Dear Care and Feeding,
My close friend Nancy has two children: a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old. Both kids are funny, bright, creative, kind people, and pre-pandemic I loved spending time with them and being a part of their lives. Since we all began social-distancing, Nancy seems to have fallen down a sort of rabbit hole of “parent influencers” on social media, and it’s … kind of weird.
Before, Nancy’s social media was pretty standard for a parent: a few photos, text updates, and occasional videos. Now her feeds are saturated with filtered photoshoots of the kids posing next to toys and activities and trying on various outfits. From what Nancy has told me, the kids lose interest in creating this content pretty quickly, and aren’t interested in spending the afternoon putting together a photoshoot. Nancy herself seems frustrated and annoyed whenever she talks about it, too, making me think that she doesn’t really enjoy it, either. I know that she has made a small amount of income from sponsored posts, but she’s not in need of money (her husband works long hours and makes a great income) and seems to spend what she gets on materials to create more content.
I’m not a parent myself, and I know better than to tell someone else how to raise their children. But this is kind of weird, right? I don’t see it as abusive, but I also can’t imagine that the kids enjoy having a camera in their faces constantly. And Nancy’s frequent use of filters and image-editing software makes me worry that they could become insecure about their looks or appearance when they’re older. I’ve tried innocently asking Nancy if the kids are doing any non-content-related activities (“Does Sally like that paint set I sent over? Is little David still obsessed with the sandbox?”), but she’ll direct the conversation back to her social media presence. Is there anything I can do here? Or is this just part and parcel of becoming a parent these days, and I’m out of the loop?
Yeah, I find this pretty weird. We all take pictures of our kids and some do choose to share these pictures on social media, but staging daily photoshoots and manufactured moments—when you could just be photographing your kids learning and being themselves and living their one-and-only childhoods—is definitely not a universal parenting rite of passage. My best guess, since you say she doesn’t need the money, is that Nancy is bored? Which is not to say that she doesn’t have anything to do; obviously, caring for and raising kids takes a ton of work and energy. But perhaps that alone hasn’t been enough for her in this isolating, socially distanced time. Maybe she just started sharing more on social media to feel connected to someone, anyone, and then got carried away. I’m not trying to excuse her behavior, just understand it—and it’s possible that if you, her friend, ask her why she’s really doing this (and perhaps subtly probe whether she’s thought about ways to get whatever that is—attention, online connections, a hobby, a little extra cash—by some other means?), it could prompt a little necessary reflection on her part.
It’s hard, because saying anything too critical could put your friendship at risk—even among very close friends, it’s tough to explicitly challenge or question someone else’s parenting choices. In addition to asking Nancy what she’s getting out of this, you could try pointing out that it seems like a lot of work for both her and her children. You could ask whether the kids have expressed anything besides annoyance—do they try to find a way out of the staged photo shoots? Have they said how all this makes them feel? If Nancy vents to you after a hard day on set, you could question whether she’s ever thought about slowing down or stopping altogether. I tend to be blunt, so at some point I’d probably ask if she has any concerns about the potential risks or downsides of her children’s images being widely and publicly shared. But in the end, unfortunately, I think there isn’t a whole lot you can do if she’s determined to continue.
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From this week’s letter, I Hate How Mom Culture Is Changing My Personality: “I just don’t think I like other parents or what being a mom has made me socially.”
Dear Care and Feeding,
I need help mediating a conflict between my two adult children. The oldest, “Wendy,” is in her late 20s and works for a nonprofit. The younger one, “Kay,” works in the corporate sector. Both are happy with their jobs. Wendy, however, is constantly riding Kay for working for a Fortune 500 for-profit company. This has caused a lot of tension between them over the years. I’ve been pretty up-front with Wendy that she needs to back off (she ratcheted up the comments in the summer of 2020, with racial tensions high), and since then she’s calmed down a little.
Kay just applied, and got accepted into, a mentoring program that pairs adult women with tween and teen girls in need of support. Kay’s mentee is Black and we are white. Kay was excited to share the news, but Wendy immediately jumped on her for being a “white savior” and implicitly communicating that the mentee needed a white woman because she couldn’t get appropriate mentorship from others in the Black community.
I’ll be the first to say that both my children are way more informed about social justice, activism, race, etc. than I am, mainly because they are both plugged into social media. I know Wendy has a lot of strongly held opinions because of her work at the nonprofit. But isn’t it good that Kay is volunteering with a reputable organization? Why would Wendy be upset about this? What is my role here, as the parent of two adult children—especially when they bring their conflict to our biweekly family dinners?
— Stuck in the Middle in Santa Monica
Without knowing anything much about Kay or the group in question, I can’t definitively answer your first question, but if it’s a good organization and she can really be of help to a mentee through this volunteer gig, it seems like a fine thing to do. Wendy likely isn’t upset about the mentorship itself; she’s looking for reasons to pick apart Kay’s choices because she thinks her sister is a sellout. It sounds like the two of them have real points of disagreement on various issues, and Wendy believes Kay is in the wrong.
I know you want your kids to accept one another and get along. You’re within your rights to let them know how their fighting makes you feel, and ask them not to spend the whole family dinner arguing. But this is probably not a conflict you can resolve for them. You already feel stuck in the middle, and that’s just going to get worse if you try to mediate or force an understanding that does not currently exist. They are adults; they need to figure out their relationship themselves, if they can, and it could be that the distance between them when it comes to values, priorities, personalities, etc. is too wide right now. It could also be that they’ll talk and work things out—but I think the only genuine and lasting resolution between them will be one they work out on their own, not one that is overly influenced by or imposed by you.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My fiancé and I recently tried to talk to his anti-vax parents about COVID and our wedding. It did not go well. They refused to consider vaccinations, which we expected, but were also offended at the idea of wearing masks. Since then, we’ve changed to asking for a negative test the week of the wedding, which we’re waiting to see if they’ll agree to do.
The bigger problem is that my future in-laws and my fiancé got mad at each other during that conversation. I’m upset, too, but my feelings feel secondary in all this. This has dug up a lot of old wounds for my fiancé, some of which he’s only just telling me about. Growing up, and even in early adulthood, his parents belittled him, got physical with him, invaded boundaries, and didn’t take his mental health or autism diagnoses seriously. All the COVID stuff is the last straw for him. He’s trying to see a counselor, but in our area, there are not enough openings for him to get in quickly. I won’t say he’s handled everything perfectly, but I also see his family not taking his pain seriously. I’ve tried to challenge him when I see him overreacting, but mostly I’ve been supporting him, telling him that his emotions are valid and he is loved.
I just don’t know where we go from here. His brothers are siding with his family, and I feel like I’m the only one who sees how much pain he’s in. I also greatly feel like this is my fault. I’ve made comments to him over the course of our relationship that I didn’t love how his parents were treating him, and it was my idea to have a conversation with them about COVID in the first place. The wedding is less than two months away, and I feel like I’ve just turned this into Romeo and Juliet. How do I avoid the tragic ending, and really, what’s my role in this anyway?
— Coronavirus Crisis
Dear Coronavirus Crisis,
First, this is not your fault at all. You were absolutely right to want to talk to your families about vaccination—you have an obligation to all your guests to ensure that your wedding doesn’t become a super-spreader event. If it helps to know you aren’t alone, I know several people in the same situation, trying to convince parents or other relatives to get vaccinated so they can attend their child’s/family member’s wedding. I don’t think you’re headed for a Shakespearean ending, but I can see why you’re upset! And the truth is, there is not much you can do about this, other than listen to and support your fiancé (which it sounds like you’re already doing). Your feelings and opinions about your in-laws are important, too, but ultimately, it’s his decision as far as what he wants his relationship with them to look like. If they’ve been dismissive of his situation and mentally and physically abusive for years, there may not be much of a relationship to salvage or a reconciliation in sight. That would be hard for all of you, especially with your wedding so soon, but it would not be your fault, either.
From what you’ve shared, it sounds like your fiancé has reached his breaking point with his parents, and they may be unable or unwilling to change or do whatever else needs to be done to remain in your lives beyond this wedding. It seems likely that you haven’t so much come between them as you have shown your fiancé another version of what family can be, and what real love and acceptance looks like. Before, perhaps he wouldn’t have felt he had anyone if his parents and/or siblings stopped speaking to him, but now he has you. The adjustment may be hard, but in the end it may well be a good thing if he decides he can no longer endure poor treatment from his family. Sometimes you can’t just keep papering over all those old and new hurts, or pretend that everything is okay when it’s not.
In addition to being there for each other, I hope you both get the support you need from others who love you, and from good therapists if you can find them. I’d urge you not to let yourself think of any outcome here as a “tragedy”—you’re not trying to force a separation between him and his parents; it sounds as though their behavior has done that. They can make different choices if they want to be at your wedding, or have a relationship with their son. Continue to listen to your fiancé and validate his feelings, and try to take comfort in the fact that while you cannot solve this problem for him, you’re being as supportive as you can.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I am a 30-year-old wife and mother to an 18-month-old. I’ve lived in the same area my entire life. I’ve wanted to move for years now—partly to experience something new, partly because I currently live in a super conservative, very hot state. Both my husband and I are progressive and love nature, and our current location is sorely lacking in both respects. Adding in the pandemic and having a young child, I frankly don’t feel safe in a culture dominated by people who deny COVID is an issue and refuse to enforce mask mandates or require vaccines. I’ve also been through quite a few traumatic events in my current area, and I feel constantly reminded of these events as I’m going about my daily life.
The problem is that my husband is extremely attached to his immediate family. They live about four hours from us and we see them regularly. I love my in-laws; they are great people, and I want them to be part of our lives. However, the thought of moving further away from them is very distressing to my husband. To him, family is everything, and he feels like if we move away we will never see them. Now with a grandchild in the mix (my son is their first grandchild), it makes it that much more emotional for him. My family is also within a couple hours’ drive, but there is not the same pressure to stay within a certain distance of them—if I announced I was moving tomorrow, they would cheer me on and begin planning their first visit.
I’ve really tried to be sensitive to my husband’s desire for familial closeness over the years. But sometimes I feel like my need to relocate is secondary to his need for regular family contact. A big dream for my life is indefinitely on hold because of this. I love my husband and his family, but I feel very stuck right now in this dynamic. Am I selfish for wanting to move? I want my son to know my husband’s family, but I really hate my current environment. I still think about moving constantly, and my desire to move doesn’t seem to be going away despite my best efforts to talk myself out of it.
— Stuck in Texas
It’s not selfish to want to move, and you have real and valid reasons for wanting to change your current situation. Your husband should be able to at least have the conversation with you. You might discuss it and stay where you are, but you haven’t even really gotten to that point, because it sounds like he’s not willing to entertain the possibility.
I can tell that you understand and care about what he wants (and perhaps he also cares about what you want), but the fact remains that your respective wishes are opposed and ultimately based on completely different concerns. As you aren’t going to be able to single-handedly change any of the problems you’re experiencing where you are, your concerns can only be assuaged by moving to a new environment. Your husband’s concerns can actually be addressed while living elsewhere—if the two of you are truly committed to addressing them. I think you do need to hear and make space for his feelings about moving farther away from his family, because he obviously needs to express those feelings—and it sounds like you have listened. But he needs to understand that the conversation cannot always end or get shut down by those emotions: While emotions are valid, they won’t lead you to a resolution in this case.
If I were you, I’d want him to try to explain why he believes he’d never see his family again. I suspect he won’t be able to, actually, because it doesn’t seem like a factual or rational statement. (Also, four hours away is not all that close! Do you really see them all the time now, or more like three to four times a year? If the latter, that could be close to doable even if you do move farther away.) If he can get to the point where he admits there are plenty of ways you could choose to remain closely connected to them, even if you do wind up moving, then I’d encourage you to talk in more concrete, specific ways about how the two of you would prioritize that: Do you commit to a certain holiday or school vacation in Texas every year? Do you make sure you get a place big enough to host his family? Do you start a “family visit” fund so that you always have enough money set aside for trips to Texas? etc. Your shared wishes for your child have to be a big part of this conversation, too. Your spouse wants your kid to grow up knowing his family—again, that’s a fine and valid wish, but what does he want for your child besides that? There are real reasons you believe you all might be better off elsewhere, other things you could prioritize, things your kid could benefit from, and ideally the two of you should be able to acknowledge and discuss all those points as well.
A tougher question, one I pose not to push or pressure you in any way, but because I think you might eventually find yourself asking it anyway, is: Should your husband remain resolutely opposed to a move for any reason, is that a deal-breaker for you? It might be, and it might not; you’re the only one who can answer that. If you are ever sure, one way or the other, that could also be something you try to communicate to him—not an ultimatum so much as a statement of fact: You’re just not sure that you can be content or happy raising your family where you are.
If you keep trying to talk about all of this with him and he remains unable to move beyond an emotional reaction to have a real conversation, I’d consider going to see a therapist together—even just a few sessions could really help you get out of a communication pattern that (thus far) hasn’t been productive.
More Advice From Slate
A few years ago, my brother Sterling married his boyfriend, Cooper. Cooper is a great guy and we love him. He’s also a moderately famous athlete. Cooper isn’t out to the public. I understand and respect this decision: His field can be homophobic and he’s already sick of being seen as the token representative for his race. By request, I don’t talk about my relationship with Cooper with anyone other than my closest friends, and I don’t share pictures of him on social media. I have twins who are young preschoolers. They adore their uncles. They are, in the way of preschoolers, very chatty. I’m worried my kids are going to out Cooper in a way that causes heartache. Do you have any advice?