Care and Feeding

I Can’t Bear My In-Laws’ Silent Judgment

A woman holds her newborn baby.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Kohei Hara/iStock/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,

My 12 weeks old baby girl is on the skinny side and consistently low on the weight growth chart. I breastfeed her, and although it was tough for the first few weeks, we’re pretty good at it now. Our medical team is not worried about her weight and my breastfeeding, but they do check up on her on a regular basis for good measure (from daily after birth to every two weeks now). You’ll have to believe me when I say that my daughter is a healthy, little baby who’s hitting all milestones … she’s just a skinny kid who scores very low on the weight chart. (For what it’s worth, I myself am petite and on the lighter side, and my husband is the poster boy for “tall and lanky.”)

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Recently he has raised his concerns for our baby’s weight. I later realized that, in fact, my husband started raising his concern only after his parents’ last visit. They had a text conversation telling him they are worried that our daughter seems to be hungry all the time, and that she looks gaunt and we should give her formula ASAP. I was shocked. I’ve now had the “our baby is healthy, stop worrying about a number on the growth chart” conversation several times with my husband, and I’ve given him the number of our medical team for any further questions.

My main issue is that my in-laws are coming back soon, and I absolutely do not want to see them or have them near my daughter. I’m so hurt by the comments they made behind my back (especially calling my baby “gaunt”), and I am scared of having them silently judging me. I know they’re coming from a place of love, and they worry for their granddaughter, but this has hurt me to my core. It keeps me up at night, I feel guilty, I question myself and my choices. These feelings are probably exacerbated by the fact that his parents have visited us four times now, but I’ve not seen my parents in a year due to the pandemic, so I’m starting to feel very delicate and isolated. I’m also starting to resent my husband a little for not trusting my gut instinct when I say that our daughter, the baby I grew for nine months in my own body, is well and healthy. How can I get past all this, and relax when his parents next show up? I feel I will be so defensive.

Advertisement
Advertisement

—Is My Baby Just Skinny?

Advertisement

Dear IMBJS,

People often forget how fraught and scary early parenthood can be. It’s likely that your in-laws have no idea how hurtful their comments were, though of course this is no excuse for their insensitive behavior. The deep-seated fear that you might be unwittingly doing something harmful to your baby, though your rational mind knows that she’s fine, can be hard to shake. I still remember some of the offhand comments that people made after my first son was born! Under ordinary circumstances I’d have been able to shrug them off, but these aren’t ordinary circumstances: You’re exhausted, your life has just changed completely forever, and you are responsible for keeping a helpless human alive 24/7. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed and on edge.

Advertisement

Taking care of an infant is hard, exhausting work. Everyone who visits during the first few months of your baby’s life needs to know that the expectation is that they are there to help you. Your husband needs to set this expectation with his parents—it doesn’t sound like he has yet. In the absence of help from your parents, are there other COVID-safe ways to build up your support network? Socializing may seem more exhausting than replenishing, but you need to be around people who are going through the same thing you’re going through, whether that means an online group or a safe hang with a trusted friend. Your hurt feelings are real and valid, but your weepiness and sleeplessness are also possible signs of postpartum depression and anxiety, and seeing a therapist who specializes in treating postpartum patients could make all the difference in the world.

Advertisement
Advertisement

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

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Advertisement

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m the oldest of four sisters. We’re all in our 30s, and we’re all close. The issue is with my youngest sister, Jasmine. Until a few years ago, my parents financially and emotionally coddled Jasmine to the point that she was unable to function independently. After she flunked out of college, she moved to an expensive city and our parents paid her rent plus an allowance. My parents called in favors to get her a series of cushy office jobs, which she’d always quit after a few weeks because she was bored. This went on for years. My sisters and I would sometimes try to point out to our parents that their behavior was hurting Jasmine rather than helping her, to no avail. We felt excluded and hurt by this codependent dynamic, but I can admit that I definitely took it the hardest.

Advertisement

Four years ago, something dramatic happened that finally made my parents realize both that Jasmine had truly become a monster, and that it was their fault. They started enforcing financial boundaries, and made a real effort to treat her like an adult. (They also apologized to me for not listening to what I’d been trying to tell them.) Jasmine flourished, like I’d always known she would. She finished her degree, found a career, moved back to our hometown, and met a great guy, Colin. She’s capable and independent to a degree that seemed impossible just a few years ago. Then the pandemic happened.

Advertisement

When lockdown began, Jasmine and Colin merged their bubble with my parents (my sisters and I all live in other cities). Jasmine also announced that she’s pregnant—this will be my parents’ first grandkid, and they’re over the moon. Now my parents are falling back into their old enabling habits—both financial and emotional—and Jasmine’s going right along with it. All my parents can talk about is Jasmine: what Jasmine wants, what Jasmine deserves, what they’re buying for Jasmine. They’re taking their house off the market because Jasmine wants to have the baby’s first birthday in the backyard; they’re buying them a new car with the latest safety features; my parents are planning to watch the baby after Jasmine goes back to work.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Recently, my mom talked endlessly about Jasmine on the phone to me, and when I asked if we could talk about something different, my mom accused me of being selfish and jealous. My other sisters agree that the red flags are waving, but they both think we should leave it alone.

I know that bringing this up would be disruptive. But I feel helpless watching people I love fall back into old patterns that are harmful. I feel like my only options are to be the instigator of “family drama” and consequently the bad guy, or to suck it up and accept that these relationships we’d all worked so hard to repair are going to be distant and strained again. What should I do?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

—Suffering Sister

Dear Suffering,

By all means, have a conversation with your parents about how their relationship with Jasmine affects you. But do your best to surround yourself with caring friends’ support beforehand, and keep your expectations low.

Your parents have shown you time and again that, for reasons they themselves may not fully understand, they prefer to have an enabling relationship with Jasmine that infantilizes her and keeps her dependent on them, at the expense of their relationships with you and your other sisters.  At this point, I would not expect them to be capable of real change. If they can at least acknowledge how their behavior is affecting you, great. But they might not even be able to do that, at least not right now.

Advertisement

I don’t want you to “suck it up” anymore. You are, as you say, suffering. Trying to preserve a close relationship with people who don’t see you clearly or respect your needs is damaging, and you have permission to stop trying to do that. Instead, you can build a relationship with your parents and siblings that’s on your own terms, with boundaries that protect you from being manipulated and hurt by them. This won’t come about effortlessly or painlessly, and you will most likely need help from a therapist, plus non–family members who love you. Please, don’t waste any more of your time and energy feeling responsible for the harm caused by your parents and Jasmine and trying to smooth things over among your siblings. You need and deserve more than they are capable of giving.

Advertisement
Advertisement

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

We moved to a new town in the summer of 2019, just in time for our 10-year-old to start fifth grade at the local public school. She really struggled during her first year there—she’s shy and has always had a hard time making friends, and regularly ate lunch alone and sat by herself during recess. She came home almost every day saying that she hated school, and she hated everyone there. I tried setting up a get-together with other kids in her class, but the other kids talked together and semi-ignored her. When I reached out to her teacher, she said that she’d noticed my daughter sitting alone but couldn’t force her to be included, although she promised to try. Then the pandemic hit, and my daughter had to spend the rest of the school year and the whole summer alone at home, only hanging out with her cousins.

Advertisement

Around the start of this school year, she met and made friends with four other girls her age in our neighborhood, and the change in her has been amazing. She still doesn’t like her school and struggles in breakout rooms, but it now starts later and ends earlier than normal school, and she can ride bikes with her friends or walk around the neighborhood with them. She’s excited every day to spend time with her friends. But her friends all attend an all-girls private middle and high school that my daughter now desperately wants to attend as well. And while my husband and I can afford to send her there, I’m hesitant to.

Advertisement

I don’t really like private schools in general, because I feel that they’re less diverse and more competitive learning environments. Since my husband is Asian, I also feel concerned about putting her in a private school that has a lot more white students. (Even though one of her friends is Latina and one is Asian, so at least in her friend group she’s not the only person of color.) A big part of the school’s mission is “empowering and accepting all girls and helping them love learning,” but I still feel unsure about it. But my daughter is desperate to leave her current school, where she says she feels unwelcome, and has told us repeatedly that all she wants next year is to be with her friends and go to a school with “lots of other girls like them.”

Advertisement
Advertisement

She’s above average for her grade in math and English, and has said the work is “easy,” so my husband thinks that a school that focuses on girls loving to learn might be a good place for her to broaden her horizons (she’s currently doing that via Khan Academy). I just don’t know if middle school friendships (which can be fickle) are worth switching schools for. But on the other hand I’ve seen how lonely my daughter is at her current school, and I don’t want to force her to stay and spend the rest of her time there friendless and excluded. What do you think we should do?

Advertisement

—School Dilemma in SF

Dear SDiSF,

Advertisement

I have a lot of compassion for your daughter, and for you trying to navigate what’s best for her. It does sound like fifth grade was brutal; it’s an especially tough time in a kid’s life to move to a new town, and then to be further isolated by the pandemic. The new group of neighborhood friends sounds fantastic. I totally understand wanting to do whatever you can to keep her as happy as she’s become these last few months.

Everyone who sends their kid to private school has some way of justifying it—a story like yours about how their kid has social, emotional, or educational needs that their local public school can’t meet.  Well, not everyone—some people don’t think twice about buying the “best” education they can afford. You say you are second-guessing yourself because this private school is too white and too competitive, but you’ve mostly talked yourself out of those worries because your daughter is smart and her particular friend group is diverse. I think you are mostly asking for a seal of approval that you have already 99 percent awarded to yourself.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Instead, I’d like for you and your husband to think through the structural implications of your decision. Do some research about the ethics of choosing private school in general, as well as finding out everything you can about the particular school you’re planning to send her to. Be honest with yourselves about the effect that your choice has on the city you live in and your community.  Parenting responsibly isn’t just about what’s best for our own kids; no one parents in a vacuum. Raising children can entail a commitment to justice in the larger world that our children will inherit, and a decision as big as this one has to be made with respect for both what’s right for your kid and what’s right, period.

Advertisement

Dear Care and Feeding,

When my husband and I got married, we both wanted a big family. I, personally, would love to have six or seven children; my husband wasn’t quite there, and we settled on four. Our third is now almost 2, and I’m ready to start trying for our fourth. The thing is, while I was pregnant with our third, my husband got a very scary medical diagnosis that required some pretty serious surgery, months of rehab, and, while he’s now healthy and fully recovered, there will always be a chance this issue will recur. So, my husband has decided he no longer wants a fourth child. Of course, his reasons are perfectly legitimate—he says we should be thankful for the healthy children we already have, that we got through his ordeal relatively unscathed, and that he doesn’t want to tempt fate. I almost completely understand where he’s coming from, but part of me argues that the fact that we made it through his health scare means the universe wants us to have another child. Whenever I try to bring it up though, he shuts down, and says it’s no longer a topic for discussion. He’s even threatening to get a vasectomy. I don’t know where to go from here. I have no intention of breaking up our family over this, but I can’t help but feel resentful, and I’m afraid I’ll never be able to let that go. Is there any hope of getting past this?

Advertisement
Advertisement

—Written in the Stars

Dear Written,

Leaving aside the unknowable mystery of the universe’s will for a sec, let’s reassess the facts we know for sure. You and your husband originally agreed on four kids, but his recent health crisis led him to reassess his capacities, and now he wants to stop at three. You originally wanted six or seven, but settled on four, and while you see his point, a part of you feels that it’s unfair for him to change the rules in the middle of the game.

I’m sympathetic to your position, but I also see where your husband is coming from. When you were first deciding how many children you wanted, those children were abstractions, and now three of them are people. It’s bad form to renege on a deal, but neither of you had all the information you needed when you struck that deal.

You’re not getting anywhere by discussing this issue with your husband, so maybe it’s time to talk it out with a therapist or trusted friend. Your resentment and anger are valid, and you shouldn’t feel that you have to hide or stifle your feelings in order to keep the peace. With time, I hope you will come to a more settled place on the other side of this, whatever the universe turns out to have up its sleeve.

—Emily

Advertisement