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 have been married for 28 years to an easygoing guy. His family lives a good eight hours away. I am happy to have them come visit but have asked over and over again that they schedule their visits with us when we can make sure we have time to spend with them, but they always end up calling my husband and telling him when they are coming. We usually get only a few days or a week’s notice. My husband is a firefighter and owns his own business as well, so unless he’s able to plan ahead, I am stuck entertaining, cooking, and cleaning for them. I have asked my husband to talk to me before he agrees to these visits, but he makes me feel like I am being unreasonable or mean to want to have a better plan in place. I’m just frustrated and don’t know how to get him to stand up for me for once and ask them to stay in a hotel unless they plan their visits for when he is also available. Am I asking too much? Also, some of the family members are extremely rude, sexist, and racially insensitive while at our house to the point where my college-age daughter, who still lives with us, won’t stay at home if they come. How can I get my husband to understand that he needs to set some boundaries and parameters of guest behavior with them?
—Frustrated with Floridian Family
This is a bigger problem than a thoughtless in-law problem; this is a problem in your marriage. If your husband is telling you that you’re mean and unreasonable because of your perfectly reasonable request in regard to his parents, the two of you need help getting on the same page. If he isn’t saying that—if you feel it, because he isn’t doing what you’re asking him to do—you need help communicating with each other. “Easygoing” is often a euphemism for passive. (And honestly, nobody can “make” anyone feel anything. People can say or do objectively lousy things, but how we feel is no one else’s responsibility.) My guess is that your husband doesn’t stand up to his parents because it’s hard. It’s time for him to grow up. (It’s never too late.)
So I’m advocating for marriage counseling. But I also want to help you with the specific issue(s) you’ve written to get help with. As long as you have been very clear with your husband about why this situation is untenable—how unfair it is to you—I propose that you simply not participate in it anymore. The next time his family drops in without a plan that includes your husband taking time off to spend with them, follow your daughter’s lead: go elsewhere for the duration of their visit. I know this won’t be easy for you; I know there will be fallout. But it sounds as if you’re at a point where this might be the only way for your husband to really hear you. And I hope the two of you are in counseling by the time you vacate during yet another unplanned, uninvited visit, because you’re going to need help with that fallout.
I want to note, too, that although your daughter leaves because of the separate issue of how unpleasant your in-laws are once they arrive, she is doing so because it’s the only way for her to take care of herself in this situation (which is otherwise beyond her control). What I’m suggesting is a way for you to take care of yourself, when your husband refuses to, around the issue of their sudden visits. But the fact is, even if/when he puts his foot down with them, their “insensitivity” is still going to be an issue. Take that up in counseling, too.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I just received an invitation to yet another child-free wedding, and I am so frustrated and sad. My husband and I have two small children and a far-flung circle of family and friends, many of whom are at marrying age. Nearly all of the weddings we have been invited to in the last five years have been child-free and several states away, and since we don’t have anyone we can leave our children with for several days, we end up having to decline to attend.
Some of these couples have made vague promises about on-site childcare, but when the chips are down it turns out to be “check Care.com” or “the hotel can recommend sitters but we can’t vouch for them.” I’m not going to drag my kids on a big trip for them to have to sit in a hotel room with someone none of us have ever met before. Not to mention that my children have a hard time understanding why adults they know and love don’t want them around.
My extended family has not taken it well when we choose not to attend these weddings, but can’t they see this is an impossible situation? I am at the point at which I honestly feel like saying, in response to the next one of these invitations, “If my family is not welcome, then I don’t feel welcome.” Weddings are supposed to be about family and community, and children are part of that. My kids are well-behaved and when we’ve been able to bring them to weddings, we are prepared with quiet activities and a quick exit strategy if they are disruptive (trust me, it’s my personal nightmare that my kids would ruin someone’s important event). Why can’t people just trust parents to handle it? Or line up a trustworthy on-site sitter to watch guests’ kids for the evening, if it’s really so important that children be excluded from the festivities? My only consolation is that someday when all these newlyweds have kids of their own, they’ll realize how inconvenient and exclusive their decision was.
—You’re Giving Us a Headache, Not a “Night Off”
I’m sympathetic, truly. When my daughter was young, I would have declined these invitations too (if I needed a “night off,” I took it; I didn’t expect other people to provide me with an excuse for one—and I had no interest in leaving my daughter behind while I went on a mini-vacation). But lots of people don’t feel this way. And weddings are not “supposed to be about family and community”—they’re not “supposed” to be about anything except what the couple getting married wants them to be about. They are the ones who get to decide what kind of weddings they have. (And I know you know that they can’t “just trust” parents to handle it if kids misbehave: not all kids will be perfect angels, like yours.) And while an on-site sitter sounds good to me, you don’t get to dictate what the people throwing a party spend their money on.
You don’t have to like any of this, or approve of any of it. You just have to RSVP with your regrets and (please!) a note of congratulations. I urge you not to respond angrily to the next in this series of invitations. All that will do is hurt the feelings of one couple: it won’t send a message to the universe. If your family doesn’t take it well when you decline to attend yet another wedding of yet another cousin, that’s their problem, not yours. Don’t engage in a back-and-forth about this. If they call and ask—antagonistically?—if you’ll be going to this wedding, all you have to say is no. If they ask why, all you have to say is, I’m sorry, we can’t. They already know why.
I’ll add a word, here, though, about what I read between the lines in your letter. Unlike me 20 years ago, you really want to go to these events, and you’re mad that family and friends aren’t letting you get what you want—to join the fun! to be included in their big day!—because what they want from that big day is more important to them than your presence. I regret to say that you’ll just have to swallow that.
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From this week’s letter, “My Daughter Caught Me Snooping on an Extremely Personal Letter:” “It’s made every family interaction (just the two of us or when my other children are around) cold and tense.”
Dear Care and Feeding,
Is it bad to dress twins identically? My wife and I are expecting identical twin girls in October, and have been told (both by friends and by books) that the most important thing to do for twins is to make sure they can develop their own identities and make sure they don’t always feel like part of a set—and this extends to clothing as well. But my wife thinks this should include the time that they’re babies and toddlers, while I feel like as long as they’re little enough to be unable to dress themselves, they’re little enough that wearing matching onesies won’t irreparably damage them. What’s your opinion here?
—Clothing Confusion in Colorado
You know, my first thought was to say, “Good lord, this is not a problem! You have much bigger things to think about! Don’t waste your energy on something this trivial.” But on second thought I have concluded that there is something here. That while the babies won’t know the difference between being dressed alike or not, you and your wife—and everyone else who comes in contact with them—will. And that dressing them differently is an easy way to remind yourself and everybody else that your children are two separate people and should be treated as such, and not as a matched set, from the outset.
The fact is, our expectations of our children—who and how we want them to be—have an effect on them right from the start, because these expectations (and assumptions) influence the way we treat them, even when we’re not aware of it. So why not give your kids a head start on their lives as individuals by giving others—including yourself—a head start on seeing them that way? You have nothing to lose if you do so except a period of cutesiness. And trust me, Confused in Colorado, parenthood will offer you a ton of other things to be confused about. You can take this one off the table.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m in healthcare and the mother of a 5-month-old who hasn’t met most of his family yet. When I first found out I was pregnant, my unit was turned into a COVID ICU—this was traumatic for me. Thankfully, my unit was changed back to a non-COVID ICU for the rest of my pregnancy (with the threat of going back again constantly looming). My partner and I were super-cautious (no going out to eat, only virtual meet-ups with friends, and I had a very low-key, outdoor, masked baby shower). Our families, on the other hand, took lots of risks we saw as unnecessary (going to the hairdresser and out to eat, taking vacations, having Tinder dates). Most of my partner’s family got COVID at some point.
Once the baby arrived, everyone has been in a rush to greet him and hold him (which I get!), but I’m not ready. I saw some incredibly upsetting things at work, and I don’t think it’s worth the risk. And in order for them to meet the baby, we’d either have to drive 12+ hours with a 5-month-old, or I’d have to trust them to mask up when (and be diligent about where) they stop on the way here and wear a mask when they hold him—and I don’t trust them. Is it wrong to put this off until I’m comfortable? My therapist says what I feel is valid and I shouldn’t feel bad for doing what I believe is right as a parent, but they keep pressuring me and my partner with texts and calls, and they don’t seem to see that there’s a risk at all. They are very upset with me. Is there a right or wrong in this situation?
—Needing Guidance in New England
Sure there’s a right or wrong. You’re right: It’s not worth the risk. You don’t mention anything about vaccination status, either (even though, with the delta variant, we have additional concerns now). But if most of your partner’s family has already had COVID, thanks to their cavalier attitude about it, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess most of them aren’t vaccinated, making things even more risky for everyone.
You and your partner and only you and partner get to decide about this. I’m sorry your families are upset. Everyone’s upset. We’re still in the midst of a global pandemic. Pretending that we’re not—which a lot of people want to do—will only prolong it. We’ve already learned that. Stick to your guns.
More Advice From Slate
I was quite surprised last weekend when my eighth-grade daughter was invited to a coed party last weekend that the parents knew about, but for which they weren’t present. I did not think to ask if parents were present, and my daughter genuinely did not know this would be the case. My daughter is not inclined to get into trouble, and nothing happened at the party. But the following weekend, the same kid had another party, approved by the parents, with no supervision. These kids are too young for such parties, right? How should I handle this?