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 and I both work in law enforcement and have service weapons. I lock mine up when I’m at home. My brother has taken to carrying his all the time, including around his small children in his home. I’ve had to refuse him entry to my home due to his unwillingness to come without it. I asked him why he does this, and he went on a rant about having to protect his family in case someone drives by and opens fire at him in retaliation for his work. We live in a very safe area. I don’t even lock my doors when I go out. I don’t recall there ever being a drive-by shooting anywhere near us. He doesn’t seem to be caught up in extremism, but this seems paranoid to me and I’m starting to worry about his mental health. More, I worry about the safety of my niece and nephews and my own kids when they’re there.
I told him that I won’t be sending them anymore unless I can be assured his weapon is secured. He rolled his eyes and said kids need to learn to be comfortable around firearms. His wife is backing him up. I feel so lost. I miss the easygoing brother I grew up with. My kids miss their cousins. My parents, who never had guns in the house while we were growing up, say I’m overreacting and tearing the family apart. Friends and co-workers also seem to think this is fine, although they admit they wouldn’t do it in their own homes. I don’t see this as an issue of differing values but as a safety concern. My family says I should instead consider the safety concern of being caught off guard and unarmed in our small, safe town. I feel like I’m in the twilight zone when grown adults don’t agree that kids and handguns don’t mix. I’m also very hurt that my family has chosen guns over seeing my kids and me. My conscience is screaming that it’s only a matter of time before something goes horribly wrong. Am I overreacting?
—Standing My Ground
Dear Standing My Ground,
You’re absolutely doing the right thing here, despite what everyone else around you is telling you. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m 100 percent anti-guns—but I also respect the rights of citizens to own them responsibly. And to be clear, there’s nothing responsible about having a hand-held killing device with you when you’re around children.
I never understand people who live in suburbia but clutch their guns in fear that someone is going to carjack them or ransack their homes. Don’t let your family gaslight you into believing you’re the problem, because you’re not. Your primary job as a parent is to keep your kids safe, and I wouldn’t budge on this for a second. How could you live with yourself if your kids somehow got a hold of your brother’s gun and hurt themselves? It’s simply not worth the risk, no matter how small that risk may be.
Be firm and tell your brother and your parents that under no circumstances will you bring your kids into any house with unsecured firearms and you refuse to negotiate on that topic. Sure, they’ll tell you how you’re single-handedly tearing apart the family, but sometimes the right thing to do isn’t the easiest thing to do. The hardest part is how it will affect your kiddos, and I would simply tell them that they may not like not seeing their grandparents, cousins, and uncle—but this is the right thing to do for their safety.
Additionally, I have a hard time believing that people are so hardheaded that they would refuse to make a simple compromise in order to visit with you and your kids. If you stay strong on this, they may come around eventually. If not, then it’s painful proof that their irrational fears of the boogeyman are stronger than their relationship with your family.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My 9-year-old twins are “Christmas babies,” having been born just a few days before the holiday. We always make a point of celebrating their birthday a week or two ahead of Christmas as a separate event so that they get to have a special day. My sister, their aunt, has always given the twins a single present each as a joint birthday-Christmas gift, and I’ve never thought much of it. However, this year one of the twins confided to me that he felt it was a bit unfair that Auntie gave their younger brother a present at his birthday party and Christmas, while he gets only one. I privately agreed and felt embarrassed for not noticing the discrepancy myself, but in the moment I deflected and made up something about how their brother’s gifts were little and theirs were big so counted as two presents. I’m now wondering how I should address this with my sister. It feels wrong/greedy to ask her to give another gift, though I know money is not an issue. I could ask her to abstain from giving their brother a separate gift on his birthday, but worry he might then recall her presents from years past and be confused by the omission. Or maybe I handled it all wrong and should sit down with my son again and acknowledge some things aren’t fair but it might hurt Auntie’s feelings to bring it up to her so we need to let it go. How do I dig myself out of this?
—Present Parity Police
I can speak directly to this because I’m an identical twin and my niece has a birthday between Christmas and New Year’s Day. I’m surprised you didn’t mention the singular “Twins Gift” — otherwise known as one present the twins are supposed to share but end up engaging in a steel cage wrestling match to determine who gets to use it. I still hold emotional and physical scars from those battles to this day.
Yes, you should bring this up to your sister and you shouldn’t be afraid to do so. She’s your sister, for crying out loud! It’s not like she’s going to disown you. This isn’t about being materialistic or greedy—it’s about equality. I don’t care if their Auntie gives them hugs or Xboxes, but she should ensure that she doles gifts out equally. For example, I ensure my niece receives a Christmas present and a separate birthday gift on her birthday on Dec. 29 because I want her birthday to be special. Your twins had no control over when they were born, and their birthdays should be special too—not combined with another nearby holiday.
You can even use the fact that they’re twins to your advantage when you speak with her. For example: “Hey sis, I’ve been meaning to bring this up to you. My twins are getting older and are starting to pick up on things—namely, how they receive a combined Christmas and birthday gift from you every year when their little brother gets separate gifts. It’s challenging for them because not only do they have to share a birthday with each other but they have to share a birthday with a major holiday. It’s like a double whammy. Going forward, do you think you could give them separate birthday gifts and Christmas gifts like you would for anyone else? I don’t think they should be penalized because of where their birthday falls on the calendar.”
If she’s reasonable, when you bring it to her attention she’ll probably have the same embarrassed reaction you had. Chances are she was completely unaware of it and not trying to short-change your kiddos.
One last thing I want to make very clear, though—if your sister is dealing with financial hardships, as many Americans are right now, then everything I said goes out of the window. Presuming you’re right that money is not an issue for her, then you have every right to bring this up.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My 4-year-old son, Derek, has an absolute constant need for attention. He cannot go five minutes without needing attention from my husband or me. I promise you, he gets plenty—he’s home two days a week (the other three days are in day care, which he seems to really enjoy: He’s excited to go in the morning and always happy when we pick him up, so I can’t imagine that’s the cause), weekends are usually centered around family activities, we have family time every evening, we praise him often (when appropriate), but it never seems to be enough. He can’t sit and entertain himself—he is constantly asking, “Mommy/Daddy, come look at this, come watch me do this, play this with me … “
He interrupts us when we’re talking to each other or other adults, despite our constantly reminding him, Derek, I told you I’m talking to X and that I will look at your painting when I’m done, please stop asking me. If we tell him that we need to vacuum/clean/etc., and to please play with his toys (or watch TV, or whatever) until we are finished, he constantly runs up to ask if we’re done yet. The other day, two of my friends were over with their children, a girl who is three months older than Derek, and a boy who is six months younger than him. I wistfully observed how both of these kids played for a solid 25 minutes without once asking for Mommy. I almost cried in frustration every time Derek came running up for some reason or another (none of them emergencies or immediate needs). We love Derek so much, he is the light of our lives, but I can’t help feel resentful sometimes. I don’t know how to handle this and be more firm without making him feel bad. Please help!
—Can I Just Have 10 Minutes?
Dear 10 Minutes,
It can be tough for only children, because they don’t have a peer nearby to play with or share their accomplishments with. But as a parent, you need to lay down some boundaries, or you’re going to create a monster and lose your mind in the process.
Kids are resilient. They won’t curl up and die if they don’t get what they want at all times. You can say, “Sorry, Derek. I can’t play with you right now.” You don’t have to give reasons why to soothe his young ego; you can just leave it at that. He may cry and beg, but you have to be strong and ignore his wishes. Eventually, he’ll learn to become more independent, but it will never happen if you’re at his beck and call.
It’s also not at all unreasonable to tell him he’s going to have an hour of “alone playtime” in his room each day. Turn it into something fun and calming for him. What is Derek into? Dinosaurs? Sports? Art? Whatever it is, I’d ensure he has enough solo activities based on his interests—activity books, Legos, STEM apps for kids, etc. Put these options together in a bin, or in a spot in his room, and give him free rein to choose what it is that he wants to play with. Don’t budge on this. It may take him a while to get into the groove of the new routine, but I promise you that he won’t explode into a million pieces if you leave him alone.
Most importantly, you have to do this, or your mental health will be shot. How can you expect to be a good parent to Derek if you’re resentful and exhausted all of the time? The word no is the most powerful tool we have in our parenting toolboxes, and we shouldn’t be afraid to use it.
My best friend, Allison, has a 5-year-old son, Henry. I go over to Allison’s house fairly often (which I was doing even before quarantine, because it’s tough for Allison to go out, and now we’re in each other’s small bubble). Henry is generally a good kid, but he can be, to be blunt, a huge brat. He has always been a very active child who needs a lot of attention, and when he doesn’t get it, he can really act out. Allison has always had a very laid-back approach to handling it, which, while I personally find enabling, is obviously not my business.
However, recently, Henry’s behavior has been escalating to physical acts (kicking, hitting, scratching) when he gets frustrated. He has been going to day care, and the caretakers there have been getting him outside on the weekends, so his routine seemingly hasn’t really changed much since the pandemic. Allison continues to respond blithely, her way of apologizing when he bruises my shin, etc., being: “He’s 5. He has a lot of emotions.”
Meanwhile, her husband is clearly frustrated by her lack of response and will try to step in, which upsets Henry, which in turn upsets Allison, and they start arguing. I have no idea what’s going on with Henry: Does he need more discipline, or does he have an actual issue that should be addressed by professionals? I know I can’t say anything to Allison about it, but I don’t want to go over there anymore. Between Henry acting out, and Allison and her husband arguing about it, it’s tense and uncomfortable. I know that Allison needs support, though, and really looks forward to my visits. What can I do here?
—All Is Not Well
Dear All Is Not Well,
Hold up: You said you can’t say anything to Allison about her son, but why? If you can’t keep it real with your best friend, then who will?
Yes, there could be underlying medical or mental health issues with Henry that you don’t know about, but that doesn’t mean you should sit quietly while he’s physically abusing you. You have every right to say: “Hey! Please don’t kick me again. That hurts and it’s not nice.” It’s your body.
I’d also voice your concerns to Allison as tactfully as possible. The goal isn’t to make her feel like a crappy mom who’s raising a bratty kid—it’s more of a fact-finding mission. Ask simple questions to understand the issue in more detail. “I’ve noticed that sometimes things can get tense between you and your husband in regard to Henry. How can I help?” Or if you want to be firmer, you can say: “Allison, I love you, but I don’t feel comfortable coming over and witnessing you argue with your husband or having your son hit me. I know things are rough right now and I want to help you in any way possible. Can we talk about what I can do to support you?” If she responds by saying everything’s fine, then try pushing a little harder without being overbearing. Something like: “OK, but my gut tells me things aren’t fine. If you’re not ready to talk about it now, that’s fine. Just know that I’m here to listen without judgment.”
The one thing the world needs more of is better listeners, and if you’re able to be one to her, I’m sure she will open up and you can get into “solution mode.”
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