Care and Feeding

My In-Laws Keep Bringing Their Sick Kids Into My House

And we now have a newborn to worry about!

A young child dressed in winter clothes holding a tissue to their nose.
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,

My husband and I have a 1.5-year-old daughter and a second baby who just arrived this week. We have a complicated schedule of child care providers—a combination of day care and multiple grandparents. We’re lucky to make the puzzle pieces fit while we both work full time. A month before my due date, my mother-in-law brought my 6-year-old nephew to our house during her child care “shift” (not out of necessity, mind you) and to stay overnight without ever consulting me. He had a cold, which again no one told us about, and passed it along to my daughter. As a result, she missed THREE weeks at her day care, which has strict and necessary protocols due to COVID. I was upset that my brother/sister-in-law felt it was OK to send a sick child to another house, let alone the house of a pregnant woman with a young child. I was also upset that we had to pay for three weeks of child care, which we had to scramble to figure out arrangements for. I didn’t say anything to them explicitly, but I did make clear the implications this had on our family.

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Fast forward: I have the baby, and my in-laws stay with us for a few days to help with the transition. My brother/sister-in-law ask to visit us on the weekend when the baby is just 5 days old. We order/pay for a bunch of food and get provisions to host, despite being the family with the newborn. A couple of days before, I asked my husband to check with them that everyone was feeling healthy, at which point they said we should reschedule. Upon pushing, we learned both of their children, who attend school and day care, have cold symptoms. I was shocked that they didn’t factor into their plans for a visit. My mother-in-law gets upset at me for my “strict views” on colds entering the house of my newborn and young daughter, despite our experience a month ago, despite being in the middle of a pandemic! I know kids get sick, and it’s part of life, but this seems especially inconsiderate to me.

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—Am I a Crazy Mama Bear

Dear Mama Bear,

Your in-laws have been ridiculously inconsiderate—which you know without me saying anything, but I understand why you may need to hear it from an outside source right about now. It is rude to knowingly bring a cold or other bug into someone else’s home in normal times, and, of course, these times are not normal! Unless they somehow lack information about the coronavirus or have bought into misinformation about it, it seems that they are choosing not to take the situation seriously, and that has been to your detriment.

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At this point, I think it is safe to assume that their refusal to adhere to common courtesy or COVID protocol will not change at this stage in the pandemic and that you cannot rely upon them to make the same choices that you would. Feel encouraged to make decisions related to time with them with that in mind. Continue to take measures as you did with this last planned visit and follow your mind, not your sense of loyalty or obligation to folks who have not demonstrated the same toward you. Communicate your needs and decisions clearly to your family and be unwavering in your choices. Good luck to you.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I love my husband. We have been together for 10 years. We have a beautiful 3-year-old girl and are expecting a boy at the end of June. When my daughter was an infant and was having issues sleeping at night as most infants do, he once got up and yelled, “I’m going to f-ing kill you” as he went into her room. I have never seen him act this way, and it scared the living crap out of me. He didn’t do anything to her; in fact, when he yelled it, I screamed at him, made him leave her room, and wouldn’t talk to him for a few days.

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He apologized, told me he was frustrated and never would hurt her; but after that incident, any time I hear him getting upset or raising his voice, I get scared and immediately jump into the situation and push him away. He’s getting upset with me and keeps saying he’s basically stained in my eyes because of what he said. I don’t know what to do with another one on the way. I know I need to get over the anxiety I have, but I always feel panic whenever I hear the frustration in his voice. What can I do?

—Scared

Dear Scared,

My love, you know as well as I do that “scared” is not the way you should be feeling in regard to your husband in any capacity, certainly not around parenting. While it is entirely possible—likely, even—that this was just one really awful, half-awake outburst from an overwhelmed new parent, it impacted you deeply, if nothing else. (If there is, however, more of a pattern of threatening or volatile behavior than you let on in your letter, please take it seriously and do what you need to protect yourself and your kids.) With a new baby on the way, it is urgent that you all get some counseling to address what happened and how to move forward. Your husband sounds like he could use some help dealing with stress and/or anger, and you say that you’ve already got issues with anxiety, so I strongly, strongly urge you to make it a priority to address this with a professional so that you may feel safe in your own home again and trust each other to parent as a team. I wish you all the best.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Just a bit of background: I’m 30 years old, I’m permanently physically disabled, and I will never be capable of working. I receive monthly assistance via SSI, EBT, and Medicaid because I qualify for it due to my disability. I live with my domestic partner/caregiver—not married—and we have three kids. He claims me as a dependent on his taxes each year and files as head of household. Previously with the first two checks, he did NOT receive a stimulus check for me as adult dependents did not qualify. This round, he did receive $1,400 for me as an adult dependent. Our child-free friend is angry and jealous that my partner got more than she did and said that nontaxpayers like me, along with children, shouldn’t receive ANY stimulus. I rebutted that comment and reminded her that if they raise the minimum wage to $15/hour, that pathetic little $791/month in SSI won’t go as far. As it is right now, the average rent in the U.S. is $1,100/month, and if it weren’t for my partner/caregiver, I wouldn’t be able to rent even a room in somebody else’s home. (And subsidized housing is often unsafe and should really be condemned due to the mold and bugs in those places.) I also reminded her of the fact that children don’t receive the stimulus, their parents do, and a lot of parents have had to quit their jobs since the pandemic in order to stay home and care for their children due to schools being closed or pay $200 to $300 a week in child care expenses. She really hurt my feelings and made me feel like I’m less than because I don’t pay taxes and my “income” never stopped during the pandemic, and I already feel like a lazy, useless “welfare queen” as it is because I can’t work nor take care of myself financially. I wish I could work and didn’t have to depend on another person to take care of me. I’ve always felt like less than a person.

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—Crying in Central Virginia

Dear CiCV,

It breaks my heart to hear that you have been made to feel inadequate because of your disability, and especially to know that someone who is supposed to be your friend may have gone out of their way to do so. You are no less of a person than anyone else, and the fact that you may require support from other people, the government, or any other entity does not change that in any way.

If anyone in this equation is deficient, it is your country. If the U.S. adequately cared for all of its citizens, there would be no reason for you to feel as if you are somehow taking something or being “lazy” for requiring governmental benefits. You are unable to work, but you require food, clothing, and shelter, which your nation should provide for you; other people who may be in need might find it unfair that you receive more assistance than they do, but that is likely little more than a function of their own lack of understanding about how things “work” in this country.

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You didn’t choose the circumstances of your ability; you are simply surviving them. It may be easier for you to do so if you cut ties with anyone who seems so bothered by you simply existing in the world. You should feel no shame for receiving care, for you aren’t taking a dime out of anyone’s mouth and you deserve to be cared for! Wishing you lots of peace and time with better, kinder friends.

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

My brother, the only “close” relative I have, cut me off entirely six years ago, and I just found out why. Apparently, he didn’t like the way I treated his wife, who got pregnant before they got married and didn’t tell him, and who had physical fights with him after the baby was born. She even threatened to take said child away from my brother, and I called her out on it. That is when I became the bad person apparently. I had a child myself after about a year of us not talking and had a super hard time without him.

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He contacted me about six months ago acting like nothing really happened. I decide to forgive him. Things were fine for a bit, but now he claims that I’m the one violating his boundaries. My dad’s a narcissist, and despite our unhealthy relationship, I keep running back to him—something my brother typically holds me accountable for. He calls me a drama queen who can’t let go and told me that if I want to remain in contact with him, I need to cut off my dad. Meanwhile, he cut me off for years with no explanation, and he’s still mad at me for standing up to his wife because she was treating him badly. What now?

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—F*cked in Oregon

Dear FiO,

I’m inferring that there may have been some turbulent emotional times in you and your brother’s family lives growing up, and I’m so sorry that they are continuing now that you are both parents. About that “physical fighting” you mentioned, did your sister-in-law and brother put their hands on each other? If so, that’s not a matter of confronting her, but of confronting him. If she attacked him on her own, that’s a very different story—I’m going to assume this was the case, as I’d hope you wouldn’t hold her solely responsible for a situation in which she was struck by her husband.

Intervening in anyone else’s romantic relationship is a risk that seems to rarely work out well. It does not sound like you and this woman had the sort of connection where you and she could talk about what was going on, and I’m wondering if you cursed her out or otherwise further alienated her with your approach. Your brother is your family member, is the person you know and love, and is the one you should have been talking to about what needed to happen with regard to the tumult in his household.

For that reason, it may be appropriate for you to apologize to him for the events of six years ago, if you haven’t already. As far as the ultimatum he has given you regarding your dad, I don’t know how complicated your history with him goes, but I think that you owe it to yourself to seek out the support of a professional who can help you navigate your feelings about your family as a whole and devise strategies to manage these individual dynamics with your father and brother. Wishing you all the best.

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—Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

After a lot of soul-searching, I’ve decided to divorce my wife of five years. All we did was fight, and we had little in the way of sexual intimacy. The problem is that my soon-to-be ex-wife just had a baby a few weeks ago. I was thinking about divorce when I found out she was pregnant but decided to stay for the sake of the baby. It’s four weeks after the birth, and things are worse. We fight constantly and we haven’t had sex for almost four months, so last week I finally got the courage to break ties and move into an apartment. The problem? My friends and family say I’m horrible—that my wife just had a baby; that we’re in the miserable newborn stage and of course we’d fight; that she’s not even cleared by the doctor for sex yet, so of course we’re not sleeping together. Even my brother says I’m being selfish. What do I say to these people?

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