Dear Care and Feeding,
I am a single mom, and my 16-year-old Natalie is the light of my life. I want her to have a better life than I did, and that’s meant working two jobs, taking on overtime, and saving up for her college since she was little. I don’t have a lot of money, but with the money I’m saving, she should be able to attend an in-state public school without graduating with debt. Without those savings, I would not be able to afford to pay for her college and she’d probably have to take on student loans. Natalie recently came to me about her college fund. She said that she wants me to donate it all to her BIPOC friends as “reparations” and “wealth redistribution.” She’s always said that she wants to go to college, and she knows that it would otherwise be hard for her to afford it. Moreover, many of the friends in question come from affluent professional two-parent families. I haven’t touched the money, and I think that I should hold onto Natalie’s college fund until she’s 18. At that point, she can choose how she wants to spend it. Despite telling her that, she’s accusing me of being greedy and racist for not giving her friends that money. I understand where she’s coming from, but it feels disrespectful to my efforts over the years to help her. Am I wrong in wanting to hold onto her college fund?
—College Fund Blues
Dear College Fund Blues,
As a Black man, I’m happy to step up and answer this question. First off, your daughter isn’t wrong for wanting reparations for her Black friends based on the ridiculous amount of human rights atrocities we’ve suffered at the hands of white people throughout American history. However, this isn’t the best way to be an ally to the people she’s advocating for.
I’m an anti-racism facilitator for corporations and schools across the globe, and one thing I tell my participants is one anti-racist white person is more powerful than ten anti-racist Black people. As Spider-Man’s late Uncle Ben once told him, “With great power comes great responsibility,” and your daughter needs to use that power in the right way. Giving away thousands of dollars that you saved up for years to a few of her Black and brown buddies isn’t going to move the needle in the direction of creating an anti-racist world.
Instead she should use the money to fund her education to become a lawyer, a politician, a business owner who caters to people of color, or so many other things that could help not only her friends, but thousands (maybe millions) of people who look like them. Not to mention — from what you’ve told me, her friends don’t even need the money, so giving it away would be completely foolish.
Let me clearly state that you’re not racist or greedy for wanting your daughter to spend your hard-earned money on a college degree, and I wouldn’t budge on that no matter how hard she pushes you. I think there may be more at play here—does she really want to go to college? You said she does, but I have my doubts about that if she’s so willing to donate that money to her friends.
Either way, it should come down to doing the greatest good for the greatest amount of people. Getting a college degree would be a step in the right direction in accomplishing that.
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From this week’s letter, “When My Kids Fight, I End Up Punishing My Son More. Is This Sexist?”: “Should they get identical consequences, even though she doesn’t get physical?”
Dear Care and Feeding,
My older brother and I have never gotten along terribly well. He didn’t conform to our parents’ narrow expectations as well as I did (academically and behaviorally) and it resulted in us being treated very differently growing up. He has some resentment toward me for this, which I totally understand, but he also has untreated mental health issues, mostly around anxiety and related substance abuse. It makes him a somewhat difficult person to interact with. This is also contributing to problems in his marriage, although his wife has her share of unmanaged “demons” as well (she’s in therapy; he refuses). They have horrendous communication and are passive-aggressive to each other, always bickering and criticizing.
We are now both married with young kids, live somewhat close to each other, and our relationship has improved. Our two oldest children are nearly the same age, and until recently were very close. But, due to tension in my nephew’s home (see above), his behavior has really gotten out of control. He doesn’t listen, throws tantrums, spits, and has serious issues with eating which create a lot of drama around mealtimes. We no longer enjoy being around him, our son included. This makes my spouse and I very sad, as our nephew needs support and some positive influences in his life. The poor kid is either at school or in front of a screen 95 percent of the day, being parented by no one. But between his behavior and his parents’ constant fighting (yes, they are those people who fight in front of others), we are just… over it. We don’t want to hang out with them anymore.
Am I wrong to abandon my nephew and his little sister to this fate? I don’t know how I could intervene in this time bomb of a situation with any positive outcomes. My brother and SIL don’t want my advice or anyone else’s. My parents are aware of the situation but insist there’s nothing they can do, and just sort of carry on like everything is fine. But I’m worried for the kids’ well-being, especially considering a messy divorce is looming (oh, and I didn’t even mention the literal arsenal of loaded guns in their house). Please help!
—Seriously, Put the Guns Away
Dear Put the Guns Away,
Good grief, you certainly buried the lede on this letter. If you’ve read my columns before you know that I’m as anti-gun as they come, so you can imagine my shock when you casually mentioned a pile of loaded guns in your brother’s house.
My normal approach when it comes to advising people who want to critique the parenting styles of others is to have them stay out of it, unless said parenting styles impact the health and welfare of vulnerable children. The red flag for me surrounds the untreated mental health issues he’s suffering from, because that’s a recipe for disaster along with his volatile marriage and firearms. If you feel that your niece and nephew are in imminent danger, then you need to reach out to the proper authorities to ensure they’re taken care of.
Maybe your brother is a responsible gun owner who follows every safety protocol around his kids. But even if that is the case, it certainly seems like there are some other major problems in his house, and I would have a strongly-worded conversation with him to get your point across that things need to change.
You don’t want to accuse him of being a crappy parent because nobody listens to that—but you can certainly make it about wanting what’s best for the kids. You can say something about how much you love his kids, but you’ve noticed issues with them that concerns you. Then you can follow up saying that you’re here to support your family as best you can, but if things continue the way they are, you won’t be able to be a part of their lives.
He may get angry and defensive, and at that point you’ll need to make the decision to love them from a distance. You can’t help people who don’t want to be helped. Hopefully he’ll come around down the road, but it’s not your responsibility to wait for him.
Catch Up on Care and Feeding
Dear Care and Feeding,
Our son seems to have entered a serious rebellious stage. He is now 17 and was always well behaved and considerate until Covid started. From the beginning, it has been like pulling teeth to get him to keep his mask on. It took weeks of educating him before we were finally able to get him vaccinated without his throwing a fit. We have caught him more than once sneaking out during quarantine, to the point that my husband had to disable his bedroom window and install new locks around the house. He has now taken to breaking things when he becomes angry and ranting about ridiculous conspiracy theories that all the experts are “lying” about Covid, that it is some nefarious government plot and “just a flu.” We took his phone away and restricted his access to the internet until we can determine exactly where he is getting these ideas from. I’m very concerned about the road he is going down. Someone is radicalizing him and we don’t know who. Every time we ask, he starts spouting profanities, calling his father and me “brainwashed idiots,” and insists that he is leaving as soon as he turns 18. We have tried everything to get through to him but he keeps acting out. We’ve tried therapy and he refuses to cooperate. We are considering an inpatient facility but feel that should be a measure of last resort. We just don’t know what else to do at this point. Please help with any advice. Thank you!
—At the End of My Rope
Dear At the End,
You’re right, someone is definitely getting into your son’s ear with conspiracy theories and other nonsense. The first thing I would do is find out who these people are. I don’t think limiting his access to the Internet is the answer to your problems, but rather determining the source of this misinformation and brainwashing. Download an app to monitor his Internet usage. There are a lot of great companies out there who do this, but I personally like Bark. Once you determine the source, you’ll be better equipped to handle his outbursts.
You are right that your son’s behavior is very concerning. You mentioned you’ve tried therapy. Have you tried his physician? Have you gone to therapy yourself, and if so, does that mental health professional have any recommendations? From the violent behavior to the profane outbursts, something serious is happening with your son, and if you are not able to make more progress once you get to the source of his misinformation, and if his own doctor is unable to help, you may need to take the extreme step of putting him into an inpatient facility so that he can get the help he needs.
As you go through this, make sure you get the support you need and remember that none of this is a reflection of your parenting. The internet can be a nasty place, and it constantly feeds on kids like your son and turns them into people we hardly recognize. I truly hope your son gets the help he needs.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
What is the protocol for helping your kid “unfriend” a frustrating classmate? Background: my nine-year-old daughter has a classmate named “Lila.” Lila is sweet and always means well, but is intensely frustrating to be around for extended periods of time. Lila doesn’t have any friends at school. She showed some interest in my daughter, so I encouraged my daughter to invite Lila over for a playdate. At our house, Lila asked constant questions about personal topics, even when I clearly and explicitly asked her to please stop because those questions were too personal. Lila followed me around the house, offering un-asked-for feedback on how well I clean or how “rich” our house looks (spoiler: apparently it doesn’t look rich). Lila bragged repeatedly about her own family, house, and accomplishments.
I now understand why Lila has had trouble making friends. My daughter doesn’t want to interact with Lila anymore, either at school or outside of school. But now apparently Lila has become clingy and tried to sit with my daughter every day at lunchtime. I feel I somewhat caused this by insisting we invite Lila over for a playdate. I don’t want my daughter to be resentful about Lila’s friendship overtures, or worse, be outright rude to a kid who doesn’t seem to have many friends. How can I help my daughter learn to respectfully but firmly pull back on this friendship?
—Mom in Michigan
I’m a no-nonsense kind of guy who believes strongly in the direct approach—even with children. I teach my kids all of the time that someone who constantly makes them feel bad isn’t a friend, and they should never feel obligated to be around any of their peers.
I know this may sound insensitive, but managing the feelings of other children isn’t your daughter’s responsibility. I’m not saying she has the green light to be a jerk to this girl. But we should empower our kids to end relationships that no longer serve them. None of us still have the exact same group of friends we had at 9 years old, right?
Before I get to how your daughter should handle this, I have to address a common theme I’m noticing in this column. Maybe I’m old school, but I have a zero-tolerance policy for disrespectful children. That multiplies exponentially when a kid is disrespectful in my own house. Regarding the personal questions she asked, I’d give the kid one stern warning to knock it off. If it happened again, the playdate would be over and I’d put her in my car and drive her directly home. You let that nonsense go on for way too long.
Like I said earlier, this isn’t about rudeness. Your daughter doesn’t have to say, “Get away from me, Lila! I don’t ever want to talk to you again!” to get her point across. It could be as simple as your daughter telling Lila that she wants to sit with other people during lunchtime. If she follows up with “why?” she can respond by saying, “because I want to.” Everyone deserves our kindness, but not everyone deserves an explanation. Ever heard of the saying “‘No’ is a complete sentence”? The same rule applies here.
If your daughter wants to take it further, she can say, “I want to spend time with other people now. You should try to make other friends as well.” My 8-year-old daughter used that exact line with a girl in school who punched her in the stomach because my daughter had the audacity to talk to another friend at school. The other girl got the message and that was the end of it.
The bottom line is your daughter shouldn’t feel like she’s being held prisoner by this kid, and it will serve as good practice for when she inevitably needs to end a relationship in the future.
More Advice From Slate
My first grader is bright and imaginative, and he seems to be well-liked by his peers. Despite this, he often comes home from school dejected because no one wants to create imaginary play productions during recess. I have encouraged him to join the others and let go of his determination to put on pretend Broadway productions, but this goes in one ear and out the other. Should I say anything else, or let him work these playground politics out on his own?