Care and Feeding

Oops—I Obviously Overshared With My Niece

A woman bows her head and puts her hand over her eyes.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by kieferpix/iStock/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,

I’m not a parent, but I’m an aunt-by-marriage to two wonderful girls, my brother-in-law’s daughters. They are 10 and 12. My nieces live a very structured life: lots of academic pressure, a full slate of extracurricular activities, and pretty strict rules around screen time/playdates/reading/etc. The girls are sweet and well-behaved. I personally don’t understand why there are so many rules in place if the girls don’t push boundaries, but I also recognize I’m not a parent and it’s not my business to judge.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Last week, I took the oldest niece on an “aunt date”—we had ice cream and walked in the park. We were talking about how school is going, how some of the people in her grade are starting to go to parties, and how she’s not sure if she wants to be going to parties or not. I shared that I started smoking and partying when I was 12—her age—and that though it certainly led to some bad choices, I also was glad to learn the hard way instead of never trying anything. My niece became very upset and started crying. I of course felt awful. I kept asking her what was wrong, apologizing for oversharing, but she couldn’t really put into words exactly what was so upsetting. I dropped her off at home and told my brother-in-law that his daughter was pretty upset. He thanked me for the heads-up. But I’m flummoxed. Did I say or do something wrong? Could there be something else going on in my niece’s life that she isn’t telling me? Is it unreasonable to tell a 12-year-old that some people smoke at 12? Please help.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

—Awkward Aunt

Dear Awkward Aunt,

I’m not going to drag you through the mud for this, because obviously your heart was in the right place—but I don’t think it was a good idea to talk to a preteen (who isn’t your daughter) about smoking and partying. I know that I’d be pretty upset if an aunt or uncle talked to my young daughters about that stuff without me knowing it.

I’m obviously not in your niece’s head, so I can’t say for sure why she was so upset. If I were to take an educated guess, I’d say it could be because she lives a structured life but that there’s a part of her that wishes she could partake in all of the “fun” activities her peers are enjoying. Fitting in and being a part of a group is something that many kids her age take seriously, so she could be dealing with a strong case of FOMO (fear of missing out). It’s also possible she’s thought about these things, or even participated in them, and she was crying because she’s trying to process her emotions about her own experiences.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

If you have a strong relationship with your brother in-law, I would do more than give him the heads-up on your awkward conversation and dive deeper with him. Maybe there’s more at play than what meets the eye, and if he’s willing to share that with you, it will only help all parties involved.

Additionally, going forward, you should ask her parents what conversations are off-limits so you can respect parental boundaries. Again, I know you didn’t mean any harm here—but at the end of the day, the parents have the final say on how their children should be raised.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter is a sophomore at a magnet high school for gifted students. When she originally entered as a freshman, it was an application-based admissions system, and the demographics of the student body did not reflect the demographics of the city we live in. At the beginning of this school year, for diversity & inclusion reasons, they switched to a pure lottery system. The school is now much more racially diverse.

Advertisement
Advertisement

My husband and I genuinely wanted this admissions change to go well! The problem is that…it’s been a rough transition. The school culture has changed, with an increase in emails to parents about “incidents” during the school day. My daughter is starting to complain that whereas her classes were really challenging before, now there are a lot of kids who “don’t know what they’re doing” (her words) and the teachers have had to do some remediation to catch everyone up. My daughter has been bored and is feeling pretty negative about school. I feel awful about the situation. On one hand, it’s good (and necessary!) that the policy was changed to ensure the school reflects its surrounding community. I know the old admissions policy was effectively racist.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

But at the same time…this change has objectively made my daughter’s day-to-day lived experience at school worse. She’s even started to make some noise about transferring. This seems like overkill to me, but I’m also not the person at the school dealing with all this change. Basically, this situation stinks all around, and my husband and I are at a loss for what to do. Any suggestions?

—Magnet Mom

Dear Magnet Mom,

Ah, yes—the all-too-common, “let’s blame the Black and brown kids” routine has made it to your neighborhood. I wish I could say I am surprised, but I’m not.

Let me offer another perspective on what you describe. I was one of the few Black faces in a private high school filled with the white sons and daughters of millionaires, billionaires, and CEOs. I was bullied there more than I’ve been bullied anywhere in my entire life. Not to mention, these white kids took part in plenty of fighting, substance abuse, and sexual assault— but it was often met with a blind eye or a shoulder shrug. Why? Because these kids were white.

Advertisement

Studies have shown that there are no significant behavioral differences between Black and white adolescents, yet Black students are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students. It’s all because of the implicit biases teachers and school administrators have against Black and brown students. My point is, I’d bet a steak dinner that your daughter’s school had bullying, fighting, and drug use long before the kids of color arrived on campus. The only difference is they have a convenient scapegoat for all of it now.

Advertisement
Advertisement

As a parent there are plenty of ways you can challenge your daughter outside of the classroom. Find an advanced tutor to work with her afterschool or enroll her in special interest courses on nights and weekends for gifted kids. I think you’re right that if you pull her out of school for this, you’ll be falling victim to the narrative that diversity ruins everything.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Quite frankly—I’m skeptical that your daughter’s experience in school is that bad, and she comes off as extremely elitist by saying the kids don’t know what they’re doing. Maybe these kids learn at a different pace, but it doesn’t mean they’re stupid. We’re also back at school after a pandemic, which has profoundly affected teenagers. I think you need to do some anti-racist intervention with your daughter before she begins to resent diversity.

I’m not saying that this school is perfect, but life isn’t perfect. She can’t just quit the moment things get a little uncomfortable. The message should be for her to rise above the noise, stop blaming others, work hard, and be a good citizen. Everything else will fall into place.

Advertisement

Want Advice From Care and Feeding?

Submit your questions about parenting and family life here. It’s anonymous! (Questions may be edited for publication.)

Dear Care and Feeding,

Last week, while I was working a night shift and my husband was alone with the kids (ages 4 and 6), my husband heard shouting and glass breaking in the garage and called the police. When the police arrived, they found two very drunk teenagers trying to get bicycles out through the window. I guess they were too drunk to find the button to open the garage door. The teens were arrested without incident, but I am very aware that things could have easily gone down differently. These misguided kids are both Latinx, and my husband knows how the cops often deal with people of color. Nonetheless, he called the police rather than investigating and seeing if he could de-escalate on his own. He says that he didn’t know what was going on and was worried for the safety of our kids. (Who were thankfully asleep upstairs at the time). I completely understand this, but I also want our kids to learn that calling the cops may not always be the best first response and can in fact lead to far worse situations. How should we think about this moving forward?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

—Mama Bear, But Not a Karen

Dear Mama Bear,

I’ll tell you a quick story. Earlier this year, I ordered some dinner from a popular food delivery service. The delivery person was a Black woman and when she dropped off the food, she swiped an Amazon package that was sitting on my doorstep and went to her car.

My doorbell camera caught everything, and I easily could’ve turned her into the police—but then I had a similar thought to yours: “I know how the judicial system treats people who look like her. Do I really want to ruin this woman’s life over this?” The answer for me was an emphatic “no,” so I didn’t call the cops. However, I did call her company to tell them about the incident, and she was promptly fired for it (and rightfully so). In other words, I didn’t want her to rot under the jail for it, but she didn’t deserve to keep her job, either.

Advertisement

Your situation is a little trickier, because as your husband noted, the safety of your children plays a role in his reaction since they broke into your home. He didn’t know if they had guns or other weapons at their disposal. What if he tried to de-escalate with the teenagers and got hurt or worse? You would never forgive yourself.

Advertisement

As a general rule of thumb, you have to prioritize the safety of your family. I don’t care if they’re white, Black, or brown—if someone is trying to break into my home when my kids are there, I’m calling the police, because that could potentially be dangerous. I felt violated by the delivery lady at my house, but I never felt unsafe. Sure, calling the cops on people of color ends badly a lot of the time, but in a country where everyone seems to have a gun, negotiating with potentially dangerous criminals doesn’t seem to be the best idea.

—Doyin

More Advice From Slate

I’ve been married for a little under five years, and during that time I’ve found myself raising not only a child but also a husband. I have a lot of affection for him and often tell myself how lucky I am to have found a man who is patient and understanding and who mostly does what I ask him to without complaining. He is also a great father. My problem is that I have recently come to realize that I don’t love him at all. What should I do?

Advertisement