Care and Feeding

My Parents Shame Me for Expressing Negative Emotions

They say anger and embarrassment are “stupid.” Are they right?

A teenager holding her head, looking upset
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by AaronAmat/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,

I am a teenager with a question about the parenting I have received. My parents are very much of the attitude that if you have a problem, then you have to fix it. They do not traffic in sympathy (except for medical issues or when there’s an issue that they care deeply about). If I say “X made me feel embarrassed,” their response is “You have to get over that.” If I say “X makes me angry,” their response is “You have to get over that,” with the possible addition of “It’s stupid to feel like that.” This has been going on as long as I can remember, and now, if I feel any sort of negative emotion, I immediately get waves of embarrassment and guilt for it—it must be wrong, since I know my parents would think so.

If I play the happy, dutiful, loving child, they tell me how good I am and how much they love me. I guess my question is: Is this normal? Is this a good type of parenting that I’m just responding to badly? Do my parents have a point?

—Am I Just a Bad Kid?

Dear AIJaBK,

No! You are NOT a bad kid! There’s no such thing as a “bad kid.” There are kids with issues, kids who make poor decisions, kids who will require serious intervention to function as healthy adults, but no “bad kids.”

Are you a poorly behaved kid? Possible, but that’s not what I’m reading from your letter. I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt, as there is a lot I don’t know about the nature of these moments of conflict, and I’m taking your words at face value.

I’m not comfortable saying that this is “bad parenting,” but I will say that it sounds like your parents are taking a so-called tough love approach, perhaps out of fear that the world is gonna beat you down if you aren’t “strong.” It is not an approach that I agree with on any level, and the fact that you experience feelings of anxiety and guilt over simply having an emotional reaction to something is central to my reasoning.

You can, and perhaps should, keep trying to explain to your parents why their responses hurt you. However, I think you should also prepare yourself for the possibility that they may be unwilling or unable to change; these two may very well be a mirror into how they were raised, and their parents before them, and so on.

Is there another adult you can turn to when you need to emote without judgment? Perhaps an aunt, a favorite teacher? If so, it would be ideal for you to have identified a few folks who may be willing to be supportive, even if you haven’t thrown in the towel on your own parents.

I’m so sorry that you are feeling this way and that your parents haven’t figured out how to make you resilient without demanding that you operate like a piece of machinery instead of a teenager. You aren’t a bad kid; you’re an intelligent, thoughtful kid who is trying to gain some understanding over a situation that is deeply difficult. You took the time to write to a parenting advice column so that you can better recognize what’s going on with you. I think you sound like a great kid. I hope your parents will see that too, and soon.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 12-year-old daughter has a not-so-great habit. I noticed that every few weeks, she’s got dried skin on her nose. Finally, she admitted that she squeezes her nose hard, until a bit of white stuff comes out—multiple times on different spots. I was wondering if this is safe/fine for her to keep doing. She pushes hard enough that her nose turns red and leaves fingernail imprints.

—No to the Nose

Dear NttN,

This is not safe or fine. The white stuff is likely sebum, an oily liquid that lubricates the skin, and can turn into blackheads. Squeezing and scraping the nose area (or others) “clean” can lead to breakouts, broken skin, abrasions, and other unsightly issues. It’s time for your daughter to adopt a proper skin care routine so that she’s not getting that icky-yet-satisfying-to-squeeze stuff clogging her pores. Consult with a dermatologist, and in the meantime, consider trying out an oil-fighting cleanser for sensitive skin and pushing her to wash her face properly not once, but twice a day. Let her know that the way she takes care of her skin now may impact how it looks for the rest of her life, and that picking at it is a great way to do major harm.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter-in-law is pregnant. We live in New York City. She won’t wear a mask. I’m worried. She believes in herd immunity. Should I approach this topic?

—Loving Grandma

Dear LG,

There are so many letters that come in about grandparents who refuse to stop meddling in their children’s or children-in-law’s lives. But in this case, you’ve got every reason to do just that, and you’re kind enough to ask if you should. Yes! Absolutely!

Share articles with your DIL that explain why herd immunity is not the answer to COVID (this one illustrates how and why it failed in Sweden and is an almost comically bad approach to slowing the virus in the U.S.) and how early research indicates there may be additional risks faced by pregnant people who contract the virus. Urge her to consider that wearing a mask is a small sacrifice to make in order to protect not only herself and her baby, but other people she may come in contact with—including other expectant parents and children at her doctor’s office. Beg, plead, do whatever it takes to get her to (hopefully) hear you out and avoid being stuck in one of New York’s already-stressed emergency rooms. Fingers crossed, she’ll listen.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have one child after four pregnancy losses and two rounds of IVF. I’m now in the early days of a sixth pregnancy and feeling quite poorly because of the massive amounts of hormones I’m taking. My problem is a sticky one: I don’t feel appreciated for the toll that pregnancy, and pregnancy loss, has taken on me. My husband is an involved parent, and because many of the dads in our baby club were quite open about never changing a diaper or feeding the baby, my husband seems to believe he’s doing about half the work in anything related to the baby or pregnancy. (FYI: He works full time, and I took care of our baby full time for a year before returning to work.) It feels like when I want appreciation or him to seem to understand how our experiences have been different, he’ll remind me that he attended all the midwife appointments or administered the shots—as if that’s 50 percent of the work.

I don’t want and haven’t sought out a traditional/conservative relationship, so I’m surprised to feel resentful that on this front, my experience as a pregnant woman and woman who gave birth seems to have been demoted to simply having attended appointments, when I feel my body and my mind have suffered permanent change and trauma from what I’ve experienced. I can’t pinpoint what I want him to do differently—I’m just feeling really resentful right now. I’ve tried to talk to my husband about this multiple times and keep getting his insistence that it’s a joint experience, and he’s doing half the work. Any advice?

—He Thought a Push Present Was a Joke

Dear HTaPPWaJ,

I am so, so, so sorry that your husband is acting this way. As easy as it may be to excuse his behavior as a lack of exposure to a healthy, cooperative parenting relationship and/or a byproduct of a society that doesn’t adequately value the labor of mothers, it’s unfortunate that he has continued to act as if his meager contributions are sufficient despite the fact that you are asking more of him.

You have on multiple occasions told your husband in clear terms that you need more support from him than you are receiving, only for him to double down and insist that he’s doing “half the work” (my skin crawls every time I think about him saying this to you, I’m sorry). It doesn’t sound like the two of you can resolve this on your own, so the next step is for you to convince him that marriage counseling is not merely something that you’d like to try, but a necessary step. You deserve to be heard by your partner, and hopefully a trained expert can help make that happen.

Furthermore, and dare I say more urgently, I encourage you (if you haven’t) to speak to a professional one-on-one about what you endured on the journey to parenthood and how you’ve been feeling since becoming a mother. It’s great that you recognize the significant impact on your body and spirit, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll simply heal or adjust without some dedicated efforts. I am wishing you all the best for a healthy, peaceful pregnancy, and that your husband will step up and become the partner that a woman who has gone through so much in the name of bearing his children deserves.

—Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

My husband and I were both raised Catholic but are now essentially atheists. When we had our first child, our parents were all horrified to hear that he would not be baptized. My father was prepared to stop talking to us. After a while, things calmed down. I thought they made their peace with it. Turns out, my son was baptized by all of his grandparents as an infant without our consent. He is now almost 5 and we are just learning about this. What should we do?