Dear Care and Feeding,
My daughter Julia is 5. She’s been out of school for a month, and there will be no more school this year. She’s able to count to five and do a little bit of addition and subtraction, but she definitely struggles to read, though she is slowly getting better. However, her teacher informed us that Julia has been behind for most of the year, and considering that there is no more school for the rest of the year, she thinks the best course of action is for her to repeat kindergarten. She said that Julia can’t read well enough to manage in first grade and that she’s immature compared with her classmates. (She is an August baby and the youngest in the class.)
My husband and I are torn. On one hand, I have worked extensively with underprivileged teens and know firsthand how important early literacy is, and how detrimental being behind the rest of the class in the early elementary years is for a student’s future success. However, though we are not teachers, we don’t believe that her skills are insufficient to the point that she’ll fall behind in first grade or suffer later. We worry that holding her back may do more harm than good, as she will have to start over socially. We are also upset that this is essentially the first we are hearing about her being so behind.
We have not talked about this to Julia, since we would prefer that she not know until we have made a decision. We have talked to her a little bit about how she feels about her reading and math skills, and she seems pretty confident in them. We have set up another meeting with the teacher in a few days, and I would appreciate your input. Do we take the safe road and hold her back, knowing it is probably unnecessary and may make things worse down the line, or send her ahead with her class knowing that she may not be ready for first grade and may be behind for the rest of her school life?
Dear Late Bloomer,
While normally I’m all for taking the advice of a teacher, in this case I think you should push forward. For starters, this abbreviated school year will have untold ramifications on every student; teachers will head into the new year knowing that. It’s just a reality that Julia is on the young end of her cohort’s age spectrum, but a lot can change for a kid over the course of even a couple of months.
I’d tell her teacher about your intention and ask advice about what you can be doing in the coming months to help her academically. Sure, you’re not educators, but you can still actively work to help bolster Julia’s reading (and other) skills.
What you can’t do, of course, is be her peer. That group will probably be all the more important once the school year begins again; the comfort of familiar faces will certainly be easier to bear than starting fresh in a new class. I don’t think this is something to fret over or discuss with your kid. Unless the teacher vehemently objects, I think you should move into the new academic year prepared and optimistic. Good luck.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My parents are heavy smokers who have been smoking cigarettes (among other things) in their home for 30 years. Their house smells so strongly of smoke that my husband and I start coughing as we approach the house from the driveway.
We have a 9-month-old daughter. We typically visit my parents two times a year, and they are looking forward to us visiting this summer once we’re all allowed to leave our homes again. On our last visit, we didn’t want our then–6-month-old to sleep in a smoke-filled home, so we booked a room at a nearby hotel. My parents seemed a little offended, so I dropped a little white lie of having ample hotel points to make it a free treat.
They still insisted that we come by the house for a visit. After only spending three or four hours in their home, our clothes, belongings, and hair (and that of the baby) smelled so heavily of smoke that we showered, changed clothes, and sanitized everything in the baby’s diaper bag as soon as we got back to the hotel. We managed to convince my parents to visit us at the hotel the next day so as not to have to do the deep clean routine a second day. It already made me sad to smell smoke on my baby daughter’s hair after multiple washings.
Thinking about our upcoming visit, we will definitely be booking a hotel, and I think we need to refrain from entering their house with the baby. I’ve broached the subject of the smoke smell with my parents before (I had to turn down several stuffed animals from my childhood that they brought as a gift for the baby because of the smell); they get sad and offended. What’s the best way to bring up this topic without making them feel unwanted or embarrassed, while still maintaining our safety and distance from thirdhand smoke?
—Seeking Fresh Air
Dear Seeking Fresh Air,
I’m afraid you have to choose: Either your family visits your folks at their house and smells like smoke, or your family doesn’t go to their house and your parents’ feelings are hurt.
For my part, I’d choose the latter. This will be much easier if you’re honest, telling your parents you love to spend time with them but unfortunately doing so at their house is a not negotiable. This doesn’t mean you won’t have time together—you can plan outings to the park or zoo; they can visit you at the hotel; you can all go out to meals.
I’m not saying your parents won’t be offended, but hopefully real clarity around the issue means they won’t tender invitations back to their house or try to pass on hand-me-downs you’re not able to use. I think having to be firm on this might feel difficult or awkward but will ultimately be simpler than the polite white lie.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I am single dad with three kids. I’m now working from home and schooling from home; I’m also in an M.A. program, staying in place with my parents because they are in the at-risk category for COVID-19. On top of regular daddy duty, I am home-schooling, working, and taking care of my parents as well as going to the stores and running errands. What do you recommend I do so I don’t burn out? I used to work out daily but have no time at home. I have Zoom meetings throughout the day for work and my classes. Is there anyone who is going through similar challenges?
Dear Burned Out,
I hope in this moment there is some comfort in knowing, at the very least, that so many of us are going through similar challenges.
You’ve got your hands full. Single parenting is no breeze under normal circumstances; between staying on top of home school, your own job, and your studies, and being a good son, I don’t even know how you found time to write to us.
You don’t mention how old the kids are, or what kind of help your parents can provide. I understand that as dad, the bulk of the responsibility will indeed fall on your shoulders, but I hope you’ve talked to the whole gang about the importance of pitching in. Can your parents help monitor the home-schooling or keep an eye on things while you’re attending meetings? Can the kids load the dishwasher, make lunch, fold laundry, and make beds?
I understand that it’s much harder under these circumstances to find an hour to work out. That said, I think you should remember that your own sanity is worth protecting. Your whole family relies on you and as such should be invested in you not burning out completely. Please talk to them about structuring the week in a way that leaves you an hour to yourself. I think this is the only advice I have to every parent out there at the moment: Please go easy on yourself.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I have never had a great relationship with my mom. She was never dependable or very present when I was growing up, and as an adult she has continued to be flaky and undependable.
I now have a 7-month-old baby with my husband, and I am very close with his family. The problem is, I still try to be around my family out of obligation. My mom wants to watch the baby but doesn’t listen to how I prefer things like feeding, naps, or his general schedule. My mother-in-law does almost everything the way I ask. It’s not that I am a huge control freak, but I am a first-time mom and I like things a certain way—so I’m more comfortable with my mother-in-law looking after the baby.
We all live in the same area and go to church together, and my mom always complains that I spend too much time with my husband’s family and I don’t let her see my baby enough. I have a sister who has a son, and they both live with my mom. When I was pregnant, she said she worried she wouldn’t love my baby as much as she does my nephew. That hurt me very much.
I still love my family, and I especially want my child to be around my dad, but I just don’t know how to navigate my mom anymore.
—Love Knows Boundaries
Dear Love Knows Boundaries,
I’m sorry that the arrival of a grandchild didn’t turn out to be cause for reconciliation. That must be very painful.
Whatever the complications of the family into which you were born, you still have so much—the family you’ve made through marriage and the family you’ve started with your spouse. That is something you should hold onto and really enjoy.
If she’s hurting your feelings or making you feel frustrated, then I think you should choose to try less with your mother, whether you live in the same town or not.
Your mother doesn’t honor your wishes for how the baby will be cared for (that’s not controlling of you—it’s your right as the parent to make those decisions), and she has also set up this hurtful notion that she might prefer one grandchild over the other, as though love is a finite resource.
You’re allowed to see your in-laws more often than you see your mother, and you’re allowed to determine which grandma will do the bulk of the babysitting. You’re even allowed, if you’d like, to schedule times for the baby to see Grandpa and not Grandma. You’re allowed to protect yourself and have the kind of family life that you want to have.
I don’t think any of this will be easy! It may feel difficult or wrong to curtail your mother’s role in your life. I’m always advising people to talk to therapists because I’m a big believer in them, and I think an expert might help you to really think through your relationship to your mother and what that should look like going forward. At minimum, know that it can be true that you still love your family even if you cannot be around your mother in the way your sister can. Good luck.
More Advice From Slate
My husband and I are expecting our first child. We’re both in graduate school and have a pretty tight income right now. We have lots of flexibility with our schedules, but both have a lot of work to accomplish. My husband thinks we can split child care ourselves rather than get some help with the baby. I disagree. What should we do?