Dear Care and Feeding,
My family and I recently moved from one state, where masks are required for everyone over the age of 2 (yes, even outside), to another state, where masks are only required outside for those over age 12. We very much want to make new friends, but we would strongly prefer that our 4-year-old wear a mask at all times and that others around us, even kids, do the same. So far when I have brought this up, people have sounded confused and a little put off by my mask request, which I understand, since the law here is different. How can we continue to stay safe (and I truly believe that masks on, even outside, even for kids, is the safest way to be) while finding and creating a new community, when we are surrounded by people who are following different guidelines?
As we all know, the question of how people view wearing masks isn’t simply a matter of local law; it’s now viewed by many as a political stance, a declaration of allegiance. You don’t name the state you left or the state you’ve moved to, but it’s easy to imagine that at least some of your neighbors might be mistrustful of a new arrival insisting their children wear masks, especially outside.
That’s not to say you’re wrong; indeed, you’re indisputably right that wearing masks outside is the safest way to be. You have every right to request that possible future friends join you in mask-wearing. For now, the ones who are willing to do so are the ones you can begin building your new community with. After all, you don’t need to make friends with everyone in your neighborhood yet; what you need in this accursed year is a few like-minded friends who are on, roughly, the same page as you about safety. Over time, you might find that your hard line on children wearing masks outdoors might soften, led by the science on the subject and, maybe, your desperation to connect. Unfortunately, this miserable pandemic will continue through the winter and beyond, and I suspect your neighbors’ positions might evolve as well.
Dear Care and Feeding,
We have three daughters—one tween and two teenagers—and the fighting amongst them, especially since everyone is home all the time now, is making our home a miserable place. The biggest problem is that our middle daughter is the instigator 99 percent of the time, although she doesn’t recognize it and accuses her father and me of “picking on her.” I hear the mean, unprovoked comments she makes to her sisters. To the older sister: “Why do you even want to visit that college? You’ll never get in!” To the younger one: “Why do you still play with Legos?” Her father and I never speak that way to anybody, so why she thinks it’s acceptable confounds us. When we’ve had heart-to-heart talks with her, she’ll cry and say that she acts that way because we pick on her—but she is reprimanded more than the others because of her behavior, not the other way around. I don’t want to raise a mean girl, and I don’t want our daughters to grow up and not have a relationship. We tried family therapy years ago, but the older girls refused to speak. We are at our wits’ end, and it hurts us deeply to see one of our own treat her sisters so badly. What can we do?
—Longing for a Peaceful Home
I was inclined at first to treat this problem as a teens-will-be-teens situation and tell you, basically, to relax. Plenty of women now have close, loving relationships with the same sisters they once were convinced had been sent from the pits of hell to ruin their teenage lives. And while we parents are pained every time we hear our kids treating each other cruelly—it’s hard to swallow that they might not adore each other the way we adore each of them!—it’s entirely developmentally appropriate for a young teenager to be a giant B sometimes to a sibling, and equally appropriate for that sibling to be hurt when it happens but to shake it off.
But your reference to failed family therapy “years ago” gives me pause. It does seem as though this problem has bedeviled your family for quite some time, that you’ve taken serious steps and seen those steps fail. I’d like you to explore therapy again, but not whole-family therapy, where it seems that being in a room together may have stifled your daughters’ ability to engage. I’d encourage you to talk to your middle daughter about seeing someone on her own—a trusted person she can talk to about her huge feelings, including the feelings of being picked on. This is a tough time for everyone, and she sure doesn’t seem happy. A good therapist can help her start to think more analytically about what those feelings represent, and guide her to some strategies to keep herself from lashing out when she feels overwhelmed.
In the meantime, I know it’s hard right now to escape the confines of our daily lives, but you and your partner might try to find ways to have one-on-one time with your middle daughter.
Schedule a weekly walk, choose a TV show to binge that’s only yours, get super into the Premier League—whatever it is, it will help her a lot to have time with each of you that isn’t filled with reprimand but is, instead, a model for kind and respectful behavior toward a family member.
Good luck! People say you’ll miss ’em when they’re off to college, but you sure won’t miss this shit.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My wife and I recently moved into an old house with an iron entrance gate that swings open and is connected to an iron fence. Our neighbors are a single mom with a 10-year-old son who has autism, and they have been very kind and welcoming to us. They came over to drop off some cookies for us yesterday, and her son was swinging on the gate, which I didn’t initially mind—our 5-year-old does this too—but he was jumping forcefully, and his mom had to tell him several times to get off. When they were leaving, he got upset about something, and kicked the gate and fence very hard before they left. Today, we saw that the gate latch was broken, and the bottom of the fence, which connects to the side of our house, was dented, which also damaged the side a little. The gate and fence are old and delicate, and we would basically need to replace them, which would cost $2,000 or more. My wife wants to ask our neighbors to pay, but I feel uncomfortable about it. I know she works two jobs, and I don’t think her son meant to kick it so hard. They are kind people, and I don’t want to lose this friendship! But paying for all of it would definitely impact us too. What should we do? How can I (tactfully) talk to our neighbor about this?
How long was that “old, delicate” gate going to last? If it gave way at one solid kick, it was on its last legs anyway, and it would only have been a matter of months before your 5-year-old swung it right off its hinges. Don’t even think about bothering this kind, cookie-delivering woman with this issue. Get a sturdier gate and, while you’re at it, think about investing in a play set for your backyard so neighborhood kids have something to swing on that was designed for the task.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I have a lovely 17-year-old daughter. She is funny, kind, intelligent, and passionate. She was diagnosed with depression and ADHD in the eighth grade (a rough year). She takes medication for both issues. She has done well in high school (B-plus student, many activities, National Honor Society, has a part-time job) and is now going through the college application process. For the most part, she is on top of what she needs to do, but writing the essays has been a major challenge. We have brainstormed with her, and there are many experiences that she can write about, but she just can’t seem to get started, even with a lot of downtime from COVID. She told me last night that she is afraid she won’t write a good enough essay to get into college. We had resorted to nagging her after gentle suggestions did not work, but that isn’t productive—it just stresses her more and exacerbates her ADHD. Any suggestions on how to save everyone’s sanity?
—Exasperated With Essays
Perfectionism is a common symptom of ADHD, as the fear of not creating something up to snuff makes kids feel “stuck” before they even begin. If your daughter is still talking to the therapist who helped her in eighth grade, that person can certainly talk through some techniques for breaking through that emotional barrier and getting the words onto the paper. If she isn’t still talking to that therapist, maybe she should be.
I’m a fan of the cartoonist Lynda Barry’s lesson that in personal storytelling, thinking is the enemy of doing. She likes to show her students a picture of Rodin’s Thinker and say, “Now that’s a guy who isn’t writing anything.” Rather than nagging or gentle suggestions, you might try some family writing exercises. Set a timer for seven minutes, choose a word that brings childhood memories to mind for everyone—car, playground, the last day of school—and encourage everyone to free write until the timer goes off. Write by hand, on paper, and the moment you feel stuck—the moment you feel yourself assuming that Thinker pose—keep the pen moving, writing the alphabet until the next word comes to you. In this way you make the act of writing a physical one, one that’s not about perfection but just about doing the thing.
Barry also suggests a simple trick for helping creative people avoid the trap of perfectionism: mark a huge X across the piece of paper before you even begin. “There,” she likes to say. “It’s already ruined. So don’t worry about it.”
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I hope you have some advice on a toddler who takes forever to eat dinner. My husband and I prepare food that my 3-year-old typically likes, so it’s not because she’s a picky eater. She will sit with us for five to 10 minutes and eat, then get up to play, go “potty,” interact with her baby sister, feed the dog, dance around the kitchen, basically anything but eat. Getting her to eat dinner takes up to an hour! We try bribes with small desserts, or threaten that if she doesn’t come eat we’ll give her dinner to the dog and there will be no more food for the night. (We have followed through on this at least once but it hasn’t helped.) It’s a nightly battle … and usually it ends with her dinner sitting out until she eventually eats it. Should we be stricter and put our foot down, or just let her take her time to eat dinner?
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