Dear Care and Feeding,
We have twin 15-year-old daughters. “Kaley” has always been pretty into team sports through school—soccer, volleyball, and basketball—while “Jenna” played an extremely niche club sport outside of school. This worked out well for our family. It allowed Kaley and Jenna to have “separate spheres” so to speak and to be able to flourish/excel in their own respective arenas. After Jenna experienced a falling out with a teammate in her club sport, she decided to try out for the same school soccer team Kaley’s on. Jenna made the team and has become the new star. To be honest, she completely outshines her sister. This is obvious in both quantitative measures (playing time) and qualitative measures (who’s winning the MVP award, who’s getting praise and attention from coaches, etc). Kaley has started making small “dig”-like comments around Jenna and wanting to make excuses for why she can’t go to practice. She also privately shared with me that she feels like Jenna “stole” the one thing that was just Kaley’s, and that things are now “awkward” between her and some of the other girls on the team now that Jenna has more playing time than Kaley.
My husband and I have long believed we should stay out of our kids’ social lives unless there is bullying, abuse, sexting, or something else that causes harm. We’re at a loss as to what to do here. Of course Jenna has every right to pursue her athletic passions—but we want to be careful that each of our kids have the freedom and opportunity to shine, and we’ve always been careful to treat the twins as two separate individuals, not a collective. What should we do about this situation?
—Mom of Twins
Dear Mom of Twins,
I feel like I’m the perfect person to answer your question because I’m an identical twin, and we both played sports from kindergarten through college. Hell, he won the “Cutest Boy” superlative during our senior year in high school. Did I mention that we are identical? As you can tell, after all of these years I’m completely over it. It doesn’t bother me one bit. Not at all.
If I’m being honest, my twin brother was a better basketball player than me in high school. He scored more points, got more playing time, and was viewed as a star when I was more of a supporting actor. As I’m sure you know, a talent disparity can be extremely tough for twins. Due to a lack of critical thinking by the general public, everyone assumes that if two people look alike, they must be similar in every other facet of life. I grew depressed and also harbored jealousy toward my brother for a few years because of it.
Finally, I woke up and realized that I had to grow up and stop placing the blame on others. It wasn’t my brother’s fault that he was better than me at basketball, it was mine. So I spent a lot of time practicing like a maniac to improve, and that’s exactly what happened. We went to the same college and we both played basketball there, but I was unquestionably the better player at that point. The bottom line is you can either have adversity crush you or motivate you. I chose the latter.
I’m sharing this story because I want to emphasize that it’s not Jenna’s fault that she’s more talented than Kaley—just like it wasn’t my brother’s fault that he was better than me at basketball. Jenna also shouldn’t be penalized or forbidden from playing soccer because Kaley plays. Trust me, I know better than most people how twins want to forge their own identities as teenagers, but guess what? Life doesn’t always happen the way we want it to. If I were in your shoes, I would tell Kaley to put her big girl pants on and do whatever it takes to get better. Doing so will definitely serve her as she grows older and ventures into adulthood. As parents, you should do whatever it takes to help Kaley improve and prevent her from falling into the easy pitfall of blaming others for her problems.
There’s nothing wrong with a little healthy competition between siblings, but you have to ensure it doesn’t become toxic. However, if Jenna happens to win the “Cutest Girl” award in high school, then all bets are off.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My 10-year-old goes to a private school that is known for being very socially progressive. We love this! He is aware of many social issues and very respectful of others’ differences. However, we are dealing with an incident that I’m hoping you can help us understand and/or resolve. At school, the students are routinely asked their pronouns if there’s a new teacher or new adult who doesn’t already know the preferred pronouns. My son has no problem with this (he is he/him), nor do I. Last week, at the first practice for the school soccer team, the new coach asked for pronouns. “Tay”—another player on the team—hesitated, and my son thought Tay didn’t understand the question, so he asked, “Tay, what are your pronouns?” Tay started crying and my son got freaked out. He told me the story when he got home.
The next day, I got a call from Tay’s mom, who said her child didn’t like pronouns and that Jake was way too aggressive in asking about them. I shared my confusion at the situation. Tay’s mom said their family “isn’t into pronouns right now” because their child is nonbinary and doesn’t know which pronouns to use. I apologized on my son’s behalf, but I’m still really confused. I also don’t know how to advise my son on future interactions like this. Is “not being into pronouns right now” a thing? Did my son do something wrong? Did I? I’m trying to be a good ally to queer kids, but I am feeling out of my depth.
This seems to be nothing more than a misunderstanding. Yes, your son made Tay feel uncomfortable in that moment, but the concept of asking for pronouns is a relatively new one in mainstream America. Many grown-ups have no clue how to do it (or have no willingness to do it), so it’s tough to expect kids to be effective in that regard.
On the other hand, impact always outweighs intent—so you did the right thing by apologizing on behalf of your son, but I also think it’s important that your son apologize to Tay as well. I would imagine it must be really tough for Tay to navigate through life right now, and a major facet of allyship is admitting when you’ve made a mistake. It doesn’t need to be huge production, either. Just a simple, “Hey, Tay—I’m sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable the other day. I really like you, and I’m glad you’re my teammate.” End of discussion.
To answer your question, yes, your son did something wrong because he unintentionally hurt the feelings of another kid. But if we look at this from a macro level, it’s obvious your son wanted to do the right thing, and isn’t a hateful bigot. Other than apologizing to Tay, it’s important not to let this incident extinguish his fire regarding his love for progressive social issues. I would let him know that no matter if we’re advocating for the LGBTQ community, Black and brown people, women, or any other marginalized group, there are times when we’ll make cringeworthy errors that offend the people we’re trying to help. God knows I’ve done it multiple times, and allyship work is how I make my living. It’s completely normal. The key is to not make the same mistake twice.
One of my friends who has experience in this area advises his two kids to say this upon meeting a new kid: “Hi, my name is Joe and I use the pronouns he/him/his. What’s your name? Do you feel comfortable sharing your pronouns with me?” More often than not, his two sons will get the other kid’s name and pronouns, but there have been a few instances where the child didn’t want to share their pronouns for whatever reason, and that’s OK. Asking for permission shows respect for the individual, and that’s what’s important here.
Don’t beat yourself up over this. You’re doing a great job with your son.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My daughter attended a private Catholic school for kindergarten and first grade. We also enrolled her in the after-school program. Last year, my child came home with a severe mouth injury obtained during this program. She had been playing on one of those square floor scooters and fallen forward smashing her face. The inside of her upper lip looked like hamburger and took six stitches. The incident took place at 3 p.m., and we did not find out until my husband picked her up at 5 p.m. The school provided an incident report but never called us. My daughter said she was bleeding from the mouth when it happened, but a teacher took her into the bathroom and had her clean herself up. They then sat her in front of the office and after a few minutes sent her back to go play. My daughter is now terrified of the dentist and the scar still causes discomfort. The school only offered an apology once we confronted them. We moved her to public school this year, but would we be in the wrong to sue the school for damages?
—Mad Mama Bear
Dear Mad Mama Bear,
In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not a lawyer (nor do I ever want to become one), but let’s think about this.
Without going through all of the boring details, in 2018 I had surgery on a ruptured Achilles tendon I suffered while playing basketball. After the procedure, the doctor did something negligent that could’ve resulted in my lower leg being amputated if I hadn’t noticed it as quickly as I did. I ended up going through an additional surgery to fix his error, and eventually I had a full recovery.
Did I have every right to sue the doctor? Absolutely, but I didn’t bother. I didn’t want to go through the emotional and financial distress of reliving that situation only to have a coin flip’s chance of winning. Now, if I ended up getting my leg amputated, you can bet your rear end that I would’ve made a different decision. Instead, I told everyone who listened about my incident so they could steer away from his office.
I know your daughter still has the emotional and physical scars from that accident, but I’m confident that she will fully heal from them in due time. I’m not saying you should slander the school, but you have every right to share your experience with others, on Yelp, with your friends, or whatever avenue feels comfortable to you. That will cost you nothing, and it could save other kids from experiencing the same thing.
Based on your signoff, I know you’re still angry, but you need to determine if it’s worth it for you to take legal action. From my clear-headed, impartial perspective, the answer is a resounding “no.”
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From this week’s letter, “My Teenager Made a Big Mistake Trying to Hold Her Teacher ‘Accountable’ ”: “Do we punish Taylor, despite her positive intentions?”
Dear Care and Feeding,
Our third grade daughter “Jessica” has complained of boredom in school since kindergarten. She finishes her work quickly (and accurately) and gets frustrated when the class is lagging behind. We haven’t gotten reports of any behavioral issues—but she genuinely hates school. We’ve tried everything—outside tutoring, talking to her teachers, even considering an IEP—but there’s been no meaningful change in the fact that she fundamentally isn’t challenged at school. In our town, the Gifted and Talented program starts in fourth grade. Third graders take a test for admission (it’s one of multiple criteria, including teacher reports). Jessica’s teacher has suggested she’d be a good fit for the program and encouraged us to get her tested.
My husband is all in—but I have concerns. The GT program is known for being extremely homogeneous—mostly the wealthy, white children of wealthy, white adults in town. The parents tend to be pretty “helicoptery” and many of the older children who graduated from this program struggle with test anxiety and depression. I want Jessica to be in a more racially and socioeconomically diverse space. I also don’t want her winding up with psychological issues from being around anxious and depressed kids all day every day. My husband thinks I’m crazy for not getting Jessica tested. He says that if she continues to be unchallenged in school, she will likely wind up with her own psychological problems (or just mentally check out of school altogether). Should we get her tested and see what happens? Skip the testing and continue to try and make the General Education program work? Allow her to join the GT program for a year and then reevaluate? Please advise.
—To Test or Not to Test
Dear To Test,
I wouldn’t go as far as calling you crazy, but I really don’t see the problem in getting her tested. Anxiety and depression affect kids from all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, so I wouldn’t use that as an excuse not to put her in the program if she qualifies.
Also, the Gifted and Talented program has always been a club for wealthy and privileged white kids, and I doubt that will change anytime soon. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t expose Jessica to people of color outside of the classroom through sports, extracurricular activities, books, movies, etc.
Hopefully being challenged will help her find her love of school, but I’d also caution her against forming a superiority complex over kids who learn at a slower pace. I was one of those kids, and believe me, I wanted nothing more than to grasp concepts as quickly as many of my peers did, but it just didn’t click for me. I also noticed other kids rolling their eyes or letting out exasperated sighs when I asked my teachers for clarification, which made me feel like crap. Similar to your daughter, their behavior wasn’t egregious enough to reprimanded by the teacher—but that doesn’t mean that it’s not hurtful. Granted, I’m doing much better as an adult than many of my former so-called gifted classmates today, but I still have those emotional scars.
No matter what you decide for Jessica, please ensure that she doesn’t turn into a mean girl. Because being smart and gifted doesn’t mean a damn thing if you’re not a good human.
More Advice From Slate
I’m a nonbinary trans person who lives in a sizable city. Most days, I look pretty gender-nonconforming, and I’m also on low-dose testosterone, which is gradually shifting my appearance away from what most people would consider “the norm.” Because of this, I often get stared at by babies and little kids when I’m out and about. My instinct is usually to smile back at them, since I generally like kids and I think it’s good for them to have positive interactions with real-life trans people. My main concern, though, is with their parents. Will they think it’s creepy that I’m interacting with their kids? Am I putting myself at risk?