Dear Care and Feeding,
My 12-year-old daughter is on a recreational swim team and was invited to join the “elite” competition team. She was one of five people on her team to be invited, and three of the others are her best friends. Needless to say, she’s out-of-her-mind excited and begging me to let her be on the team. But the team is hosted at our local country club; yearly membership to the club is required to be on it.
Finances aren’t an issue, and I don’t mind the extra practices and competitions. It’s just that … we’re not really country club people. We took a tour of the club once, and I felt uncomfortable and underdressed. My husband thinks we should give in, as our daughter is a great kid who has never given us any trouble, is a straight A student, and does her chores without being asked. Her friends’ families are already club members, and I know she’s felt left out in the past when they’ve hung out there without her. But I feel that doing this would be spoiling her. I don’t want her to be an entitled country club kid! I suggested getting the membership but only for swimming, and never going there otherwise—never eating there or using any of the amenities—but my husband thinks that’s a waste of money (I think he just wants to go golfing there). So we’re looking for a third opinion. Would you join a country club so your daughter could join the swim team?
—Not the Country Club Type
Yes, I would.
(I’d let my husband go golfing, too, by the way.)
If I didn’t feel I was the country club type—and oh, let me tell you, I am definitely not—if the place made me feel uncomfortable and underdressed, etc., I wouldn’t go. But I wouldn’t ruin everybody else’s fun. Unless this club has racist or other abhorrent policies, I don’t see any harm in this. And I wouldn’t worry about it suddenly turning your level-headed kid into an entitled brat. She is already who she is, and she sounds great.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m a mom of two—a 2-year-old and a 6-week-old—and I’m feeling some serious mom guilt. I had a repeat C-section, and my recovery is slower this time. My toddler has been going to daycare while I care for the baby at home (my husband does drop-off and pick-up because I can’t lift her yet, and although we’ve taught her to climb in and out of her carseat, she doesn’t always cooperate). We were planning on keeping her home starting mid-June, but she’s started being rebellious, which, while normal, is really hard on me. We’ve tried visual schedules, giving her as much independence as possible, and making sure she has one on one time with me, but it seems like it’s not enough. I’m worried if we pull her from daycare, I won’t be able to handle her when she decides she won’t get out of the car or refuses to come inside after playing. I hurt my back badly after I had her, and I need to be careful not to re-injure it (it doesn’t help, either, that we live in a two-story house now!). Do I keep her in daycare all summer even though I have time off from work, thus missing out on time I could have had with her? Is there a way to get my toddler to be more compliant? I feel so guilty about not being able to take care of both of my kids! Am I a bad mom if I spend more time with my newborn because I have trouble physically handling my toddler right now?
—Rookie Mom of Two
You are not a bad mom! You are, as moms so often are, in an impossible situation. And being at home alone with a new baby and a perfectly predictably “rebellious” 2-year-old, while slowly recovering from surgery and dealing with an old injury that could reassert itself at any time, is—as you’ve already figured out—not a great solution to your impossible situation. You have a better solution, though, even if it isn’t perfect: you can keep your older child in daycare for the summer. You don’t mention how she feels about daycare—if she’s happy there, if there’s no crisis at drop-off time—or how you feel about her daycare, but since you don’t seem to have any worries on either of those fronts, I think it makes sense to concentrate on the issues you are struggling with.
First: there are plenty of people who do their damnedest to get their toddlers to be more compliant, but since (as you acknowledge) this noncompliance is an appropriate developmental stage, you’re much better off waiting it out—I promise, it passes. Plus, she’s working some things out that can only be worked out in this way, and if she doesn’t do it now, you’ll be in for it later. Second: PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, try your best to let go of your guilt. I know this is hard. For me, it was perhaps the single hardest thing about early motherhood. I felt guilty about everything, and anything I did to take care of myself seemed to me wrong, selfish—a mistake for which I’d never be able to forgive myself. My Mother’s Day gift to you is offering official Care and Feeding dispensation to be guilt-free about relying on child care for your toddler.
This is a particularly difficult period for your family. It will not last forever. Do whatever you have to do to make it work. And then, of course, keep in mind that there will be other no-win situations—an endless, ever-changing supply of them. You will always be making choices that involve tradeoffs. And you’ll always need to keep an eye on the big picture. But there will be so much joy, too, in that picture! And while right now it’s hard to see past the current situation, your baby won’t be a newborn forever, your balky 2-year-old won’t be in her “you’re-not-the-boss-of-me” phase forever, and you won’t be recovering from the C-section forever. Let’s just get through this part, shall we?
Dear Care and Feeding,
I have a son who just turned 3 and another who is 4.5 months. Due to COVID, my mother, who lives out of state, hasn’t yet met the baby and it’s been a year and a half since she’s seen my older child. But now that we’re all vaccinated (yay!), she wants to come visit, and she wants to bring her new husband. I don’t really have a relationship with him (they met when I was in my late 20s, living several states away, eight years ago; they got married two weeks ago), but I’m not a fan. He’s not a fan of mine, either. (This is not just a suspicion: he badmouths me to my own father and sister, saying I’m too uptight and high strung.) He also likes to offer unsolicited advice about everything, including child-rearing. Since he has never been a parent, I have a pretty low tolerance for his advice on that subject.
My older son has been going through a rough patch after a variety of things happened that have shaken up his well-established routine (new baby included). When I was on the phone with my mom recently, her husband chimed in with advice (oh yeah, I forgot to mention that he listens in on every conversation anyone has with her) and I couldn’t help it, I finally let her know that his unsolicited advice was unwelcome.
I realize that my opinion of him is low enough that he’s in a can-do-no-right position. It feels a bit cruel to mention that everyone else I know, aside from my mother, also can’t stand the guy, but it probably offers some perspective as well. My challenge right now is that my stress level is very high, and we are doing our best in a tough home environment. While I am eager to introduce my baby to my mom, I am filled with dread at the idea of this man being in my home. Not only do I not need someone judging my husband’s and my parenting right now, but I also worry that I won’t be able to keep my cool when he does get under my skin. My sister thinks I should be straightforward with my mom and tell her I want her to come by herself, leaving the husband at home. I think this could create a permanent rift between us. My husband thinks an even more severe permanent rift is inevitable when I lose it on him while they’re here. Your thoughts?
—Dreading A Visit
I’m sorry you’re going through such a rough time. It seems terribly unfair, I know, that you can’t rely on your mother to help you through it—or even just to visit and bring a little lightness and love into the scene, without the man you dislike so much casting his unpleasant shadow over it. He doesn’t sound like much fun, that’s for sure. But here’s the thing. Your mom loves him, and she has bound her life up with his. This wasn’t a casual decision on her part, either—not if they dated for eight years before marrying. So if your mother is going to continue to be a part of your life, I’m afraid he is going to be, too.
That doesn’t mean you have to grin and bear it all the time. He sounds like a pill and a blowhard, at best—and a controlling creep, at worst (listening in on all her phone calls?!). While I don’t see any upside in your spelling out for Mom how very much you detest her husband (I’m sure she has an inkling that he isn’t your favorite person), I don’t think there’s any harm in telling her that things are very strained and difficult for you right now, and that it would be much easier on you if this time she visited alone. You might even say that this is a moment in your life when you just feel like you need your mother. You might tell her how much you love and miss her—and how much you’re hoping for some precious time alone with her too (that is, that this visit is not only for her to see her grandchildren, but to spend time with her daughter). If she refuses to make the trip without her husband, and you really cannot stand the thought of having him in your house right now (emphasis again, because I don’t think you can forbid a visit from the two of them together ever unless you’re willing to cut ties with your mom—and if you ask her to choose between her husband and you, you are likely to lose), then I think you can tell her, gently and with many reassurances of love, that in that case this is just not a good time for a visit.
In other words, I would not be as draconian as your sister is suggesting. But I would also not simply capitulate without making your own needs and feelings known. (And if she says she cannot visit without bringing him—if she is hurt/insulted at the very idea of it—and you want to see her badly enough that you are willing to endure the presence of her irritating partner, and then you do blow up at him at some point during their visit, I don’t think a “severe permanent rift” is inevitable. After all, you warned her.)
Honestly, it’s amazing how much good just talking things through with the people we love can do. It’s all in the way we phrase things. (“Mom, I love you so much. And I wish I got along better with Bob—I’m trying, I really am. But sometimes he gets under my skin.”) If you do end up going along with your mother’s insistence that he accompany her, and you do “lose it,” you can apologize. But you can also tell her how much you wish that you could still occasionally have a little time alone with her.
My Mother’s Day gift to you, Dreading, is to assure you that it’s OK to tell her that you want that time alone with her now. (My Mother’s Day gift to her—just in case she’s listening in on this—is to tell her that it’s OK to say yes to that, for both your sakes.)
Dear Care and Feeding,
I am a 34-year-old woman, married and so far childless (hubby and I are thinking of fostering in a few years when we are a bit more financially stable). I have one older sister who has two kids. My sister and I have never been super close—I love her, but we have very little in common, and we live at a distance from each other. We got somewhat closer when our mom passed away a few years ago, but we’re just fundamentally very different people (she’s an evangelical pastor’s wife, I’m a polyamorous sex-positive cannabis user) and my relationship with my niece and nephew is surface-level because I can’t really be my full self around them.
In the past year or so, my niece, age 14, got her own cell phone, which I initially thought would be a great way for us to be closer, but it has presented some awkwardness that I’m not sure how to handle. My sister and brother-in-law are good people and also what I consider good Christians (i.e., they “walk the talk” of Jesus’ teachings and absolutely loathe Trump), but they’re still evangelicals and they have very much indoctrinated their kids to their beliefs. I just try to be the “cool but respectful aunt who is available if you have questions about other ways of thinking about God/the universe.” My sister and brother-in-law are aware that I don’t believe what they believe and haven’t tried to “convert” me since I was in my 20s and made it clear I wasn’t interested, but we attend church with them when we visit once or twice a year. For the most part we have kind of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy around religion, and I truly have no idea what they may have said or not said to the kids about our faith/lack thereof. But ever since my niece got her own phone, every couple of weeks she will text me to ask if there is anything I’d like her to pray for me about. This makes me really uncomfortable.
Knowing the kind of kid she is, I believe that she’s asking with an intent to help, not to convert me. I don’t want to hurt her feelings or create a big confrontation about how I don’t believe what she believes, so most of the time I’ll reply with something innocuous, like for her to pray that a camping trip goes well or that we have a good weekend. Sometimes I can’t think of anything—in which case I will either say that I can’t think of anything, or I’ll just ignore the text, which I feel bad about. I’m not sure what to do here. I’d like her to stop asking me this, but I’m worried about the implications if I ask her to stop asking me. Should I try to approach this over text? Wait for our next in-person visit (who knows when that will be) and have a face-to-face conversation about it? Just suck it up and keep telling her to pray that my brownies turn out well or that my husband catches a fish at the lake? Please help!
—Avoiding the Come to Jesus Moment
What exactly are you worried about? Her parents know you’re not a believer. Surely she knows there are people in the world who don’t believe as she does (and if she doesn’t, it’s high time for her to find out). Why are you tiptoeing around this? When she asks you what you want her to pray for you about, tell her cheerfully that you don’t need any prayers, you’re just glad she’s thinking about you, that you’re thinking about her too. Send her your love.
If she texts back OH NO MY DEAR AUNT WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T NEED PRAYERS? I FEAR FOR YOUR IMMORTAL SOUL (unlikely, but just in case), text back that this is a subject for a longer conversation, which you’ll gladly have with her the next time you’re together IRL. And then have it. Your niece is more than old enough to have a real conversation on this subject. And it’s probably way past time for you and your sister to have a real conversation, too.
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