Care and Feeding

My Brother Uses Extreme Exercise to Punish His Kids

This is abusive, right?

A rolled-up yoga mat and two weights.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Tetiana Rostopira/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 brother has a bizarre form of punishment that he uses on his kids. He makes them do exercise—not like a few jumping jacks, but like 200 pushups or eight minutes of wall-sits with no breaks. The kids will be crying by the time they’re done, and often their muscles are too sore to play for a while afterwards. I think that this is a form of abuse. I have tried to talk to my brother about it, but he insists it’s within the range of normal discipline, and that since I’m childless I don’t understand. What should I do? I have considered contacting child services, but other than this, my brother and his wife are generally good parents. I don’t want them to lose custody of their kids. Please help!

—Exercise as Punishment

Dear EP,

You’re right: Your brother is physically abusing his kids. It’s not “normal discipline” to do anything that causes kids so much physical pain that they cry and have lasting injuries. While I understand that your brother and his wife could seem like “good parents otherwise,” this practice undermines that totally, and makes me wonder what else is going on when you’re not around. Being willing to routinely inflict pain on your kids isn’t compatible with being a good parent in any sense that I understand. Some people aren’t good parents. I’m sorry that your brother is one of those people.

Whether or not your brother is such a bad parent that his kids would be better off without him, though, is a much trickier question than determining whether he’s abusive. Rather than try to answer that nearly impossible question all by yourself, do everything you can to let him know that his abuse is unacceptable. If he has family members or friends whose opinion he values, let them know what’s happening and get them involved. This will probably make him really mad at you, but your relationship with him is less important than protecting the kids.

This approach could backfire, leading him to cut off contact with you and others who want to hold him accountable and limiting your ability to see and support the kids. If that happens, it probably is time to enlist the help of whatever outside authorities you safely can, after consulting with a mental health professional or social worker—someone who has more expertise than, say, an advice columnist. I really hope it doesn’t come to that. I think there’s maybe a 50 percent chance that your brother can be shamed into acting like a better parent than he is. Good luck!

Dear Care and Feeding,

Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve been doing a lot of STEM-related arts and crafts projects with my 5-year-old. Many of these are from kits that come once or twice a month. They are really fun to do, and my kid loves them, but we are now overrun with the stuff he has built. He’ll typically play with whatever we’ve built a few times after we build it, and then forget about it. But if I broach the idea of throwing anything away, he doesn’t want to. Which I understand, but we also live in a small apartment! How can I do a gentle purge on all these items?

—Too Many Crafts

Dear TMC,

I sympathize with you. I am you. Are you me? I don’t remember writing this letter. Anyway, I have a great solution for this: Mail the folk art masterpieces to Grandma, Grandpa, Great-Aunt, Auntie, and Child-Free Acquaintance. If you can swing it, FaceTime with the delighted recipients a few times. Privately, let the “delighted” recipients know that it’s fine if they put the projects directly into the recycling bin. By the time there’s a COVID-19 vaccine and you can visit those people’s homes again, your son will have forgotten all about his beautiful felt model of the human digestive system.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I know this is a bit of an unusual question for your column, but I’m hoping you can give us some advice. Our elderly poodle passed away over a year ago, and our family is ready to get another dog. My wife is very allergic to dogs, and we’ve discovered she gets allergic reactions to dogs that are less than 75 percent poodle. This means we need either a poodle or an F1b poodle mix (where one parent is full poodle and the other is half poodle). We were lucky enough to get our old dog from a family who had been gifted a purebred standard poodle puppy that they couldn’t keep up with, but something like that is unlikely to happen again. The poodle mixes at our local shelters are mostly elderly dogs with expensive medical needs, and while we’ve adopted our previous dog, it looks like we have to turn to a breeder. Our daughter (13) is adamant that we absolutely must “adopt not shop,” but at the rate our search is going, she’ll be in college by the time we get a new dog! Should we keep searching for a purebred poodle at a shelter? Or should we give up and turn to an ethical breeder?

—Dog Dad

Dear DD,

Kim, there’s people that are dying. Sorry! Sorry. Seriously, though—this is not a real problem? I’m not going to give my blessing to going to a breeder; if you can afford to buy a purebred pet, you have the emotional and financial resources to figure out another way of getting a pet that meets your specs. In the meantime, if your daughter misses having regular contact with dogs, she can volunteer at a local shelter (and throw her clothes in the laundry right afterward!).

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

When my daughter was in second grade, she was diagnosed with ADHD. Since then she has seen a psychiatrist every few months, and ever since elementary school, she has taken Adderall. She’s 16 now. The last year, though, she has had a strong opposition to taking it. She claims that her ADHD isn’t very bad anymore and that she has come up with other coping strategies, and that the medication is causing sleep problems. She is very smart, and I want her to do well in school, but she doesn’t want to take her Adderall anymore! She has trouble focusing and doing well without it. I have been supervising her taking it to make sure she does, but she is getting more and more resistant. Should I let her be, or come up with a compromise so that she will take it?


Dear ADHDer,

At 16, I think your daughter has earned the right to some bodily autonomy, though I understand why you don’t want her to exercise it unilaterally! A compromise is in order. But whether or not it involves continuing to take Adderall is something you and she need to figure out with the help of the doctor who’s prescribing it, in addition, ideally, to a therapist who specializes in treating ADHD. My guess is that you’ll end up with a plan that includes some routine check-ins and mutually agreed-upon benchmarks for what functioning without medication means for her. It’s not going to be seamless, and there will probably be setbacks along the way, probably including doing less well in school, at least temporarily. But I bet that you and your daughter can agree that her overall well-being—which includes sleep—is more important than doing well in school, especially during such a challenging time for all students.


More Advice From Slate

My wife and I divorced when my daughter was 6 years old and I was 43. I love my daughter to death, marveling as she grew up, basking in her love, and returning in kind. I still love her so much, but there is something wrong in our relationship. She has no difficulty in ignoring my texts to her, never mind my calls. It hurts me very much when she blows me off. She’ll say, “I never respond to texts from anyone,” but will immediately respond to anybody’s texts during those infrequent times we are together. I’ve tried to take the approach that kids can be like this at her age, but I’m having serious doubts and am beginning to think there is something seriously wrong. Please help!