Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m sure this is a question for a lot of people right now. I have two teenagers, a 14-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl. In normal life, my daughter is kind of a rock star: a straight-A student who babysits and has a part-time job at her school, always does her chores, has nice friends, everything you could want. She also has control issues: She loves being very in control and experiences stress about anything outside of her control.
My son is funny, loving, and smart, but a bit of a hot mess. He has ADHD, hates school, has to be pushed/prodded/pulled to do chores or much of anything else, he’s a lot of work, and he’s also a bit of a complainer. Now, in the time of COVID-19, they have kind of switched places. My son still isn’t doing his schoolwork, but he’s talking to his friends online, having fun, and is generally being easy-going. He is not usually a very resilient person (he’ll spend an hour crying over a favorite team losing), but has suddenly become Mr. Let It Go.
My daughter has turned into a pain in the neck. All she does is complain about not being able to see her friends, how much she wishes she could go live with someone else, how much she wants a cat (her father and brother are allergic). On and on and on. She won’t play family games, won’t watch family movies, and tries to avoid eating dinner with us. She’s lost weight since the lockdown. She won’t let anyone in the family hug her or hold her hand, but complains about not being able to touch her friends. When not complaining, she goes on long walks and meets up with friends. She says they stay 6 feet apart, and I’ve allowed it because of that, but walking and seeing her friends isn’t helping her mood at all.
A close relative died of the virus, and her focus is still exclusively on her needs/wishes/wants. I know she is suffering. I know this is hard. I think it may be harder on teens than most other groups, as their lives are so externally focused. I guess my question is this: Is there anything I can do to try and help her build some resilience? I always thought she was resilient, and it’s a bit of a shock to see how unresilient she is. Is there anything I can do to help her relax her need to control an uncontrollable situation? Is there something I may be doing that is making this worse? I’m trying to be patient and calm, but it’s wearing thin. She is doing her schoolwork and is in online therapy, but she says it doesn’t help (but she keeps making new appointments).
—Running out of Patience
I think it’s a great sign she’s continuing to make new therapy appointments. People with control issues are melting down around us, and teenagers are full of hormonal soup that makes things very difficult to handle even in the best of circumstances (these are terrible circumstances).
I’m glad your son is coping well. Please try not to compare the two, and find your daughter wanting. They are very different people. She is going through a very difficult time and is being very difficult. Both of these things are true. You can be annoyed and frustrated and impatient—you are a person and you have a right to have those feelings. You also do not need to treat her like she’s made of glass: If she’s being a jerk, tell her which behaviors are unacceptable. I personally would not allow her to go on walks with her friends, since it seems not to help and is an established health hazard.
I don’t think “resilience” is the issue here, nor can you magically throw resilience at a 16-year-old. She is someone who thrives on routine and control and being highly scheduled, and now her chief coping mechanisms are out the window. This might be a great time to look into some of the learning resources available online outside of whatever she’s being given by her school. Let her dig her teeth into an online college course. Suggest she download Duolingo and spend half an hour a day learning a foreign language. Do everything you can to encourage her to put that monkey brain to productive work instead of letting it chatter and spiral.
But she doesn’t get to be an asshole, and she doesn’t get to opt out of your family life, and she does have to abide by your house rules. And keep an eye on “the easy one.” He sounds like he’s happy as a clam, but if you’re giving extra attention to the squeaky wheel, he may feel pressure to not cause problems. I’m sure he’s struggling in his own way.
I would love an update in a month. She sounds very situationally depressed, which is understandable, and I want to keep an eye on how things are going.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
Ever since my daughter started getting progress reports from day care, her teachers have been commenting on her relative lack of focus, trouble following directions, and difficulty mastering fine motor skills. She’s pretty much the same at home, so I wasn’t surprised to hear it. She’s always been the youngest kid in her class, so I figured that she was just a little less mature than some of the older kids in her class and would eventually catch up.
Now she’s in kindergarten, and these issues are coming up again at parent-teacher conferences. She’s doing OK academically (fine in math, less fine in reading, and getting extra help for both through Title I), but her teacher pointed out some tangible ways that her attention issues are negatively affecting her schoolwork.
After hearing the same things from multiple teachers, I’m starting to wonder if we should consider having her evaluated for ADHD. On one hand, I know that it’s not unusual for kindergartners to be easily distracted or to rush through their schoolwork. On the other hand, I’m also aware that inattentive type ADHD is often overlooked, so I don’t want to dismiss it as a possibility. Should we consider having her evaluated as soon as we’re able to? If it’s better to give her a little more time to mature, how much longer should we wait and what should we be looking for?
—Driven to Distraction
You’re a great parent. I know a lot of women who muddled through life feeling like colossal losers until getting adult diagnoses of inattentive type ADHD. They all wish they had been evaluated (or evaluated more correctly) as children. Go ahead and pursue clinical evaluation once it’s possible.
Your daughter may not have ADHD. She might have something else going on entirely (the issues you describe are also common for autistic girls, and ADHD and autism are common comorbidities), or she may simply be a person who will have to be extremely proactive about structure and follow-through. There’s nothing wrong with waiting a little longer, but there’s also nothing wrong with starting that conversation now.
If you do get a diagnosis of any kind, I encourage you to remember that a diagnosis is simply more information about your child, information you can use to more effectively parent her. If you do not get a diagnosis, and the problem persists and becomes more pressing, you can always have her reevaluated in a year or two.
Thank you for being attentive to your child. She’s got a great start.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My 8-year-old son is a good kid, but he likes to play pretty rough, and the usual target for his play is his 5-year-old sister. The usual cycle is that they play just fine for a few minutes, my son escalates things, my daughter says “stop,” he doesn’t, and then it spirals out of control from there.
We’ve talked to them about consent, listening, and stopping when someone says “stop,” even punishment, but in the end it doesn’t seem to change his behavior. My wife and I have tried letting them work it out, which does help sometimes (sometimes when we intervene my daughter says she actually likes the game they’re playing), but ultimately we’re tired of their yelling, and we’re tired of intervening all the time. Is this a common dynamic? And frankly, how can we get our son to tone it the hell down?
It’s time to find something other than free-floating rough play for them to do together. Puzzles, structured games, Jenga, story time (having him read to his sister would be fantastic), all that good stuff. If he balks, you can tell him that he’s too rough with his little sister, and if he wants to wrestle, he needs to back off when told to do so. There’s no more natural consequence in the universe than playing too rough and then getting separated. Lion cubs can figure this out, so can he.
Listen to your daughter, monitor their play, and the minute he chooses to ignore a “stop” or a “no,” it’s separate rooms and some enforced cool-down time for him. I also encourage, to the extent that you’re able in your physical circumstance, a lot of outdoor or other physical activity for him. I bet he’s bursting at the seams right now. My very physical son is willingly doing yoga videos as we speak. We are in the desert of the real. Go on YouTube and find some exercise videos for kids (watch them first) and see if spending half an hour doing calisthenics or whatever helps take the edge off a little.
How to Entertain Your Young Child if You Don’t Like Playing Pretend
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,
I have a toddler, and a deep longing to try for a second child. I’m almost 37, and it took us a couple of years and fertility meds with horrendous mental health side effects to conceive our daughter. My husband doesn’t want a second kid. In our discussions, he said he would have been happy without any kids, and already feels like it was a compromise having our daughter. We’re planning to go to counseling, post-pandemic, but I feel like the outcome is going to be no second kid—because really, what compromise can there be?
My heart feels like it’s being ripped out of my chest when I think about this. I feel like I’m going to be destined to cry quietly in the bathroom when I see two kid families, for the rest of my life (or maybe not always, but I feel like this is always going to flare up), which is basically what happened after I had a miscarriage when I saw pregnant people. It feels like such a deep loss.
I don’t want to get divorced: I feel like that’s not fair to my kid; I do love my husband; and there’s no guarantee that I’d be able to conceive on my own or find a good partner in time. I feel so stuck, and I feel like society basically declares that the person who doesn’t want kids should always win in these arguments. How do I get through this?
I’m very sorry. This is a very sad situation, and you have my deepest sympathies. Society is right to recognize that if two partnered people disagree about the number of children they wish to have, there is simply no workable alternative to giving the final say to the person who does not wish to have more. I’m getting that out of the way early, because I believe it to be true, and I know you are asking “how to get through this” and not “how can I badger my husband into a second kid he does not want to have.”
I think that because you took on the majority of the extremely unpleasant and difficult process of fertility treatments in order to conceive your living child, you may not quite appreciate the toll it took on your husband as well. It’s hard to watch your partner suffer. It’s hard to deal with the mental health issues caused by miscarriage and hormonal treatments, and harder still if you were ambivalent about having a first child to begin with. Talk with him about that time: It may help him to be able to express what it was like for him.
I know you would do it all again in a heartbeat. I know you desperately want to do it all again in a heartbeat. You are experiencing a loss and you will need to grieve it; you will have to mourn. You are also correct that at 37, it’s extremely unlikely that divorcing your husband will result in having the second child you so desperately want. It’s also not at all a given that if your husband changed his mind today, you would be able to conceive and carry another pregnancy to term.
This just sucks. It’s sad. It’s hard. It’s the worst. Until you can access counseling (and I do encourage you to seek out telemedicine options now, while you are in active crisis, instead of waiting until this interminable and maddening time is over), I think you should find online communities to be of great help and support. Many, many people, of any gender, have had to accept that they cannot have the number of children they want, and they tend to find one another in infertility support forums.
I wish you all the best, and I wish for you and your husband to be able to treat each other with gentleness and without rancor. Also, I encourage you to remember that you have a wonderful living child and that there are many opportunities to be maternal in this world, to be with children, to receive joy from children who are not yours, and to know that things will not always hurt quite this much.
Again, I am very genuinely sorry.
More Advice From Slate
My family and I don’t see eye to eye on most political topics. They are very religious and they have very strong negative opinions about homosexuality. I support marriage equality, have many gay friends, and am not religious. We often fight about religion and politics because I cannot understand how they can call themselves Christians and still condemn people for who they are and whom they love. I also am pro-choice and stand firmly with Planned Parenthood. I don’t know what my family’s stand on choice and PP is, but considering their other political views, I could imagine their being against Planned Parenthood. I have already donated money to PP and would like to donate even more. I also want to make clear to my family that I stand with my political views. Can I donate money to Planned Parenthood in the name of my family members instead of buying them presents? Or would that be a mean thing to do if this is a cause they would not support?