Care and Feeding

Can I Opt Out of Mom Friends and Playground Chit-Chat?

A woman stands next to a child on a swing.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Henglein and Steets/iStock/Getty Image 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,

When I had my 3-year-old, my husband and I found ourselves very alone. Our parents and siblings weren’t involved due to abuse/neglect and substance issues on their part, and most of our friends didn’t have kids yet and didn’t know how to integrate our new lifestyle into theirs. I’ve always been more of a “guy friend” kind of person, but I tried to embrace the solidarity of other moms when I became one. However, I find playground talk extremely thorny and tiresome. It felt like I was walking into a trap whenever I was asked directly about life with my infant, like how breastfeeding was going, or how my baby was sleeping.

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Besides, I resent how much time I already have to spend thinking about this stuff. I don’t want to talk about it during the rare moments of conversation with other adults. Frankly, sleep schedules and picky eating are boring subjects to me, and an exchange of complaints is not really my thing. I mean, I have my bad days or weeks too, but overall I enjoy being with my son and feel like parenting has changed my life and perspective in a positive way.

Honestly, social distancing for the past year has been good for my mental health. My husband is working from home and loving it, our longtime guy friends are more on our schedule and make time to message us about TV shows or riff on dumb ideas and jokes, and I never go anywhere where I might get trapped with a whiny mom with whom I have nothing in common but a kid the same age. So I find myself dreading the return of play dates, birthday parties, kiddie classes, and playground encounters. Will this get better as my son grows up? Is there something wrong with me that I can’t seem to get anything out of these encounters with other mothers? It feels like my blood pressure skyrockets whenever I get a text from someone moaning about “pandemic parenting”: Alllll the screen time and wine lol, so sick of my kids, miss day care and grandparent time and playdates soooo much. I don’t relate at all. Is there a way I can just opt out of having mom friends when I return to giving my son a social life?

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—No More Mom Talk!

Dear NMMT,

I will confess: I didn’t care for most of the mom talk either. I wasn’t as distressed by it as you are, granted—there were a few subjects I was grateful to have a chance to talk about, but I was very fussy about which mothers of my acquaintance I talked to about them, and I was lucky enough, when my daughter was young, to have one wonderful friend who happened to have a son exactly my daughter’s age, with whom I felt in complete sync. On the playground and at play dates and school pickups, etc., I avoided those sorts of conversations, which too quickly devolved—it seemed to me—into judgment or competition. And no, I don’t think this stuff (comparison, judgment, competition) does get any better as the kids get older. (I remember too well some aggravating conversations with other mothers when our kids first went away to college.) Some people—maybe lots of people—find comfort in what they see as commiserating. But for those of us who prefer friends we’ve chosen for reasons other than having kids around the same age, these “friendships” can indeed feel like a burden.

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There’s not much to be done, short of being outright rude, when one’s children are babies or toddlers and one is trapped at the playground, pushing side-by-side swings. But once the children are a little older—once you aren’t pushing a swing or sitting on the edge of a sandbox, once you don’t have to keep your eyes on your kid every single second—you can bring a book to the playground or the pool and opt not to participate in any conversations you’d rather not be part of. And play dates, soon enough, will not have to be supervised by more than one parent. I was well-known (and appreciated!) in my day for sending off the mothers of my daughter’s friends when they turned up at the door, telling them to go take some time for themselves—drop your kid and go, please! When we had birthday parties, I was explicit in my request that children be dropped off (though I made sure to have plenty of my actual friends on hand to help me wrangle a backyard full of 6-year-olds). So while the nature of these conversations with people you don’t really know or share interests with is not likely to become more appealing, various ways to avoid it are just around the corner. And for now: I am a great proponent of finding silver linings in our isolation, and lord knows there are precious few. Enjoy yours.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Am I a terrible parent for wanting to throw a sex reveal party? Nothing big (or COVID-dangerous)! We’re approaching the mark where we should be able to tell the baby’s sex on an ultrasound, and my husband and I were thinking we might order a cake and do the reveal with close friends over Zoom. I hasten to say that if, as our child grows up, they come out as LGBTQ+, we would completely support them no matter what, and we don’t want to shove them into a gender role, but is that what a sex reveal party does? I mean, this is happening before baby is born, and it would mean a lot to my parents and in-laws. I also want to celebrate our child and this particular milestone. On the other hand, I don’t want to pigeonhole my child before they are born, and this kind of party might contribute to that—and I don’t want the identity of my child to just be blue or pink. Do you think it’s OK to have a low-key party to celebrate our child, or is this an antiqued ordeal that needs to go?

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—Pink or Blue or Purple or Green …

Dear PoBoPoG,

Celebrate what particular milestone?

For that matter … how is a sex-reveal party, low-key or high-key, a way to celebrate your child? As you seem to have already intuited, a “reveal” party celebrates whether the baby you are carrying has a penis or a vagina. The reason you suspect this sort of celebration might be antiquated is that this is a strange thing to “celebrate.”

Especially since, as you very carefully acknowledge, the baby’s biological sex might not match the child’s gender. (But honestly, even if it does, I can tell that you feel squirmy—as I do—about the idea of making a big deal about the baby’s sex organs.)

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I’m not sure which part of this idea would “mean a lot” to the future grandparents. Finding out the baby’s sex in advance of the birth? Seeing the ultrasound for themselves? Or just, you know, being invited to a party that celebrates the newcomer’s entry into the world. If the latter,

why not have some other kind of party? A virtual baby shower, maybe (in which case: let someone else host, please). A virtual let’s-all-share-how-excited-we-are-about-this-baby party, in which everyone can convey their fondest wish for the child or offer a blessing (like in a fairy tale!). Or, better yet, wait till the baby is born and have a virtual party to introduce them to their extended family. If the thing that would mean so much to the grandparents is learning, before the birth, what the biological sex of the child will be, then go ahead and tell them all if you want to (I myself am an advocate of keeping such information—and the name you choose—a secret until the birth, but that’s just me). You might keep in mind, too, that an ultrasound is not an absolutely foolproof way of determining the whole penis vs. vagina thing. So if the grandparents get excited one way or the other, they might end up disappointed. Which might end up upsetting or angering you.

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Lastly: If you don’t want a deluge of pink or blue baby clothes, blankets, and decorative items, I suggest you tell your families that. If they are the sort of people who are inclined to think along those lines, that’s what they’ll be sending you, even if you wait until after the baby makes an actual appearance.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m currently 13 weeks pregnant with our fourth child—a long-awaited and planned pregnancy. We’re over the moon with joy, but we haven’t told any family save one of our grandmas and a cousin who happens to be due the same month. This is because I’m pretty salty about how they reacted to my third pregnancy when we told them about it (more “oh” than “oh, yay!”). I hated the things they said, too—like, “Oh, you finally got your boy, so you’re done now, right?” (extra gross) and “Three kids! You’re really pushing into big family territory!”

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We’ve always said we’d like four kids and maybe even more if we decided we could handle it. And our kids aren’t close in age or unplanned, either (they’re so evenly spaced you’d think we had a subscription with the stork). We’ve never shared that we’re trying, because frankly it’s nobody’s business but our own, so one reason for the reactions we’re getting could be people’s assumption that our use of natural family planning is unreliable (far from it! And since we chart, I’ve got receipts!). In any case, I’m unwilling to share our joy this time with anyone who might crush it. And it’s fairly easy to do that in a pandemic since we don’t see anyone in the family. (I have told people at work, because it’s already obvious.) But it’s unlikely I’ll keep it totally off social media. While I don’t plan to make a special announcement, I’m bound to end up posting something about being uncomfortable as things progress, or about something cute we pick up for the wee one, which would let the cat out of the bag. Is it justifiable for that to be how Grandma finds out, when she has already made it clear that this child will be one too many?

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—Pregnant and Perturbed

Dear Pregnant,

You know, generally speaking, I would say the choice about when to tell people—family or otherwise—that one is pregnant is absolutely up to the pregnant woman, period. And I sympathize with your irritation and hurt feelings (it’s not just thoughtless but unkind—downright mean—to say anything other than “congratulations!” when someone announces a pregnancy and makes it clear they’re happy about it). And I’ll even ignore my sense that there’s a disconnect between my advice that you get to decide whom and when to tell … and the fact that everyone in your family is aware of your chosen method of birth control (I am rather sternly telling myself that it’s not that you’ve shared this intimate detail of your life with all your relatives but that “natural family planning” is a commonly accepted method within your family). But where you lose me, I’m afraid, is in your noting that you are “bound” to share something on social media—as if you have no control over your own social media posts!—that will alert the family to the pregnancy before you have made the decision to tell them about it.

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Either tell them or don’t tell them—that’s your choice. But if you’ve decided—without admitting it to yourself—that you are going to get back at them for hurting your feelings by letting them “accidentally” find out when you complain about your aching back or feet or post a picture of some adorably tiny cowboy boots on Facebook, then shame on you. You know perfectly well that two wrongs don’t make a right.

Keep your pregnancy a secret from Grandma and the rest of the family who won’t be happy about it if you want to, right up until the baby’s birth (although I’m guessing they won’t be any more diplomatic then than they would be now, and at least one of them will say, “You’re kidding me! Another one?”—not to mention that their dismay over the size of your family will be compounded by their displeasure at being kept in the dark for so long). You have every right to guard your happiness. But don’t be a jerk about it and announce it to everyone you know even slightly, leaving your family to learn your big news in this impersonal—and casually cruel—way.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 8-year-old daughter has become obsessed with hypnosis and it’s weirding out my wife and me. Ever since she saw The Jungle Book she is always drawing or coloring girls with their eyes all swirly. Or writing stories in which a child is hypnotized by Kaa. We let our kids print coloring pages from Google and she regularly searches things like “Ariel hypnotized by Kaa coloring page.” To make matters worse, sites like DeviantArt seem to cater to every possible obsession, including various Disney princesses being hypnotized by Kaa. Many of these drawings have sexual undertones. I know I need to more closely supervise her internet activities and use better filtering, etc., but honestly I’m a bit worried about this strange obsession itself. We’ve tried talking to her about it but we haven’t been able to get to the bottom of things. And I worry I came across as being too judgmental when we talked, because now she’s definitely aware that this is odd. She’s become secretive about it. I don’t want her to feel shame even if I’m uncomfortable with this fixation of hers. But I also would be happy to see it dissolve. What can we do? How do we talk to her about it? Should she be in therapy?

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—HypnoDad

Dear Hypno,

Eight-year-olds are weird. They get obsessed with random things. And while I am a fan of therapy (therapy for everyone! Therapy improves people’s lives!), your daughter does not need to see a therapist because she is currently in a hypnosis phase. It will pass. Stop trying to get to the bottom of it. Put some restrictions on the laptop to make sure she doesn’t accidentally end up seeing something she shouldn’t online. Otherwise—in the immortal words of another Disney princess—let it go.

—Michelle

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