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,
My daughter, 11, has been wonderful throughout the pandemic. She social distances at all times, we never have to remind her to put her masks on, and we found a fully virtual scholastic program so she can avoid the significant risks of large crowds in the public schools.
A few weeks ago, however, her other parent and I had an obligation that we both had to be present for (we are both vaccinated, it was socially distanced, and we were wearing masks). Usually one of us would stay home with her, but because of her maturity level and the short time we would be gone, we assumed we could trust her on her own.
When we arrived home, we found her with a friend of hers who lives about a block away. She has visited on occasion throughout the pandemic but they know the rules. They are to stay outside and on opposite ends of the driveway or patio. The patio only offers about 5 feet of distance, but we decided that should be enough as long as they stay outside and keep their masks on.
Anyway, when we arrived home on this particular day, both her and her friend were in the living room, sitting on the same couch, not wearing masks, not socially distanced, and each putting their hands into the same bowl of chips. Why she would take this kind of risk, I still don’t understand.
I immediately told her friend that she had to go home and to please inform her mother to call me at her earliest convenience. I then expressed my disappointment with my daughter and informed her how dangerous what she did was. I reminded her about the delta variant and how it’s caused so many children her age to end up in the ICU. I told her that she only has to wait a few more months until she’s eligible for the vaccine, and this isn’t the time to become complacent.
We took all the necessary steps to remain safe. She immediately quarantined in her bedroom for the suggested two weeks. I cleaned the house thoroughly and opened multiple windows to circulate the air. Luckily, we all came out of this debacle safely.
I still don’t feel I can trust her, though. I understand it’s normal for her to make mistakes, but this wasn’t forgetting to turn a light off or close the refrigerator. She put her life at risk. How do we start building the trust back?
Dear Trust Issues,
You can’t expect adult maturity from a child. If your daughter has been cautious and otherwise “wonderful” over the past 18 months, and this is her first time violating your household rules around COVID protocol, I’d encourage you to extend her a bit of grace. A year and a half is a long time for an 11-year-old to go without hanging out with friends. It’s also a long time to expect them to remain vigilant around a threat that seems to be lessening for the adults around them (as vaccination rates continue to rise and the world reopens). Her age group is among the last for whom vaccination isn’t an option, and it’s challenging for kids to watch the trusted authorities in their lives relax their own protocols around socializing, while they’re still being kept away from the people and things they care about.
Your daughter had a temporary lapse in judgment, which is to be expected for a child who hasn’t even reached adolescence yet. It sounds like you’ve sufficiently reprimanded her for inviting an unmasked friend into the house when you weren’t home. Aside from thinking twice before leaving her unsupervised again anytime soon, there shouldn’t be many additional measures you need to take to reestablish trust.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I have a 7-week-old baby. My husband is gone for work from 7 a.m. to 3–4 p.m. and then from 8:30 to midnight. I’m essentially alone all day, every day. I don’t have any family in the country, and since I just moved here, I have no friends either. All community resources are online and I’m sick of typing my feelings. I just want a real conversation with a human being. The time difference from my home country to the one I’m in right now is too much to make conversation with people there feasible, and the time my husband is home, he either wants sex or sleep.
My doctor diagnosed me with postpartum depression recently. I love my baby to bits but I’m losing it with the loneliness. I honestly hate my husband at this point. I don’t know what to do. The baby won’t get off my lap all day and she doesn’t sleep well at night. I’m on baby duty 24/7. As I’m writing this to you, I’m crying about what I’ll have for lunch because there’s nothing to eat at home, I can’t make anything because the baby cries the second I put her down, and I’m sick of fast food. I want a home-cooked meal. My husband is essentially useless. There’s a week’s worth of trash that he’ll “get to today,” the dishes are all fucking dirty, the house is a mess since he won’t even pick up his own clothes or clean up his own mess. I don’t know how I’m going to make it through this period.
—Exhausted and Depressed
Dear Exhausted and Depressed,
I’m so sorry you’re feeling so isolated and overwhelmed. Postpartum depression, living far from home, and not having the support, encouragement, and presence of your partner are all huge hurdles to overcome as the parent of a newborn.
There are a few steps you can try taking immediately to alleviate some of your frustrations. First, tell your husband that you’ll need to take an hour to yourself daily. It will need to fall sometime between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., the hours that your husband will be at home. Make clear that you’re not asking for this hour; you’re simply informing him that you will be taking it. During that hour, take a long, leisurely bath or shower, take a walk, sit outside, read a book. If you can’t step outside of the house alone, then close yourself off to your baby and husband and immerse yourself in something that will make you feel like you’ve stepped away and taken a break.
New mothers need breaks, and they deserve partners and/or a circle of support who understand that. Remember this when you’re firm and unwavering with your husband about your daily need for time to yourself.
Second, it’s great that you’ve used some of the online community resources at your disposal. Might it be possible to post a note in one of your groups, asking if anyone would be open to talking on the phone or meeting up for an outing? Even a video call might lessen the feeling of detachment that comes with typing your thoughts into what can feel like a void.
If you’re ever up with the baby in the middle of the night and you’re alert enough to talk, consider calling someone you know who’s living in a daylight time zone.
Lastly, your baby is only 2 months old, so this may seem like a foreign and difficult concept, but it’s OK to put her down from time to time, even if she cries the whole time you’re not holding her. If her needs are met—she’s in a safe place like her crib, and she’s fed, dry, burped, and not in obvious or prolonged distress—a little alone time won’t harm her.
I hope things improve for you sooner rather than later. In the meantime, remember that it’s OK to seek out healthy ways to cope.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m 31 and pregnant for the first time. This baby was a welcome addition for my husband and me, and we are excited to start planning. I recently had a new round of blood tests and was shocked to find out I tested positive for syphilis. Even worse, it’s long-term, and likely the cause of the mysterious neurological problems I’ve been experiencing for the last four years. (I have always insisted on STD testing for myself and my partners, but I didn’t realize my doctor left this test out. I am angry and confused. This could have been caught a long time ago.)
My marriage is as strong as ever with this diagnosis, and we are helping each other cope emotionally and physically (that many penicillin shots in the ass are no joke). My problem is I am too ashamed to tell anyone the truth of why this pregnancy is now considered high-risk. I just don’t want my baby’s story to start this way.
I am an oversharer by nature. If I suddenly become shifty about the cause of this issue, my family and friends will certainly be suspicious and ask further questions. How do I address their concerns while keeping this a secret?
—TMI to Tight-Lipped
Dear TMI to Tight-Lipped,
You get to control the narrative here. Just because your friends and family may seem suspicious about your sudden need for a little more discretion than usual, you don’t have to capitulate to any line of questioning that feels intrusive. Most people understand the need for medical confidentiality. Lean into that. You can say that you’re dealing with a relatively new and unexpected health challenge and you’d rather not go into detail.
It’s great to hear that your husband has been supportive during what sounds like an unsettling experience. One more way that he can come to your aid is by helping you guard your privacy. If necessary, develop a few talking points with him, the gist of each being “there will be no further comment.”
It’s a great time to start renegotiating what you will and will not share outside your immediate family. Parents often find themselves having to safeguard their children’s privacy. It seems like protecting your child’s “story” is a large part of your motivation for keeping your current health condition to yourself. That’s a great maternal instinct, and this is the first of many times you’ll need to use it.
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From this week’s letter, “I’m Worried My Mother’s Worst Trait Could Permanently Damage My Son”: “The scariest part is that I see this part of my mother in myself.”
Dear Care and Feeding,
My 10-year-old daughter dances both recreationally and competitively. She loves dance, is with a wonderful team of girls that she considers her best friends, and is taught by an amazing teacher at a studio nearby. Sometimes, if I come to pick her up early, I get to watch her team dance, and when I saw their most recent dance, I was … more than a little uncomfortable. Although the team is made up of four white girls and two Black girls, they were doing a dance to Indian Bollywood music, in the Bollywood style, and the photos I was sent by her teacher showing me their planned makeup and outfit include a tutu made of fabric from India and them wearing a red dot on their forehead (which I’ve heard is normally worn by religious South Asian women). It seems very offensive to me, but I’m not totally sure—I don’t know many South Asian people, and I would feel uncomfortable reaching out to an Indian co-worker or Facebook friend that I don’t really talk to about this.
But as it gets closer and closer to competition time, there would be less and less time to choreograph a replacement dance. None of the other parents have said anything, and in fact they seemed to be thrilled with how it looked, so I’m wondering if it’s just me. Should I pull my daughter out of this competition altogether, leaving her team short one kid? Or maybe try and get other moms and dads involved? My husband hasn’t seen them perform the dance, but agreed that the costumes and makeup looked “iffy,” and is encouraging me to just switch studios altogether.
—Not THAT Dance Mom
Dear Not THAT Dance Mom,
Your instincts are correct: This is a case of cultural appropriation, and you don’t need to consult with a South Asian acquaintance to confirm it. Based on the details you’ve provided, the choreographers and planners want to use music and costuming traditionally associated with Indian culture, solely for the purpose of entertainment. Even if there were an educational component to the dance performance, one that explains Bollywood-style music and dance, it’s still inappropriate to have the children wear red bindi, which have social, traditional, and spiritual significance for many women of Indian descent.
It’s worth raising the issue with the dance instructors, who should, at minimum, be made aware that at least one parent in their cohort finds their actions culturally insensitive. Hopefully, they’ll consider a different routine (or at least a different wardrobe), but ultimately, what they do after your conversation with them is out of your hands. What you can control is whether or not your daughter will participate in something you find so objectionable.
Even if you choose to keep her enrolled in her current class after this performance, try to speak up about future issues early enough for an alternative approach to be implemented. If the school still seems unwilling to be more considerate, it would be a good idea to find your daughter a different dance class.
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I have bipolar I disorder, aka manic depressive illness. Compound that with perimenopause, and it can be rough on my husband and son. I’ve responded by not only doing all the medical things one should do, but also by explaining what’s going on to my 9-year-old son. I apologize for my snappiness, anxiety, and rage when they come through. Some people think I shouldn’t be this honest. Am I doing something wrong?