Dear Care and Feeding,
My mother-in-law retired several years ago and is quite well-off. She’s spent her retirement (pre-pandemic) traveling around the world and getting to focus on her passion for art and fashion. I am so happy she’s finally getting the retirement she deserves after working for years in a competitive industry, but I really wish she would stop coming back from these trips with artsy, incredibly expensive clothes for my kids! My stepdaughter is 15, and my daughters are 10 and 5. For their birthdays, MIL always gives them clothes she brings back from her vacations, or more recently, has ordered online, but they are all very expensive, and not exactly practical for any kid.
My 5-year-old recently celebrated her birthday, and MIL sent her a giant faux-fur coat that reaches her feet with giant gold buttons. She loves it, but I know it will immediately become destroyed the second she steps foot in preschool. I was thinking that we could maybe exchange it and get something that was a little less hard to care for, and when I looked up the brand, I learned that the jacket cost over $500! My older daughters have also gotten strange and way-too-expensive sweatshirts and dresses that are not their style and have all ended up buried deep in the back of their closet. We really wish she’d put this money in their college fund or give it to them to spend on clothes they’d wear, because we’re basically letting several thousand dollars’ worth of clothing from over the years go down the drain. But we have no idea how to talk to MIL about this without hurting her feelings, as I worry she’d take it as an insult. How do we (politely) tell her that our kids don’t wear the clothes she spends so much money on?
—Crazy Clothing Woes
It sounds like your mother-in-law gets a lot of pleasure from shopping for these unusual clothing items for your kids. Please don’t mention how expensive the clothes are, or how you wish she’d give them cash instead of “wasting” her money on these gifts. Asking for cash or angling for a present that has a better resale value is not just tacky, it fundamentally misunderstands the expressive potential of gift-giving. Your mother-in-law is overlooking this potential, too. She’s ignoring the kids’ actual personalities and needs, opting instead to buy things for them that she enjoys buying.
There’s a solution, though, which is to gently—but firmly—steer her toward a relationship with your kids that’s less $500-toddler-coat-centric. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a polite but honest conversation about how these clothes are a bit too outré for your kids, and how, while they and you love her fashion sense and generosity, you wish she would connect with them in ways that have more to do with who they are. Maybe the older ones could look at magazines or online fashion shows with her and talk about what styles they gravitate toward, or maybe they don’t want clothes at all and would rather get a memento of a landmark or a beautiful stone from a beach. In an ideal world, gifts bring people closer because they communicate something the giver feels for the recipient. Someone who gravitates toward wild fashion has the potential to embrace this idea as a creative challenge, I hope.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I would never tell her this, but my almost 7-year-old is, well, a crybaby. She cries about understandable kid things like skinning her knee, but she also cries about just about anything else—when her brother annoys her, when it’s time for her to make her bed, brushing her hair, when Netflix freezes, when we’re not having her favorite foods at dinner, when it’s too hot at soccer practice, etc. I would say the over/under is three times a day. Generally, I have not wanted to punish her for experiencing feelings, and so there are usually no consequences for crying, but we also really try not to “solve” the reasons for her crying ourselves. I thought she would grow out of it, but she hasn’t and seems to have no natural filter for not crying in front of classmates or extended family. Generally she is a cheery, well-adjusted kid interested in the world. But I worry this could be at best something that becomes harder for her socially, and more ominously a sign of a lack of resiliency. What’s an age appropriate way to deal with crying?
—Don’t Want to Put Crybaby in a Corner
First, I have to give you the standard caveat that I’m an internet advice columnist, not a doctor or even a therapist—you want to consider consulting your pediatrician and/or a therapist to make sure there isn’t some underlying physical or psychological issue.
Some kids are better than others at regulating their emotions, and from my own experience with a very emotionally volatile kid, I’m learning that it can be very tricky to comfort and support your meltdown-prone kid without subtly reinforcing the behavior. As a parent, it was important for me to internalize that kids’ (and adults’!) emotions are never wrong, but that the way we express them can be disruptive and inappropriate. The challenge, then, is giving your child the right amount of validation and support—“I hear you that you were frustrated when Netflix froze! That annoys me, too” etc.—without inadvertently creating a cycle where they’re melting down to get “rewarded” with comfort, attention, or bribes to get them to calm down, or whatever else we have been doing when we needed to just make the crying stop so we can move on with our lives.
Working on strategies for cheering up and self-soothing when your kid is experiencing a moment of calm and happiness is key. You make a list of things to think about when sadness hits, practice breathing exercises, create a ritual that involves sensory toys or a journal—you get the idea. It will take some trial and error to find the strategies that work for your particular sensitive kid. But I think you are absolutely on the right track, and that with some support she will learn to feel her feelings in ways that don’t make everyone around her feel like sobbing, too.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I have been married for 3 years. Prior to marriage we had talked extensively about how we both wanted kids. We agreed to wait at least one year after marriage before trying. After that year we BOTH reevaluated and decided to wait longer. After two years we knew we needed a little more time as we were both going through career changes. Finally, in December 2020 we agreed to start trying to expand our family. Things still aren’t exactly where we want financially and career-wise, but we decided that they may never be 100 percent, and we are both ready to try. I have PCOS so this requires some doctor planning who gave us the green light to try in the end of January 2021. We had been trying for 4 months (January, February, March, and most of April). At that point my husband and I started feeling like we were a little off track and needed to figure out where, maybe because we were focusing too much on trying to have a baby while also dealing with all these other changes in our lives. Unfortunately, he is no longer ready to try to have kids “right now” but still wants them “eventually.” This has broken my heart. Further, I had already started treatments to try to get pregnant due to my underlying medical conditions, and we are both in our 30s, so the clock is ticking.
How do I address this? We normally are so great at communicating but this off track feeling is making it feel more difficult to talk about this and of course I’m not about to pressure someone into having a kid they don’t want. I’m unsure of what to do.
Dear Baby Brain,
Trying to conceive can be enormously stressful under ordinary circumstances, and this past year has been far from ordinary. Even if you haven’t experienced any COVID-related losses personally, you and your husband are probably still healing from the pandemic’s impact in ways that you haven’t had time to address yet, because you are human. I want to extend compassion to both of you while also suggesting that healing doesn’t always happen without conscious intention and support.
Your feelings of heartbreak are completely valid, but deep down I think you know it’s for the best that your husband raised this concern now, rather than waiting until you were pregnant and then freaking out. The vague “off track” feeling could mean any number of things, and you owe it to your relationship and any future children to communicate openly and honestly about what’s going on. It’s hard to trust someone who changes his mind about something so important to you, especially when you’ve already put this much emotional, mental and physical effort behind the plan to have a kid. Hopefully, he’s willing to work through this with you, maybe even with a therapist to guide your conversations and keep you two focused on what you share and what you mutually want from the future. Don’t let fear of knowing what underlies his waffling prevent you from delving into the heart of your relationship issues; especially because you want to have kids, it’s better to learn as much as you can sooner rather than later.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m 34 and have happily been seeing someone for three months. It’s still new, but it’s going well and he’s very normal, mature, and together. My best friend is hosting a fourth birthday party for her son next month, and I asked if I could bring my +1. She declined because she isn’t ready to bring someone new into her son’s world and “still has PTSD” from my ex being in her baby shower photos (4.5 years ago!). She is absolutely justified in controlling who is around her son. I am a wildly overprotective “aunty” and do not have a reputation for bringing around randos. There are going to be lots of people at this party, and I’m confident her son isn’t going to know many of the adults (like parents of new school friends). It feels inconsiderate and hurtful that she declined my request to bring my boyfriend, especially since I have to drive 1.5 hours each way and don’t know many people there except her parents. Am I out of line to feel miffed? I feel like she’s being very selfish and inconsiderate and forgetting that adults typically don’t love attending children’s birthday parties where they don’t know anybody. Should I talk to her or let it go? Either way, I’ll respect her decision and show up as cool aunty solo.
—Cool Aunty Solo
Dear Cool Aunty,
Sorry, what?? A four-year-old’s birthday party is going to be un-fun for adults whether you get to bring a plus one or not. That’s because it’s a child’s birthday party, which is a party for children. Go out with your new boyfriend afterwards to get the taste of juice boxes and frosting out of your mouth, if you want. The reason you attend a kids’ party as a single adult is as a favor to your friend, to mark a milestone in her life (her kid turning four). It was unkind of her to bring up the baby shower photos, but I view that as really neither here nor there. People who are throwing a party get to determine who attends said party unless it’s a very casual bring-whoever kind of deal, and she’s made it clear that this one isn’t. If you talk to her, maybe just focus on how the thing she said about your ex ruining the shower pictures rubbed you the wrong way, and if you want, make a plan for her to meet the important new person in your life at some other non-kid-centric social event soon.
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My husband and I are expecting our first child. We’re both in graduate school and have a pretty tight income right now. We have lots of flexibility with our schedules, but both have a lot of work to accomplish, and that work takes a lot of mental energy and focus. We qualify for a child care subsidy that would put day care within the realm of possibility. My husband is open to this but has suggested we split up the childcare between us. I’m deeply skeptical. What should we do?