re in a pandemic. But ideally they’ll get it.) They’ll spend a night sleeping in their cars or crashing on a lumpy couch, and then they’ll pull their socks up, or they’ll find a job, or they’ll find there is no job and promise to tape themselves in their rooms for 14 days before resuming “normal” family life. You need to toughen up on yourself and on them. They are acting like hyenas.

What’s their plan if you wind up on a ventilator because they were sharing a Juul with their friends? Gather up all your inner reserves and speak to them plainly. They can live with you, but they cannot treat you like a bed and breakfast for their germs. It’s unconscionable. You do not have to accept this.

Empty threats will do nothing. You (and your partner, if you have one) need to explain some basic facts of life and then follow through. If this is the first time you have had to follow through on a threat you never intended to follow through on, I am amazed you have made it 19 years. Tell them what will happen, and then make it happen. I do not want any of my readers to die because they don’t want to enforce a boundary with their grown children. I like my job.

Should Parents Feel Guilty About Being Bored by Small Children?

Dan Kois, Jamilah Lemieux, and Elizabeth Newcamp host this week’s episode of Slate’s parenting podcast, Mom and Dad Are Fighting.

Dear Care and Feeding,

In a hopefully humorous update to my letter from a few weeks ago (Just So Many Farts), I can now say with authority that after moving 1,100 miles and downsizing temporarily to a small apartment exactly when the virus pandemic hit, being with my husband and daughter 24/7 means so many more farts than I could have known. It’s constant, there is no escape except for when I retreat to the bedroom for conference calls.

It’s among the Top 5 reasons I’m taking quarantine and social distancing very seriously: I miss my office very, very badly and would like to go back. This is my tiny COVID-19 battle. Stay safe, Care and Feeding!

—Still So Many Farts

Dear SSMF,

We love an update, especially a (mostly) humorous one. Please try changing their diet, this is honestly not normal! This is too much farting, particularly very foul farting. It is not enough to simply survive; human endurance can only be pushed so far. I am worried about your ability to withstand the coming months.

You are in my prayers.

— Nicole

More Advice From Slate

Before we started going out, my husband was in a long-term relationship with a woman with a pretty unique name. They haven’t kept in touch. Now, I’m pregnant with our first child (a girl, due in the spring). He would like to name her the same thing as his ex. She’s not the only person in the world with this name, but it is certainly uncommon. I think it’s a lovely name, but I’m a little weirded out by the fact that this is his ex-girlfriend’s name, and I’m worried others will be too. Is it acceptable?