Care and Feeding

My Son Isn’t Showing Any Sadness About His Grandpa’s Death

Should I be worried?

Boy dressed in a black with his mother's arm around him in front of a casket.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Stockbyte/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 father passed away recently after a prolonged illness. He had been sick for the entirety of my 6-year-old’s life. While he couldn’t play or be active with my son, they enjoyed talking and sharing cookies when my son would visit with my parents. I had warned my son in advance that Grampy was going to pass, and my son responded without emotion. He calmly nodded and said, “He’s too sick. He can’t stay alive.”

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I expected that when my father actually passed my son would show sadness, but as of right now he hasn’t. I’m not sure if this is because we’ve been calmly explaining things all along or if he doesn’t know how to respond. This is his first encounter with death. I feel like it’s probably within a normal range of responses for a child his age to shrug off an older relative dying, but I want to make sure I’m making proper space for him to grieve if he needs it. How do I do this without forcing emotions he might not be feeling?

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—Grieving Without Grief

Dear GWG,

It does sound to me like you have done an excellent, age-appropriate job of preparing your son for the realities of mortality, and I am so glad he had such a lovely relationship with your father before he passed. I absolutely wouldn’t try to push him into emoting more than he naturally wants to.

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What I do recommend is occasionally asking him about fond or funny memories of your father, sharing your own with him, and also feeling comfortable saying things like “I really miss your grandpa” and then just waiting and listening.

I think he’s going to be just fine, and I’m very sorry for your loss.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband is a recovering alcoholic. He’s relapsed a couple times but generally seemed to be doing well since he quit in November 2018. However, he has also abused his Adderall prescription off and on for about the same amount of time, including stealing my own medication. We’ve done couples counseling and individual counseling, but he stopped seeing a therapist sometime late last year.

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Since March (buying a new house and COVID-19 pandemic), I’ve caught him abusing Adderall on two occasions that I know of and also relapsing once with alcohol. After the first time, I bought a lockbox for our medications and demanded he stop taking/getting prescribed Adderall and begin working with an addiction counselor. He worked with a counselor for approximately three sessions and quit. Last week, I caught him blowing through a new 30-day prescription.

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I revealed his struggles with addiction to several close friends and family members and went to stay with friends in another state. My husband and I have discussed an ongoing treatment plan and expectations, and he seems to be working on getting enrolled in the various programs/therapies. Nothing feels good, and I’m not at a place to feel hopeful yet.

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Compounding all this is the fact that I struggle with infertility. I had an ectopic pregnancy that required surgery and now will likely never get pregnant without intervention. To that end, we started IVF over the summer (I thought things were stable and getting better!). We are scheduled for a frozen embryo transfer this month.

—Sad and Several States Away

Dear SaSSA,

Keep the embryos on ice. Your husband is not ready to get sober, and the last thing a child needs is to be born to a parent with an untreated substance use disorder. I am glad you’ve found a new place to live.

I think that what you can and should do is virtually attend some Al-Anon meetings or similar support groups for people who love people who are struggling with substance use. Be there as a resource if he is committed to entering treatment but also try to keep your emotional distance. If he chooses to enter a program or commit to treatment and you genuinely believe him to be committed to sobriety and has a certain amount of time under his belt, you can enter counseling together and decide how you feel about your marriage and its future. You both have my very great sympathies.

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But please, do not pursue any further fertility procedures at this time.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m over the moon in love (and loved by) my partner of about a year. He’s a divorced dad with three amazing kids (ages 15 to 10), including one with autism who is in therapy and has school support. I would have questions anyway, coming into this situation. Add to it that we are living in the time of COVID, there are decisions about school for all the kids, there are still a lot of FEELINGS about the divorce … and also did I mention my partner owns his own business and is living 2,000 miles away from his entire family (parents, cousins) who could offer him more support? He has me, and that’s pretty much it in terms of people he can look to for advice.

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My question is—how do I support him and also help advocate for the kids? As we have grown closer as a family and certainly in these times of quarantine, I’ve gotten to notice things that my partner and his ex can (understandably) overlook. Things they may be desensitized to that I may notice. Not to mention they both feel a tremendous amount of guilt toward all the kids at any given time, so there is no real routine or dependable reactions.

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This is all totally understandable, but what should I do? None of the three adults (my partner, his ex, myself) experienced parental divorce, so we are all just figuring it out. The custody arrangement is typical and 50/50 with ad hoc concessions made fairly painlessly, but via text and only a few hours at a time. The parents also live very close (about one mile apart) so transportation is not the biggest issue. I have wondered to my partner if, for the fall, we have a discussion about how to keep this fall as calm as humanly possible FOR THE BOYS.

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Naturally, he agrees that the boys are the priority. But he’s the dad and he’ll make the final call (with their mom), which I get, but also, should I work harder to help? Should I let it go?

With the school year coming, there is no coordination for learning environments, structure or goals … should there be? I don’t know! Should I support their dad who only has the capacity to deal with so much? Or should I advocate for all the kids and offer up my own work flexibility to help with transportation and home school? Nobody is asking anything of me, so should I just shut up?

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Please assume that I am offering help with my own boundaries and needs in mind as well, in addition to the perspective that my needs also matter, but also … they don’t, do they? I mean that in the best possible way, as we think about our (adults) roles with kids.

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Basically, I’m really interested in being a part of and creating a family. When and how do I rein in my enthusiasm and energy and outside perspective and when do I access it?

—Being a “Cool Aunt” Isn’t the Same

Dear BaCAItS,

I think it’s time to lay our cards on the table, here. You have been with this man for a year, you are not married, you are not in a formal parenting role to his children (but are being used as a constant source of support and are taking on whopping, and unasked for, amounts of emotional and logistical responsibility over two other adults and three children), and you are also telling me that your own needs do not matter, because children are what matter. You are thinking of home-schooling at the cost of your own career trajectory.

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These are not your children. They are not your responsibility. It does not sound to me like your partner has any interest in your opinions or sees you as a co-parent. This is not the family you want to build for yourself.

Find a place, move out, let the man and his ex-wife muddle through. Your needs actually matter quite a bit, and this relationship is not meeting them.

What the Hell Are We Supposed to Do About College This Year?

Jamilah Lemieux and Elizabeth Newcamp are joined by Natalie Hopkinson for this week’s episode of Slate’s parenting podcast, Mom and Dad Are Fighting.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Our 3-year-old has what I call indecisive behavior. He will say he wants milk, you hand it to him, and he’ll say, “I said juice,” I’ll tell him, “You said milk.” I’ll set it down, he will push the cup away and say, “I don’t want it.” I walk away and ignore it.

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Seconds later he’ll drink the milk like nothing happened. This happens often, not just over a drink, but other things as well. I’m his grandma and have known a lot of kids but never seen this. Any advice would be appreciated.

— Baffled

Dear Baffled,

Kids are weird, and they love to mess with us. You’re handling it just fine by ignoring it. I do not sense any underlying pathology that will turn him into Jigsaw. Just don’t accommodate requests to swap out the first thing asked for, and it will burn itself out in due course when it becomes boring and does not result in a reaction or in an unlimited number of beverages like you’re a Coke Freestyle machine.

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— Nicole

More Advice From Slate

My wife and I named our daughter Nola. We wanted a unique name, like New Orleans, and thought it was pretty. Six months later, my brother has named his new son Nolan, the male version of Nola. We are shocked and hurt that he picked this name without asking us if this was all right. This is his second son; if he’d always loved the name, he could have picked that name for his first son, and we would not have picked Nola. They announced the name at the bris, and everyone kept asking if it was a family name, as we already have a Nola. Are we being overly sensitive, or is it weird to steal our 6-month-old’s name? Can I talk to him about it?

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