Care and Feeding

My Daughter Is Obsessed With Getting a “Black Friend”

We want her group to be more diverse, but this feels weird.

Girls soccer team in a huddle.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by ActionPics/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,

My teenage daughter, like most teenagers this year, spent a lot of time on social media engaged in conversations about race, social justice, and activism. In general, we’re happy with this; she is getting a worldview-expanding experience, and she’s been actively engaged in trying to create change at her high school. She is certainly more culturally aware than my husband or I ever was at her age. The problem is that she’s fixated on getting a Black friend. Her school is 80 percent White; there are a few Black students who tend to be friendly with all students but in a close-knit friend group of the other Black students (which is understandable). My daughter has mentioned wanting to go to a more diverse school or summer camp so she can “get a Black friend.”

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On the one hand, this makes me deeply uncomfortable; Black folks are not Pokémon or Gigapets to collect, and if I was the parent of said Black friend, I’d be worried my child was being tokenized. I’m also not sure why she wants to do this: Is it to get “street cred” on social media? To interrogate said friend about racial issues? To learn more about a culture different than her own? On the other hand, I applaud my daughter for wanting to exist in more diverse spaces; I’ll be the first to say this was not a priority when we were thinking about homebuying or school choice, and I wish I could go back and make it a priority. What say you? How can I make sure she is genuinely interested in getting to know someone for who they are, not just for the sake of making a Black friend?

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—Terrified of Tokenizing

Dear Terrified,

You’re raising all the right questions and concerns about your daughter’s fixation on a Black friend. Now, pose them to her! Make time for a potentially lengthy and/or uncomfortable conversation in which you share all of the thoughts you included in your letter, and ask your daughter to consider why, exactly, she has undertaken this endeavor. She may not have an immediate answer, and though her desire could be as earnest as simply wanting a more diverse group, one or more of the issues you raised might still be a factor. Conversely, she may have this urge for all the wrong reasons but could end up having meaningful relationships with Black friends in the future simply because she had the inclination to seek them out.

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Luckily, you are clear that diverse friends are not to be collected like Infinity Stones, and you can help her understand why. Continue to drive home the importance of entering relationships with people of color without expecting them do so any sort of unreasonable labor, such as providing racial education, cleansing White guilt, contributing to “woke ally” credibility, etc.

Divert her focus from individual relationships to diverse spaces, and figure out ways to get her into situations where she and kids from other backgrounds have the ability to choose to socialize with one another with relative ease. A school that is 80 percent White is definitely not that; be sure you help her really understand why those Black kids need one another! I don’t recommend transferring, but definitely make more diverse settings a priority when choosing activities outside of school. College may be on the horizon in a few years, and her ability to have actual human interactions with people of color as peers and authority figures before potentially existing in very intimate spaces with us is important. Good luck to you!

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Dear Care and Feeding,

A few months ago, my friend “Joan” found out she was pregnant, right when she decided that she didn’t want to have a second child. Needless to say, she wasn’t thrilled. She lamented that she had “no choice” but to keep it because her husband had really wanted a second baby and would be really upset if she decided to abort. I told her that, of course, she had a choice, but that obviously I wouldn’t push her either way since it’s not my place, and I’d be here to support her no matter what. Fast forward four months, and I still hear constant complaints about how her husband “better appreciate what she’s doing for him,” “He’s never allowed to get mad at me again after this,” and how she’s just really not looking forward to another baby.

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Frankly, I’m getting pretty tired of it; she made this choice, and it was absolutely a choice. I certainly don’t take abortion lightly and know it’s a complicated and deeply emotional matter, but it’s insulting to women who truly don’t have a choice, whether they’re in abusive situations, face excommunication/abandonment by their only support network, live in countries where they’d face punishment, or simply have no access to the procedure because of lack of resources and/or restrictive laws. None of those even remotely apply here. She’s never said to me that she personally just wouldn’t be able to go through it, just that she didn’t want to upset her husband (it’s worth noting that her husband, while yes, he would have been upset, would have ultimately supported her, and stayed with her).

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I can’t help but feel like she’s acting like a martyr. I do have to add that I know she is concerned about postpartum. Only recently did she realize that she experienced PPD after her first child. Her son was never in danger, and she didn’t experience suicidal thoughts; rather, she just literally didn’t leave the house for six months because she found it “overwhelming”; it was only after she started going back to work and having social interactions that she slowly started to feel better. So, I don’t want to completely dismiss her feelings, but I have also repeatedly told her she needs to talk to a therapist. She completely brushes off that suggestion, saying there aren’t any that are taking new appointments, or she would never be able to commit to online sessions because her son never leaves her alone. Finally, there’s the fact that a couple of years ago, they moved away—not too far, but far enough that she’s not close enough to any friends or family who can just make an impromptu visit or lend a hand. This was also a choice; she is in a job she likes better and in an area more conducive to her immediate family’s needs. However, those options were also available closer to her support system, yet she complains that she’s lonely and tries to guilt people into coming to visit. I know I sound like a terrible friend, but I’m at a loss here. She’s a good friend to me when I need her (and when I don’t). What to do?

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—She’s a Mom, Not a Martyr

Dear S.M.N.M.,

My legs have gone rubbery after reading, and rereading, your letter. My heart is racing a little bit. This is how my body processes information that deeply offends me to my core, which you have done. I don’t know your gender, or your relationship to the experience of pregnancy and motherhood, but I am absolutely aghast at your inability to consider how deeply complicated your friend’s situation is and was from the moment she found that she was pregnant by a husband who desired another child even though she, herself, did not.

You don’t have to compare her with women in countries where abortion is more dangerous to consider that perhaps she truly did not feel like she could terminate a pregnancy that her husband wanted, and that she is going through one of the most physically taxing experiences a person can subject their body to. Why on earth do you feel so confident that this friend of yours actually felt like she had a choice at all? Do you know for sure that she trusted her husband to love her in the same way, to feel no resentment?

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Even if she did feel completely empowered to choose not to carry to term, and that her relationship would survive, you do know that many women feel guilty about having abortions or believe that it is an option to be used only in dire situations, or when someone cannot care for a child, not simply because they don’t want to care for a child. You might need to do some serious soul-searching, as well as some thought around the particularly complex topic of abortion, because you’re approaching it from a factual place and not an emotional one. This is not a simple matter of “You could have, you didn’t, so let it go.”

Your friend, who did not wish to be pregnant a second time, dealt with postpartum depression in the past and is afraid of having it again … and you’re dismissing that because, to your knowledge, she was never suicidal? Come again? You recognize that she needs therapy, but I cannot imagine how someone who is so deeply unempathetic to her needs could effectively encourage her to get help. Before you can truly assist her, you need to reconsider how, despite your stated interest in her well-being, you haven’t really come to terms with how difficult her circumstances are. Spend some time on that for a few days and hopefully, you’ll be better prepared to offer aid.

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Postpartum depression can have devastating consequences, as can any depression she is experiencing during the pregnancy. Check in with her, make sure she’s not being isolated with these anxious thoughts and that she’s feeling cared for throughout this deeply complicated pregnancy. Actually be the friend you think you’ve already been.

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

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a question about how to address a situation that has come up with two boys that I babysit. Big Brother (4), won’t let Little Brother (18 months) play with ANY of their toys, regardless of “ownership.” BB will be happily playing with his cars until LB starts playing with one that BB has discarded. BB will immediately snatch the toy, yell “NO,” and say something along the lines of “That’s not yours” or “You need to share” and start playing with that toy vigorously. LB will then start playing with a different toy, and BB will again snatch that toy away, yell NO in LB’s face, and start playing with that toy as if it’s the only toy in the world, even if it’s a toddler toy that BB hasn’t played with in years. I tell him it’s not nice to snatch toys away from his brother or yell in his face and that he needs to share, and I try to explain why what he did was inappropriate. I have spoken to the boys’ parents about this, and they support my actions/statements so far, but that’s about it.

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LB is starting to get upset by all this snatching and yelling. BB gets upset when all the attention is on LB, so he gets physical with LB—tripping him, pushing him out of his way—or does something else to bring the attention back to him. If I notice that LB has all eyes (and smiles) on him at a get-together, I will turn my attention to BB, and that seems to help in the short term. I understand the dynamic here: A treasured firstborn is no longer the center of attention and is acting out. But what do I do next time the toy snatching and yelling happens?

—The Babysitter

Dear Babysitter,

I would wager that this behavior is not exclusive to your time with these two, and that the boys’ parents are also coping with the same challenges. You should talk to them again about what is going on and your general concern that perhaps BB is struggling to adjust to having to share the spotlight with LB. (Be sure not to pose this to them as a diagnosis, as they may not agree and you do not want to inadvertently offend them; instead, ask if this might be a dynamic at hand between them and explain how you came to suspect that.)

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Regardless of the parents’ willingness to engage the one-sided sibling rivalry bit, what you need most from these two is their guidance on how you should respond when their older son has done something that requires correction. Do they encourage or use timeouts? Would they withdraw screen privileges for a period of time? In general, it would be in your best interest as a sitter to have any parents you work for be clear on how they expect their children’s negative behavior to be addressed. Hopefully, this family is in agreement that there’s a new baby/old baby thing happening, and they’ll be willing to work with you on helping BB adjust (and LB survive his angst!). Best of luck to you.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My partner and I had our first baby last year well into the pandemic. I was induced early due to some health complications. Overall, the baby is cheerful, adorable, and healthy after a slightly premature entrance, but I find myself obsessing over development. I have to admit that they have met most big milestones on time (even without taking adjusted age at delivery into consideration), but there have been a few milestones that have been met a bit later. My partner and pediatrician are unconcerned, but I’m experiencing what feels like an excessive amount of worry and anxiety over this. Every time I see a friend’s baby on social media meeting a milestone before ours, or when I read about where a child should be at this stage, I feel like I spiral and my worry gets out of control. I find myself feeling totally incapable of doing things that I usually love. I guess I should note that we have had almost zero in-person support with our baby from family/friends because of the pandemic, and I haven’t been able to meet up with any other new moms for the same reason, so I’m not even getting a balanced view of how other babies develop. I’ve been trying to do things for my mental health like exercising and getting counseling (CBT), but I feel like it is barely making a dent in my anxiety. I love my little baby so much and I just want to enjoy them instead of obsessing so much. What else can I do?

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—Anxious New Mom

Dear A.N.M.,

I am so sorry that you had what sounds like somewhat traumatic birthing experience, and that you’ve consequently come to feel anxious about your child meeting milestones that were created with children who made a different sort of entrance into the world in mind. It’s great that you are taking time to address your mental health and have entered counseling, but you may require some additional support. Please talk to both your current therapist and your OB-GYN about these concerns. The postpartum period is difficult for many new mothers for many reasons, and your unique circumstances have lent themselves to a number of emotional challenges during one of the most vulnerable seasons of a birthing person’s life.

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You do not have to feel this way, you did not do anything wrong to cause these feelings, and you deserve to feel better. Your baby is healthy and progressing well, and you need to be able to experience this moment without undue worry. I hope that your partner is able to be supportive on this journey; explain to them that you understand the lack of rationality behind some of your thoughts and that you feel powerless to stop them at times, that you are not being dramatic, but that you need help getting back to a version of yourself that feels more like home to you. Wishing you all the best in your journey.

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—Jamilah

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