Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I have two boys: a 6-year-old and a 6-month-old. We live far away from my family, and because of COVID, my parents haven’t met their new grandkid in person yet. We FaceTime but it’s obviously not the same. I’m writing because my mother doesn’t seem that interested in our baby. She’s very close with my oldest boy and has been ever since he was a baby, so I assumed at first that her disinterest was simply because she has never met my youngest in person. I figured that would change once they finally got to spend time together. However, we were talking recently and my mother asked if we could send our oldest to vacation with them—and only my oldest. She said she didn’t want to have to take care of a baby. I’m hurt that she would so blatantly play favorites and pass on an opportunity to meet her grandson, especially since I wasn’t the one asking her to babysit. I would rather keep both boys home with me than send only one away. Am I being overly sensitive here? How do I deal with this situation?
Dear Hurt Mama,
In her defense, taking care of a baby is hard work, and she may not be equipped to handle your oldest and a 6-month-old at the same time, so I really wouldn’t fault her on that. I also think it would be petty to keep your oldest at home just because your feelings are hurt. Instead, why don’t you all go to Grandma’s house so she can see and hold the baby? We both know that she’ll turn on a dime the moment that happens. You and your baby can stay for an initial visit, and you can then leave your oldest with your mom for an extended vacation and take the baby home.
While you’re visiting, you should have a direct conversation with your mom in person. You can say something along the lines of, “Mom, it’s nice that you want to see Mikey, but it seemed like you weren’t interested in meeting the baby, and that hurt me. I want you to have a strong relationship with him, too.”
If she’s of sound mind, she’ll probably apologize for her behavior or at the very least deny that she would ever dismiss having a relationship with the baby. She still may not want to babysit him along with your oldest, but I would venture to guess she’ll be way more cognizant of her behavior going forward.
Help! How can I support Slate so I can keep reading all the advice from Dear Prudence, Care and Feeding, Ask a Teacher, and How to Do It? Answer: Join Slate Plus.
Dear Care and Feeding,
Today, my 4-year-old daughter almost got hit by a car that was backing out of a driveway. She was riding her bike toward the car, I saw the car, and I said “Stop!” But she didn’t stop; she kept riding her bike behind the car and onto the sidewalk, barely missing it. After, she gave me a bunch of reasons why she kept going even though I told her to stop—and my husband backed her up. His parenting style is based on two beliefs: one, that parents should never say “because I said so,” and two, that girls spend their whole lives being told what to do and how to act, so he’s going to encourage our daughter to speak her mind. Theoretically I agree with him, but there are times when she needs to listen for her own safety, like with the car. And she’s turning into a real piece of work—she tries to negotiate every request (e.g., “I’ll go to bed after two more minutes” and “I’ll set the table if you do the napkins”) and feels fine telling both kids and adults exactly what they’re doing wrong with their lives at any given moment. I feel like we’ve rounded the bend from independent-minded girl to total brat. How do I get my husband to understand that this kind of parenting isn’t working?
—We Are Raising a Brat
I agree with your husband that “because I said so” parenting is lame, and I applaud his feminist views. But I’m on your side for pretty much everything else. Kids need to know and respect boundaries.
For example, I have two daughters, and if they had their way, they would eat gummy bears for breakfast every day—but I don’t allow that (duh). Instead, I clearly explain to them why candy is not the type of food we eat to start the day in my household. If I get pushback, then I say, “I already explained why we’re not doing that, and I’m not going to talk about it again.” It’s not quite the “because I said so” line, but it conveys that I don’t want to repeat myself and this is not up for negotiation.
You are in charge, and that means she needs to learn how to respect authority. You tell her to set the table, she should set the table. If you tell her to go to bed, she should go to bed. There should be no back-talking, no “buts,” and no additional discussion. If you don’t do this, maybe she’ll think it’s OK to undermine other authority figures outside of the home. Maybe she’ll tell her kindergarten teacher, “I’ll clean up my mess if Suzy cleans her mess up first.” When she’s older she might tell her boss, “I know the project is due today, but I’ll get it to you by the end of the week instead.” Neither situation will end well for her. Trust me, these people exist, and I find it all begins when parents aren’t firm about setting boundaries with their kids at a young age.
And to your point, this isn’t just about respecting authority—it’s about her safety. No 4-year-old on the planet knows how to effectively navigate this crazy world, so they need adults to help them. You’re lucky she came away unscathed from the car incident, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be as fortunate in the future if you allow this to continue.
So yes, she can still speak her mind about certain things like not wanting to have green beans at dinner, but when you tell her to do something, it should be done immediately. No questions asked. You’re not her buddy—you’re her parent.
• If you missed Monday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.
• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!
Dear Care and Feeding,
Can short-term visits with my in-laws make my children racist? My family and my wife’s family have very different views on race. My wife does not share her family’s views. Her family often makes racist jokes and racist comments around us and our children. In fact, when we made the decision to move across the country to live near my family instead of hers, her family’s racism was one of the big deciding factors in our move.
But my wife’s parents visit often and stay at our home—they even have their own room here. My mother, who gives great advice on these kind of situations, suggested I talk to them. It worked to an extent; instead of using the N-word, they now use terms such as Africans and Africanize. It’s better, I guess, but still not welcome around my kids or me, and still clearly racist. Will being exposed to these people on a regular basis teach my children to be racist? I have not seen any issue with my oldest at all—he is 5. We live in a very diverse area and he has diverse friends both in terms of race and religion (that’s another issue too: lots of Islamophobic comments from the in-laws). I think I need to have another talk with the in-laws, but if they don’t show improvement, do I need to cut off all visits? Should I just let it go and talk to my children after the in-laws leave?
—Not Raising a Racist
If you knew that your in-laws gave your kids poison to eat, would you keep returning to their house to hang out? What if they disguised the poison by adding it to something more palatable like ice cream and gave it to your kids—would that make it better for you? I mean, it’s still poison, right? There’s zero chance you would’ve asked for advice on how to handle that situation.
Racism is poison, and the more your kids are exposed to it, the more it will affect them. People don’t just wake up one day and say, “You know, I think I’m gonna be racist today.” It takes repeated exposure to the poison in order to get there. Kids are impressionable and they soak in a lot of the information given to them by adults they love and respect. There’s no way in the world I’d be cool with having my kids around racists—family, friends, or otherwise.
You and your wife need to be way more direct in your conversations with your in-laws by telling them that racism in any form will not be tolerated anywhere around you or your kids. That’s when they’ll have a decision to make: They can continue to be racist and not have a relationship with your kids going forward, or they can learn to be decent human beings and continue hanging out with your family as usual.
In other words, you may have to “cancel” your in-laws and love them from a distance. I know that cancel culture rubs many people the wrong way, but here’s the easiest way to avoid it: Don’t be a jerk, racist, or other type of deplorable human. It’s not that hard.
As a Black man, I’m so tired of racism, and I think it’s time that racists feel marginalized and ostracized from polite society. They shouldn’t be allowed to hang out with us, come to our birthday parties, work in our offices, teach in our schools, or be welcomed in our neighborhoods.
It’s up to you to take a firm stance on this—especially if you’re serious about protecting your children from racist viewpoints.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My sister wants to throw a big birthday party for my 2-year-old niece next month. There will be a balloon artist, flower arrangements, catering, and lavish party favors for all of the 65-plus invitees. There are so many things wrong with this (including the fact that we’re still in a pandemic), but my sister won’t budge and said she would be “extremely offended” if we don’t show up. Meanwhile, her husband spoke to me privately saying he doesn’t know if they can afford the bill for the party, which could be more than $3,000 (they have just one income; she’s a stay-at-home mom)! Should I talk some sense into her? Or should I just leave it alone and support my niece on her special day?
—My Sister Is Insane
I’m not going to call your sister insane, but sheesh—she certainly needs a wake-up call. A $3,000 birthday party with more than 65 guests in the middle of a pandemic for a kid who will not remember a second of it seems to be questionable at best.
I don’t know your sister, but it seems like maybe she just needs an outlet. It’s possible being a stay-at-home mom and not being able to interact with other grown-ups has clouded her judgment into thinking, “I just need to be around other people!!” Obviously she’s going about it the wrong way, and I think you and your brother-in-law should team up on this one.
Sit her down and tell her flat out that an expensive party with a large amount of guests isn’t going to happen. First off, it’s unsafe and I’m sure many of the invitees will feel that way. (I sure as hell wouldn’t show up to that kind of party right now.) Second, your husband should share his thoughts about the financial burden this would put on their family. It makes no sense.
There are multiple ways to have a special day for her daughter while staying safe and without breaking the bank. My daughter turned 10 last month, and we had a few close friends and family members over for a socially distanced, outdoor (I live in Southern California), mask-wearing gathering where we ordered tacos, played games, and watched movies. It cost me under $100, and best of all, my daughter said it was “the best birthday ever.” Big money doesn’t always equate big fun.
But let’s get back to your sister for a minute. I could be wrong here, but I think this is a cry for help on her part. She probably is at her wit’s end and needs something to help recenter. Maybe you and your brother-in-law can chip in to send her off on a weekend staycation to a nearby hotel for some rest and relaxation. If your niece is in the same bubble as you, maybe consider hosting her for a weekend so your sister can rest at home. You have options here. Either way, I think she needs something, whether it’s moral support or something to look forward to, and hopefully you can help provide that for her.
But under no circumstances should you allow her to go through with those plans.
More Advice From Slate
I’m 30 years old and very much feel physically, emotionally, and financially ready to start trying to have a baby. My husband says he’s about 70 percent on board. Up until recently I thought having kids with him would be amazing. But the more I’ve examined our lives and started planning for the realities of having a baby together—the more I realize that my husband is truly incompetent and unfit to be a parent. What should I do?
Get more Care and Feeding
Slate Plus members get more parenting advice every week. They also help support Slate’s journalism.