Care and Feeding

I Secretly Got My Daughter Vaccinated Against My Partner’s Wishes

A woman looking down at a band-aid on her arm, where she's just been vaccinated.
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,

A few weeks ago my sixteen-year-old daughter said she wanted to be vaccinated. I myself had no problem with this as I had gotten vaccinated myself as soon as I could, however her father (my partner) felt the vaccine was rushed to market and experimental and just too risky for her to take. Because I wanted to protect my daughter and because she wanted to get vaccinated, I went ahead and took her anyway without telling him. I really wanted to avoid him being angry. However, I admitted to him yesterday that she had the vaccine and now he is furious at me and her. He said she wasn’t at high risk for COVID, but there are stories of women being infertile due to the shot. I know it was wrong to not be completely transparent about our plans and he is hurt and insulted by my actions, but we see this issue (not just the vaccine but the entire pandemic) so differently. Not being vaccinated is as much a choice as being vaccinated in my opinion. Should I keep apologizing or am I in the right here?

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—Sad in the Suburbs

Dear Sad,

You were right to get your daughter vaccinated. It’s not okay that you felt coerced into hiding your daughter’s vaccination or apologizing for getting her vaccinated. For starters, the science is firmly on your side: the documented side effects of the vaccine, like achiness or fever, are far outweighed by its health benefits to the individuals who receive it and the communities they are protecting by getting vaccinated. The vaccine has no impact on fertility. But setting aside the issue of vaccination entirely, your partner’s reaction has me concerned about your and your daughter’s well-being, in general. You were so fearful about your partner’s anger that you felt forced to lie to him. I don’t think this can possibly be the first time that you have chosen to avoid a difficult truth rather than to confront his ire, and that’s not a healthy, happy, or sustainable way to live.

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Please let this incident serve as a wake-up call. You don’t have to live with someone who makes you feel afraid to tell the truth. I hope, for your and your daughter’s sake, that your taking a stand for vaccination is the first step in a journey out of this toxic household dynamic.

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

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I need help with my mother-in-law. My husband has two families—his biological family, and the one he lived with when his biological parents were making poor choices. Prior to meeting his biological parents, I had a hard time getting over what they put him through as a child. That being said, we’ve been together for over ten years and I have been able to see past my own personal issues for the sake of my husband who has clearly forgiven them.

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Now, many years and two children later, I find myself so uncomfortable and angry with my mother-in-law that I can’t even make eye contact with her. She has been very depressed for a few years, and I’ve exhausted so many resources trying to help her, none of which have seemed to make much of a difference. The root of my anger comes from when my oldest was first born and my mother-in-law refused to follow my “rules”, specifically not kissing my baby. I am a nurse and know far too well what can happen when young babies are exposed to simple diseases, yet she would constantly be kissing my child when I wasn’t looking. It felt like a slap in the face especially after all of the help I’ve given her and for accepting her after what she’s put my husband through.

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I have numerous other examples of her undermining my parental requests, but her new and most frustrating thing is victimizing herself. She gets offended when either of my children (who are both very young) cry in her presence. She’ll say things like “oh they hate me, they don’t know me” despite seeing them every weekend. So if they are grumpy or having a hard day when she’s around I’ll warn her and then she’ll make comments like, “Oh so I can’t hold them, I can’t be around” etc… We have her over every weekend because my husband feels that our children are the only thing keeping her out of a severe depression. I can see his point, but she nonethless seems miserable when she’s around my kids and somehow ends up feeling offended or victimized after each visit. She almost always leaves in tears. I’m trying to be sensitive to her mental illness, and I genuinely want to help her, but I worry about the things she says affecting my children too as they get older and are more able to understand. I want to talk to her about how I’ve been feeling, but I know it will just end with her in tears and feeling like I’m being a bully for being upset with her not listening to me. How can I approach this situation so that I can stop feeling resentful towards having to cater to my mother-in-law while not hurting her or my children in the process?

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—Miserable Mother-In-Law

Dear Miserable,

“How can I stop feeling resentful” is a magical question.  What happens when you ask it of yourself? First, you’ll find yourself identifying the targets of your resentment; these are, I’m guessing, your mother-in-law and your husband and maybe even also, to some extent, yourself.  Next, you’ll identify the conditions under which you’d no longer feel this way—you want, I’m guessing, to spend much less time with your mother-in-law in your home. She’s emotionally volatile, unreasonably demanding and violates the rules you’ve established for your kids’ health and safety. Nevertheless, she comes over every weekend—every weekend!— because your husband thinks your children are keeping her from becoming even more depressed.

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Whether or not that’s the case, her mental health is not your or your husband’s responsibility. No adult’s mental health is another adult’s responsibility. You do have some familial obligation to this woman, but for various reasons your husband feels an outsized responsibility to take care of her. That’s his to work through, but work through it he must. He’s effectively putting her needs before yours and your kids’, and it has to stop; it’s not really helping her either.

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This is a piece of what sounds like a much larger story of family dysfunction that runs deep and will take time to unravel. For now, though, all you can do is take the first steps: talk to your husband about how important it is to get your weekends back, for the sake of your kids, your marriage and your own mental health. From there, enlist whatever help you can get in order to support him as he creates some boundaries in this relationship. If you’ve made your needs clear and you’re still not being heard or respected, listen to your gut and do what it takes to stop this cycle of dependence and manipulation.

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a ball of irritation these days. After working for fifteen years to set up enough money for my husband to start and get his business going, I quit my job (it was fine, but I never saw our kid because the hours were very long, so we decided when he just passed breaking even, I’d take some time with our children and then try to start my own business). We had our second kid just as the pandemic hit. His business contracted and we took a hard look at our budget and moved in with his older relatives in his country (in our case at least, socialized healthcare is cheaper and better). I became a full-time stay-at-home mom/caretaker because my language skills are good but not great here.

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I love the time with my kids, sure, but we are on a very tight budget, and we are very isolated, and I rotate between frenzied activity, comatose evenings, and, increasingly, simmering rage. Between his relatives, COVID homeschooling, childcare, and general household maintenance, I am furious at how much stuff I have to do that he never did. (I paid for childcare and a maid when I was working because he needed time to work on the business.)

I know it’s not his fault, none of this is anyone’s fault, and I know I’m very lucky—a lot of people are much more stressed than I am by external factors. But I am so angry. It’s like my brain and my emotions are out of sync. My brain knows this is temporary, and I’m doing something useful even if it is unpaid, more useful than I did when I was paid if I think about it objectively, but I am so tired and it never ends and every day feels like groundhog day only I can’t even leave my office, which is also my home. In the minutes when no one is asking me to do something, I look at AirBnB and pretend I’m planning a personal vacation (that we can’t afford.) My husband caught me doing this recently and asked if the pretend vacation was for both of us and I said no and he got offended by my need to imagine myself alone and so I yelled at him, because that is what I do now. I yell or I hide in a closet and scream silently like a character in a low-budget Betty Friedan thriller. I need a better coping mechanism but therapy is too expensive and wine strikes me as a short-term crutch on its way to a long-term problem.

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—Very Close To Going Viral As A Karen Over Something Stupid

Dear Very Close,

Wow, you are putting up with so much right now, and it’s really not fair. You thought you were going to get a break from being the breadwinner to spend time with your kids. Now you’re stuck in a country where you’re not fluent in the language, cut off from social support and your previous identity, and scraping by.  And on top of it all, your husband is criticizing you for even imagining being alone on a vacation? Of course you’re filled with rage all the time! Yelling seems like a fairly mild response to the kind of strain you’re under.

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Drop the “I know I’m lucky”—we are trained to parrot this fake gratitude to ourselves and others, and I don’t think it’s doing any of us any good. Sure, things aren’t as bad as they theoretically could be, but that doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to be unhappy and to want something totally different for yourself!

Though your budget doesn’t allow for substantial change right now, you need household help, even if it’s very minimal. Just a couple of hours of babysitting a day or a cleaner who comes and does your most hated chores once a month will make a world of difference. Take this time for yourself to do whatever you want, not what you think you should be doing. Eventually, you will reclaim enough selfhood and mental real estate to make a plan for how you’re going to get yourself and your family back to a less unequal footing. The pandemic is to blame for some of this unbalance, but not all of it, and your husband has to know that having you take care of home and kids among his hostile relatives isn’t going to work out in the long term. When you’re able to bring your best self to the conversation, have a long, detailed talk with him about how you’re going to get back to a better situation as a family.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a master’s level clinical social worker. In the past I worked as a children and family therapist, and I currently work as a school social worker in an elementary school. I work with what we call an “at-risk” population, the kids I work with often come from families who struggle with poverty, proper dental and medical care, food insecurity, trauma histories, sexual abuse, etc. I am also a trained sexual assault advocate.

Now, on to my concern/question. I have a 4 -year-old son and a 2-year-old-son. My father-in-law lives about 6 hours away in another state and comes to visit one weekend a month. He loves his grandsons and my boys love him. He plays with them and reads to them all weekend. He does have some boundary issues that irk me and sometimes irk my husband. For example, if my older son does not listen to an instruction from me the instant I say it, FIL will start harping on him, “Billy, listen to your mother!” “Billy, your mother told you to clean that up!”, he will continue, and follow him around barking instructions unless I interfere. I usually say something to my FIL like “Rob, I got this” and then he stops. Sometimes he tickles the kids when they don’t like it, so I will have to ask him to stop or check to make sure the kids are comfortable. My husband doesn’t really say anything to his dad about these things.

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Last visit my 4-year-old Billy dressed himself and his jeans were on backward. It didn’t bother me. Later in the day we were all in the living room and Rob said “Billy, your pants are on backward, let’s fix that”. He tried to forcibly take my sons pants off with him kicking and saying “no” and he had him pinned on the floor. I said “Rob, he’s fine” and he stopped. This interaction really upset me and now I don’t want him alone with my kids. My husband understands why I am upset but also doesn’t think it’s a big deal. I don’t really think he was trying to molest my son, and I realize that I may be a little “paranoid” because of all of the child sexual abuse I have seen in my job. I still can’t shake this icky feeling that a serious boundary was violated. What do you think?

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—Can’t Shake This Feeling

Dear CSTF,

Trust your gut and your training.  As you’ve noticed, “Rob” is behaving in a way that some child abusers behave—testing your, your husband’s, and your kids’ boundaries in public, which can pave the way to violating them more seriously in private. This doesn’t automatically mean he’s capable of molesting them, of course. But you have nothing to lose by being on the safe side, and preventing him from spending time with them alone seems like a pretty mild precaution. Obviously your husband doesn’t want to believe that your dad could be capable of sexual predation, but he doesn’t have to. You can instead point out that his dad has crossed a line by pinning your son down and taking off his pants, and that alone is reason to make some new rules about who is allowed to have physical contact with your kids, and under what circumstances.  Have the tough conversations about consent and bodily autonomy with your father-in-law and, separately, with your kids and other members of your family. For kids, books about bodily autonomy like Personal Space Camp and Rissy No Kissies can help open up these discussions in an accessible, even fun way.

—Emily

More Advice From Slate

My husband and I have been married for 15 years, and we have two elementary-age kids. A few months ago, I discovered, by accident, that my spouse had long been out of work and had hidden this from me (including lying when I asked specific questions). He had secretly opened multiple credit cards (bills only came to his email) and incurred over $100,000 in debt. What should I do?

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