Care and Feeding

My Kids’ Dad Is a Trumper. Should I Criticize Him Openly or Keep It Civil?

I’ve been trying to instill my liberal values without disparaging their father, but perhaps these times call for more.

A woman wraps herself and a little girl within a U.S. flag.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Choreograph/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,

I have three young kids (10, 9, 6) whom I adore. Due to life circumstances, they live mostly with their dad for the school year. (I see them often, and they live with me and their stepdad during the summers and breaks.) My husband and I are very liberal, and my kids’ dad is very conservative (like, Trump-supporter conservative). In my time with the kids, I talk politics a lot, and do my best to instill my values, while also being VERY careful not to say anything bad about their dad or his beliefs. For example, if they mention something their dad told them, I focus on saying what I disagree with and why, rather than saying what I really think (such as, “that belief is immoral”). But I can tell that their dad isn’t exactly reciprocating. They have said some things that make me pretty sure he’s just vilifying Democrats and liberals every chance he gets. They’re young, so nuance is lost on them. I feel like I’m playing the long game by being the one who never disparages the other side, but given what the other side is doing these days, I am wondering if I should play hardball too. How do I handle this?

—Politics and Parenting

Dear PaP,

The Democratic party could write a book about what happens when you try to keep to the “high” road and “be the one who never disparages the other side.” Spoiler alert: It ends with over 100,000 Americans dead from COVID and millions more who might be considered brain-dead. To paraphrase a man who waged a wholly unnecessary war on Iraq and may end up becoming one of your kids’ idols if you don’t act fast, the high road really ain’t high if it means negotiating with terrorists, you feel me?

Do your best to emphasize the other things that are “good” about your ex and the importance of loving him in spite of his values. Be careful to differentiate between “bad politics” and “bad people” (which is bullshit but your children can grow up and decide to discard their father for being a “deplorable” when they are old enough to realize the two cannot be separated and that the idea that they can is a myth that white folks have been spreading to the detriment of everyone for far too long). This isn’t a “here’s why Daddy sucks” thing; it’s “here’s why conservative values are evil.”

You need to make the moral depravity and xenophobia of the right wing as painstakingly clear to your kids as you possibly can, whenever you can. This is more than hardball—this is a battle for the souls of your children, and I say do anything and everything you can to win it. If that includes being the parent who gives the best gifts and lets them stay up the latest and eat the most junk food, so be it. If your children become MAGA supporters, you will never be able to live with yourself, and most of us won’t be able to live with you, either. This. Is. War. Godspeed, comrade.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 16-year-old daughter is deeply, deeply skeptical of any advice or knowledge that her dad and I share with her. I could tell her the sky is blue and that you should lift with your hips, and she’ll counter that the sky is actually green and that the best way to lift is with a rounded back—it’s that bad.

Three actual, concrete examples: 1) I am a dermatologist, and my daughter suffers from acne. Her acne is a source of significant stress for her. Rather than accept any professional advice from me (or even agree to see my colleagues or another dermatologist the next town over), she tells me I don’t know what I’m talking about and resolutely goes back to worsening her acne with zit creams she saw in Seventeen magazine.

2) My husband is a strength/conditioning coach at the university level. She will accept absolutely no advice from him regarding her cross country conditioning, preferring instead to ask her coach. This is despite the fact that my husband volunteers on the back end with her team to create and manage the summer conditioning program. Her coach’s response with every single question is literally “Ask your dad.”

3) She tried to tell me that my star sign changed this year from Taurus to Gemini, and after gently telling her a few times that that wasn’t true, she proceeded to look it up. Upon realizing she was wrong, she then made up some nonsense about how she read a different article and how astrologers were still arguing over it.

Suffice it to say, if it were just these three instances, I wouldn’t be writing to an advice column. Instead, it’s 20 episodes like this a week. I love and cherish her independence, and I’m thrilled that she is confident in her knowledge, but if you’re gonna be a “know-it-all,” you’d better actually know something. I’ve tried different ways of talking to her, tried not talking to her, tried correcting versus not correcting her when she says something wrong—I don’t know where to go at this point! Is this just a teenage attitude, or is my daughter just kind of a pill? For what it’s worth, we get along great as a family otherwise. She really is a great kid. It’s just that, in her opinion, her dad and I are the two dumbest folks on the planet.

—Like Jon Snow, I Know Nothing

Dear LJSIKN,

This is very, very on-brand behavior for teenagers, though that doesn’t mean your daughter isn’t a pill. Time will reveal if this is just a rough stop on the road to maturity or her true personality solidifying in the most insufferable of ways.

Alas, you have to continue talking to her about what she’s doing. In addition to pointing out the cost to herself (worsening skin, cheating herself out of support with cross country), be sure to let her know in very plain terms how her skepticism makes you feel. Ask her about how she’d react if she made it through 20, 30, 40 years of life only to have her every word challenged by someone who has not yet had the privilege of taking as many trips around the sun. If guilt works on her, employ it here. Remind her that you’ll only be around to provide this level of support for a couple more years and then she’ll be forced to screw up on her own without the level of buffering her parents are able to offer.

Also, I’m inferring that some of these challenges to your word are less than what would be considered polite or respectful. If that is the case, there should be some accountability: withdrawal of privileges, additional chores, etc. Hopefully she’ll get the point sooner than later, and if not, she’ll continue to pay the price. Best of luck to you all.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have a 19-month-old and are not planning to have any more children. We adore our child, she is truly a joy, and neither of can imagine our lives without her. But after birth, I had a bout of PPD, and my husband, who has generalized anxiety (he’s on a daily medication to help), has had multiple rough patches during which he’s barely able to function. During those rough patches, I take over almost all parenting duties and have to devote a lot of energy to keep him putting one foot in front of the other. It’s extremely stressful but manageable when it happens; however, I know if we added a second child to the mix, it would be unmanageable for me to be entirely responsible for three other humans.

My issue is the allegedly well-meaning folks who insist we “have to” have another child because we are “hurting” our child by making them an “only.” I have no problem shutting people down and being short about it if needed, but part of me just wants to tell them we aren’t able to have another. Would it be wrong to phrase it that way? I feel guilty making people think we’re having fertility issues, but honestly, we truly can’t have another baby for the sake of our mental health.

—One Is Plenty

Dear OIP,

Inquiring impolitely about someone else’s family plans is one of the most infuriating social faux pas around, and it blows my mind how many folks continue to try to urge others to reconsider such a personal decision because they think all kids need a sibling. I’m sorry that so many folks are troubling you this way.

Try simply saying, “We are unable to bring another child into this family,” and leaving it at that. If someone asks if you’re referring to fertility issues or presses you for further context, say: “I’d prefer not to discuss this. It’s a very emotional issue, I hope you’ll understand.” Hopefully over time you’ll get comfortable telling people the truth (“We’ve decided that ‘one’ was the perfect number of children for our family, and that decision is not up for debate”), as you don’t owe anyone an explanation about something as life-altering as childbirth. Anyone who takes issue with your choice needs to mind their own reproductive parts.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My sister is planning a winter wedding with 100 guests. She’s asked my grandkids to be in the ceremony and my kids to serve the food at her reception; also, our parents, whom she’d expect to attend, are in their 80s. I’m deeply concerned about safety considering the COVID-19 pandemic, as she has shown no sign of rescheduling or changing to a virtual wedding. She and her fiancée think it will be better by then, but I’m pretty confident that a large indoor wedding during flu season would be anything but. I understand that she wants the wedding of her dreams, but this is her second, and his third, time down the aisle, and these are unprecedented times. I’m worried and don’t want to go, but I fear I would be considered the Wicked Witch of the West if I don’t. My daughter says I can wear a mask, but that doesn’t make me feel better about the rest of the family being there, either. How do you not go to your sister’s wedding?

—Sister of the Bridezilla

Dear SotB,

“How do you not go to your sister’s wedding,” you ask? By staying your butt put right where you are and encouraging your children, grandchildren, and, most urgently, your parents, to make the same call.

Your sister and her husband-to-be are, in a word, ridiculous. They’ve both been married before: Not to take away from the significance of the event, but they probably thought it was forever last time, yet here we are, talking about two people who have the combined romantic résumé of a soap opera villain. And even if your parents had your sister later in life, she’s certainly too old to have such a careless attitude about the well-being of both the children and the elders of your family. Tell her she is making a terrible decision that could end in tragedy if people are foolish enough to actually show up. Make yourself available to help her plan a virtual ceremony, but do not relent. Do not attend this goof-ass wedding, and do everything in your power to dissuade your parents and anyone else who will listen to you. She can be mad if she wants to, but this is a matter of life and death. Share horror stories about families who have suffered multiple COVID losses, particularly after a funeral or other such gathering, and pray she gets the message. Good luck, sis.

—Jamilah

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