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 son is 8 years old and has been invited to spend a week with his cousin (from my husband’s side) of the same age at the beach. Only he was invited (not my other kids), which is fine since he is really close to that particular cousin. However, I have an issue. If I’m accused of being a helicopter parent, then my in-laws are the polar opposite. They drink and smoke (many substances) in front of their kids. They are laid back and love to stay up late and have fun. They also have no problem driving while tipsy, and don’t even have booster seats for their older kids. Obviously, their life, their choice, but we are talking about them becoming my son’s primary caregivers for a week. Since becoming a parent, I’ve become a “stick in the mud” according to them. I make my kids use car seats and booster seats, I make them go to bed at a reasonable time, I limit their sugar (they get crazy). I’m simply no fun. When I was approached about this trip, my first reaction was “absolutely not,” but I can’t really say why without creating a big rift that makes it look like I’m judging their parental style. My husband understands my fears but wants to give his family some credit, after all, they managed to successfully raise kids of their own. I’m uncertain of where to go from here. Say no, say yes, say yes with conditions that would absolutely affect how the family kicks back during their vacation. And can I even trust them to fulfill basic parenting rules, such as not drinking and driving?
Dear Helicopter Mom,
There are few things you can probably bend on. Staying up late for one week? Big deal. Eating more sugar than usual for a week? Meh, your son will survive. But dealing with caretakers who occasionally drink and drive? Yeah, that’s a deal-breaker for me.
Think about it this way—what would upset you more: potentially offending your relatives by telling them you don’t feel comfortable sending your son to be with them for a week, or having your son get injured or killed in a car accident due to drunk driving? I think the answer is clear. Your No. 1 job as a parent is to keep your kids safe by any means necessary—even if you ruffle a few feathers in the process.
I don’t know how you can tell your relatives not to drink and smoke while your son is there. By the sound of it, I doubt they’d listen to you anyway. If it were me, I’d stick with your initial reaction of “absolutely not” and deal with the potential blowback that comes from it. You can still plan a fun vacation with your son and know that he’ll be safer because of it.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I love my two daughters, but I don’t want them to engage in the “free range” habits of the other kids in my neighborhood (where they roam around the block with limited or unclear parental supervisions). We live in a safe place, and I’m friendly with my neighbors, but I still don’t like the idea of letting them ping-pong around from house to house. I don’t know my neighbors’ values—their habits, whether they smoke, own guns, etc. And moreover, I don’t want to be the responsible one when a bunch of kids show up at my house for hours on end. My wife and I try to keep a semi-neat home with seemingly more rules than the other families, nothing crazy, but we don’t keep a lot of snacks around, we don’t eat in the living room, we don’t wear shoes in the house. We’ve found most of the kids make their rules in their houses—that’s not how we were raised. I try to have a joyful house and will be a bit more lenient when they’re teenagers popping by to hang out, as opposed to little kids who need loads of supervision, but right now though there’s a reason we only had two. How can we balance our own boundaries without insulting our neighbors and making our girls feel wholly left out?
—Boundaries in Boulder
I don’t think it’s a bad thing to want to know who your daughters are spending time with. I have two young daughters as well, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable with them going to random kids’ houses unless I had some sort of relationship with their parents.
You can use your kids as an excuse to get to know their friends’ parents by stopping by when you drop them off, or when you pick them up. In doing so, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask them if they smoke, own guns, or partake in other activities you feel uncomfortable with. I hosted an in-person play date for one of my daughters a couple of weeks ago, and the parents asked me if I had any guns in the house. If you’re familiar with my column, you would know that’s a resounding “no,” but I wasn’t offended. Their job is to protect their daughter, not to protect my feelings. I understand that, and I think most other parents would as well.
When the party moves to your house, I’d suggest laying down ground rules. When I host play dates I tell the kids that they can’t run through my house, they have to ask a grown-up for snacks (no rummaging through my fridge is allowed), and they have to eat outdoors. You can do the same thing, and if you don’t enjoy the pitter-patter of little feet throughout your home, you can limit playtime to be one hour or less in length.
Never apologize for doing whatever it takes to keep your kids safe and your sanity intact.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My brother and sister-in-law have been married for over 20 years. They have two good kids, and we have always been close. Recently my sister-in-law has gotten into the practice of psychics, mediums, and past-life regression. She has fallen away from, and even bad-mouths, the church we grew up in. My parents are beside themselves, and I’m sad for my brother and his kids because they seem stuck doing whatever my sister-in-law wants. Their lives revolve around her and what she believes is good for her at the moment. My brother has no say in his kids’ future, and they aren’t even allowed to go to church occasionally with our family. I feel judged by my sister-in-law for continuing in the traditions I was raised in, and I feel like she is teaching my niece and nephew that what I practice is wrong. What, if anything, can I say to help my brother stand up for himself? How can I help my niece and nephew keep an open mind about spiritual matters?
—Trying to Understand
Is this about you or is it about them? Don’t get me wrong here—I’m sure it’s upsetting to listen to your sister-in-law talk trash about your church and religion, but other than the lack of tactfulness, it’s her right to do so. It’s also her right to teach her children not to follow your religious beliefs.
As far as your brother is concerned, maybe he’s not as against his wife’s actions as you may think. It’s possible that he may take a back seat to her regarding family decisions, but I doubt he’s a powerless prisoner here. They are probably more aligned than you give them credit for.
You should have a heart-to-heart talk with your brother about what bothers you, but you have to understand that it may not change anything. He and his wife can choose to raise their kids any way they see fit, and you have to take a deep breath and live with that. In the meantime, as you navigate this difference of opinion, try not to let your SIL’s beliefs and choices affect your relationship with your niece and nephew.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My close friend is a new parent, and the other day she casually mentioned that her 2-week-old child sleeps in a sling on her chest, facing her, overnight when she’s sleeping in bed. She even mentioned waking up to the baby crying with her pillow over the baby’s face! I am a preschool teacher who has taken sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) classes multiple times, and this terrifies me! I tried gently mentioning that letting the baby sleep on his back in a bassinet nearby would be safest, but both parents insisted the baby wouldn’t sleep that way. I know the usual advice is to stay in your lane and to let other parents do what they think is best, but I just keep imagining the worst. Is this something I can speak up on more firmly? I’m worried they don’t truly understand the risk.
—This Keeps Me Up at Night
Dear Keeps Me Up,
If this person is a close friend of yours, then you should be able to talk to her candidly about anything, especially if it’s something as important as this is. Instead of gently mentioning it, why not bluntly let it out so it won’t get lost in translation? Talk about your knowledge of SIDS, and how you don’t want that to happen to her child. I think any close friend would appreciate that you care so much and won’t view you as being judgmental.
Be prepared that your friend still may not choose to listen to you, and that’s when you have to let it go. It’s not like you can sleep under her bed every night to check on the baby, so you’ll need to be at peace with knowing you did everything in your power to help.
It’s also important to note that I’m sure the last thing your friend would want is to cause harm to her child. Try to remind yourself of that to help you sleep at night.
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I am a single mom to an 11-year old daughter. Up until around age 7 or 8 we were pretty physically demonstrative and would hug and kiss, and I would pick her up and carry her around. That slowly tapered off as she grew, and now we almost don’t touch at all. No hugs and kisses. We don’t avoid touching but don’t initiate at all. I miss being close to her. What should I do?