Care and Feeding

My Mother’s Pressure Campaign for Grandkids Just Crossed a Line

I can’t stand her dramatics anymore!

An older woman crying.
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 am in my early 30s and still unsure if I want kids. My partner feels the same. I am career-focused and have an active social life, so while I’ve always wanted a kid theoretically, it’s not something I feel willing to jump into if I’m not 100 percent sure. I think I would be perfectly fine if my life turns out to be childless.

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My mother, however, is absolutely dead-set on a grandkid. My siblings are unlikely to provide her with one, so I get the full 1,000-watt beam of her broodiness. A while back, when we were talking about climate change, I mentioned that it was “another reason not to have a child” and she literally, no exaggeration, burst into tears on the street. Another time I asked her to sit down instead of hovering in the kitchen and she excitedly asked if I’d asked her to sit down because we had “news.” She talks about these fictional children all the time.

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I have been very clear with her about my uncertainty, and I truly don’t know where to go from here. The pressure eats me up and makes me feel terribly guilty, especially because I might want to have kids one day, and I know by then it could be too late. After the sobbing on the street incident, I told her that it wasn’t fair for her to do this to me, and that it’s my life to live. She did agree with me and apologized, but went on to immediately tell me that if I did have children she could move closer to help take care of them. I otherwise have a pretty good relationship with her, but it’s also complicated by a rough history which isn’t entirely her fault. Part of me wants to tell her that I definitely will not have children so I can get her off my back and get breaking her heart out of the way quickly, like ripping off a Band-Aid. I’m at my wit’s end! Do I just need to suck it up until menopause?

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—Mommy Issues

Dear Mommy Issues,

You have already done what I would have advised you to do first, which is to firmly tell your mother that it’s your life, you’re not obligated to provide her with grandchildren, and it’s not fair for her to pressure you in any way. Of course, she has a right to want what she wants and feel how she feels, but it’s not right if she makes those desires or emotions your problem.

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I might not tell her you’ve definitely made up your mind not to have kids unless that is honestly how you feel. But I would consider asking for a general moratorium on the subject. Make it clear that you don’t want her to bring up the possibility of future children with you from now on, partly because it’s no one else’s business and partly because she’s made the topic such a stressful one. She can talk to other people (literally anyone else in the world except you and your siblings) about her grandkid FOMO; you don’t have to be the person she brings it to!

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I know it is easier said than done, given her behavior, but I hope you do try not to feel guilty or accept even a little bit of responsibility for your mom’s feelings or progress in this area. The work of accepting that she may not have grandchildren is ultimately hers to do—it is in no way on you.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter (13) has recently come out as bi, and when she announced it to my family, they were not thrilled. Most said they love her regardless and largely avoided the topic. Except for my sister “Sue.” Sue is the wife of a preacher and has strong opinions on God’s view of marriage. She replied to my daughter’s coming-out text with “I love you but God didn’t make you gay.” I told her that she is entitled to her opinion, but my daughter didn’t need to hear her interpretation of how God made her. She replied back that she is “concerned for my daughter’s mental health” and that she “would be judged for not telling the truth.” Now none of my children want a relationship with my sister, and I can’t blame them. How/should this relationship be saved?

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—Surprised in Springfield

Dear Surprised,

I don’t think your sister’s relationship with your kids has to be salvaged, but more to the point, I can’t think of an obvious way to do so after what she said. It makes sense that this is a deal-breaker for your daughter as well as her siblings; they have every right to no longer be in contact with a homophobic relative. But I would really encourage you not to think of it as your children cutting your sister off—the failure and rejection here is all on her side. She chose to say terrible things to and about your daughter, and effectively end her relationship with your kids as a result.

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You will need to determine whether you still want to be in touch with your sister after what she’s said to and about your child. If I were you, I really think I’d be done putting time and energy into this particular relationship, unless she changed her mind and sincerely apologized (all of which seem highly unlikely, and even then, you’re certainly not obligated to welcome her back into your lives). But the decision to break off communication with any relative—or even just let the relationship wane—is hard and deeply personal, and you’re the only one who can make that choice for yourself.

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You also mentioned that the rest of your family wasn’t “thrilled” after your daughter came out to them, so you may need to steel yourself for more potentially challenging conversations. I’m sure it’s really sad and difficult for all of you, your daughter most of all, to see family relationships strained or perhaps broken over your relatives’ biases and bad choices. Being around not just one but many relatives who don’t approve of or affirm her could prove so harmful to your daughter—your first responsibility is not to maintain whatever family “peace” (silence) may exist, but to support and look out for her and her well-being.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have two young daughters, 7 and 4. Both are intelligent, compassionate, and strong in the most wonderful ways, yet they couldn’t be more different. My struggle is that everything is easier with my youngest daughter, and I worry it’s impacting my relationship with my 7-year-old. For example, she likes sports and being highly active, whereas my 4-year-old and I are more into books, puzzles, and leisurely walks. My 7-year-old and I always seem to end up in arguments because we misunderstood or were short on patience with each other, things that never happen with my youngest and me, or with her and her dad. It’s as if we are both so different, we tense up just being around each other.

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It’s always been this way. Even when she was a baby, we never seemed to be comfortable with each other, whereas her sister and I jelled immediately. I am so proud of who my older daughter is, and I worry someday she is going to see how little I have to try with her sister and think it’s because I love her less. How do I overcome this? I worry we’ll drift apart and she’ll be the adult daughter who I only see on some holidays. I don’t ever see our interests aligning, and wish there was something for us to bond over. Will knowing that I am just trying be enough for her? What do I do so we can have a smoother relationship?

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— Worried

Dear Worried,

I really think you’ll be OK as long as you remember to celebrate both your kids for who they are—and work on being patient, too, because you know there are things you don’t always immediately understand about your eldest. It might be a little extra work for you to keep this in mind, to take the extra beat before responding, to ask a question instead of arguing, to really try to understand her and where she’s coming from in order to avoid unnecessary conflict. You should still do this extra work. (And of course, sometimes you’ll still argue! It happens; it doesn’t mean you don’t love her just as much.)

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Also, your daughter is 7. There’s so much time for you to discover or seek out a common interest or two! I couldn’t have been more different from my parents, but my mom and I had the beach and Jane Austen, and my dad and I had baseball and Star Trek. They also learned enough about some of my interests to participate or at least talk with me about them and cheer me on. So keep in mind that a lot of this is in your control—you don’t have to sit around waiting for your 7-year-old to start liking the same things you like. We can and often do learn to care about the things our kids love. It doesn’t have to be your favorite thing in the world to be a site for bonding, something you love watching her enjoy, something the two of you talk about together.

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A lot of parents delight in the kids who are most like them, it’s true. But plenty of us also revel in our relationships with the kids who are least like us, because they’re not like us—they show us different ways of communicating and playing and thinking and being (and they don’t constantly remind us of things we might not love about ourselves). Sometimes they do require us to work a bit harder. They also have a lot to teach us.

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More important than having matching personalities or hobbies, you can (and it seems, do) enjoy your 7-year-old as a person. You’re so worried that you’re writing to an advice column about a future, possibly frayed connection with her—you obviously love her a great deal. Sure, kids can and often do notice when it’s tougher for a parent to understand or relate to them, but I think they’re capable of picking up on more positive things, too—like when a parent genuinely loves and wants to spend time with and feel close to them. It’s OK to just tell your daughter as much, whenever you feel like it: Remind her that you love spending time with her, you admire her for who she is, you appreciate and are proud of and love her. I don’t think kids can hear this too often.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My father has a history of being “handsy” with me in a Three Stooges way. It has always felt invasive, and I never felt like I had a choice. All the way up through my 20s, when he gave me a hug, he’d finish it off by pinching me all over my torso. He’d pull me over and give me a spittle-soaked raspberry in my ear. He’d sneak up behind me and put me in a chokehold and grind his knuckles into my head, in public, and laugh. I would constantly tell him it’s gross and push away, but he never stopped. He would give me a guilt trip when I pushed him away, saying, “You don’t like your father, I guess.” Finally, in my early 30s, I wrote him a letter telling him I didn’t want him to touch me in any way, again, ever. He completely respected that and my relationship with him is much better. I finally feel safe around him.

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The issue is with my 11-month-old son. My father gives my son raspberries on his neck. He kisses him repeatedly all over his head. He pokes him in the belly over and over. Seeing this happen makes my blood pressure shoot through the roof. My son, who is very good-natured, doesn’t seem to notice that anything is happening. He doesn’t push his grandfather away or lean in for more, he just keeps on with whatever activity he was doing before. My husband says none of this crosses a line as far as he can see, and I’m just reacting to my own history. I accept that’s probably true, but I still get so stressed when my father picks up my baby.
Should I be trying to get over it? Should I be drawing a line, and if so, where?

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—Stooge’s Daughter

Dear Stooge’s Daughter,

My skin is crawling just reading about the pinching and the ear raspberry, and the fact that your father didn’t listen to or respect your “no” for so long. Given this, and the boundary you had to establish for yourself, I can see why his behavior with your baby would bother you. Yes, your own history has some bearing on how you feel and the things you watch out for as a parent—and that’s understandable. A behavior doesn’t have to horribly cross a line for it to be triggering for you and/or (eventually) bothersome to your son as well.

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I don’t necessarily think you need to just “get over it,” or wait for your son to have some obviously negative reaction. This is making time with your father much harder and stressing you out—and it’s actually in his best interest, too, to not have you completely dreading or gritting your teeth through visits with him. It’s OK to tell him how you feel and see how he responds. And as your kid’s parent, you have the right to draw a line if you want to. It doesn’t have to be the same hard line you had to establish for yourself—you could, for example, say that giving your son a hug or a kiss is fine, while repeated wet raspberries and belly pokes are not. You get to decide what’s OK, until your son is able to say for himself.

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Whether you decide to talk to your dad about this or not, it seems wise to keep an eye on your son—once he’s communicating more, notice what he says or does during these interactions, and be ready to act if he expresses or signals any discomfort. I doubt I need to tell you this, but as with all kids, it’ll be really important to start teaching and talking with him early and often about consent, bodily autonomy, and his right to say what he is comfortable with and not when it comes to physical contact with everyone, including his relatives.

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—Nicole

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