Care and Feeding

I Think My Sister Is Giving Her 5-Year-Old Adderall to Cover for Bad Parenting

I don’t think the kid needs it. Should I intervene?

Child's hand holding a white pill.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Elena Rui/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 sister recently made the decision to medicate her 5-year-old daughter with Adderall. To give some background, my sister has mental health issues and has struggled with motherhood (she openly admits to this and has started therapy). There is very little structure, and the language she uses when talking to my niece is difficult to hear. There are extreme consequences for small behaviors, seemingly constant yelling, and my niece is often told to “go away” or to leave my sister alone. I am an elementary school teacher and have also taught preschool. I truly believe my niece’s perceived “bad behavior” is a result of bad parenting and a lack of parental connection. She is sweet and cuddly with other family members, though is a bit strong-willed. It breaks my heart that she is now medicated.

I fear my sister is crushing what is so special about my niece and using medication to avoid having to actually parent. Previously, she would often come to me asking advice on how to better manage my niece’s behavior or build a stronger relationship with her, but she never implements any changes. When my sister retold the conversation with the doctor that led to this decision, it was clear my sister misrepresented my niece’s behavior and embellished a lot to make it seem that my niece is unsafe. During my years teaching, I have seen situations where this type of medication can be beneficial for a child and have supported that recommendation, but I truly believe this is not the case with my niece.

I am struggling with how to communicate my discomfort around this decision with my sister. She has said several times in front of my niece that she is only doing “good things” like identifying letters because she is now on medication. This makes me so uncomfortable. I am often so troubled I don’t even know how to respond, which leads to silence and my sister getting upset with me. Is it OK to say I don’t want to talk about my niece being medicated with her? I realize I am not my niece’s parent and it’s not my decision to make around medicating her, but I don’t have to agree with it.

—Auntie Anti-Adderall

Dear Auntie Anti-Adderall,

I think you need to divide your thoughts and actions about this into two separate categories and not allow them to touch.

Don’t say a word about the medication. If she brings it up, stick with silence, and if she bristles at that, say, “Ella is a lovely girl.” You are just not going to win this, you do not know if she in fact badgered her doctor into prescribing the medication, and you also don’t know how your niece acts when you’re not around. She may have very different behaviors around other people—many kids do. And Adderall is not known for turning kids into weak, listless little automatons.

Instead, model warmth and patience and love around your niece, take any opportunity to tell your sister “I really liked how you handled that situation,” and just try to get to a place of detente. Right now, you’re the Teacher Judging Her Parenting and she’s your Mentally Unstable Sister whose parenting you’re watching like a hawk.

Ask her about her therapy! Open-endedly. “Do you like your therapist?” Try to talk about things that aren’t your niece (who sounds sweet) and treat your niece as you would like her to be treated, be able to stay a trusted figure in her life, never mention the medication, and try to let go of this.

Help! How can I support Slate so I can keep reading all the advice from Dear Prudence, Care and Feeding, Ask a Teacher, and How to Do It? Answer: Join Slate Plus.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 5-year-old son and I watched The Princess Bride a few weeks ago, and he seemed to take away an interest not in fencing or poison, but in romance. Since then he’s been talking about his desire to eventually fall in love and get married, and also has been declaring several neighborhood girls to be his love. Interestingly, his best female friend has been spared this treatment; he probably has more brotherly feelings towards her.

So far this is all pretty benign, but is there anything I should be worried about, especially as he returns to school soon?

—As You Wish

Dear AYW,

OK, this is adorable. I’m not particularly concerned. Talk about how we behave in public, and how romance and love are for older people, but that he can practice by being kind and considerate and helpful and good. Carefully watch him around the neighborhood girls, and make sure they’re always supervised (he’s 5, I assume they’re supervised). Not because I think he could be harmful—just so you can later say, “That’s more a thing older people say. Next time say, ‘I like your backpack.’ ” And talk to his teacher, just so they’re also ready to know they have a (likely briefly) romantic lil’ dude in their midst.

Poisoning or eels would have been much, much worse. Let yourself get a kick out of it.

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

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a 6-year-old daughter “Ally” with my ex. We broke up because he was sleeping with “Dee.” Her daughter is the best friend of ours. Dee had been struggling since her husband left, and I was a naive fool and thought my ex was actually helping her with household repairs instead of banging her. I am trying to be strong for my daughter. She is struggling with why Daddy left and why she doesn’t see her friend anymore. I don’t know what to tell her other than “Mommy and Daddy love you but can’t live together anymore.”

I have explained that Dee and her daughter are just “busy.” We ran into Dee and her daughter in the park. Ally was excited and asked when she could come over. Dee said they would love to have her over, but it “depends on your mama.” She looked me in the eye and smiled. If my daughter hadn’t been there, I would have thrown my iced coffee in her face. I made some excuses, but since then Ally has been asking about going to see her friend. I don’t know how to handle this. I am trying just to get through the day without breaking down. Help me.

—Do I Need to Get Over This?

Dear DINtGOT,

I would have waited until my kid was out of earshot and thoroughly kicked Dee’s ass, so I think you handled yourself quite well indeed. Listen to some Loretta Lynn songs (the expert on lovin’ some utter loser of a man but not wanting another woman to steal him) and make a nice drink while we continue troubleshooting this.

You need to call your ain’t-shit ex. I’m very sorry. I want you to ask him if he is serious about Dee. Is Dee moving in? Does he see this as a serious relationship? Or, having stripped her drywall, is he off to the next damsel in distress?

This is important because you proceed very differently based on whether Dee is going to continue to be in her dad’s life. If Dee is here to stay, you’re going to have to see her and practice a very bland face and coordinate play dates (ideally not in your home) and say absolutely nothing that isn’t incredibly necessary, like “Your child is about to fall into a nest of vipers, Dee.”

If you instead get the read that Dee is already on her way out, I think it’s OK to prioritize your emotional health in the wake of a personal tragedy over a 6-year-old’s friendship (but, of course, this 6-year-old has just gone through her parents’ separation, and it’s very hard for everyone). I asked for my husband’s read on this one, and he said a mature 6-year-old could handle “Dee did something that hurt Mommy very badly, so we can’t play together anymore,” but I was worried that your daughter would waltz into school and disseminate this information. I think you can start with “They’re very busy” and also, get more busy yourselves. Find a new park, make some new little friends, and I wish you the very best of luck.

For more of Slate’s parenting coverage, listen to Mom and Dad Are Fighting

Dear Care and Feeding,

I was born four decades ago in a time where everyone wore pubic hair naturally, so my memory of the human body growing up corresponds to that standard. I personally love the female anatomy in all its shapes and see waxing as a completely personal decision, but I know it is sometimes a big issue for some people. In my marriage I prefer to keep things natural, while my wife prefers to wax. I am fine with this arrangement, but now that I am a father, I worry about the impact of such visual contrast in front of our children and whether it creates a negative or twisted standard for them.

They are still very young, and we take turns to take baths or showers with them for security reasons, or, like most kids, they will see our bodies when we are dressing up or we take a vacation to the beach. Does this image of their parents create an artificial standard of what they consider normal or appropriate in the future? Will they assume that women should always wax, while men shouldn’t? Is this even a conversation to be had in the future, or we should just let them figure it out as they grow up?

—Waxer Family

Dear WF,

I think you can just let this one go for a while. All clothed or naked human bodies look extremely different from each other, and that’s something kids pick up on fairly soon. If directly asked why your wife doesn’t have pubic hair and you do, I would have your wife explain that some adults prefer it for themselves, like makeup or ear gauges or tattoos.

What your kids decide to do with their pubic hair once they are adults is blissfully 100 percent not your problem or your business.

My blessings are with you.

—Nicole

More Advice From Slate

It sounds like a bad joke, but my cheating husband stepped into the street, got hit by a semi, and died. Instead of going through a difficult divorce, I have inherited all his assets and am a very wealthy woman. I have no idea how to deal with any of this. I held a memorial and didn’t stay long. I felt like a fraud. Friends told me that his mistress showed up in tears. Apparently she is a single mom, and my husband was paying for her apartment and her son’s private school. Am I crazy to want to reach out and maybe help her? My circle of friends runs the gamut from glee to indifference about her fate. My husband and I had been drifting apart for a while before he died. I can’t process anything right now rationally and could use an outside perspective.