Dear Care and Feeding,
I am the mother of an 18-month-old. My husband’s older brother and sister-in-law have spent the entirety of my pregnancy and the 18 months of my child’s life changing their minds about what they’d like to be called. They insist against being called the titles for uncle and aunt in my primary language, although they also speak it. (Perhaps it should be noted that that is what their children call us, and it was the parents’ choice, not ours.) We have attempted to compromise and dutifully teach our child whatever titles they suggest, only to have them change their minds again.
This has resulted in my child not calling them anything. It feels like they’ve neglected to actually communicate with my child and are only focused on what titles they like. I’ve tried my best to respect their right to their own relationship with their nephew and to be called whatever they like, but they’ve recently arrived at four syllable long titles that roughly translate to “elder father” and “elder mother,” and I hate them so much. My husband had expressed I didn’t prefer these titles when my son was born, yet these were announced to us on our last visit. Is there a way to end this, or do I continue sitting back in feigned amusement at the antics of these veteran parents who really should know better?
—Why Are We Having This Conversation?
I’m completely on your side here. It’s quite obvious to any reasonable adult that your relatives are being selfish in regard to this. As the famous saying goes, “the main thing is to ensure that the main thing remains the main thing”—and the main thing should be that they have a healthy relationship with your son.
I understand there could be some cultural issues at play in your situation, but I’m also assuming that you would never allow your son to address them in a disrespectful manner, right? So if that’s the case, you get to decide what he’ll call them, just like they made the decision on what their children call you.
Quite frankly your husband should be the one to have this conversation, since it’s his brother, but if he fails to step up, it may end up falling on you. Remember that you’re 100 percent in charge of this situation because we’re talking about your child. If your relatives push back on it, you can simply say, “Look, he’s my son and I’m going with titles that he feels comfortable with. Your titles may work for your kids, but they don’t work for mine.” And as I said earlier, after you have that discussion, you simply need to remind them that the bond is what’s truly important here.
This is just one of many times you’ll need to stand up for yourself as a parent and for your kiddo.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I have fond memories of playing chess with my father when I was young. So I bought my 7-year-old son, Octavian, a set and have started teach it to him. This might be premature. I remember my father telling me not to expect to win, that it took him years to beat his father. I’m not sure I ever beat him, but I do remember a sublime sense of accomplishment that one time I took his queen. But I think Octavian may not be as patient as I was. He never wants to play, and simply has trouble accepting not winning, or that this isn’t a game like Snakes and Ladders or Go Fish where everybody’s bound to win some of the time. And I don’t really want to let him win—for one thing, I’m not sure I’m a good enough of a player to do so convincingly. Should I just shelve it for a while? I realize he may never take to chess, but I also don’t want to turn him against it by pushing it too heavily now so that it seems like a chore. I was also thinking that perhaps my wife and I should start playing and then Octavian can just watch and get a sense of the game without the stakes of winning and losing. Or are there other games I should use to bring him up to chess?
—Searching for the Knight
Similar to you, I really enjoy playing chess. My 10-year-old daughter also enjoys it because she’s a patient kid who loves strategy games. My 7-year-old daughter on the other hand, completely lacks patience and despises chess, so instead she thrives at active games like basketball. It all depends on your child.
My point is, you should introduce your son to as many games and activities as possible. Just know that he may not vibe with the same things you do, and pushing him to like something will end up having the opposite effect. However, your suggestion is a good one. If you and your wife enjoy chess, you should play while he watches. He may not find it interesting or it may spark his curiosity. Either way, I would back off on the chess for a bit, and not force him to play.
Also, keep in mind that the kid is 7. He has plenty of time to warm up to chess or something else. Diversify his activities and when he finds something that clicks, do your part to help him grow and be successful.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I am an aunt to a 9-year-old nephew and a 5-year-old niece. My brother and sister-in-law are dedicated parents and the kids are growing up in a loving environment. The kids are happy, smart, and carefree. They are also very (white) privileged, with little interaction with BIPOC populations. I live across the country and see the family a few weeks in the summer and winter holidays. My brother and I have long-standing differing political and religious/spiritual beliefs but we are respectful and get along well. My brother and SIL have a “let them be kids while they can” perspective, translating to “protecting” them from current social and political events.
I am careful to respect my brother’s explicit request to not “talk politics” to their kids. That being said, I feel I have the potential to provide education to my niece and nephew about diverse communities and viewpoints that they may not be getting at home. I have bought feminist-oriented story books featuring male and female role models, which we’ve read together. My niece is really into dancing (including hip-hop) so at various points, I’ve tried to show her talented dancer/singer celebrities who have a range of skin tones. Beyond these (very minor) efforts, I’m still at a loss on how better to encourage anti-racist attitudes and opportunities to instill respect and admiration for individuals from many backgrounds. My heart broke recently when I gave my niece a mermaid doll with brown skin tone and she said the doll would be prettier with lighter skin. My nephew quickly pointed out that this was “mean” to Black people. Any ideas on how an aunt can expose and educate the kids about anti-racism and diverse communities?
Dear Anti-Racist Aunt,
This is tricky, because as I’ve said before around here—unless the kids are in serious danger, your job isn’t to save other people’s children. I know you love your niece and nephew and want what’s best for them, but their parents have the final say.
However, I can’t help but roll my eyes whenever white parents say they want to “protect” their kids from current social and political events by not talking about them. Hell, I was called the N-word by a white person as a 9-year-old. Who protected me from that? I have the same belief that you do in the sense that the only way to truly fix this dumpster fire of a country we find ourselves in is to have uncomfortable conversations with our kids about racism, politics, social issues, and more. It truly is the height of privilege to have the luxury to not concern yourself with those topics, when people like me have to deal with them every day whether I want to or not.
I think what you’re doing is spot on. Continue to introduce the kids to diverse people who are making the world a better place through books, kid-friendly movies, etc. When you visit them in-person this summer, take them to the nearest big city and have them soak in the diversity. Eat at ethnic restaurants, go to museums, let them play at parks with kids who don’t look the same as them. If you really want to push the envelope, you can invite them to take part in an anti-racism workshop (I run one for kids), but that may be a tough sell for parents who choose to ignore racism in America.
Again, the sad thing about this situation is you can’t save everyone. You can do your part to introduce your niece and nephew to diversity from afar and during the short time you have with them face to face, but at the end of the day, if the parents aren’t on board, it’s going to be an uphill climb for them. The best you can do is to be as anti-racist as possible at all times and hopefully it will rub off on the kids and their parents.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I have a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old, but this is more of a general question, one I feel many young parents are grappling with. No matter which modern parenting manual you read, or specialist you hear talking, they all seem to emphasize the long-term effect of their methods. You should use a baby carrier, not because it’s practical or makes your baby feel safe, but because it will make her more securely attached and better prepared to form functional relationships as an adult. You should sit next to your toddler during a tantrum and murmur “I respect your anger” in his ear, lest he will not learn to identify his emotions and develop an alcohol addiction. Rewarding or punishing him, or even complimenting him? You are crushing his internal motivation and he will never find his passion. Spoon feeding your baby instead of baby-led weaning? Sure, if you want him to become obese! And of course every drop of breast milk guarantees seven extra IQ points and decades of gut health. I know some parenting practices are better than others. And I know the early years are formative. But it’s hard to parent when you feel like every single interaction with your child could potentially ruin their future. And it’s hard to shut these voices out. So how would you advise young parents on how to find out what is important and what is not?
—Just Want to Parent In Peace
Dear Just Want to Parent in Peace,
Just. Follow. Your. Gut.
Raising kids is hard and if you find yourself obsessing over scholarly parenting articles, you’ll lose all of the joy that comes with the gig. Listen, when I grew up, my two brothers and I watched a ton of television, ate a ton of sugar, and got into a ton of trouble. As I sit here now, my older brother is a corporate executive with three degrees (one of them from Harvard), and my twin brother and I are both bestselling authors, TEDx speakers, and entrepreneurs. In other words, we turned out just fine.
I truly believe parents were happier when they didn’t have all of this ridiculous information at their fingertips. I’m not here to say that you should put your kids in front of an iPad for 10 hours a day while feeding them a steady diet of Skittles. I’m just saying that if you want proof that you’re doing parenting “wrong,” all you have to do is open up a web browser and you’ll find it. Instead, you should focus on the joy that comes from being a parent. Enjoy the smiles when you chase your baby across the room, the impromptu dance parties, the vacations, the snuggles, and everything good that comes from raising tiny humans.
Nobody knows your kids better than you do. What works for my kids may not work for yours, and vice versa. Trust your gut, learn from the cues your kids give you, and most importantly — be present and happy.
As the saying goes, the days are long, but the years are short. Don’t waste them by focusing on things that don’t really matter in the long run.
More Advice From Slate
I just got home from a weekend visit with my close friend, her husband, and two sons (aged 3 and 1). We have been friends for more than 20 years and visit each other regularly. This time, the just-turned-3-year-old was in a tantrum-throwing stage … about pretty much everything. It was an extremely uncomfortable weekend, and I have some ideas about what might help their situation. Is it out of line for me to offer unsolicited advice?