Care and Feeding

Can an Introvert Really Be a Good Parent?

I’ve always wanted to foster, but I’m worried I don’t have the right kind of energy.

A woman holds a teddy bear and looks curious about something she's thinking.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by AaronAmat/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,

Within a few years, I’ll be financially and life-stage ready to start fostering, which is something I’ve wanted to do for over a decade. I’ve been reading foster blogs and books about childhood trauma for years, so I feel as prepared for that part of it as I can be. But I’m scared about the actual daily parenting part. I love kids—talking to kids sitting near me on the plane, waving to toddlers at the park, hearing all about the children in my life—but I’m also pretty introverted and find it tiring to spend more than an hour or two with my cousins’ kids. Kids, especially those with trauma backgrounds, need a lot of love and focused attention to thrive. I’m not worried about the love part, but I am super anxious that I won’t be able to give them enough attention on a daily basis to meet their needs. Are there strategies for handling endless hours of talking about Transformers/My Little Pony/child obsession of your choice, or for hearing “I’m bored” 50 times in one afternoon, other than shutting them up with screens? Can I be the absolutely fantastic foster mom I want to be without also losing my mind as an introverted single parent? Should I not even try to parent at all?

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— Parent-to-Be or Not-to-Be?

Dear Parent-to-Be?,

It’s wonderful that you want to be a foster parent! As I’m sure you know, there is a great need for people like you, and the need has only gotten greater during the pandemic. It’s also wonderful that you are getting prepared by reading all the blogs and the books. There will be real, formal training once you apply, but everything I’ve read about preparing to become a foster parent encourages people to seek additional education—not just reading, but actual training sessions and cross-cultural educational opportunities that can help you be as ready as possible for the relationships and responsibilities to come. (This New York Times guide lists a bunch of good resources.)

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But there’s one thing I would encourage you to consider before you go any further down this path: Might you like the idea of being a foster parent more than the actual experience of it? I’m not judging! Believe me, I, too, like the idea of being a certain type of person who would do certain things, but so far I am not that person. Of course, you can’t totally know the answer ahead of time; great intentions are part of any good work. And I applaud you for realizing your potential limitations in advance. But I would encourage you to get involved with foster kids now, before even applying to become a foster parent, to test the waters.

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There are tons of ways to volunteer for short chunks of time, on the weekends, as a driver, etc., that don’t require you to enter into such a huge and important commitment. Do as many of those things as you can! And talk to current foster parents about their experiences, please. It will help you figure out if this is truly the right path for you. And if you do all of this—the training, the education, the volunteering, the talking, the self-reflection—and still want to become a foster parent, then my advice is simple: The only way to handle endless hours of talking about Transformers or My Little Pony is to engage for a little and then, after maybe 10 solid minutes of good listening, pretend to still be listening until they run out of steam. You’ll get the hang of it, don’t worry.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 2-year-old daughter HATES baths. Specifically, she hates having her hair washed. I have read so many articles, suggesting what to do: try laying her back instead of pouring water on her head, get her one of those visors, etc. But no matter what I or my partner try, she screams like she’s being mortally wounded. I’ve tried playing with the water temperature so it’s not too hot or too cold; it doesn’t seem to make any difference. She doesn’t mind getting her hair wet when she’s in a pool or at a splash pad—it’s solely a bath issue. It’s making bath time a nightmare! And she has to get a freaking bath! I am not onboard with this celebrity trend of not bathing children regularly. I was a poor, single mom to my eldest child for years and am aware that the optics are different when your child is unbathed and you’re not partnered, rich, and/or white. What do we do here? She has to get her hair washed!

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—No One Is Hurting You, Kid!

Dear No One Is Hurting You,

First of all, I’m with you. Kids get super dirty every day. Kids are gross. She has to get a freaking bath! But … maybe she doesn’t have to wash her hair every day? Your daughter is right around the age when kids pick up irrational fears, and fear of the bath can definitely be one of them. Meaning, like so much else, I am confident that this is a phase. If she’s willing to get in the bath and get her body—just not her hair—clean, I would go that route most days and then endure the tantrum for clean hair a few times a week. And on those dreaded hair days, I would try a couple of things to see if any work: 1) Let her soap up her own hair and pour the water over her own head. Sometimes giving them control really helps. 2) Throw a Super Special Shower Party. I know the last thing you want to do at the end of the day, when you can see that sweet, sweet parental freedom light at the end of the bedtime routine tunnel, is throw a type of party that I just made up. But if she’s cool with splash pads, maybe she’d like the shower, especially if you make it, er, super special? She’s little so you’d need to get in with her, and you’ll want a shower mat so she doesn’t slip and maybe even a little plastic stool to make it extra easy. Perhaps she’ll hate it! But since she already hates the bath, seems worth the risk. But mostly: This too shall pass.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I was at the petting zoo yesterday with my kid, and I noticed a man and his son next to us. The kid was about 7, and the dad kept speaking unnecessarily harshly to him. He wasn’t yelling, but it was maybe things like telling him he was feeding the animals wrong or … I can’t even remember a specific thing he said, I just had the impression that this dad has anger issues and treats his kid harshly. What should I do in a situation like this? I have the feeling that if I say something, it will make it worse for the kid. But it also didn’t seem right. There was nothing over the top, just an overall impression. My husband noticed it too. I’m laying here worrying about this kid, and wondering what I should do differently next time.

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—Concerned at the Zoo

Dear Concerned at the Zoo,

Honestly, I think you did the right thing: nothing. He wasn’t yelling (not that yelling is necessarily cause for intervention either), and it wasn’t, as you said, over the top. You can’t even recall the exact details of what he was saying. It sounds like you overheard a dad who parents differently than you do. Maybe he sucks. Maybe he was in a bad mood. Who knows? But if you were to take it upon yourself to police all the overly critical, moody, annoyed parents that come within a few feet of you at the zoo, well, let’s just say I hope we don’t frequent the same zoo.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and our kids recently moved into a new neighborhood. Our reason for moving was a better school district and bullying issues at the prior school which negatively affected my daughter Liz (13). Liz essentially lost many friends during the pandemic as we decided early on that masking, vaccines, and online learning would be the only way for our family to keep safe. She slowly became excluded from many gatherings, in-person and online. Eventually kids started becoming really mean to Liz and bullying her in online games and on TikTok. Moving was our only choice to change schools.

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Liz ended up having a great summer with the kids in the new neighborhood, and all of them would go house-hopping every day with some sleepovers. Unfortunately, there was a neighborhood birthday where all families were invited, but we left early to walk our dog, and one of the girl’s mothers, “Grace,” had a talking-to with all of the kids about how she felt they had not been playing nice with her daughter. Liz felt singled-out for scolding in particular. It really bothered me when Liz told me the story, so I told her she not to go over to Grace’s house anymore. If you have a problem with my kid, you talk to me and you certainly don’t have my permission to verbally ostracize her without me and especially in front of other people. I don’t know her well—so confronting her was not an option.

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Anyway, when the kids were playing and about to all go over to Grace’s house one day a few weeks ago, Liz told the kids she could not go. Shortly after that, the kids stopped coming over to our house. Little by little, we saw the kids playing outside—but none of the kids were asking Liz to come out and play anymore. Then, other kids disconnected from Liz on online games. I also started to see social gatherings with all the kids at houses or birthday parties on social media—all the kids except my Lizzie. Grace’s family also unfriended us on social media.

Obviously, if they are having gatherings and not inviting us or Liz—our family and my poor Lizzie has been excommunicated by many in the neighborhood. We are at a loss, as we moved to get away from the exact situation of mean girls, and it’s happening all over again.
Only now, Liz can see it all unfolding from her windows upstairs.

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At school she is adjusting fine, making some new friends and keeping A’s and B’s, but this neighborhood exclusion is triggering flashbacks of her old bullying friends and school, and she is sad and mopey at home, constantly talking about how she doesn’t know why they are all excluding her and ignoring her. I bought her some books about why girls are mean and how to get over girl drama from Amazon. My husband is over talking about it and says we need to get over it: Not everyone is going to like you and it builds character. But this character-building is breaking Liz’s heart and mine as well. What can I do to turn this around?

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—Heartbroken

Dear Heartbroken,

Ugh, kids suck. I am really sorry Liz has to deal with this, and I know how hard it is to be OK as a parent out in the world when your child is suffering. This sounds like a pit-in-stomach-all-the-time situation. But—and I mean this in the most loving, understanding, empathetic way possible—I think you’re in too deep! Liz is obviously lucky to have a mom who she can share her feelings with, and a mom who desperately wants to protect her from hurt and harm. What I suspect you know, though, is that you can’t. I do think you could have talked (and still could talk) to Grace. It wouldn’t need to be a confrontation. But you could say you notice that the girls don’t hang out anymore, and Liz seemed to think that Grace was upset with her, and is there anything that Grace would like you to know. (Who knows: Maybe Liz did something cruel to Grace’s kid! Even great kids are jerks sometimes. That doesn’t mean she should be ostracized.)

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But beyond that, unless there is real, targeted bullying going on, Liz is now old enough to, with your ear and support and love, navigate this stuff on her own. And it seems like she’s doing that pretty well, actually? She’s making some friends at school, getting good grades, and feeling bummed about being left out in the neighborhood. Sounds about right for 13. This is going to come off as trite, but I think the best thing you can do is just be there for her—not to overly obsess about those girls, but to be an ear and a source of unconditional love. The tween and teen years are going to be a series of awful social experiences (mixed in with great ones, I hope), and Liz just needs to know that home is where she’s safe and loved, no matter how many friends she has or how her social life is going.

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You can’t stop yourself from feeling heartsick for her. But you can be careful to make sure she doesn’t think you think this is the end of the world. Yes, you want her to have more friends and easy friendships. Of course you do! But if that’s not in the cards right now, please make sure she knows you don’t think it’s abnormal or wrong to only have a few friends or to struggle. And then just love love love her. (And talk shit about those girls to your husband in bed at night.)

—Allison

More Advice From Slate

I’ve suffered from anxiety my whole life, and with the help of my wonderful wife and a lot of therapy, it’s more under control now than it’s been in the past. I’m also prone to intrusive thoughts, and unfortunately these two issues have coalesced into constant worrying and obsessing over whether my 10-month-old baby is actually my biological child. Of course, I have no reason to think he isn’t. My wife has never given me any suspicion of being unfaithful, and he was a planned and much-wanted child. I can’t sleep, it’s all I think about, and I’ve been too embarrassed to tell my therapist. I’m worrying that it’s going to hurt my relationship with my beautiful baby, and I don’t know what to do. Can I ask my wife to take a paternity test, or will that ruin everything?

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