Care and Feeding

Do I Have to Give My Sister-in-Law Our Baby Hand-Me-Downs?

She seems to be expecting them, but I’m not sure I’m ready.

A pair of tiny sneakers, a striped onesie, and a pair of little socks.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by 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,

We found out a few months ago that my husband’s brother and his wife are expecting. For the last couple years, every time we’re together, they’ve peppered us with questions about whether or when to have kids (we have two, now preschool and toddler ages). I’ve been 100 percent honest with my sister-in-law about the realities of pregnancy, birth, postpartum period, and being a working mom. She seemed really on the fence about it all, but I sensed my brother-in-law really wants to be a father. I initially sensed his disappointment when I didn’t rave about motherhood and sort of “sell” his wife on the experience, but I would never do that to another woman.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

So fast forward to the middle of a global pandemic, and they decide to get pregnant. I can tell it’s been challenging for her as she seems tired and a bit crabby whenever we connect (via Zoom), and now they have reached out asking for hand-me-downs knowing my son is a toddler. I’ll be honest, it makes me uncomfortable in that we’ve never explicitly told them we are done having kids (although my husband is and I accept that). I also feel as though it should be up to me to do with items as I choose. I have sold some things and given some to other dear friends. I sense that they feel entitled to our things since we are family, but I’m feeling we had to research and buy these things ourselves when expecting. I’m just upset and feeling resentful and like I now want nothing to do with them in a time that should be joyful. It’s putting my husband and me in a very awkward position. Am I being insensitive? I feel like they chose to get pregnant in a pandemic and now are upset that we don’t want to gather often or shower them with all our kids’ belongings. Am I a Grinch for not wanting to give them everything they seem to think they deserve?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

—Feeling Like a Grinch

Dear FLaG,

“My husband is [done having kids] and I accept that” is what I’m going to respond to first, because I think whatever is happening there is coloring your feelings about your sister-in-law’s pregnancy. If you aren’t sure you’re done having kids, but your husband is, that’s a huge deal, and not something you can easily sweep under the rug of your psyche by “accepting it.” Work out how you’re really feeling about this and let yourself sit with the discomfort, which I’m imagining might be really unpleasant. I feel for you. But I don’t think it’s OK to let it color your interaction with your brother and your sister-in-law, who truly hasn’t gotten pregnant just to spite you.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

If they’re demanding immediate delivery of your like-new thousand-dollar Snoo, I retract my judgment. But I think it’s much more likely that they’re thinking they might be able to take some unwanted stuff off your hands—they haven’t had kids, so they don’t know how emotionally fraught sorting and packing newborn clothes, toys, and bedding can be for someone who associates those things with their own children. Please, give them the benefit of the doubt and try to find it in yourself to at least feign happiness for them, even if you can’t quite actually feel it yet.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Dear Care and Feeding,

When I was a teenager, my mother got plastic surgery to turn her slightly large Jewish nose (her biggest insecurity) into a much smaller ski-jump nose that she says “finally allowed her to feel happy.” My sister and I both inherited her nose, and last year my sister also got a nose job. I have no bio kids (although I love my stepson like he is my own), but my sister has two daughters, 9 and 10 years old, and I am upset about the example she is setting for them. Like our mom, she claims that having a smaller nose is the one thing that could finally make her happy and confident, despite having a great job, loving husband, and beautiful children. Even though from what I have seen she tells my nieces that they are beautiful and smart, they still are allowed to be babysat by a grandma who loves to show off her and my sister’s pre- and post-surgery pictures. With influences like that, I’m worried that they will also choose to ruin their natural features when they turn 18, and have been trying to think of other ways to remind them that they are beautiful as they are. Would it be too invasive to have a conversation with them about the pressure I felt to get a nose job as well and how important it is to love themselves as they are?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

—No Surgery in N.Y.

Dear NSiNY,

When I was younger, I had a very knee-jerk anti-surgery point of view until a friend had minor plastic surgery that truly changed her life. To me, she didn’t look very different at all, but she was so happy with the way she looked post-surgery that her entire outlook changed. Whether that’s an indictment of larger societal problems in and of itself is kind of neither here nor there—I was happy to see her happy.

If the topic of your family’s disparate approaches to your respective noses comes up with your nieces naturally—i.e., they bring it up—feel free to be honest with them about your experience.  Otherwise, I’m sorry, but you must keep your nose out of other people’s business.

Advertisement

• Read other recent Care and Feeding columns.

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

A well-meaning family member has requested my toddler’s SSN to set up a 529 college savings plan for him. I advised that we already have one that we are not maxing out the annual contributions on and suggested they donate to it in lieu of gift-giving, as our little one is blessed with an overabundance of toys and books. My family member said she wanted to set up her own plan in my child’s name because she wants the tax break and the flexibility to change the beneficiary to one of the other children in our extended family if my child decides not to go to college. I am reluctant to give my child’s SSN to anyone and to create additional accounts with it, especially since the collegiate fate of all of the other children in our family will likely be known before my child is college age. He is six years younger than his youngest cousin, and no more children are on the horizon for my siblings.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

I appreciate that my family member cares about my child’s education. However, I can’t help but feel that her true motivation is her own bottom line. There is also no guarantee any of that money will actually benefit my child, so I’m leery of putting his information out there on another account for what could easily be no reward for the risk. Am I being unreasonable? I fear that rejecting this “gift” will seriously offend my family member, but I am committed to protecting my child’s information and do not feel comfortable taking any unnecessary risks with his SSN. Your thoughts and guidance are appreciated.

—Wary in the West

Dear Wary,

I’m laughing at this relative’s chutzpah. A savings account in your kid’s name that they might or might not decide to let your kid use? Yeah, that’s a nope. You should turn down this so-called gift. If your relative is seriously offended, that’s too bad, but saying yes simply to preserve the peace just isn’t worth it.

Advertisement

If you need help phrasing your refusal, just say, “It’s so generous that you want to contribute to Kid’s college education, but unless you’re comfortable with contributing to the account we’ve already set up, we can’t accept your gift.” It might take a few iterations, but if you stick to the script, they’ll eventually get the message.

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

I felt OK about the TV strategy for my 3-year-old. We’d watch 30 minutes together in the morning, and I’d let her watch about an hour in the afternoon while I made dinner. It would ideally be less, but I’m certain I watched a lot more, and I turned out OK. Anyways, the nap disappeared. I’d love to keep her in her room for an hour of quiet time while I get a break or some chores done. But the defunct nap time is not quiet or a break for anyone. It’s an exhausting battle I usually give up on. So instead we’ve been doing an extra hour of TV these days. Do I need to work harder at the quiet time until it sticks? Cut the morning or dinner prep TV time? Can I just give up and let her watch TV all day sometimes? Please help.

Advertisement
Advertisement

—R.I.P. Nap Time, I Loved You

Dear R.I.P.,

Yes, you can give up and let her watch TV all day—sometimes! The “sometimes” is key, though.  (Unfortunately!)

Advertisement
Advertisement

The main problem with too much TV, as far as I’m concerned, is that it has diminishing returns. Eventually, its placating effects wear thin, at the same time as the begging and whining associated with turning it on and off increase.

This might sound too radical, but one thing to try is a hard restart—a radical TV cleanse. I know, you’re recoiling. But if you can make it work for one week, you can dial your daughter’s tolerance way down, and get the TV back to whatever feels like a manageable level to you. At the same time, introduce some new toys or art supplies, and maybe a few kid-level audiobooks or podcasts. Three is actually not too young for some kids to flip pages of their favorites while listening to someone reading aloud—we loved the James Earl Jones recording of Sylvester and the Magic Pebble at around that age. Good luck!

Advertisement

—Emily

More Advice From Slate

My son, almost 3, goes to a day care, and has always been happy to attend—he’s never even cried when I leave him there. The problem is there is one girl in his class who keeps biting him! It has happened three to four times in the last three months. I’ve been keeping quiet because I understand this girl has issues (she is slightly developmentally challenged) and that toddlers, in general, bite and stuff. But seeing my son behave like he did today worried me. Should I be speaking up for him with the day care manager, asking them to keep that child away from her, if possible?

Advertisement