Dear Care and Feeding,
Our neighborhood has a small parents’ group with a Facebook page and occasional in-person meetups. Recently someone started coming who doesn’t have kids of their own but has been dating a single mom (who isn’t in our area). But they don’t have kids! I want to talk shit about parenting to parents. Can I ask them not to come? How would I even start that conversation?
On behalf of the single mother who is dating this person, I am kindly asking—pleading, really—for you to allow them to stay in the group. Well, depending on why they joined. If they are trying to better understand the lives of parents so that they can be more empathetic and present in their relationships, or because they are building a relationship with their partner’s children, then have a heart! I would love to meet a soul like that—ask them if they have a tall Black brother for me, shoot.
Now, if they just joined to hang out with people and they are using the single-parent partner as an excuse to find a social circle, that is a little weird. Are you an administrator in this group? Would it be your job to ask them? Do they derail conversations about parenting, or are they just taking up space? If they aren’t bothering anyone, I’d let it go. Honestly, most people without kids don’t want to hang out with parents—maybe this could be like an exchange program where you all get to touch the world outside? This is strange, but I don’t think it’s cause for a situation unless they are somehow disrupting things. Maybe you all could outline some clearer rules so that someone who doesn’t have kids won’t feel like they can join. Also, make sure this “partner” actually exists and that this person didn’t join for more nefarious reasons … good luck!
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Dear Care and Feeding,
At the start of the pandemic, I adopted an elderly pit bull/boxer mix who was up for euthanasia. He is blind in one eye, missing many teeth, partially deaf, and arthritic, and I have taken it upon myself to make his last few months (or hopefully years) of life more comfortable. I am single and child-free, so I spend a lot of time with him, especially since I’m still partially working from home.
One thing that has been a huge source of happiness and comfort for him is sitting in my yard in the sun, sometimes with a blanket, and watching the squirrels, birds, and other animals. He will sometimes bark if a cat wanders through, but nothing more and only a few times a day. My neighbors, who moved in three months ago, have a young daughter who was bitten by a pit bull at a park and now has a phobia of dogs, which is obviously horrible, and I did my best to accommodate them. I assured them that my dog mostly could not tell that children exist, and that I would make sure to stay away from them on walks so as to not trigger their daughter.
In the past few weeks, however, they have begun sending me notes, passive-aggressively asking me to not walk my dog past their house at all and “even though I had no children, they hoped I could find it in my heart to emphasize with them.” I took my dog on another route, but the notes keep coming. They would like me to not let my dog bark anymore, keep him out of the yard from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., as that’s when she can see him, and if I must keep him in the yard, I need to have him in a crate (which forces him to sit in a painful position) or muzzle him. I have ignored them, but they are persistent, and I’m (irrationally) worried they will do something to my dog or start banging on my door. How do I get rid of these obnoxious people? I was sympathetic to them before, but this is ridiculous, right?
—Fido Was Here First
Though I am sympathetic to you and your poor old dog, you must understand the amount of trauma this family has experienced. Perhaps the muzzle and crate are unreasonable, and the length of the “out of sight” hours may be a bit much, but can you take a minute to again consider their position? A pit bull can kill a 3-year-old, and though I don’t know how severe the bite was, it’s not hard for me to imagine the rational and irrational fears this family must face when dogs—particularly pit bulls—are in the vicinity.
Also, what evidence do you have that they would do something to your dog? That is a very damning thing to assume of someone, and it is, for me, very reflective of the ways “dog people” regard the whole rest of the planet that isn’t similarly concerned with the creatures. Having an irrational fear that your dog may harm their child is not evidence that they’d escalate to violence against him, and the level of hostility that your concern reveals makes me pause. Maybe those notes have been ruder than you implied?
Can you try to have another conversation with these people? Explain to them again what condition your dog is in, and that you want to be as sensitive to them as possible without denying him a comfortable end of life (I think it would be in your best interest to emphasize how unwell he is). Figure out a compromise so there are times when the little one can be outside without seeing a dog, and times when the dog can be outside without worry. Be clear why a muzzle or crate wouldn’t work. And remember, Fido may have been there first, but that child and her deeply triggered and scared parents are human beings, and they absolutely deserve some grace.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My parents are both introverts, and my little brother seems to be that way as well. I (their 16-year-old daughter) am an extrovert. My idea of a good time is giving a presentation in front of a crowded room at a Model U.N. conference or going to a street fair all day, while my family likes hiking together or sitting inside and doing puzzles.
But I also get random panic attacks that make me feel nauseous, like there’s a weight on my chest and my heart is beating way too fast, and everything around me is suddenly out of control and terrifying. I have woken up in the middle of the night feeling like I can’t move because of a panic attack and have to lie there for what feels like forever until it passes. I want to see a psychiatrist or a psychologist about them to find out what’s triggering them, but my parents don’t believe that I’m having them. My mom thinks that anxiety and panic attacks are something that only quiet or shy people can get, and whenever I bring it up, she says that I love public speaking and talking to people, so “How could I be getting panic attacks caused by anxiety if things that cause anxiety don’t make me anxious?” My dad will say that everyone gets nervous about different things and we can’t spend thousands of dollars on someone who will make this seem “like a way bigger deal than it is just to get paid.” How can I get my parents to believe me?
I am so sorry that you are experiencing this and that your parents have yet to be understanding about what you are going through. I’m glad, however, that you have not allowed that to prevent you from recognizing that you are struggling with something real and that you deserve support. Know that your family’s reaction is not a function of how well you are communicating what you are dealing with, and that you, in this moment, are doing the best you can to figure out something that isn’t of your own doing.
I encourage you to try and tap into that extrovert side of yourself by addressing this issue with your family with the same preparation that you would use for a Model U.N. speech. Present them with information, such as one of these useful articles, on teens and anxiety; a written account of what you believe to be one of your own anxiety or panic attacks; and a list of local low-cost therapy resources. Be firm. Be emotionally honest. Tell them about the toll this is taking on you, that you are not OK, and that you need and deserve their help and support. (Send them this column, too.) Explain in clear terms that professionals much older than you who address audiences much larger than a school auditorium are no less susceptible to anxiety issues; you can name a few of the famous ones who may resonate for them.
If they still don’t seem to get it, or if you’d rather not try again on your own, speak to a teacher, guidance counselor, or other adult whom you trust to hear you out and to help you have this conversation with them. Also, you may be able to access some resources at school independent of your parents if it comes to that. In the meantime, look to reputable online sources for tips to manage what you are experiencing, such as this guide. I hope your parents get the message sooner rather than later. You write so clearly about what you’ve been up against, and if they can pause long enough to hear you over what they think anxiety is supposed to look like—or, perhaps, over their fears of knowing their child is struggling—I am confident they will come to understand you. Wishing you all the best.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
We are struggling with whether to have a child. I am 37 years old. My husband and I have been together for six years and married for two. Neither of us planned on having children. Our local friends and family also did not have children earlier, so we had not been surrounded by babies in any significant way until recently. Over the last two years, several friends have had children (all three of my bridesmaids were pregnant at our wedding). I don’t envy them ever in the stressful times, I don’t feel like I want to work and be a mom, and I place a very high value on my alone time and freedom.
And yet, I’ve become incredibly stressed over whether this is the “right” decision, whether it will be my biggest regret, or if my husband and I will be lonely and alone later in life realizing we’ve made a grave mistake. My husband is open to discussing it (although he currently remains mostly uninterested). We both love spending time with our nieces and nephews and babysit often, so it’s not that we dislike children. Help! How do we make this decision!?
—To Parent or Not to Parent
There isn’t the faintest hint in your letter that you or your husband wants to be a parent; rather, you seem afraid that in the future, you will regret a decision that seems to be serving you just fine in the present. Have you thought about planning for a life without children in which you and your husband are not lonely? In which you have plans that involve both enjoying each other’s company and making sure that you have prepared for what happens if one or both of you need medical care, what fulfillment looks like when your careers are no longer the center of your lives, etc.? Do you like the life you have now? What evidence do you have that it wouldn’t sustain you in the future?
If you want to explore reconsidering your position, do that, but if “I’m afraid I’ll regret it one day” is the only think calling you to motherhood, then it may just be that you’re grappling with the reality of making a choice that isn’t common among your loved ones. Keep mulling this over.
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Q. My best friend passed unexpectedly and now I have her kids: My best friend since college died suddenly. Prior to her death we had talked about my getting custody of her children in the event of such an occurrence. She was a single mother by choice and fortunately could afford to do it. I have been with her from Day 1 and have watched her babies grow up and consider them to be as much mine as hers. She had been estranged from her family for many years so there was never any question as to who would care for them if she was unable.
Some months before the accident, I became engaged, but now that there are kids in the picture, he has put the brakes on the engagement. He always seemed to like children, and had expressed interest in having a family, but now he is saying that he isn’t sure he wants the responsibility of taking on a pair of grieving 5-year-olds. I am naturally very hurt but agreed that if he doesn’t feel he can commit to being a father then we cannot be married. How do I explain to people who are expecting me to be getting married in the next nine months that it is no longer happening without going into all the details of our life?