Dear Care and Feeding,
I found out, via a news clip, that my 19-year-old nephew was involved in the Capitol riots. There is video footage of him waving a Confederate flag and trying to break into the building. I am aghast, obviously. I’m a British man, but my older sister moved to the U.S. decades ago and married an evangelical preacher. The sister I knew and loved, who had supported me when I came out as gay in my teens, turned seemingly overnight into a small-minded homophobe. She has visited our mum (a single mother) once a year since the move, and for the sake of my mum I attend a family meal with them, though I refused to stop bringing my husband when my sister and BIL started worrying about my “influence” on their young son. We always got through it by talking about nothing of substance at all—no news, no politics, no debate on my human rights, etc. Now, however, I do not want to see them ever again. I had no idea they had gotten this bad.
My sister has now gotten in touch via a family email begging for financial support to pay for her son’s legal aid. He was arrested and is facing serious charges for assaulting a police officer. According to my mum and sister, he’s “a good boy” who was simply “mixed up with the wrong people” and is “too young to be held accountable for misguided actions.” I ignored my sister’s email, but am now getting calls from my mum in which she sobs that I “have to help” her only grandkid. I’m better off financially than the rest of my family, as they keep reminding me. My husband even got a call from my BIL (who has never previously spoken more than two sentences to my husband) asking him to talk to me about my duty to the family. We’ve had no problem blocking their calls and messages, but I’m honestly heartbroken about my mum’s stance on this. I live near her and have supported her financially and emotionally through years of ill health, and I’ve always valued our relationship deeply. Now she has said some truly awful things in support of my nephew’s actions (“he’s really a victim,” “this is the same as the Black Lives Matter movement and you supported them,” “he’s the only grandchild I’ll ever have because of your gay lifestyle,” etc.).
Do I need to cut off my own mother over this? I know it’s not been long and that she might come down from whatever this is, but I also feel like she’s shown some ugly true colors. I’m in shock and would really appreciate any guidance you can offer.
Dear Nephew Shame,
First, I’m sorry that you and your husband are going through this, and that you’ve been treated so abominably by your family members. You mention that your mother might change her mind—this seems rather unlikely, but if her only source on this is your sister, I suppose you might try to make sure she at least reads an accurate timeline of events.
The decision to disown a parent is so weighty and heartbreaking that ultimately, I believe, no one else can make it for you. If I were in your position, I know I would want, at the very least, a break from communication—I’d want some space to think and process and acknowledge how painful this has been without having to expend more emotional energy either listening or responding to the indefensible things you’ve been hearing. But I don’t feel it’s my place, or the place of anyone not in your shoes, to tell you that you need to cut your mother off. You’re the only one who understands the full history and context, who knows what either choice—to maintain this relationship, or let it go—would cost you.
It’s OK that you’re not yet sure if or how to proceed with your mother; honestly, I think telling her that might be one place to start. You don’t have to be in regular contact with her while you think and figure out what you want to do. You can take some time to talk with your husband, to consider whether you can still have a relationship with your mother—and, if so, what respect, rules, boundaries, etc. you’d need (e.g., an apology for her hurtful statements to you; no more once-yearly family dinners with your sister and her racist insurrectionist progeny; no more petitioning you and your husband on your nephew’s behalf, etc.). Whatever you decide, I don’t think your relationship with her can or will remain the same after this—I suspect that if you tried to just avoid all political discussion in future, forget this happened, and move on, it would require a degree of compartmentalization, even dishonesty, that wouldn’t feel right or be especially healthy for you.
Sometimes we focus on what we’re told we owe our families of origin (time, money, appeasement, silence), and forget what we owe ourselves. There are no simple or painless options here, but you shouldn’t have to hear your relatives malign your marriage or defend violence. You don’t have to bite your tongue for the sake of maintaining a false “peace” at the dinner table. And you don’t have to remain in any relationship that proves actively damaging to you. If you feel, now or in the future, that your relationship with your mother has become too costly or harmful to you—and perhaps to your spouse as well—know that you have every right to draw a harder line for the sake of your own health, self-respect, and well-being.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m 16, and I identify as asexual and aromantic, meaning I do not feel sexual or romantic attraction. I want to tell my parents, but anytime I try, my mom tells me that being aro/ace isn’t real, and that I’ve been brainwashed by the online world. I know I wouldn’t have this problem if I came out as anything else. What can I do to convince her that what I am is real, and that this is actually how I feel?
—I Am What I Am
I know it really hurts to try to share something important about yourself and be told that it’s not real, and I’m so sorry that your mother isn’t listening to you. I hope you are finding understanding and support from others in your life, even though of course that doesn’t make up for your mother’s failure to listen to or believe you.
My first thought was to recommend Angela Chen’s Ace if you haven’t already read it—I found it to be an excellent, well-researched, highly readable look at the experiences of many different aspec (asexual and aromantic spectrums) people, and perhaps one or both of your parents would consider reading it, too. When I consulted Sarah Costello and Kayla Kaszyca, co-hosts of the podcast Sounds Fake but Okay, they noted that asexual and aromantic communities do exist “primarily online,” which often leads to the false critique “that they are just ‘online identities’ or not real orientations.” They said you could try to show your mom that aspec people exist and meet offline (in nonpandemic times, anyway) as well, whether or not you’d be interested in attending such a meetup yourself. They also said you could point her to the work of David Jay, founder of the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network, who has given a TED talk on this subject, and as a fellow parent might seem “more relatable and believable” to your mother. And they recommended panels from the 2020 U.K. Asexuality Conference as another source that might strike her as “less internet-y.”
Sarah and Kayla also had this solid advice for you:
Coming out to and being accepted by your friends and family is a very important step in many people’s journeys. However, if you continue to find [your mother] to be unreceptive and this process is impacting you negatively, it may be best to set the conversation aside for a while. There are many ways to find support from and create a found family with your friends, other mentors, etc. In the end, your mental health and wellbeing are most important!
Of course you want your mom to believe you, and I genuinely hope she starts listening and educating herself so that she can be there for you—soon, before her denial causes further pain to you or harm to your relationship. But I also worry that it could be exhausting and discouraging for you to wage a continuous campaign to convince her. I believe there are many others who will accept and support you in this and every aspect of your life—and who can provide a strong and nourishing community for you if that’s something you decide you need.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’ve recently begun spending more time with my nephew (5) and niece (3), and it’s been a delight. One thing I’ve noticed with my nephew, however, is that he can be a sore winner and worse, a sore loser. I know this is par for the course (as a former sore loser and a sometimes-still sore winner), but I’d love some strategies on how to help him temper his expectations. We’ve tried “it’s just a game” and “there’s always next time” (and letting him win on occasion), but since he’s an avid player, frustration and tears seems inevitable.
—It’s Just a Game Aunt
I’d go with a combination of you-win-some-you-lose-some (which you’re already talking about); making sure all adults are modeling good sportsmanship (even if a grown-up is not genuinely upset about losing, kids can notice and copy our joke-complaining!); and adding some collaborative games to the rotation. When my kids were small, we had several cooperative games, some made by a company called Peaceable Kingdom—everyone talks about how to achieve the object of the game, and all players win or lose together. (Now that the kids are older, we still enjoy collaborative games like this, such as Forbidden Island.) I’m not suggesting you play cooperative games to the exclusion of all others, but having the option now and then might encourage the development of different skills and provide a break from competition.
I also think it’s fair to remind your nephew that games are meant to be fun for everyone, not just him, and that if he makes others feel bad—especially other kids—they might not be so eager to play with him next time. Talk with him about how to be a good sport, and praise him when he is. If he’s not such a good sport, talk about that, too, and then the next time he suggests a game, remind him of your expectations before you start. As you acknowledge, this is a phase a lot of kids go through and grow out of; it just takes some longer than others.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My 13-year-old daughter has been friends with “Sarah” and “Mindy” since they were 8.
Since this friendship began, I’ve noticed that Mindy is the leader and Sarah and my daughter are the followers. Whatever Mindy likes, the other girls like. My daughter has her own interests outside of the group but prefers to engage in those activities by herself. I’ve tried talking to my daughter about it, but she claims she’s happy with the way things are and that she does occasionally stand up to Mindy or do her own thing when I’m not around to witness it. I’m happy that my daughter has a solid friend group, but when she was born, I always envisioned her as a leader, not a follower.
I have the option to send my daughter to high school with Sarah and Mindy, or to a brand new school where she would only know a few people. I’m leaning toward sending her to the new school (which she claims is “so unfair”) because I want her to expand her horizons and become a better influencer, rather than the one being influenced. Do I keep her with her friends or send her to the new school?
Dear Tough Love,
No, I wouldn’t advise sending your daughter to a different school in order to exert control over her social life—that seems like an extreme reaction, given that she’s happy with the group dynamic and presumably isn’t being mistreated by her friends. It also strikes me as unrealistic and reductive to frame the world, or even just the middle school population, in terms of a leader/follower binary; it’s not as if the only two choices are “CEO” and “doormat,” with no room in between. Going to a new school probably isn’t going to result in a total personality reset, and I doubt that’s what your daughter needs anyway. You say you want her to be “a better influencer,” and that you “always envisioned her as a leader, not a follower” since birth—I think if she’s in danger of being railroaded by anyone here, it might be you?
You can certainly talk with your daughter about the importance of following her own wishes and advocating for herself, but I will underline the fact that she says she does disagree with her friend and do her own thing when she wants to. Nothing you’ve described makes it sound like she isn’t capable of understanding what she wants and making her own decisions (please note that she’s told you she doesn’t want to be separated from her friends!). True, she might be more easygoing than some, or just less inclined to drive the action in this particular friend group, but she doesn’t have to go through the world looking to bend others to her will in order to feel sure of herself or grow into a good “leader.” If I were you, I’d work on seeing and appreciating your kid for who she is—I think that is bound to boost her confidence and faith in herself far more than you trying to manage her friendships or turn her into your definition of a leader.
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I’ve been married to a wonderful woman and mother of our three kids for 25 years. Our kids are all adults now and have moved away. I’ve come to realize over the last five years that I don’t love my wife. I don’t hate her—she’s my best friend. But I have zero feelings for her. She’s put on 50 pounds over the last 10 years, which is a major turnoff. We haven’t had sex in five years due to this. I want to be happy, and I don’t want to hurt her feelings. I just feel like I’m on the treadmill of life going nowhere real fast. What to do?
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