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,
We have three kids. Our daughter is nearly 13 and the eldest. We have been discussing what to do this winter for a family trip, and my daughter insists she doesn’t like skiing and has no interest in going.
The kids have been on skis since they were 3. They’ve skied and/or snowboarded every winter. The boys, my husband, and I love it. We’ve traveled every winter to a ski destination and have been careful to choose places that offer a wide range of fun winter activities (like dogsledding, tubing, snowmobiling) and a fun town vibe that the kids can enjoy. Our daughter grumbles every time we go skiing. She’s really only good for about half a day on the slopes. She’s a good sport and resigns herself to going because she wants to travel, but we really don’t want her to hate it and we want her to have good memories of family trips. My husband and I sometimes will take an extra weekend and go by ourselves, but we feel guilty a little bit because the boys want to come too, and we LOVE watching them explore and have fun on the slopes.
We don’t only take the kids skiing. Travel is a big deal to my husband and me. We’ve taken the kids to a few National Parks, big cities on each coast, Disney, and are currently saving for our first trip overseas.
I know some of this behavior is normal teenage behavior, but she’s always maintained she doesn’t like skiing. Her idea of a fun vacation is sitting in the sun on a beach somewhere, which makes my husband and me cringe (we can’t imagine anything more boring or miserable). How do we manage the disparity in preference to vacation types and activities? We’ve reminded her that one day she’ll be happy for the skills and experiences she has. Do we just keep planning these trips with compromises to places that have activities she can take advantage of (even if she doesn’t) and remind her when she’s paying the bills and designing her own trips she can sit on a beach all day?
—It’s Not a Family Trip Without Her
I doubt that your almost-13-year-old needs to be reminded that she doesn’t pay the bills, nor do I believe her current lack of disposable income overrules her right to express her likes and dislikes. I realize some readers might not be able to find much sympathy for a kid who just isn’t that into her family’s annual ski resort visits, but honestly, I do feel a bit sorry for her. Sure, being part of a family means occasionally going along with a plan or activity we may not personally be wild about. But if your daughter needs to accept that (and it sounds like she has; you admit that while she continues to note her dislike of skiing—not a crime!—she still goes and is “a good sport” about it), you need to accept that you have no control over what she enjoys. You want her to appreciate and have “good memories” of your ski trips, but she doesn’t like skiing. This is not a phase or a “teenage behavior” thing; she’s told you over and over. And it’s fine! She doesn’t have to share all or, really, any of your interests, and after 10 years of ski trips no one can claim she hasn’t given it a chance.
The window of time when all your kids will easily be able to travel with you is small—when they’re grown, vacations with you will be hit-or-miss. You’ll likely have the rest of your lives to plan trips without taking all three kids’ interests into account. Given this, is it necessary to go on a big destination ski trip every year, if one-third of your children would strongly rather not? Is it necessary for your daughter to go every time? Maybe she would prefer to stay with a friend or family member sometimes, and then you could plan a separate family trip to be enjoyed by all? Thinking of her being left behind does have me feeling rather sorry for her again, but at her age, hanging out with a favorite friend or relative might be a very appealing option, especially if she knows she’ll still get to go on another trip.
I confess to being somewhat perplexed that you and your husband are completely closed to the idea of a beach vacation, yet you seem bothered that your child has not dug deep and found sufficient enthusiasm for the ski trips she has repeatedly told you she doesn’t enjoy. I really think you should consider taking your kid to a beach once in a while! You’ve found ski towns with “a wide range” of activities; you can probably locate a town with beach access and other stuff to do. Of course, whether you choose to take advantage of all it offers is up to you, but I have a feeling that one day—when you’re older, and your kids are paying for and designing their own vacations without you—you’ll be happy you had those experiences.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
Our charming, sweet 6-year-old son has a congenital defect, which causes deafness in one ear. This hearing disability, or the fact that he attended a Spanish immersion preschool (or any other number of reasons), means that he is speech-delayed. We’ve been getting him help since he was 6 months old, and he has made enormous strides, but he’s not 100 percent caught up.
However, he’s also off-the-charts bright. If there is a pattern, he is going to figure that sucker out. He taught himself to read when he was 2, the Periodic Table when he was 3. We even once caught him teaching himself the Russian alphabet. This is obviously a complex combination of characteristics, but it leads to some annoying conversations with friends: “I can understand him fine” and “You’re just trying to downplay his braininess” and “Your expectations are too high.” (They’re really not, we leave him alone to learn what he wants; I had a Mamá Tigre growing up and I would never EVER do that to my children.)
His issues lie with comprehension and being able to extrapolate what comes next when there’s no clear formula, especially in fiction. He can sight-read multisyllabic words, but he can’t always figure out why a character in a story acted the way they did. And he can be a tad emotionally immature because he’s only recently been able to start identifying his feelings, the words were too amorphous to him until last year.
How can I explain this succinctly to friends and get them to lay off us for having him in speech therapy and literacy tutoring? We’re trying to help him develop his whole healthy self, to help him describe and handle his feelings and needs instead of getting frustrated from not being understood. We’re NOT trying to mold him into some sort of wunderkind.
— NOT a Mamá Tigre
Dear NOT a Mamá Tigre,
First, your kid sounds amazing—just a little Russian independent study before playtime, as one does! I love it. Kids are big bundles of differing strengths and needs who learn and develop at different rates, and as you know, there are parents who refuse to accept this and spend far too much time and energy—and money, if they have it—trying to “fix” what doesn’t need fixing. But to me, you don’t sound like someone who’s trying to put tons of undue pressure on your child or unaware of the harm that could cause. You recognize that he has a hearing disability and a speech delay, and has so far benefited from speech therapy and additional academic support, so it makes sense that you’d want him to continue. Hopefully his therapists and teachers will also let you know should they ever suspect that there might be other things to evaluate for, or that he no longer needs as much support.
I have a wonderful autistic child, and when she was younger, some people tried to tell us why we shouldn’t bother with speech therapy. Often they were trying to be reassuring, but they also didn’t really understand our kid or her disability, and sometimes the tacit (and unintentionally ableist) implication was that there was something abnormal or wrong with needing help. In your case, people are taking it a step further, suggesting that you’re driving your son too hard and ignoring his strengths. Personally, I’m a big proponent of letting others know when their comments about your kid are unhelpful, inappropriate, or both—friends, especially, should know this isn’t how to support you.
I would suggest that you come up with a polite yet firm go-to response, perhaps something like: “We love our son and we’re not interested in pushing or trying to change him. We see and celebrate his many strengths, and we also want him to get the help and support he needs.” Most people should then understand that you’d like them to keep their weird, baseless judgments to themselves. With those who refuse to let it go, you might want to be prepared to shut down the conversation—a blunt “I’m not looking for unsolicited comments or advice about my child” or “I’m not going to discuss this with you anymore” should do it, but know that it’s also perfectly OK to walk away.
Remember, too, that many attempting to comment on your son’s development and abilities have little to no business doing so. Yes, some education/explanation may be necessary at times, because the most important people in your life (family, close friends) and those responsible for helping your child (medical professionals, educators) genuinely need certain facts. But I don’t think you should let yourself be drawn into offering in-depth explanations of his relative strengths and needs to anyone whose business it truly is not. Keep your focus where it is, where it belongs: on your child and how all this affects him. He needs to know what a great kid he is; that you see and love and are proud of him whether or not he’s ever “100 percent caught up.” He also needs to understand that there’s nothing wrong with receiving some help or support others may not, and none of you need entertain even the soft, “well-meaning” ableism that implies there is.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m a queer woman in my 30s, and I’ve decided to finally pursue my dream of having a baby by becoming pregnant. I identify as aromantic and asexual, and I have been single most of my life. My life is filled with incredible friendships, and I have a wonderful and supportive community of humans in my city. When I began talking about wanting to have a baby, one of my closest friends, a queer man my age, expressed his willingness to be my sperm donor and/or raise the baby together. I am deeply grateful for the offer, and I know this man would make an incredible co-parent. We already live next door to each other and share many aspects of our lives. That being said, in my heart I want to be a single parent. I have thought a lot about how I’d want to raise my child, and it makes me instinctively uncomfortable to imagine expanding certain decisions to include someone else. Nonetheless, I know the value, both practical and emotional, of having two dedicated parents, and the inherent burdens that come with being the only child of a single parent. I worry that by choosing to be a single parent instead of to co-parent with my friend, I am giving my baby a harder life than necessary. I’m holding off on the pregnancy process right now due to the pandemic, so I feel like I have time to think over what the best choice would truly be. Do you have any advice?
— Hopeful Single Parent
I’m sorry the pandemic may have put a wrench in your plans, but I’m glad you are OK using this time to really think everything through. Here’s the thing: You’ve already told us that, in your heart, you want to be a single parent. That’s an important thing to know and pay attention to. I’d never ever suggest that single parenting is easy or something to be approached lightly. But I don’t think parenting in any form or arrangement should be approached lightly, and you don’t strike me as someone who’s rushing into this with no thought or care for its challenges. You’ve clearly thought a lot about the pros and cons of single parenting, in particular—and you say that being a single parent is your dream.
It is also clear that (at least at this juncture) co-parenting is not what you want, and furthermore, you don’t want to co-parent with this particular neighbor, despite the likelihood of him being a great parent. If you wanted to co-parent with him, if you felt it was the right thing to do, you’d say yes. That you haven’t is not a judgment of him, and I think it would be unfair to him to proceed given that it’s not what you want. I realize this person is already part of your life, but having a kid together would change absolutely everything because it always does, and think how hard it would be if your family relationships were strained or broken because co-parenting was never actually what you wanted.
While there are many important practical and emotional considerations here and I can’t pretend to know all the details of your situation, I do feel confident saying that you don’t want your very first family-building decision to be made out of fear or guilt or societal pressure.
As for whether being raised by a single parent will make things harder for your child: Of course no one can guarantee that it won’t. But that’s a total unknown at this point, and the truth is that parents can and do make things harder for our kids in any number of ways that have nothing to do with whether we’re partnered. We all enter into parenthood lacking absolute reassurance that our kids will always be OK, that we will always be able to protect them. That’s why it’s so terrifying.
Single parenting is hard. And we know that countless kids raised by loving single parents do just fine, and better. If you’re worried about, say, who would care for your child should something happen to their only parent, make explicit plans for that. If you want to surround a future kid with other safe, trusted, nurturing adults and role models, there are ways to do that short of full co-parenting. You say you have a lot of wonderful friends in your corner, and I’m glad to hear this. If you become a parent, sooner or later, on your own or with a different person you genuinely want to co-parent with, hopefully you and your child will have a loving, supportive community around you, and that’s something all families deserve.
Dear Care and Feeding,
Can I ask for eco-friendly gifts for my 9-month-old son? His birthday is near Christmas, and my husband and I are planning on asking our families to chip in to buy one larger present for the two occasions, rather than having everyone get him a few small things. We are fairly selective when it comes to toys, specifically trying to choose things that support local vendors and are mostly made from ethical materials. Additionally, we prefer quality over quantity, so that he may learn to appreciate things and use them with care.
The (not so big) problem is that our families are very generous (I feel terrible complaining about this), and they tend to buy him spontaneous gifts. While we always appreciate the sentiment, these gifts tend to be plastic and/or from big corporate chains. They generally stray from our personal ethical viewpoints, and cause me to worry that my son will only be attracted to plastic toys that use batteries. Every time he receives one, I imagine it laying in a garbage heap 100 years from now, unchanged, polluting our groundwater with micro plastics (dramatic, I know). I have tried to subtly tell people that we are trying to be ethical when it comes to his toys, but they seem to either forget or disregard it. Is there a way to be more forward with our families without hurting their feelings or sounding unappreciative, or should I learn to be more gracious with gifts?
—Conscious and Conflicted
If it’s really important to you, I do think it’s OK to gently suggest a limit on the number of presents; just know that this will be impossible to enforce, especially since everyone will be excited for the baby’s first Christmas/birthday. It sounds like you have already let your families know your preference for eco-conscious gifts, and … they have not shifted their values or practices to perfectly align with yours! Story checks out. If they ask for specific gift suggestions, it’s fine to share a few examples, but beyond that you’ve done about all you can here, short of being kind of rude and potentially making your relatives feel bad.
Many parents would of course be thrilled to give their kids shiny new toys, so while your child is young enough to neither remember nor become immediately, life-or-death-attached to every gift he unwraps, you can always choose to donate a few things—unused, still in the box—especially if your relatives really get carried away with the number of presents. (Should one of them ask, “Where’s the big plastic barn we gave you, the one that plays ‘Old MacDonald’ and makes 37 farm animal sounds?” you could choose to share that, much as you appreciate everyone’s generosity, you’ve donated some things because your lucky kid has more than he needs. Or you could just say, “Yeah, I don’t know,” which would also, technically, be true.)
I do remember thinking, maybe once, years before I became a parent: “I’m never getting my children any toys that make noise, it’s going to be only natural-dyed wood and cloth toys for little Astrid and Fitzwilliam!” [Note: not my children’s names.] You will no doubt be dismayed to learn that my kids now own plastic Disney character wands that play music and light up and at one time dispensed bubbles. I mention this in part to illustrate that whatever you do, aspirational toy-consumer purity will likely only last for a year, two years max, before your child is life-or-death-attached to something you would never in one million Earth years have bought for him. He will get it at a birthday party or play with it at a friend’s house and become obsessed; it will not matter how many artisanal dolls and lovingly crafted wooden trucks you have presented him with. That doesn’t mean he won’t also appreciate “quality” or “use things with care”! These things aren’t mutually exclusive. In the meantime, try to focus on the fact that you have families both fortunate and generous enough to buy presents for your child, and be thankful.
More Advice From Slate
My husband and I are expecting our first baby. My mother-in-law was originally going to be “Grandma” because all the grandparents on my husband’s side go by “Grandma” and “Grandpa.” Easy. Now, my MIL is adamant that she wants to go by “Nama.” It’s random, and I am not a fan. My husband absolutely hates it. He refuses to have our children call his mother “Nama.” My MIL told me that “he’ll just have to deal with it.” I’m just curious how this all works. This is obviously new territory for us. Thanks!