Care and Feeding

My Child’s Adoptive Mother Is an Alt-Right, Anti-Vaccine Conspiracy Theorist

Shouldn’t I be concerned?

A woman holding hands with a child.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Chinnapong/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,

When I was in college, I became pregnant and put the baby up for adoption. I chose a couple who were educated, lived in a very nice area, and seemed like smart, kind, and good people. They emailed me photos and updates for about a year, until they divorced, and then we lost touch.

The child is 9 now. The mom recently found me on Facebook, and I was shocked to see that she has become a conservative alt-right conspiracy theorist gun nut, anti-vaccination, and anti-mask COVID denier. She posted about home-schooling (not virtual school) the child but also posted about working two jobs, which leads me to think the child is only learning xenophobia. As far as I can tell, the dad has nothing to do with either of them anymore. My question is: Is this a case of “I signed away my parental rights and should let them be,” or should I be concerned? And if so, what could I do? The child hasn’t seen me since she was a baby and may not even know she’s adopted.

—Not the Mom

Dear NM,

You haven’t said why you are concerned, and I don’t want to assume. Is it because it’s simply awful that a child, any child, is being raised this way? Or do you have feelings connected to your role as her birth mother? I think it’s important that you establish that for yourself, and if you find that you’re having a hard time processing this emotionally, it may be worth it to speak to a professional who has experience with parents of children placed in adoptive care.

That said, you did sign away your parental rights, but you still have every right to be concerned—I am too! I have no connection to this child, but I am concerned anytime I hear of a young person being trained in the ways of the worst among us. We all should feel a sense of responsibility for the children of the world, and it would not be unreasonable at all for you to feel particularly bothered by this set of circumstances.

What was the nature of the mom’s message to you? Did she want to stay in touch or merely say hello? There is a scenario in which she could introduce you into her daughter’s life, and perhaps over time, you could serve as a positive influence that is a counterpoint to her own behavior. In terms of taking more drastic action, if you are to become aware that this child is not actually being schooled at all, it’s possible that a call to local child protective services could be helpful, but please note the emphasis on the word possible—many of those agencies are more capable of doing harm than good and I would not recommend this if you didn’t think they could intervene positively.

It’s likely that the best thing you can do for this girl is to pray (if you’re the praying sort) and/or send positive energy, and to function in the world as a person who steadfastly opposes the values she is being taught in both word and deed. Also, it is important that you remember that you made a choice based on the information made available to you at the time and that you are not in any way, shape, or form responsible for what has happened here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am five months into a pregnancy conceived with donor sperm and I intended to be a single mother. However, I met someone wonderful two months ago who, at least so far, is a great match for me and very interested in what life might be like when the baby comes, including discussions about co-habitation sometime after the birth. The pregnancy, along with quarantine, has made the relationship move somewhat faster than usual, and that means that we’re both very committed already.

My question concerns meeting his kids, who are 4 and 8. At this point, he hasn’t mentioned me to them, but things are getting to the point where we both want that to happen. His kids have a baby sibling, and they love having the baby around; that also means that they are very much aware of what another new baby means for their lives. I’m wondering if I should meet his kids before my (our?) baby comes, so I can get to know them without the preoccupations of new motherhood and so they can be prepared for another new baby in their lives, or if it would be better to wait and be introduced along with the baby. We’re both concerned about making sure that I’m not meeting the kids before we’re pretty certain about each other, so it’s not likely to happen immediately, regardless. But it also a pretty big change that’s coming, and giving them adjustment time seems wise, too. The timing of everything is just very tight. What do you recommend?

—Brisk Blending

Dear BB,

Do you know another word for “two months”?

“Recently.” You recently started dating someone three months into your first pregnancy, and have begun pondering whether this child will belong to the both of you in three or four months. This could be the start of a fairy tale, or a cautionary one. But I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be either/or.

You absolutely must meet these children before deciding to move in with their father, and you must see your partner parent before you decide to do … what exactly is it that you are planning to do? Are you talking about living together, or entering some sort of formal agreement to long-term partnership and the shared raising of this child? Would your man be “Mommy’s boyfriend”? “Dad”? “Stepdad”? “Uncle Jesse”?

Why are you doing this? That is a sincere question, not a spicy one. You were prepared for single motherhood before. How long did you take to come to that decision? Would you, under not-pregnant circumstances, move in with a boyfriend this early in the relationship? How about one who had kids? Are you simply confident that this is the person you want long term, or are you perhaps feeling some anxiety about being a solo mom to an infant?

What about your boyfriend? Is he typically inclined to move at this pace? Is he on good terms with his ex? Also, if the kids have a baby sibling, I’m assuming his former partner just had the child? Is it possible that he may be feeling a little emotional, having a bit of baby fever, or missing that sweet stage in parenting before yelling mean words and arguing with one another?

Maybe this is just perfect timing and you guys will be one big happy family.

Either way, I imagine that you have put a lot of thought and effort into becoming pregnant and preparing for motherhood. You should put that same amount of thought and effort into defining what the circumstances around your child would ideally look like to you, which means being absolutely certain that you’ve gotten to truly know the person you partner with and how you introduce them. Good luck to you.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have struggled with an eating disorder and body dysmorphia since I was 12. They were especially triggered by fat in my stomach and thighs, and I would have literal nightmares about immense weight gain in those areas. Eventually, I went to therapy as a teenager, and that helped immensely. In order to help pay tuition in college, I modeled for several years, but ended up relapsing and quitting.

I’m now married, and my husband and I both want children soon. The thing is, I still struggle with body dysmorphia and the thought of being pregnant terrifies me. I’m almost certain I would relapse severely into my eating disorder. My husband is understanding and has said many times that he would love for us to adopt or use a surrogate, but I can’t shake the feeling that I’m being selfish. I also know that our families would ask about our reasons, and I don’t know how to respond to those questions. Am I being selfish or vain? How can I respond to the barrage of questions I know we’ll get? And how would I talk to my future child about this?

—Image Issues

Dear II,

You are not being selfish nor vain, and neither of those words should ever be used to refer to making the decision to adopt. Further, it’s not unusual or rare for someone under your circumstances to choose to use a surrogate. You have a health issue and you may choose to approach motherhood using any of those methods for that reason. The most important thing is that you have a partner who understands and respects your needs, and you don’t need to worry about convincing anyone else. All you “need” to tell anyone is that you made the best choice for your family. Sending you all the best and many good wishes for a happy, healthy journey to motherhood, no matter what you decide.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My family (me, partner, 4-year-old) are really lucky to be relocating closer to the extended family soon. My wonderful mom just retired from teaching first grade and is excited to be a full-time grandma and teacher until it’s safe to send our kid to preschool. We’d appreciate advice on how to help this go well: particularly, helping our kid separate “Playtime Grandma” and “Teacher Grandma,” having parent-teacher conversations with someone who’s also my mom, and probably many other things we haven’t thought about yet.

—The Teacher’s Kid

Dear TTK,

It is wonderful that your mom is able to do this for your family! While she’ll never be able to entirely separate yourself from the beloved role of Grandmother, you all can create a division between how she interacts with your child inside and outside of “the classroom.”

There should be as many visual distinctions as possible. Hold class in a different space than where play usually takes place, even if it’s the same room. Teacher Grandma can wear a special hat, type of outfit, or an accessory that distinguishes her from Playtime Grandma. Be truly intentional about creating school habits, schedules, and routines—and sticking to them as a parent. Ensure that the two of them continue to get time together that isn’t just about school. Good luck!

—Jamilah

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When I was young, my parents worked very hard to put their children through college. Now my husband works 70 hours a week as a physician, and I am a part-time nurse. We live in an affluent part of town so our kids can go to the best public schools. My 10-year-old daughter is very intelligent but lazy and unmotivated. She received several F’s on the last report card for not doing her assignments but is not embarrassed at all. When I ask her to do homework or read, she gets angry and stomps off. Her friends have phones and tablets, and my daughter has asked for these items, but I cannot reward laziness. Thus, she is angry. What should I do? Her attitude stinks. I am concerned about her indifference and the effect it will have on her future.