Care and Feeding

I Really Miss My Parents, but I Know It’s Unsafe to Visit

What should I do?

A woman holds a suitcase in front of her.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by ChamilleWhite/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 husband and I both work outside the home; our two oldest kids are back to in-person micro classrooms at school, and our two youngest go to a day care center full time. So even though we don’t do any “extra” socializing, our circles are by nature very wide whether we like it or not. My parents are in their mid-70s and therefore in the “extremely vulnerable” to COVID-19 population. We’ve seen them in person only three or four times since March, mostly outdoors because I’m so afraid of us passing something along to them. While so far my husband and I and the kids seem to have all been lucky in not contracting the virus, I can’t help feeling it’s only a matter of time. So my conflict is this: My parents are getting on in years, and I want my kids to be able to spend quality time with them. Plus I miss them. This pandemic has no true end in sight, so what happens if one of them up and dies of some other cause and we haven’t seen each other in months? The thought of having given up this time with them is awful. But if we DO visit, and it’s our fault if they catch coronavirus, how do I live with THAT? The lack of good choices is wearing my soul down and I don’t know what to do.

—Both Options Suck

Dear BOS,

Both options do indeed suck. It’s a matter of figuring out what sucks less. And of facing facts.

I know this is hard. I have a great deal of sympathy for you. I haven’t seen my own mother in coming up on a year. I had no idea, when I returned to Columbus, Ohio, after Thanksgiving in New York and decided to stretch my visits out farther than the usual eight to 10 weeks (I planned my next visit for late March) that I would lose my last opportunity to visit her for the foreseeable future. And I’ve seen my daughter only once since March: In September, she quarantined for 14 days, rented a car, and drove 10 hours to spend a few days with me. (We were only able to do this because she, my husband, and I are all working from home. I, too, am in the vulnerable population your parents are in, age-wise.)

I offer you the details of my own miserable situation so that you will understand that I’m not being hardhearted when I tell you that you must not put your parents at risk. If they live close enough to you so that you don’t have to get on a plane (or make a 10-hour drive), you can continue to visit with them safely outdoors. This is how my 87-year-old mother, who has been sheltering with my 60+-year-old brother and sister-in-law in New Jersey since March, gets to see her great-grandchildren (and how my brother gets to see his kids and grandkids): They drive over, everyone wears masks, and they visit in the yard, at a safe distance. My mother loves these visits. She considers them much, much better than nothing.

So that’s the solution that sucks less. (I will grant, however, that this is going to get more difficult as the weather turns cold.) I do understand that even if you live no more than a few hours’ drive away, the prospect of sitting outside, bundled up if you don’t live in a warm climate, isn’t thrilling. But that’s the best I can offer if you want something that’s better than nothing.

Now, if we’re talking about a long trip—too long to get to your parents’ place and back in a single day—I can imagine you are not eager to go to all that trouble (not to mention putting your husband and yourself and your kids at risk, and thus your parents at greater risk, if the trip involves flying) just to spend a few hours together 6 feet apart outdoors. But that is what it would take to keep your parents safe from the possibility that someone in your family has unwittingly contracted the virus.

Dwelling on the thought that your parents may die before the pandemic is over, and telling yourself that it thus could be worth the risk to see them under any other circumstances than those I’ve just described, is not in their best interest. That’s a fact you need to face.

Otherwise, you—and all of us—need to sit tight. Yes, there is no end in sight. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be an end.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter is in third grade, and since kindergarten she’s been best friends with “Laura.” They’ve been in the same class every year, and always get put at the same table at the start of the year and are grouped together on field trips since their last names are close alphabetically. This has basically meant that they’re glued at the hip, and even when I’ve asked that they be separated, my daughter doesn’t show any interest in making other close friends, and is sad when she and Laura don’t get to work together in class. She’s naturally a little shy, and according to her, none of her classmates measure up to Laura. During quarantine, Laura and my daughter have had many play dates, but whenever I suggest getting together with other friends, she says she only needs Laura, and the other kids are boring/annoying/mean. I’ve tried inviting my friends and their kids her age over, but my daughter just sits by herself and reads, or unenthusiastically plays a board game for a while before quitting. Laura is very sweet, and we love her family, but I don’t think having only one best friend is a good idea in the long run. Should I just give up on her having multiple friends? How bad is it to have one best friend?

—Laura 24/7

Dear Laura 24/7,

I think I am going to have to set aside my alarm that you are having so many people “over” during what you are calling quarantine, so I can focus on the question you’re asking.

It is not bad to have one best friend. It’s fine. Some kids travel in packs, and some are like your daughter and Laura. Since you like the child (I kept waiting to hear that there is something objectionable about her!)—and you even like the family!—let these children play in peace. (And maybe give them both copies of the first four Betsy-Tacy books, which are about best friends and which I’ve recommended before—I recommend them at every opportunity!) Finding a true best friend in childhood is a gift, not a curse.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 15-month-old daughter is currently in day care. She isn’t what I would call a picky eater, but there are definitely times where she just won’t eat food. I am trying to not let this stress me out as she usually eats two out of three main meals, all her snacks, and 24 ounces of whole milk a day. However, at day care, her teachers seem to be very concerned. They only give her things they know she likes for lunch (applesauce and crackers) and have asked me to include an additional lunch bottle. I feel like she is OK nutrition-wise even if she doesn’t eat lunch and that only giving her things she likes is a bad idea—she should be exposed to other foods! Do you think I should listen to day care or stick to my guns? I will also talk to her pediatrician about this at her 15-month checkup.

—Hungry in WI

Dear HiWI,

It’s hard not to get stressed about what small children are eating or not eating—I get it. But I don’t think this is a hill worth dying on when it comes to “listening” to day care versus sticking to your guns. At home you can continue to offer your daughter a variety of foods at breakfast and dinner—and at all three meals on weekends—and at day care, where the teachers are having to wrangle a bunch of kids at once and are trying to make things easier on themselves even as they do their best to care for your daughter, she will get by on applesauce, graham crackers, and milk for the time being. This stage will pass, I promise. You might ask them to try offering her some different foods a few months from now—or your daughter may do that herself. But it sounds like she’s getting plenty of food and plenty of variety overall. I don’t think she’s suffering from hunger; I don’t think you have anything at all to worry about.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m 25 and I’ve just realized that I want to have kids. I spent six months nannying three children and while it was difficult and exhausting, I loved it so much. Unfortunately, the pandemic ended that situation, and now I miss those children terribly. This pretty much convinced me I’m cut out for motherhood. I’ve been doing research on pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting, and I’m starting to get scared that I’m too old to just now be realizing I want children. Since it never occurred to me before that I’d ever want to have children, I didn’t orient my life around stability. I haven’t finished my college degree, I’m single, and I’m currently unemployed due to the pandemic. I honestly can’t fathom having it together enough to have a baby before 30. But will waiting until after that make me too old? What is my real window to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy child? Fostering and/or adopting are options that I would pursue, depending on my future partner, but I really am drawn to having a biological child if physically possible. I’m bisexual, so if I am with a man, I would probably try for a biological child, and if I’m with a woman, I would probably want to adopt—but adoption is harder for same-sex parents, isn’t it? I have also considered single parenthood, and I think I would foster or adopt in that situation. I can’t stop thinking about all these options, and I’m freaking out because I feel like it’s already too late to have made this decision. Do you have any advice? What do I need to do to be ready for a child?

—Too Old Already?

TOA,

For starters, you are going to need to calm down. Take some deep breaths. There is no reason to freak out at 25 about it being “already too late.” And a great many people don’t organize their lives around stability in their early 20s—that’s not really what one’s early 20s need to be about.

I have a strong feeling that much of this freaking out of yours—like Both Options Suck worrying about (presumably healthy) parents suddenly dying, or Laura 24/7 worrying that having just one best friend will do her daughter harm, or Hungry in WI worrying about her baby’s lunch—is pandemic-induced anxiety. We are all suffering from it in one form or another, and I think we are often not at all aware that our fear and dread around this extraordinary ongoing event in our lives is creeping into virtually every aspect of our lives. It may help to remind yourself of this—that you are probably not thinking entirely clearly. It’s very hard to right now.

But I think your biological clock has probably also kicked in (I remember when mine did—though I was older than you when it happened to me—and it was an enormous shock to me since I had never thought seriously about having a child before). It’s hard to think clearly when that happens, too. I have some pretty distinct memories of daydreaming up (I was going to say “hatching” but what a terrible pun) some very wacky schemes to achieve my goal (I too was single when it hit me).

And I will make one further observation, since the combination of your age (still very young!) and the level of distress in your letter is striking: Is there not something else going on that’s swirling all of this together? Perhaps nothing more alarming than the mid-20s crisis that everybody goes through at some point—trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be? Which brings me to this, in answer to the question you ask at the end of your letter: What you need to do to be ready to have a child is get your own life together to the extent that you are able. Finish school. Figure out what kind of work you want to do. Enjoy some healthy relationships (make sure you can have healthy relationships—and if that is a significant challenge for you, get yourself into therapy). The best thing you can do for your future children is be someone who is in good shape herself (speaking of which: take care of your physical health, too). As for your fear that you won’t be able to get it together before you’re 30—well, a lot can change in five years (in fact I’d say that the only thing we can be sure of is that things change)—but 30 is also not a cutoff date by any means. Lots of women have babies in their late 30s and into their 40s. And there is no guaranteed window for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy child (there are no guarantees, period). I hesitate to recommend that you read anything about pregnancy, since I think right now you need to take your foot off the emotional gas pedal, but at some point (after you’ve taken a bunch of those deep breaths, at the very least) you might read Emily Oster’s Expecting Better, which offers straightforward science that counters much of the myths and fears around pregnancy that are so easy to absorb uncritically. But really, for now? Slow down. Live your life.

As much as it’s possible to right now, I mean.

—Michelle

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