Dear Care and Feeding,
A distant relative who is close to my age works at a day care center several states away from me. We follow each other on social media, and she frequently shares things that really make me uncomfortable. For example, she often posts pictures or takes Snaps of kids crying in a way that’s shaming them, like “He was hungry, so I gave him a snack” or “She wanted to go outside, but it’s not time.” (Think of the “Why my toddler is crying?” meme, only they’re not her kids.) She and her co-workers also appear to play a game where they hide the head of a decapitated baby doll around the center, in view of the children, in order to scare one another.
As an early elementary school teacher in the process of getting a degree in child psychology, I can tell you two things based on my experience: a) Even if she has parent permission to take photos, I doubt the parents are aware she’s using them for posts of a mocking nature on her personal social media accounts, and b) seeing an adult who is supposed to be caring for them hanging the head of a baby doll from a shelf could be traumatic for one of those kids. My question is, what am I to do here? I feel strongly that these practices are NOT in the best interest of the children and could be harmful. Do I contact the facility directly? I’ve already reached out to her and asked if she maybe shouldn’t be taking photos and videos of kids crying, but she just says she has permission.
—You’re Gonna Scar These Kids
When you reached out to this person, how much guidance did you offer about why these behaviors aren’t appropriate? Is she aware of your credentials? Do you guys have a generally amicable relationship? Do you have a relationship at all, or is she little more than a familiar face on your FB timeline? If you haven’t clearly (and briefly, as she doesn’t strike me as much of a reader) explained why you’re concerned, you ought to give her one more heads-up that what she’s doing could land her in a lot of trouble—even legally.
Whether this behavior is indicative of a lack of interest in her job, genuine cluelessness/ineptitude, or both at once, I’d wager that most of the parents of the kids in your relative’s care would like to be made aware of those social media posts (even the ones who might be inclined to give the staffers a pass on that very selfish dead baby doll game). I’m generally loath to run to someone’s employer, but what she’s doing sucks, and if she won’t listen to your advice, you have every right to tip her bosses off. Be prepared for the possibility that she connects the dots between your outreach and what would likely be somewhat sudden consequences for this relative. Regardless of whether you ever get implicated or not, homegirl did this to herself. Don’t feel bad—standing up for kids is the right thing to do.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
What do you think about 12- and 15-year-old boys who do not sleep in their own rooms but on the floor in their parents’ bedroom? My grandsons are afraid of their own shadows. The 15-year-old recently spent a few days with us, and I woke up to find him curled up on the floor with a blanket. Is this weird? His parents don’t think this is strange. He’s starting high school!
What are the other things that make you say these kids are “afraid of their own shadows,” and have they always been this way? Has there been any sort of significant event (a fire, a car crash, a divorce) that predates this sleeping arrangement? Has the family ever lived in a space that was particularly frightening or uncomfortable? Say, an apartment in a high-crime area, or one that had a rodent infestation problem?
You should find out as much as you can about why the kids may be acting this way before speaking to their parents about your concerns. There are many reasons that two “big kids” would chose to sleep on the floor with adults over being in their own beds, and arguably, most of them would be reason enough to consider therapy or counseling.
You are correct in assuming that most young people your grandsons’ ages have long departed their parents’ bedrooms, barring some sort of circumstances that require them to sleep in the same space. That doesn’t mean that something is terribly wrong here, but something is … off. Get to the root of it so you can figure out how best to be supportive. Don’t let your child and their parent tell you this is no big deal. Hope for the best, but know that you aren’t just imagining a big red flag—it’s right there.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My first husband, “Dan,” and I met and married very young. Three years into the marriage, Dan began to behave erratically, and after multiple nightmare ER visits and months of pain, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. When our son, “Jack,” was 2, Dan died by suicide. A few years later, I met and married my current beloved husband, who adopted Jack and is an excellent and loving parent. Jack knows that he’s not his biological father, and we’ve tried to address and approach the idea of Dan in age-appropriate ways. When he was little, it was “Dad was very sick and died,” and when he got a little older, it became “Dad was very sick and unhappy and died by suicide.”
Recently, I learned that schizophrenia could be genetic, which terrified me and tipped me into anxiously watching him for signs of behavior like my first husband’s. Jack is now 17, which means he’s nearing the window where illness can appear. I’m so scared for him, and I feel like he needs to know the whole truth, but I have no idea how to talk about it and I’m sure he’s noticed my excessive watchfulness lately. He’s also a kid who feels strongly about the idea that adults have been keeping things from him. (He didn’t take the elaboration on his father’s death well at all.) How do I do this?
—Scared of Genetics
If Jack is not in therapy, he should be—not just out of an abundance of concern that he might have inherited his biological father’s illness but because of the circumstances in which his dad died. Even with a nearly lifelong relationship to a great stepfather, your son will still have to grapple with the consequences of Dan’s suicide for the rest of his own life. Both of you deserve to have some support in coming to terms with this tragedy, and you may be able to allay some of your concerns about Jack’s mental health by getting him into a regular therapy practice and creating a space in which any changes in his behavior or needs can be observed by a professional. Sending healing thoughts to both of you.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I have a 4-month-old boy. I’m Korean American, so our son would call my mother Halmoni, the Korean word for grandmother. However, my mother-in-law keeps referring to herself as “Meemaw” and has seemingly decided that this is what our son will call her. I’m reluctant to use that term for her, since it looks like it’s commonly used in other cultures that are not her own. From my understanding, my husband’s family has distant German roots three or four generations back, so at the very least, Oma would make way more sense. I think she picked “Meemaw” because it sounds more interesting than Grandma, but I’m concerned that it’s more “interesting” because it’s co-opting another culture. We are very far from when our son would even speak his first word, but I want to sort this out now. Do I just go along with Meemaw as his grandmother’s name?
— Reluctant in Reno
I’m curious: From what culture do you believe your mother-in-law has appropriated the word Meemaw? The sobriquet is used pretty commonly in the South, and though it’s roots may point back elsewhere (it may be a derivative of mémère, the French Cajun term for grandmother), I don’t know that it belongs to any one group of people in the way that Halmoni or even “Big Mama” would. I respect and understand your sensitivity toward other cultures, but I don’t think you have to worry about your MIL offending anyone as Meemaw, even if she’s not actually from the bottom of the map.
Furthermore, it seems safe to assume that your husband doesn’t identify as German (culturally, at least) and probably doesn’t have the same sort of connection to his lineage beyond the U.S. in the way that your own family does. Oma might feel awfully unfamiliar to his mother compared with a word that she’s likely heard her entire life.
Is your opposition to Meemaw simply based on fear that it may be cultural co-opting? Or do you, perhaps, also dislike how it sounds and maybe want your kid to call their grandmother something that doesn’t make your skin crawl? If it’s the latter, you have every right to feel that way, but it would be best to allow your MIL to have the good ol’ country nickname her heart desires. The word your child calls his grandmother isn’t just about culture (and Meemaw very well may feel culturally specific to her)—it also represents how she wants to be seen by him. She’s made her choice, and I think the right thing to do would be to honor it. Perhaps your son will one day cite having a Halmoni and a Meemaw while reflecting on the richness of his own background.
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