Care and Feeding

Can I Really Dump Friends Just Because They’re Conservative?

A woman holds her hand up to her mouth in concern.
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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.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

During the current political environment and COVID-19 pandemic, I feel the country is heavily divided. My husband, our 10-year old daughter, and I are all progressive liberals. However, one of the families we have hung out with since our daughter was 5 is our polar opposite.

They are Trump supporters, make racist comments, don’t believe in climate change, do not support public education, think the whole COVID situation is a political hoax, and don’t wear masks. We have not hung out with this family since before the pandemic.

When we used to hang out, they would drop racist comments toward me (I am Asian) and say it was just a joke, or do things we don’t approve of (steal, tread off trail), or now they find us ridiculous to be social distancing. We have had five years of hanging out and traveling together. But, this year, the divide has made me wonder. Is it wrong to not want to hang out with people who has opposite views and do things that I find lack morals? We’ve been social distancing anyway, and this may be an opportunity for us to part ways.

—Is Breaking Up Hard to Do?

Dear IBUHtD,

Most friendships are rooted in what you share in common—tastes, hobbies, even politics. A lack of such common ground can make it harder to maintain a real friendship. Life might involve changes in your tastes, your hobbies, your politics, and so many other circumstances (new kids, new jobs, relocating) can contribute to friendships drawing to a close. It happens!

You’re worried about whether it’s wrong to end or cool a relationship because of political difference, and I personally don’t think it is. But it’s more to the point, I think, that what you’re describing doesn’t sound like a very good friendship. A good friend isn’t cruel to you about your race; a good friend wouldn’t mock you for choosing to observe social distance when our public health experts agree that’s the right thing to do. The issue isn’t that this family is different from yours politically; it’s that they’re not very good friends. I’d take this opportunity to part ways and feel no guilt about it.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I hear all the time about kids who say things like “I hate you!” or “You’re the worst!” My 5-year-old stepdaughter (I’ve been around since she was 1, 50/50 custody) has never breathed a word like this. She’s never even said, “You’re mean!” When she was deep in her 3’s, her form of tantrum was to cry the biggest, saddest, juiciest tears of heartbreak. She’s always sad, never mad.

Like a lot of sensitive kids, she seems to worry that her parents don’t love her anymore when they’re mad or upset. She’s terrified of upsetting or disappointing us. We are firm but not authoritarian parents, generous with affection, and make sure she hears from us that we always love her no matter what, always have, always will. I worry that she’s not secure enough in her attachment to us to say that kind of stuff to us. Counseling is not an option (we need her mom’s buy-in, and mom is not buying in). What can I do?

—Sad, Never Mad

Dear Sad, Never Mad,

I understand your desire to be attentive to raising an emotionally healthy kid. But I’m not sure that the specific ability to express frustration or anger toward her parents is imperative. There are many ways to be emotionally healthy, and I wonder if you’re fixated on some specific benchmark that seems important to you but might not be to your kid.

That said, you’re her parent, and you know her best. If you truly feel counseling is something that would benefit her, perhaps you or your husband could revisit this with your husband’s ex. I understand that it can get complicated when there are multiple parents involved, but I want to believe that adults can set acrimony aside when a kid’s well-being is at stake. I hope you can come to some kind of agreement.

Leaving that aside, it certainly can’t hurt your daughter to be reminded often and in clear terms that your love for her is unconditional. These kinds of messages absolutely sink in.

But do remember that your daughter’s nature might be her nature, and that your task isn’t to change that but teach her how to navigate the world just as she is. I think you can do that, because it’s clear you want only the best for her. Good luck.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Due to COVID, we’ve decided against placing our 20-month-old daughter in child care. I’m able to work from home, so my wife made the difficult decision to leave her job, which did not offer a remote work option, and stay home until the pandemic outlook improves. We’re lucky to be able to afford to do this, and I’m beyond grateful to my wife for the sacrifice she is making.

My wife is slender-framed, has some back problems related to an old sports injury, and is prone to migraines from physical overexertion. I am north of 6 feet and 250 pounds, accustomed to physical labor, and in a word, sturdy. Thus far, our daughter takes after me. She has been above the 95th percentile for height and weight since birth, and is well ahead of the curve in terms of walking, running, climbing, lifting—you name it.

We’ve reached the point where it is a significant effort for my wife to wrangle the baby, because the baby wants to twist and look around and grab or kick everything in reach. So, a lot of the work of getting her into and out of high chairs, playpens, or baths falls to me. I’m happy to take these tasks on, most of the time.

The problem arises when I’m in the middle of my work day (to the extent that such a thing exists anymore) and am being constantly interrupted to come hold or carry the baby. I recognize that these are easy for me and significantly more difficult for my wife, but it’s not like she can’t lift the baby at all, and I find myself feeling resentful and wishing she would stop interrupting me. Then I feel bad because I don’t want my wife to risk overexerting herself when it is trivial for me to get up for a couple minutes periodically.

At some point, our daughter’s ability to follow directions and be reasoned with will catch up to her ridiculous toddler strength, but that is still a ways off and until then we need a strategy for managing the daily routine that doesn’t involve me coming in to physically overpower her during every transition, which honestly just encourages her and interferes with my ability to work. So what’s the secret?

—Work, Interrupted

Dear Work, Interrupted,

There’s no secret answer. Just as your wife has made a sacrifice for your family, you are making one, too, in the occasional interruption to your workday. I think you can agree that in the interest of equity in your marriage, and for your wife’s well-being, that being called upon to help out is a minor matter.

If this is throwing off your workday, perhaps you can extend that and finish up certain tasks after bedtime. It’s not a perfect solution, but this is an imperfect situation. Set aside your feelings of frustration, and remember that what you resent isn’t your wife or your paternal responsibility, but the unfair and impossible challenge of managing parenthood and work without any other help. I’m not saying it’s not tough, but you can do it. Hang in there.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My boyfriend of four years has two teenagers from a prior marriage, age 14 and 16. Even though I spend about four or five nights a week at his home, I’ve only just met them, because he wanted to take it slow. He has been divorced for six years and had never introduced them to a girlfriend before.

We’ve had a few (socially distant) dinner and board game nights, and attended a family barbecue together. I like his kids—they’re smart, funny and though they don’t usually initiate conversation with me, they’re polite and articulate when I ask them questions.

My problem is that I don’t have much experience with children or teenagers. I’m 33 years old and have no children of my own and have never had the desire to be pregnant or raise kids, although I’ve always been open to the idea of dating someone with children from a prior marriage. I feel kids can only benefit from having more people in their lives to support them and provide some sense of stability, and I would be happy to do that.

But I’m nervous about how to proceed with my partner’s kids, just because I’m so inexperienced. I’m also terrified of traumatizing them, just by the nature of being their dad’s girlfriend. I’m from a blended family myself, and my relationships with my parents’ various partners have been abusive at worst and awkward at best, so I can’t even visualize what a healthy, meaningful blended family situation would look like.

Because they’re older, I’m unsure what kind of relationship we’ll have but at the very least want them to feel safe and comfortable at his home and when we spend time together. When I was a teen, I remember adults trying to connect by asking me the same questions over and over, and I don’t want to be that awkward adult. How can I get to know these kids without overwhelming or alienating them?

—Wanting to Connect

Dear Wanting to Connect,

If you don’t have a ton of experience with teens, you should know that 14 and 16 year olds rarely initiate conversation with any adult. If they’re answering you in more than one syllable, you’re doing great.

It’s lovely that you’re so thoughtful about your responsibility to these kids, to making a blended family arrangement that is welcoming and nurturing. I’m sorry the adults in your own childhood weren’t as considerate.

Ensuring your boyfriend’s kids feel comfortable in their home when you’re around is a worthy goal. I think it probably begins with talking candidly to their dad about how to do this. Clearly he’s mindful of it, too, and the fact that you’re the first girlfriend he’s introduced them to suggests that he feels a happy balance is possible.

So talk to him—about how often you’ll be around, or whether the kids need one-on-one time with their dad, or what other boundaries the kids might require. He knows them best and will have good ideas about what to do going forward.

Generally, I think you’re right—that relationships with multiple adults, including the partners of their parents, can enrich kids’ lives. Specifically, I think a relationship with you, someone who is considerate and clearly motivated by a desire to do well by them, can enrich these kids’ lives. Don’t worry too much about whether you’re overwhelming or alienating the kids, and talk to their dad about how you might fit more comfortably into the family life.


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