Care and Feeding

I Lied to My Teenage Daughter About My Pregnancy

A woman holds two hands against her stomach.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

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,

A couple months ago my husband and I, both in our mid-to-late 40s, learned we were pregnant. Having assumed I was too old to conceive, this came as a huge shock. I have to admit that it was also an unwelcome one. Outside of being at ages where we consider ourselves too old to start over as parents, with two adult children and one in her early teens, the pregnancy also would’ve derailed our future plans. As soon as our youngest is in college, we had plans to sell our home and use the money that we saved up over the last two decades to travel together. We also feared consequences to me giving birth at my age. For these reasons, we terminated the pregnancy.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t take out the trash, and our youngest child, “Kelly,” saw the positive test. We didn’t realize this until a few days ago when she outright asked why I wasn’t showing. She clearly assumed I was planning to give birth, naturally having no idea that I had an abortion. In the moment, I said that pregnancies differ from woman to woman. Now, we’re conflicted. My husband thinks we should just go along with the misunderstanding and pretend to miscarry later on. I, however, don’t feel comfortable lying about that because I have known women who suffered miscarriages and would feel guilty. I think my husband just fears that he’ll be judged for not wanting another child; Kelly can admittedly be rash and unforgiving at her age. My concern is that if we stick to the lie, in a few years when we go ahead with our travels Kelly might figure out we lied to her. What do we do? Is it appropriate to tell a teenager that you got an abortion?

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—What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting

Dear What to Expect,

Not to sound like a fortune cookie, but honesty is always the best policy. I understand that the decision to terminate a pregnancy is one of the most personal and gut-wrenching decisions a woman has to make and you have every right to keep it to yourself; however, if your daughter finds out the truth down the road from someone else, it will do irreparable damage to your relationship.

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You could start by saying, “I want to be honest with you. I wasn’t planning to become pregnant and I decided to terminate it because I’m not at the stage in my life where I can be the kind of mother to a newborn that I was to you. I know that may be hard for you to hear, but I’m willing to address any questions and concerns you have right now.” You mentioned that Kelly can fly off the handle at times, and this may be one of them. She may even have different views on abortion than you do. But I’m a firm believer that she’ll love you more for respecting her enough to come clean. She may call you names and be hurtful, but you just have to take a deep breath and not take it personally. And who knows? She may not take it as badly as you think she might. To me, pretending you had a miscarriage is a bad look. My family dealt with two of them, and I wouldn’t wish that pain upon my worst enemy.

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As one of my mentors once told me, “The right thing and the easy thing are rarely the same thing.” I hope you choose to do the right thing for the sake of your relationship with your daughter.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

A few years ago, a good friend of mine, then in her mid-20s, found out she was pregnant unexpectedly. Nobody, including her, was terribly impressed with the baby’s father, but she decided she wanted to keep the baby. Her family very vocally did not. Her baby is now 3 years old, and an absolute delight to be around. She’s taken to motherhood beautifully, and her parents eventually came around to being excited about their grandson, but being happy he exists was as far as they would bend. The mom-shaming is intense, and they are unwilling to offer their support (emotional, physical, financial) to help her. The lack of emotional support has always stung, but the ongoing pandemic has highlighted her real need for more material support, particularly with child care. I no longer live in the area where we grew up, so I unfortunately can’t offer the sort of concrete help that I’d like to, like taking her son some weekends so she can catch up on the house or just catch her breath, or even just coming over sometimes to keep him out from underfoot while she works. But, I do visit a few times a year. And, I don’t have a lot of money, but I do have some expendable income. I work hard to always be available when she calls, but I want to help. Can you help me think of how I can best offer help, either monetarily or with my time (when I’m there)? I don’t have any kids and feel sort of at a loss about what would be useful, when what she seems to need most is more time in the day.

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—Auntie From Afar

Dear Auntie,

In such a self-centered world, it’s beautiful to see someone who cares about the welfare of someone else as much as you do. I could spend the entire column trashing her family members who refuse to get off their high horse to be there for your friend, but they aren’t worth my time. I’ll just say that your friend shouldn’t allow her parents to be around her son if they aren’t willing to be “all-in” to support her. I don’t mean financial support—I mean doing the little things that cost nothing but can massively help her emotionally survive another day. If they’re going to shame her nonstop, she should cut ties with them indefinitely. Parenting is hard, but it’s even harder if you have to navigate through loved ones telling you that you’re doing it wrong on a consistent basis.

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As for what you can do? I suffer from clinical depression, and I learned a valuable lesson when I was going through my darkest time. A close friend of mine called me one day and asked if I was home. When I responded that I was just sitting on my couch, she replied, “Great, I’ll be over in 30 minutes. See you soon.” She didn’t ask for permission to stop by. She didn’t ask if I was OK because she knew I wasn’t. She just showed up with my favorite takeout, we talked for 30 minutes, and then she left. If she had asked if she could come over, I would’ve said “no” and continued to suffer in silence. Instead, I felt so much better, and I was in better mood for days.

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The moral of the story is if you feel the need to help, just do it. Call her multiple times a week to listen. Drop a few dollars into her Venmo account for no reason. Use an app to research and find a local babysitter so she can have some alone time for a few hours. Send her texts to say “you got this” and “I love you and believe in you.” Send her a gift card to her favorite restaurant so she won’t have to worry about cooking for a couple of nights. Some of these suggestions may seem trite, but I’m telling you that they go a long way when you feel like it’s you against the world. At the end of the day, we all have a strong desire to feel loved, supported, and worthy—and these are a few simple ways to do that for your dear friend.

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Speaking of which, you are the kind of friend that anyone reading this would be honored to have in their corner.

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From this week’s letter, “My Job’s Demands Have Crossed a Line:” “Should I have just picked something else if I don’t have this in me?”

Dear Care and Feeding,

My son is in preschool and a couple of weeks ago he said one of the other kids in his class put his hands around my son’s neck like he was choking him. From what I understand, the teacher put an end to it fairly quickly. We didn’t hear about it again until tonight when I noticed my son was putting his hands around his own neck like he was choking himself. He said he learned it at school when the other child did it to him. We told him that it’s not a nice thing to do to himself or other people because it can hurt people very badly. We have met this kid once, and he seems pretty nice and we’re not sure where he picked up the behavior, although he does have older brothers. Is this something we need to be worried about? Do we need to do more to address it? We’re used to reports of hitting or biting at day care/preschool, but this seems scarier.

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—Too Young to Know About Choking

Dear Too Young,

Yikes, this is definitely alarming, and I’m glad you’re taking this seriously. I’ll be damned if I heard about someone putting their hands around the neck of one of my children without doing anything to address it.

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The first thing I would do is speak directly to the teacher to get all of the facts of the incident—and I would do that as the bare minimum. If it were me, I would also take it to the next level and request a meeting with the kid’s parents, the teacher, and you so that you can listen to all sides of the story. Assuming all parties are reasonable, it could be chalked up to an unfortunate isolated incident that everyone learns from.

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Since you explained to your young son why choking himself was bad, has he ever tried it again? I’m a little concerned that the lesson you taught him is that it’s “not a nice thing to do to himself.” It’s quite a bit worse than that. To me, if he shows even an inkling of this behavior again, you need to really lay down the law. This is more than “not a nice thing.” When I was a kid, a friend of mine was about to put his finger inside of a giant metal fan. Thankfully his dad saw it and verbally ripped him a new one for almost getting a digit chopped off. Trust me, that was all he needed to never consider doing that again.

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Depending on what happens from here, you may also want to enlist some professional help from a therapist to nip it in the bud before it results in real damage to him or someone else. You can also use this incident to teach your son that he should always keep his hands to himself, and more importantly, nobody should be touching him right now outside of his family. We’re still in the middle of a deadly pandemic and there shouldn’t be any physical contact whatsoever—especially between unvaccinated children who can’t be protected. Your kid’s school should be onboard with this, and if they’re not, you may need to find a place where he can be safer.

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• If you missed Monday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am having a bit of an issue. I am a white woman, and I am crushing hard on a man that I met at a gas station who is African American and works there. Ever since I was in high school I have been super attracted to Black men, but I’ve never had the opportunity to date a Black man. My worry is not at all about what others will think if they were to see us walking hand in hand down the street, because I couldn’t care less what other people may think. My biggest issue is I really want to tell him that I have always wanted to date a Black guy, but I keep getting stuck on saying the Black guy part of that. I really don’t want to offend him, and I really want to know how to tell him that without making myself sound like a racist or something. How can I tell him I’ve always been very attracted to Black men?

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—Dumbfounded in Dallas

Dear Dumbfounded,

Normally I tackle parenting-related questions around here, but as a Black man, I couldn’t resist this one.

Try looking at this a little differently. Let’s pretend that a guy showed some romantic interest in you and early in the courting process he said, “I know this may sound strange, but I’ve always wanted to date a woman with feet as pretty as yours.” There’s no mention of your personality, your intelligence, your sense of humor or anything—just the fact that he really likes your toes in sandals. Wouldn’t you think that’s weird? I wouldn’t blame you one bit if you used those pretty feet of yours to run as fast as you could in the opposite direction. The same rule applies here.

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The fetishization of Black men is a real thing. Don’t believe me? The most bizarre example happened a few years ago when I was on a Caribbean cruise and an extremely intoxicated white man stumbled over to me and asked if I would be willing to have sex with his wife while he watched. He didn’t ask or care if I was married, and he didn’t ask his wife—who was visibly mortified in the background. He just wanted me to be a part of his twisted fantasy, which I not-so-politely declined.

In my adult life I’ve had more white women than I care to remember state how they’ve always wanted to “date” (or have sex with) a Black man, and their reasons weren’t the greatest, either. They usually fell into one of two categories: White men couldn’t satisfy them, so they wanted to see if the myths are true about the sexual prowess of Black men, or everyone said how wrong it is for white women to date Black men, so they wanted to be rebellious. I’m not sure what category you fall into, but you should ask yourself why you want to date a Black man. In other words, are you looking for love, or are you looking to get laid? You’re a grown woman, so I’m not going to fault you either way as long as you’re upfront and not deceitful, but I’ll give you a quick pointer: don’t bring up the fact that you’ve always wanted to date a Black guy, especially early on, because you’re going to sound just like the foot fetish guy. It’s totally unnecessary and some things are best left in your back pocket until a more appropriate time.

I think you should go for it, but don’t make it weird.

—Doyin

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My 9-year-old daughter claims she is mostly friendless and describes a rough, heartless situation at school. When I’ve asked the teacher for her perspective, she sees a well-liked girl with friends, full stop. She’s a kind, creative, dramatic kid with good grades, but she is a first-class complainer. How can I help her?

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