Dear Care and Feeding,
Due to the pandemic, there are now car parades in my small neighborhood at least one or two days a week, and each parade drives by our house twice. They involve a lot of honking, engine revving, and DJs blasting music—and often happen when my toddler is trying to go down for a nap or fall asleep in the evening. I know that the world doesn’t revolve around my child’s sleep schedule, but they are loud and intrusive even with all of our doors and windows closed. Is there any nice way I can ask my neighbors to scale back the parades?
—All Partied Out
Yikes. I’m sorry that what was likely intended to be a positive way to keep community members upbeat and connected during these unprecedented times has ended up becoming such a pain (as, well, parades often are unless you were looking forward to them). Certainly someone or a group of someones is organizing these gatherings that were, ostensibly, designed to raise the spirits of folks who are dealing with great challenges right now and, thus, should want to do so in a way that doesn’t cause harm to the very people they’re looking to cheer up. Warmly reach out to the responsible parties, politely explain how the parades have impacted your child’s sleep schedule, and ask if there is any way that these honk fests can take place at a time when little ones are less likely to be napping or heading to bed for the night. It’s unlikely that there is a solution that works for all households 100 percent of the time, but hopefully there is a scenario in which you aren’t disrupted every single time a parade takes place. All the best!
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m 13 years old and live in a liberal town in the Northeast. I identify as bisexual and have lots of friends in the queer community as well. We are all very supportive of each other. We have built something of a family together through group chats, hanging out, and our middle school’s Queer-Straight Alliance club (obviously, I haven’t been in school for a couple of months, but we continue to meet virtually and talk a lot online). I couldn’t be happier with the wonderful support group I have, and I feel very lucky … minus a problem with one person.
My friend “Alex” came out as nonbinary earlier this school year. New name, new pronouns. Cool! However, their parents aren’t very supportive—not openly mean or abusive, but they just don’t really get it or understand how Alex would be anything other than their gender assigned at birth. As a result, Alex suffers from anxiety and depression (they are in therapy, thankfully), doesn’t have a lot of close friends, and tends to have trust issues. For example, back when we were going to school, Alex would sometimes talk to me and some other friends about how (for no apparent reason) they didn’t trust/didn’t like a good friend of mine, “Selena.” On a day in which we all had lunch together, Alex started being really rude to Selena—again, for no apparent reason. Selena, understandably, is upset and storms off to another table. Alex got really upset when we tried to tell them that how they spoke to Selena was not nice and not acceptable and blamed it on their trust issues and that that was just how they were. I do believe it has to do with anxiety, and that Alex is really struggling, but the treatment of Selena and other incidents of general meanness need to be addressed.
I feel like my parents or teachers won’t understand if I try to explain this (“Alex sounds like a jerk! You shouldn’t be friends with them!”), but it would be awful to dump someone who clearly needs help and support, especially when they don’t have a lot of friends. I also face pressure from Selena to dump Alex as a friend. So my question is, how can I convey to Alex that while I want to be friends and continue to support them, they have to stop being a jerk to Selena and sometimes just in general? I won’t be in school for the rest of the year, but I want to know how to handle this when it comes up again next year or online before that. Thanks so much.
It sounds like both Alex and Selena are lucky to have a friend who is as empathetic and thoughtful as you—qualities that are apparently lacking in Alex’s family life, and perhaps to everyone’s detriment.
It’s entirely possible for someone to be both a member of a marginalized group and a total jerk, just as it’s possible (and quite likely) that Alex’s less-than-kind behavior is at least somehow connected to the failure of their parents to create a home in which they feel understood and safe. I’d also argue that most teenagers, regardless of circumstances, are able to come up with a reason for any antisocial behavior on their part that shifts responsibility away from themselves.
That said, don’t overly invest in trying to decide why your friend acts as they do; rather, focus on letting them know that you are deeply committed to being a source of love and support, and in that capacity, you hope to both provide comfort when the world is unkind and honest feedback when they are not treating others as they’d prefer to be treated. Emphasize that you hear Alex when they say that their experiences have made it difficult to behave as such with Selena and in other situations with people who make them uncomfortable. Ask if there is something you don’t know about their interactions with Selena and, if not, if they are able to recognize any ways in which they may have been unfair to her.
Some possible language to jump-start the conversation:
“Alex, I can’t say that I know exactly what the world looks like from your eyes. However, I hope you know that I am your friend: someone who is down to be by your side in both good times and bad and who only has your best interests at heart. That said, I want to talk about you and Selena. I know there’s been a bit of time that’s passed, but this has been on my heart: I think you were unfair to her. Her feelings were hurt, and it was hard to watch the interaction between the two of you. I understand why it may be hard for you to trust people and let them in, but I believe firmly that she’s a really great girl and a loyal, kind friend herself. I’m all for you letting people know about themselves when they’ve done you wrong—and I’m happy to back you up!—but it would mean a lot to me if you were to give some thought to what went down between the two of you and if it needed to happen at all.”
If Alex has an open heart and mind, hopefully they will be willing to reconsider their past actions with regard to Selena and, perhaps, how they speak to folks in other such situations as well. Be careful not to be accusatory, but instead invested in helping Alex navigate whatever they are actually feeling toward your friend and in other moments where a nasty retort or undue gossip rant may come naturally. As the old cliché goes, hurt people hurt people. Alex is hurting and may unintentionally weaponize those feelings toward people who are not responsible for that—I certainly did that as a teenager who struggled with anxiety and depression, and as a twentysomething, and perhaps a few times in my 30s thus far as well …
Your task is to be a set of outstretched arms ready to deliver a consensual hug, a shoulder to cry on, and an ear to listen, not a hand pointing an accusatory finger, nor a punching bag. Hopefully, Alex can receive your feedback with the love in which it was intended; if not, hold space for them as best you can while also honoring your own right to respect and care. Best of luck to both of you.
• If you missed Tuesday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I feel like my heart is breaking. My son is 19 and has not had a girlfriend yet. I asked him why today, and he said it’s because he’s ugly. I could not believe that he thinks that. He’s not a model, but he is nowhere even close to ugly. Right now, he works and splits the rest of his time between mine and his dad’s house. Even without the quarantine, he doesn’t go out to meet people, so of course, he’s not going to find a girlfriend. I asked if he was gay, and he said no, he’s just too ugly to meet girls. I told him over and over he isn’t ugly, but he thinks it’s just mom talking. What can I do for his self-confidence? Is there anything I can do?
—My Son Is Not Ugly
I’m heartbroken for you and your son, and I don’t even know you. No matter what he looks like, it’s not right for anyone to walk around feeling like they are inherently incapable or undeserving of love because of their appearance—though it’s a set of feelings that many of us struggle with at some point in our lives. Nineteen is old enough to have had a girlfriend or three, sure. But it’s also young enough that his lack of romantic experience is not necessarily as big a red flag as his alleged interpretation of why he hasn’t found someone yet.
Alas, I have more questions for you than I do advice, but I think these queries can help you to land on a course of action.
Has your son always displayed such a lack of self-confidence, or has he somehow changed recently? Was he more social when he was younger, or has he typically been a homebody?
How does he spend the time that he doesn’t use for hanging out with peers? Is he usually attached to family members by the hip, or would he rather stay solo in front of a screen? What, if any, sort of effort does he put forth in terms of his appearance?
Does he have a skin care regimen, a wardrobe that was chosen with any level of thoughtfulness, well-kept hair? Do you recall him being teased about his looks at any point during his childhood? When it comes to his appearance, is there anything he takes pride in (e.g., a sneaker collection, or keeping his dreadlocks twisted)? Were you deliberate about telling him that he was attractive when he was a kid and encouraging him to take pride in himself on both the inside and outside?
Are you seeing what looks like depression and/or other challenges that manifest in a number of ways, or were you blindsided by his explanation for his lack of romantic success? And, as he still divides his time between his parents’ households, is it possible for you all to make arrangements for him to speak to a therapist or other mental health professional?
The more you do, or can, understand about how he arrived at his current pattern of behavior and feelings about his looks, the better you can help him to make some necessary adjustments. Once you have established a clearer picture of what he’s grappling with, you can begin the work of helping him to better appreciate the man in the mirror, be it through counseling, affirmations, support on a journey to address major acne, the process of saving up for braces, a complete overhaul of his relationship to his looks, etc., etc. In the meantime, ask tough questions while also reminding him of something that I hope you’ve said to him all throughout his life: He is beautiful because he is himself, period.
Please keep us posted. Would love an update or even just a bit more information to help you chart a course of action.
To read another take on this question, check out Monday’s column.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I share joint custody of my 10-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter with their mother, and I have them half the time. My son “Carter” and I are close and have always had a good relationship. Enter the coronavirus.
In the six weeks they’ve been home from school, Carter has been increasingly getting on my nerves. My son is a nice kid, but he’s extraordinarily lazy. He doesn’t listen when I tell him to do simple things, he leaves trails of crumbs and ripped-open food packages everywhere he goes, he clogs the toilet, he smells bad, and he mopes around the house. If he’s unable to have screen time, he terrorizes his little sister for half of the day. He also acts spoiled and entitled, even though he has never been spoiled by his mother or me.
I know this is normal kid stuff, but dealing with it for 14 hours a day even half the time is incredibly draining and discouraging. I don’t feel like I should have to monitor every single thing Carter does. I have trouble spending quality time with him because we’re never more than an hour or two past his latest snafu. School is closed for the rest of the year, summer camp has been canceled, and I’ve always worked from home full time anyway, so I’m in for at least four more months of this. How do I make Carter see that he needs to be more mindful, and how can I stop feeling guilty about it?
—On My Last Nerve
Don’t let anyone make you feel like having your kids 24/7 for 50 percent of any given month isn’t difficult as hell just because there are other parents who maintain custody 100 percent of the time. That is a personal love tap from one joint-custody parent to another. What all of us have in common, both folks like you and me who worked from home all along and those who used to go to an office alike, is that this new normal is a tremendous disruption to the households and workloads we’d been used to prior to March.
That said, what were things really like with Carter before the coronavirus? Was he always a lazy, messy, musty teenager—you know, like so many of them are—but it was simply less bothersome because he had school to keep him out of your hair during the workday? Or has his behavior taken a turn for the worse since we’ve been forced indoors? If it’s the former, then now is an inconvenient but necessary time to examine your longtime approach to household rules and discipline and establish some new practices that are better for the family’s collective greater good.
Either way, you need to try and understand how Carter is feeling about the world around him right now and how that shows up in his behavior. Gently explain to him that while we are all struggling to make these temporary circumstances work, you understand how hard it may be for him to adjust from his usual routine to a less thrilling one indoors. However, he has a responsibility to himself and his family to behave in an age-appropriate way and to set a good example for his little sister.
Establish or reestablish the expectations you have for him while he is in your home: twice-daily showers, tidying up after meals, etc. Talk about how having the children in your usually quiet and empty “office” makes work challenging and how critical it is that you are able to complete all of your tasks each day without having to stop and discipline a young man who is old enough to work independently and entertain himself for significant amounts of time. Point out that you’d much rather have fun with him and his sister during these unprecedented hours together, but that it’s difficult for you to do so with the way he’s been acting. Sending you lots of patience!
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My husband and I met very young and had kids right away. It’s now 25 years later and the kids are off to college, our life together is comfortable. We’re still in love, and everything should be perfect. Except it’s not. I have recurring fantasies of just leaving everything behind, moving to the other coast, and starting over all by myself. I dream of finding a small apartment, furnishing it exactly as I want, leaving a mess when I don’t feel like cleaning up, eating whatever and whenever I want, and basically being a single girl in my 20s, minus the dating and insecurities. I have no desire to find another man; I just want to be alone. Is this impulse bizarre and unhealthy? Is it a phase I should just grit my teeth and barrel through? Is it something that will eat away at me until I get off my ass and do it? Can I do it without hurting him too much?