Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m currently in a tough situation. In late April, my wife and I found out we were pregnant. We were thrilled; we’d been trying for years and had just scheduled an appointment with a fertility specialist in May when we found out. We started thinking about how to set up the house, how to announce to our families, etc.
By the end of May, my wife tells me (over the phone) that she didn’t think we were “compatible” and that she wanted a separation after she’d gone away for over a week to a relative’s house to “clear her head.” The next day, I demanded we at least discuss what was going on, and she threatened divorce over text message. I moved out of our house into a friends’ that night, and by the same time the next week, her mother had come up and moved her out of state, about 10 hours away.
Through therapy and talking to friends, I have realized that my relationship with my wife was very unhealthy even before the traumatic ending, and I have no interest in reconciling with her. However, I’m really struggling to figure out the best thing to do for my unborn daughter.
Originally, I had thought that moving closer would be the answer, but many of my friends and my therapist have brought up the point that I would be leaving everything about my life behind (I’m a small-business owner and have a great full-time job at a university as well as the best friendships I’ve ever had and family within a couple hours’ drive) to go live near the woman who just up and left. I would be a miserable human being, which is not a model I want to show my daughter. I am just now figuring out what boundaries are and how to prioritize my own needs as much as the needs of someone else, and I don’t want to undo that work to be in close physical proximity.
On the other hand, I hate the idea of my daughter growing up without me physically present, and I feel guilty for even considering not prioritizing her and doing anything I can to make sure that she knows I love her and I’m going to be there for her. There are also the concerns I have about the level of commitment and ability that my soon-to-be-ex-wife has to being a parent, but I’ve been told that it’s very difficult to prove someone unfit to be a parent unless they’ve proven themselves to be. I’ve considered fighting for custody, but I’m concerned about both of us blowing money on lawyer’s fees that could be put toward other things for our daughter. Am I selfish for not wanting to move my whole life across states? What do I do here?
—Searching for Clarity
This is a heartbreaking situation, and I am so sorry that all this has transpired. However, you have to make a very difficult decision right now, and that decision will likely impact your daughter tremendously for the rest of her life. You have to decide what kind of father you are doing to be: one who puts himself first, one who puts his child first, or one who tries to tend to both needs at once more often than not. If you remain where you are now and only see your child on, say, occasional weekends and holidays with no plan for this to change in the future, then you will have chosen yourself. You will not have been an active, vital participant in your daughter’s upbringing, and your absence will inform her much more than your infrequent presence, no matter how pleasant the quality of your visits may be. This would be the same outcome if you fought for custody, lost, and ended up having to remain in your current town for financial reasons, except for the tremendous difference between trying to be an active father and just accepting that your kid is inconveniently located for such a battle.
I am not telling you that relocating and abandoning life as you know it is the right thing to do. I’m also not going to pretend that negotiating some sort of middle ground, perhaps one in which you divide your time or in which you manage to get your ex to agree to move somewhere closer, would be a simple or guaranteed solution. However, do know that refraining from a court case and deciding that your life should not be uprooted because “that woman” chose to relocate would not speak to wanting the best outcome for your child; while court fees could theoretically be better spent on your child’s needs, an active father is priceless. Furthermore, as you have expressed concern about your ex’s ability to parent effectively, it seems that the idea of simply staying put should be off the table at this point. It may be difficult to prove that someone is an unfit parent, sure, but how will you even know what sort of parent she is if you aren’t there to witness her in action?
If you are unable to negotiate something in court or between the two of you in which your ex—who moved closer to family, I assume—returns or finds a home less than 10 hours away, I think you should consider that relocation wouldn’t be about moving closer to “the one who left,” but moving closer to your child. Your child is not any less your responsibility or in need of you because of the current physical distance between the two of you. Take some time thinking about what it means, to you and to your daughter, for you to not be in her life actively and make your choice based on that. No matter how hurt you were in your breakup, or how much you love the life you currently live, the child you intended to make absolutely deserves and requires your presence. I’m sorry that your ex made that difficult for you to provide, and I wish you all the best in sorting it out.
Slate Plus members get more Care and Feeding from Jamilah each week. Sign up today!
From this week’s letter, “My Wife Wants to Avoid Ever Talking About This Important Issue With Our Kids”: “She wants to avoid this subject for as long as possible.”
Dear Care and Feeding,
I am a 12-year-old girl, who just moved across the country a month ago. My parents bought our house over the internet, and were extremely excited about their purchase. Fast forward two weeks after arriving, and all they have to say about our house is negative. Everything is “My closet is terrible” or “I hate this kitchen!” They are seriously considering selling this place and buying a house a mile away. The house is superior, and will probably stop their complaints, but I can’t help being so angry. I have already been to eight different schools in my life! Neither of my parents are currently in the military; they just get tired of an area and decide to leave. Part of this is that my dad is bipolar, so when he gets angry, or has a bad opinion, there is no stopping it ever. I would stay in the same school; however, I can’t stop feeling resentment. They promised this would be our final forever home, and we haven’t even been here for a month. I have only been at a school for the entire year twice! What can I do? If I say anything, they will call me ungrateful, and claim they are only doing this for me. My parents say they will always value my opinion, but I feel like I am screaming, yet no one is hearing me. This probably sounds like an amazing problem to have, but all I feel is angry. Please help.
Dear Moving Blues,
I’m so sorry you’re experiencing this. It does sound like your parents are attempting to keep your father (and perhaps your mother, too) pleased without considering what a tremendous impact this constant transitioning has had on you. However, do consider the possibility that there have been other factors at hand for at least some of your moves that they have not shared with you, such as financial matters or safety concerns. If the house nearby is much nicer, perhaps you should not fight against this “last” move, but you absolutely should sit your parents down for a respectful chat about your feelings. Explain to them how you feel having left school as many times as you have, and how hard it is for you to feel at home with the constant movement. Express your understanding that the latest house might have been less than what they’d hoped for based on what they saw online, and that you really hope the newer option brings them peace, as you are emotionally troubled at the idea of having to relocate again in the future.
Be clear with your parents that there has been a toll taken on you, and that you need some support from them—and, if you feel comfortable making the request, perhaps from a counselor as well. I think a professional may be useful in helping you find your own peace with both the lack of a “forever home” to date and your father’s mental health challenges. Let them know you are grateful to have a home at all, and to have parents with the means to continually seek out the best available home for you, and that your discomfort is not a lack of appreciation, but an age-appropriate need for stability. Again, I’m sorry that you’re dealing with this, and I hope your parents can finally understand just what all this has meant to you very soon.
• If you missed Thursday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.
• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!
Dear Care and Feeding,
I suspected for some time that something inappropriate might be occurring between my (cisgender) sister and my now-teenage son. However, my son wouldn’t tell me anything, I wanted to maintain good family relations, and it was quite a convenient arrangement, so I continued leaving him with her. I finally got my answer when I was introduced to my “daughter.” My child claims to have wanted this, but it’s clear that my sister strongly encouraged it. All the work is impressive: With makeup and accessories, my child really does look like a girl, and even talks like a girl. But I feel that this was very wrong to do behind my back. My sister said she can take in her “niece” if this is a problem; I’m sure that was intended as a threat. Do I really have to accept that my child is now a girl? Would it be wrong to encourage my child to rethink this?
Dear Confused Parent,
I am disappointed to hear the language you have chosen to describe what sounds like your sister merely being supportive of your daughter as she begins to use language and aesthetics to affirm her true gender. I will not shame you for being overwhelmed by this news or troubled by the fact that your child chose someone else to come to about something so deeply personal; however, considering that you are questioning both if you have to accept her as who she is and if you can “encourage” her to “rethink this,” it stands to reason why someone else would have been her go-to.
Please forgive your sister for what may seem like a betrayal of your trust, or even your values. She didn’t tell you, she didn’t encourage “him” to “reconsider,” for there is no him here, and there is no reconsidering the truth of one’s identity—the only negotiation is the level to which one can or cannot be themselves in public. Instead, your sister did something that very well could have been the difference between hope and despair for your child: She allowed her to be herself and provided her tools with which she could feel more confident doing so. Your sister deserves not your condemnation but your eternal gratitude, for it is aunties like that who have saved the lives of trans youth all over the world, simply by giving them a place where they can be accepted. Now, it’s your turn to become a supportive part of your child’s journey.
Understand that your daughter has not made a choice, nor has she rejected you in any way.
She is being herself as much as you are being yourself when you choose how you will dress, what people will call you, where you pee; the grand difference, of course, is that the world will often make it more difficult for her to be herself than it would you. When all is said and done, who do you wish to be in your child’s story? When she looks back on her life with you, do you want to have been a barrier between her and happiness, health, and wholeness? Or do you want to have been one of the people to have loved her unconditionally since birth?
Check out resources for parents of transgender youth, including these guides from the American Academy of Pediatrics that can help you better understand your child’s experience, as well as organizations working to support trans kids and their families, such as Gender Spectrum and TransYouth Family Allies. Best of luck to you in your journey to be the best advocate, ally, and parent to your daughter that you can be.
For more of Slate’s parenting coverage, listen to Mom and Dad Are Fighting
Dear Care and Feeding,
I have a very dear friend of over 20 years. She has been an enormous support, and I can’t imagine life without her. We have five kids between us, and as our families do many activities together, our kids are good friends also—especially our 9-year-olds. The problem is I believe my friend has never really liked my 9-year-old, “Henry.” She will chastise him for things that the other kids are also doing, and her tone with him is often excessively harsh. She has made snide comments to or about him a few times (for example, on a cool evening he was wearing a gray hoodie with the hood zipped to his chin, and she called him “the Unabomber in Training.” He was 7 at the time.)
These behaviors don’t occur every time we’re together, but even rarely is a problem. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Henry has noticed this issue or felt singled out. I am embarrassed to admit I have never (yet) called her out on her attitude and behavior toward him, and I feel like a cowardly and disloyal mom to Henry as a result. I need to ask her to change her behavior toward him for me to continue our relationship. I believe she doesn’t realize she’s treating him uniquely or badly. Can you suggest a script that won’t sound excessively confrontational or accusatory? Is this a behavior I should be calling out in the moment, in front of the kids?
Dear Henry’s Mom,
Tell your girl you need to talk, and gently explain that you’ve noticed that her energy toward Henry is very different than it is toward your other child/ren, as well as when she speaks to her own kids: “I don’t know if you realize this, but you seem to be a bit more sensitive to his misbehavior and harsher on him at times.” Be direct, and let her know that you’ve felt this way for quite some time and that you harbor some guilt for not saying something sooner. Mention the Unabomber comment and any other memorable remarks that made you uncomfortable and explain why. Acknowledge that she likely doesn’t feel any clear hostility or ill intention toward him, but that the difference when she deals with him is impossible to ignore and something that is a concern to you. She needs to hear this and to be confronted with how she has engaged your child thus far. Perhaps she finds him annoying, or maybe he said something to one of her kids that she can’t get over, but it’s totally inappropriate behavior for an adult, and you need to call it out directly. Best of luck to you.
More Advice From Slate
My 1-year-old daughter is in full-time day care during the week. I do both drop-off and pickup. In the mornings, she is totally fine when I drop her off. She has wonderful teachers she loves, and she gets along well with the other babies. It’s during pickup that I have the problem.
Most days, as soon as she sees me, her face crumples and she starts wailing. What’s worse is when I reach for her, she’ll cling to her teacher. When we leave the daycare she’ll struggle in my arms during the walk to the car, sob while I put her in her car seat, and sometimes even continue crying during the short drive home. Her teachers kindly tell me that she just struggles with transitions, which I would buy—except morning drop-offs go off without a hitch. I promise you that she has a loving, calm home and family. When she melts down at the sight of me, I try to stay neutral and focus on comforting her. So what’s going on here?