Care and Feeding

I Was Right to Divorce My Mom Friends

So why do I feel so sad?

A young Black woman looking sad and lonely as she scrolls through her phone.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by DMEPhotography/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,

Seven years ago, when I was pregnant for the first time, I met a bunch of moms I clicked with on a birth board. Since that time, we have become an online support group for each other (via WhatsApp), seeing each other through tough times (job losses, family losses) as well as the mundane and daily struggles of parenting and marriage (especially in a pandemic!). This group has been a lifeline for me. Unfortunately, over the years, comments would come up from two or three of the other moms that I would feel the need to speak out against: harmful language about Indigenous people (a group that includes my husband and sons), use of the R-word, a story that was meant to be entertaining but tapped into an awful stereotype about Black people. Each time, it gave me anxiety to call them out on why it was harmful. Most of the time my comments were ignored or the response was defensive.

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Still, it seemed to me that a comment every couple years out of hundreds of conversations was something I could live with. And—as a woman of color—I viewed it as an opportunity to educate, so that maybe I could prevent harm to other people. But recently something changed. One of the worst culprits told a story about how she’d been accused by an Indigenous customer of being racist when she asked a series of questions she’s required by law to ask. The group of moms jumped in to support her, but I felt dubious. Even if she was required to ask these questions, I could see her bringing her negative biases to the table and the customer reacting to her approach/attitude. Everyone was comforting her, and one mom said, “Some people just like bitching and playing the race card.”

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This knocked the wind out of me. I carefully crafted what I wanted to say before I posted it. I said that surely we could be empathetic to our friends without using phrasing like that, especially because we know that Indigenous people have had atrocities perpetrated against them regarding their health and bodies, and we know that many receive inferior and racist health care. The “race card” mom said, “Okay sorry,” and it just hung out there until one or two people hopped on to thank me for speaking up and educating them. But I still felt distressed, and realized that it was not a matter of IF something racist were to come up again in the future, but WHEN.

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I then got word that “people are still upset” with me and that one friend felt I should have handled it “individually” instead of in the main group chat. Some complained that the chat hasn’t been the same since I said what I did—the implication being that I made things uncomfortable by speaking up against racism. I ended up leaving the group that day. I thanked the women for their years of friendship and their kindness and support when my dad died (because their kindness at that time was immeasurable). I wished them and their families well. A few reached out to stay in touch and said they understood why I no longer felt safe with the group, and they told me how they felt ashamed for always letting me be the one to speak up. I appreciated this and felt a sense of relief.

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But the messages have trailed off. Even though I know I did the right thing by leaving, I realize now that the cost of that was giving up a daily support I counted on. My standing up for myself and others has put me outside the group that’s been so important to me—while the rest of them get to go on living their lives and having that support. My question at the end of this long story is this: How do you move on from the sadness and anger and a sense of betrayal when you know you did the right thing? Why does it hurt so bad when I know what I did was right—for me personally, but also as a human being just doing the right thing?

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—No More Group Chat

Dear NMGC,

I’m so sorry for this loss—for all of your losses. I think you already know the answer to the question of why it hurts so much: You counted on these people—you counted on the group as a whole—and they have let you down. It’s very hard to put your faith in something or someone, to rely on a steady source of support, and then learn that you can’t. And no, it doesn’t help to know that you did the right thing, both for yourself and as a matter of principle. You did do the right thing. Remind yourself of this if you are tempted to return to the group (no good will come of that).

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I don’t believe it’s a matter of “moving on” from your sadness and anger. You are experiencing a very real sense of loss—in other words, grief—and as deeply unpleasant as these emotions are, they are appropriate and necessary. Eventually they will be a memory; you will get past your disappointment and you will remember your entirely justified anger, but you will not be feeling these things so sharply.

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What you do need to do is seek out support elsewhere. Everyone needs it. And this group of moms is not the only group of moms in the world. Join in with other groups online. When you’re out and about in the world—outdoors, masked—talk to people. Make friends. Soon enough—by summer?—this will be somewhat easier. Think beyond “other moms” as a source of support, too. Friends go a long, long way toward filling the gap left by the losses of family members, and while I encourage you to find some IRL mom friends, I also hope you’ll meet and learn to lean on people with whom you have other things in common besides motherhood. I do know for sure that the cure for the heartbreak of broken friendships is new friends.

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

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

My son and his male partner are talking about becoming parents (they hope to adopt). For the sake of my child, in spite of my own upbringing and closely held beliefs, I have fully accepted and come to love his partner. But although I am doing my best to be on board with their plans, they don’t sit well with me. Although my son doesn’t see it this way, I think I deserve some credit for having come as far as I have, and I would like him to have some grace as I come to terms with what’s ahead. I will freely admit that none of this has been easy for me. But my whole family has welcomed his partner. I think we treat him kindly. And I recognize that the child—should they go ahead with their plans—will be my grandchild. But am I jumping for joy? No. The question is: Do I have to be? My son apparently thinks so. He seems angry and completely unable to see things from my point of view. This does not seem fair, given that I have bent over backwards for him. Is there anything I can do?

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—Maybe I’m Old-Fashioned

Dear Maybe,

There is something you can do. You can make the decision to stop thinking of loving your son and fully supporting him as “bending over backwards.” You can start jumping for joy about the prospect of a grandchild. (If you have to fake it till you make it, so be it.) But if you don’t get on board, you run the risk of losing out on the opportunity to be a grandmother to the child—and maybe losing your son, too. Even if it’s hard for you—even if it’s terribly, terribly hard for you—it’s time to step up and be the loving mother and future grandmother your son and his family deserve—the kind of mother and grandmother everyone deserves.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have a grown daughter in her 20s (“Alison”) who lives on her own with her partner. Alison has beautiful sandy brown hair with natural highlights, but when we saw her a few weeks ago, she’d dyed it bright purple. Her dad doesn’t like it when she dyes her hair; he prefers her natural look, and they’ve had arguments about this, and about her style in general, in the past. When he asked her why she’d done this, she was rude and evasive, offering curt responses like “because I like it” and “because I can.” After a few minutes of this, she said, “Dad, you need to drop this subject, or I’m going to leave.” Her dad was hurt by this, so I gently said, “There’s no need to make threats. Your dad is just concerned about you.” She responded, “There’s nothing to be concerned about. I’ve dyed my hair. If you don’t like it, don’t look at me.” Her dad took this at face value and turned around and went back to the car. Alison started crying. I wanted to stay and try to work it out, but my husband had already made up his mind that we were leaving, so I just hugged her and promised we would call her later and talk this out. She told me not to—she said she’d call us.

It’s now been two weeks, and she hasn’t called. We’ve called and texted her multiple times, but she won’t respond. I can see she’s still active on social media, so I know she’s safe, but I’m quite hurt that she seems to be cutting us out over something like this. I would offer to apologize if I thought she’d get the message, but I’m not sure if she’s even reading messages/listening to our voicemails. My husband thinks she’s being stubborn and will come around eventually. We were looking forward to being able to see more of her now that the weather is getting nicer and vaccines are rolling out, but it seems like she’s chosen her purple hair over a relationship with us (hence the “don’t look at me” comment). I really want to repair the relationship with her, as she’s our only daughter, but I’m at a loss as to where to go from here.

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—Don’t Care for Her Hair

Dear DCfHH,

She has not chosen her purple hair over a relationship with you. This dispute is not about purple hair; it’s about respect, boundaries, and accepting that a grown child’s decisions about her body are none of her parents’ business.

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Where to go from here is a conversation with your husband about the impropriety and general wrongness of his badgering her about her hair. It doesn’t matter if he prefers her “more natural look.” Her response to his questions wasn’t out of line. She shouldn’t have to justify such a choice to him (or anyone else).

Indeed, I would go so far as to say that if your husband refuses to see it this way—and if you can’t come around to seeing that she’s right and he’s wrong about this—it’s the two of you who are choosing to make her hair color more important than your relationship with her.

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Could she be more diplomatic, gentler, more understanding of how hard it is for her dad to accept that she’s grown up and that his opinions about her “style” should be kept to himself? Sure. It would be more mature to calmly say, “I’m sorry you don’t like it, but I love it. Now perhaps we can talk about something else,” than to say, “If you don’t like it, don’t look at me.” But if she’s being treated like a child, it’s no surprise she’s acting a little bit like one.

Once you have convinced your husband (and yourself!) that it’s time to let go of the idea that you have any control—or any say—about such matters, then by all means apologize. By text, by phone, by email, by letter—try ’em all. One of them will get through, I’m sure. But there’s no point in apologizing if you don’t understand what you’re apologizing for, and you don’t plan to handle things differently from now on.

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P.S. It’s your husband who’s “just being stubborn.”

Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter has been playing club volleyball (no tryouts needed) since she was in seventh grade. At the time, we signed her up because we’d just moved to a new state and wanted to help her find a community, and she’d expressed some interest in volleyball. Over the years, her experience with the club has been up and down. She’s physically not built to be an excellent volleyball player (short stature), but she has a lot of hustle and heart. When she’s had good coaching, she seems happy with her involvement. When she’s had bad coaching—which typically results in her not getting a lot of play time, because the coach immediately defaults to the taller players—she becomes upset and self-defeating (she doesn’t throw tantrums; she’s a good, supportive team member—but she is pretty miserable when she gets home from practice).

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She’s now a sophomore in high school and we are debating whether to have her continue to play volleyball in the fall. She has told us that she’s unhappy overall and would like to quit because she’s not built for the sport; she says she wants to explore other hobbies. My husband doesn’t want to hear it. He says she needs to learn how to stick with something she starts, especially when it’s not something that comes easily to her; he also notes that she’s emotionally matured a lot in the team environment (she’s learned to put the team above her own needs). My husband and my daughter are having fights about this almost weekly. I’m not thrilled by the idea of her quitting either, but I also don’t think it’s healthy for us to force her to do something that she’s given a solid try for four years but doesn’t make her happy anymore. How should we determine whether it’s OK for her to quit? What’s the line between wanting to push a kid to stick with something tough versus knowing when enough is enough?

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—Stuck in San Diego

Dear Stuck,

She has told you that she’s unhappy overall and wants to explore other activities. That’s how you know it’s OK for her to quit. She did stick with it even though it wasn’t something that came easily to her. And, as your husband says, she learned something from it. That’s great. Volleyball has served its purpose! But holding a child to a commitment to something you signed her up for—for reasons that made sense at the time—when she has reached the point where she doesn’t want to be involved in it anymore, and she’s old enough to make her own decisions about what she’s going to focus her time and energy and attention on … well, that’s unreasonable. She’s letting you know when enough is enough. Listen to her.

—Michelle

More Advice From Slate

When my oldest was born, my father told me one of his biggest parenting regrets was not assigning regular chores to me and my siblings. I took this advice to heart with my three wonderful boys, now aged 16, 14, and 11. Since the boys were little, they’ve had some form of daily cleaning responsibility, starting with a “10-minute tidy” with us every evening and, as they got older and ostensibly more responsible, additional age-appropriate chores. How many chores should kids have?

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