Care and Feeding

My 5-Year-Old Granddaughter Is Topless in Family Photos and on Zoom

An older woman looking at a laptop screen in shock.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by fizkes/iStock/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,

I’m a grandmother of very creative and unusual children. My child and their spouse are amazing parents—structured but caring and relaxed. One of their beliefs is that the child should always dictate what they wear—coat or no coat, shorts in cold weather, sneakers or sandals in the summer. That’s all fine with me. But in comes Zoom, and their 5-year-old girl wears only panties on family Zoom meetings. She also wears this during their older sibling’s school class, which is on Zoom. And in family photos. When does this cross a line? I am not comfortable with it, but I am not in the habit of dictating to my children how to raise their children. If it does cross a boundary, how could I possibly phrase it, when really it’s none of my business?

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—Puzzled in Zoom Land

Dear Puzzled,

In many aspects, I appreciate parents who encourage their kids to make their own decisions; however, as I’ve said before in this column, kids need to learn boundaries at a young age to protect them from themselves. Healthy examples of decision-making around clothing can include having your granddaughter choose the color of clothes she wants to wear. But leaving her completely in charge of clothing choices isn’t wise for so many reasons. For example, during the recent power outage in Texas, a friend of mine found himself and his daughter stranded without any clothes except for those they were wearing. Accidents happen. I don’t think you’re overstepping by telling your granddaughter’s parents to prepare a little more for the unexpected.

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I see correlations to the underwear on Zoom issue. It seems innocuous now to have a topless 5-year-old girl run around on a video call with her family, but there’s a point at which that will become even more inappropriate. They’ll encounter the same issue with shirtless family photos.

I don’t think it’s a problem to offer your two cents about your granddaughter, as long as you come from a place of love and not judgment. I’m sure some parents will disagree with me on this, but I think it’s important to teach our kids as early as possible that private areas are private. I have two young daughters, and I set a precedent early that their bodies are special and shouldn’t be shown to just anyone. That means no running around shirtless in the house, no swimming in a pool/beach without a top (bikinis are fine), etc. As my daughters have gotten older (they’re 7 and 10), I’m so glad that I’ve already established these boundaries.

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When you talk to them, you can also discuss what your granddaughter may feel as she grows up—kids, especially girls, are not going to want shirtless photos of themselves as young kids passed around at family gatherings, posted on the living room walls, or anywhere else. I haven’t even mentioned the potential dangers of online weirdos Zoom-bombing meetings (aka, hijacking video calls) and taking screenshots.

If you broach the subject, you can say something like, “I’m worried about little Suzy being half-naked on these family Zoom calls. I know she’s young, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for her to be seen that way by her extended family or by her brother’s classmates on his school calls. Could you please have her wear a shirt during our calls? It would make me feel much more comfortable.”

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And yes—make it about you instead of about how they’re raising your granddaughter. It may prompt them to take the requisite action to fix it. If they choose to ignore you, then at least you can say that you tried. But I wouldn’t keep my mouth shut on this, if I were you. Hopefully they’ll see the light.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have five wonderful kids, and we’ve decided that we aren’t going to have anymore. I’m unable to take birth control pills due to health reasons. I was hoping my husband would step up and offer to get a vasectomy, but he absolutely refuses to do it. I think he’s scared and refuses to admit it, but he’s now pushing me to get my tubes tied instead. I’m sorry, but I don’t think that’s fair, especially after I delivered five babies with all-natural childbirth. Can he take one for the team for once? Any ideas on how I can get through to him?

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—Not Tying My Tubes

Dear Not Tying,

Go collect your husband so y’all can read this response together. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

How tone-deaf could your husband possibly be? You were pregnant with five humans and brought them all into this world through a small opening in your body without the help of medication, and he’s pressuring you to get your tubes tied because he’s squeamish about a freaking vasectomy? Good grief, read the room, my guy.  I swear, if dudes were responsible for childbirth, the human race would be extinct.

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In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not a doctor and I’m not dishing out medical advice. You should do what’s best for you and your family after conducting your own research. I’m just sharing my personal story and opinions as someone who went through the procedure recently.

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I had a vasectomy three years ago, and it was by far the easiest of the 11 surgeries I’ve endured in my lifetime. The procedure started at 7 a.m. on a Friday, and I was in my car driving home by 8:15 a.m. Afterward I dealt with minor discomfort (I wouldn’t even call it “pain”) that lasted a few hours and didn’t require me to pop any pain meds. Best of all, I was able to sit back on my couch for an entire weekend with a bag of frozen peas between my legs as I watched basketball on TV. By Monday, I was as good as new.

On the other hand, tubal ligations are more expensive, more painful, and more intrusive. How could your man look you in the eye after reading that and say, “Yeah, whatever. You should still get your tubes tied anyway.” Seriously?!

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Your husband absolutely should take one for the team. Why must women bear the responsibilities of childbirth and birth control? It’s completely unfair and unnecessary. If a woman gives birth, then her man should do his part to prevent it. Full stop.

Not that you need me to tell you this, but you have every right to put your foot down on this one. Tell your man to find his balls (figuratively speaking) and go to his doctor to discuss this procedure. If not, then you can tell him that he’s in charge of the birth control from here on out, meaning, he’ll have to wear condoms going forward to prevent baby No. 6 from making an appearance. If that’s not enough to get snipped, then I don’t know what is.

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• 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,

I am the mother of an incredible 6-month-old. He is the best thing in my entire world, and I love him more than I would have ever thought possible. But I have a personal problem that I have sought therapy for, but am just still finding it very, very hard to work through: I generally spend too much time comparing myself to other people, especially other women, and this has gotten particularly out of hand when it comes to parenthood. Specifically, my husband’s sister recently had her first child as well, and I cannot stop obsessing over every little thing. For example, I keep thinking about those silly percentile charts you get from the pediatrician (my sister-in-law sent over my niece’s 1-month percentiles, which were significantly higher than my son’s), the kind of day care they may attend (I don’t care about Montessori, but now I’m wondering if I’m supposed to), and milestones (was I a bad mom for not doing enough tummy time, meaning my son wasn’t able to lift his head up as early as my niece was?). I don’t compare myself to my friend’s kids, but this particular relationship is consuming my time and thoughts, and I want to stop. Can you help me?

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—Compared in Colorado

Dear Compared,

If you’re six months into parenthood and you’re doing this, then you’re going to lose your damn mind before you know what hit you. You said it yourself—the percentile charts are silly, and so is comparing yourself with your sister-in-law.

Parenting isn’t the Olympics. You don’t get a gold medal for tummy time, first words, first steps, etc.—and every child develops at their own pace. For example, my youngest daughter was 4½ years old when she was fully potty trained. By most parenting standards, that’s pretty late in the game—especially compared with both of my twin brother’s daughters who were potty trained shortly after 2 years old. I never thought, “Dang, my brother is a much better dad than I am. I’m a failure.” I just wanted the nightmare to end so I could stop buying diapers for crying out loud.

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I’m glad you’re going to therapy for this, because it will help you work through some unresolved issues with your sister-in-law. Since this competition is only with her, there must be something going on between you two. Do you spend a lot of time together where you feel the need to compare your parenting ability? Does she compete with you as well, or would she be surprised to learn about all of this? No matter what the issues are, I would suggest uncovering those problems with your therapist.

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Also, don’t forget this: Parenting is hard, and you’re doing a much better job than you’re giving yourself credit for. Cut yourself some slack, because you and your baby will benefit from it.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I found out earlier this week that when my son was 15, my ex-husband let him smoke weed and drink at his house. My son is 26 now and has been sober for three years, but when he told me, I was furious. My ex and I were a united force for so many years, trying to get our son help for his alcoholism. It was absolute hell but now that I know my ex was letting our son do whatever he wanted when he was young, I feel like the whole thing was his fault. I wasted years being angry at myself that our divorce messed up our kid. My world has been turned upside down. How do I make it right again?

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—Miserable Mom

Dear Miserable,

That is a bitter pill to swallow, and I’m sorry that you were betrayed by your ex-husband. Not to mention, this provides more proof that breaking up was the right thing to do.

You’re probably not going to like the advice I’m going to give you, but it’s truly the only way you can get some peace in your world. You have to forgive him, and you have to forgive yourself. Don’t get me wrong here—by forgiving him, I don’t mean that you’ll invite him over for wine and cheese. What it means is it won’t serve you to hold onto all of that resentment. Doing so doesn’t even require you to talk to the dude. You can quietly say to yourself, “Whatever he did over a decade ago was wrong and I’ll never forget what he did, but I refuse to stay angry about it for the sake of my own mental and emotional health.”

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One of my mentors once told me, “Keeping acid inside of a vessel destroys the vessel more than what the acid was intended for.” In other words, keeping that anger inside will destroy you more than it will destroy him.

More importantly, you’ve gotta forgive yourself. You worked with the tools at your disposal at the time, and you always had your son’s best interests at heart. Would you have done anything differently if you had a time machine to go back 11 years ago? Maybe and maybe not, but what’s done is done, and you can’t beat yourself up over it. All you can do is learn from it and keep going. Thankfully your son is three years sober and is on the right track, and that’s the main thing.

If you need help navigating through it, I would suggest visiting with a therapist. You have every right to be bitter, but you cannot let it consume you.

—Doyin

More Advice From Slate

Generally speaking, when one parent or the other is periodically gone for a brief business trip, what level of parenting is acceptable? I’m talking about things like meals, screens, etc. In our family it’s usually two days tops, maybe once every two months.

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