Care and Feeding

My Wild Aunt Used to Seem Awesome. But Can I Trust Her With My Kids?

I’m lucky we never got caught.

Tree outside a house with toilet paper stuck in the branches
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,

I was very close to my aunt while growing up. She helped to home-school me when conventional school didn’t work out well, so I often stayed with her. I’m still somewhat close with her, but past occurrences now give me pause regarding her relationship with my children. Perhaps most troubling is that she coached me on toilet-papering houses. She was youngish but certainly an adult by then. Her plans were intricate; the two of us dressed head to toe in black, wore good running shoes that made little noise, spoke as few words as possible, carried dog repellant, and selected areas that gave us the best chance to go undetected or escape. We would usually ride by and observe the carnage the next day. Even if I sometimes remember this fondly, it was clearly irresponsible and somewhat dangerous.

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My aunt’s relationship with my children hasn’t really been an issue yet, partly because of the pandemic. If my children stay with my parents, however, there is a chance that my aunt will drop by, and who knows what would happen then. I could inform my parents that my aunt is not allowed unsupervised contact with my children, but then I’d have to explain why; this would no doubt get back to her and perhaps strain relationships. Being younger, my aunt will most likely outlive my parents, so I definitely want to stay close with her. Is there any good way to talk with her about this? If she readily acknowledges that she was irresponsible with me, should I consider allowing her more access to my children?

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—Aunt Uncertainty

Dear AU,

I understand that your “cool,” young aunt made some choices when you were a child that you wouldn’t agree with as an adult, but do you believe she is still at a point in her life where she’d behave the same way with your children? Has she failed to mature at all? Does she TP houses in her spare time even today? If so, that is unfortunate, and you should figure out delicate ways to avoid allowing her to spend unsupervised time with your kids.

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If she hasn’t displayed those behaviors recently, just talk to her about how you currently feel about those youthful shenanigans (in a loving way—it doesn’t sound like she caused you great harm, though she did put you in danger of experiencing it, so you needn’t go out of your way to shame her). Make it plain what you would expect an encounter with your kids to look like. Parents have the right to set boundaries for other adults in their children’s lives, and this is an appropriate time to do so.

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However, you probably should not assume that she’s the exact same person you knew when you were a kid, and it would be best to give her the chance to show you what sort of responsible adult she is today. Furthermore, don’t forget the part where she helped to home-school you, despite her youth and immaturity, when you needed the support. Best of luck to you.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

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I have two daughters. The eldest is 2 years and 7 months; the younger one is 17 months. I am currently seven weeks pregnant, and I am not sure whether I should continue or terminate. My family suggested that I check if it’s a boy. But I feel it’s gonna be very hard for me even if it will be a boy. Both pregnancies were horrible, and I was very sick. Now that I am a bit better and recovered from the resulting depression, I don’t want to face that situation again in my life. But I also don’t like the idea of termination because of what it may cost my girls.

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I am happy with my daughters. But sometimes, I feel maybe they need a brother as well. What if my daughters eventually complain that they don’t have a brother when they grow up? Maybe they could feel deprived of a brother’s love or a need for a brother in their life. Also, I feel maybe my husband will want male company when we grow old; otherwise, he will be around women in his entire life.

I am not sure whether I should risk myself to get a boy for my daughters or should just be happy with what I have.

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—Confused

Dear Confused,

I don’t think anyone can ever tell you the “right” thing to do when it comes to continuing or terminating a pregnancy; only one person on earth is engaging with that fetus the way you are, and none of us will experience what you do in either outcome. However, it does not sound like you want to be pregnant or to have another baby, but instead that you’re concerned that your daughters and husband will long for a son in the family someday. As you know, there’s nothing you can do to influence that outcome; just as there’s no guarantee that a third child would be a son, there’s also no guarantee that a son would be the sort of brother or companion to his father that you are imagining.

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Also, what about where you fit in this equation? You don’t mention wanting to raise a boy or feeling like you’re missing something for not having a son. You’re potentially taking on a commitment on behalf of your family that will take a serious toll on your mind, body, and soul—a commitment of which you said, in your own words, “I don’t want to face that situation again in my life.”

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I certainly cannot tell you what you should do, nor can I say with any certainty what I would do in your shoes. But I do find it hard to imagine that I’d do something as poised to make me miserable as it sounds like a third pregnancy might make you. Furthermore, if you take the test to find out the gender, you may experience great pressure or guilt from your family to continue the pregnancy, which just isn’t the way a woman should embark on such a journey, in my opinion. I’m wishing you all the best, and all the strength needed to make the right choice for you.

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• 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,

My father married a woman about seven years ago who has two spoiled boys. They get everything they want, even if it means my father and I get nothing. My stepmother treats my father as a slave and doesn’t trust him at all. I lived with my father for the first three years of their marriage and have lived with my mother for almost two years now. My stepmother only allowed me to have what I needed, while her sons had whatever they wanted, and acted like she couldn’t do anything on her own whenever my father was home. She turned into the perfect stepmother whenever someone else was around, and there were very few people who believed me when I told them otherwise.

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Recently, my father has decided to move to South Carolina, but my stepmother and my stepbrothers aren’t moving with him. My stepmother and one of her sons are moving to Florida while the other stays with his grandmother. My father and my stepmother aren’t getting a divorce even though they’re going to be separated. Almost everybody in my family hates her, which I don’t blame them for. But I don’t want my father to be reminded of her all his life. What should I do?

—Father’s Daughter

Dear FD,

It sounds like a big part of the problem will come to an end when your dad and stepmother separate, even though they have decided to remain legally married. However, I’d hope that he’d again be able to direct his resources toward you and that the biggest change here will be the absence of a woman who treats you poorly and her spoiled-ass kids. Be supportive of your dad during this difficult time, but also find ways to let him know that you weren’t terribly happy with his wife around, how she changed in front of an audience, and what all of that meant for you, particularly during the three years you lived with them.

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I’m not sure why these two have chosen to separate and not divorce, but how your dad processes the demise of this marriage going forward, and what reminds him of it, is not your responsibility. In time, his heart will heal, but for now, it’s going to be somewhat difficult and awkward, and that’s OK too. Hopefully, this time will allow the two of you to refocus your gaze toward your own relationship. Best of luck to you.

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

My son is 8 and his best friend’s birthday is next month. Unfortunately, this friend’s parents are the anti-masker types that don’t take COVID precautions, so their in-person contact has been very limited over the last year because my 11-year-old daughter is high-risk for COVID and obviously can’t get vaccinated yet. So his best friend is planning a birthday party at a bounce house place that happens to be one of my son’s favorites. However, I am very, very hesitant to let him go. I Googled it and noticed a slew of new one-star reviews complaining that the employees didn’t wear masks and didn’t enforce mask-wearing for kids, and as the friend’s family frequently goes maskless, I can’t see how they would wear them for the party. However, my son is thrilled about this party, he loves this place and hasn’t been able to go in forever, and he’s excited to celebrate with his friend. I am so torn. He’s lost a lot to the pandemic, and I want to let him have fun and be a kid, but I can’t stop thinking about what would happen if he caught COVID at the party and spread it to his sister. What should I do?

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—Party Time

Dear PT,

Sorry, but it’s not “Party Time” for your son. Not yet. He has a high-risk sibling, and children seem to be making up a higher percentage of new infections these days. We are still very much in this pandemic, and nothing would upend the childlike fun you want to give your son like knowing that he transmitted a potentially serious illness to his sister. You know this family to be so committed to not observing the pandemic safety practices that they even booked a b-day party at a venue where the staff won’t follow CDC guidelines. There’s nothing else that needs to be said: This is a big fat no and it sucks, but you have to help your son make his peace with (what I hope is) your decision. Best of luck to you.

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—Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

I have an 8-year-old son who is really, really smart but really, really stubborn. Although he gets good grades, we fight all the time over schoolwork. He is constantly saying that he doesn’t see the point of some simple task, that it’s stupid and easy, that he hates it. When he does the work, he’s lazy, resents having to do multiple steps on things, and doesn’t follow directions well. Example: They are teaching students to do math a certain way, but he can do it in his head, so “What’s the point of doing it like that if I can just do it and get the right answer my way?” Same thing with spelling. Each day they do a different task with their word list. And each day we get drama and fighting because he “doesn’t see the point” to doing anything other than simply being quizzed on the words. I’ve tried incentives, but he was never reward-oriented. He’s always been a grouchy kid, but school is just turning him into an angry kid. Parent-teacher conferences are this week, and I’m going to bring all of this up, but I would love some ideas.

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