Care and Feeding

My MIL Is Endangering My Newborn With Her Awful Habit

A woman in her 60s lights a cigarette.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by 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,

My husband and I are recent parents to a very premature son “Harry.” He was born at just over 25 weeks, and while he is growing and doing well overall, his lung health is likely going to be an issue for the rest of his life. This isn’t uncommon with preemies, and his care team is taking a very proactive course with him. Our families have rallied to our sides, taking care of our home and dogs while I had to quit my job, and my husband and I balance long days visiting our son and being involved in his care.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

The issue is my husband’s mother. She is so caring and involved, and she is a lifelong smoker. The care team in no uncertain terms have told us that Harry cannot be around secondhand smoke, and that once he comes home, anyone who wants to hold him should at the very least be freshly showered and not have recently smoked.

We have tried approaching this with her prior to Harry’s birth, and each time my husband or his sister asks her to quit, it’s taken as a personal assault on her character and she stops speaking with us for a time. Then once amends are made, there’s no change. Is there a way to get her to understand that this lifelong habit will keep her from bonding with her new grandson when the time comes?

Advertisement
Advertisement

—Wanting a Smoke-Free Mimi

Dear Wanting a Smoke-Free Mimi,

Unfortunately, if your mother-in-law’s smoking habit is nearly lifelong, you can’t expect to persuade her to stop. She’d have to make that decision on her own, for her own reasons, and at her own pace. Her smoking habit is not within your control. What you can control is how often your son is in her presence and care.

Advertisement

Let her know that bringing your son into her residence or near her, if she’s recently smoked, would be against doctor’s orders. It compromises his health and you aren’t willing to do that. If you’d like, you could mention that the doctor would need her compliance on showering and refraining from smoking before seeing your son. She may find those directives less overwhelming than being asked to quit smoking altogether. Continue to make clear to her that your son’s health comes first and secondhand smoke will be detrimental to his health. I wish you and your family the best in navigating a pretty difficult boundary.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Dear Care and Feeding,

My mother is an avid sewer and crafter. From the moment I announced I was pregnant nine years ago, she has always been so excited to share these hobbies with her grandchildren. My oldest is now 8 and has been over to her grandma’s house for “craft time” about four or five times over the past few months. I was initially thrilled about this arrangement—it’s free child care so I can spend time with my younger child, plus I really wanted my mom and my daughter to have some good bonding time.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Well … things have rapidly devolved. My daughter hates these craft dates. She says they’re long and boring (they are about two hours) and she hates sewing. I talked with my mom about it and she says my daughter seems fine, if a little slow to catch on to the techniques. I think my daughter is hiding her boredom/dissatisfaction out of politeness.

Advertisement
Advertisement

On one hand, I want to respect the fact that my daughter is either not interested in sewing right now, or not enjoying spending one-on-one time with her grandma. On the other hand, I think this bonding time is important and that kids do need to be able to build muscle at putting up with activities that are not the most fun/entertaining/easy, but are important to partake in. My husband and I are torn. What should we do?

—Sewing Struggles

Dear Sewing Struggles,

It’s lovely that your mother wants to pass her interests down to your daughter. It’s also great that your daughter is advocating for herself and letting you know how she really feels about sewing and crafting. It’s likely that a compromise can be made here. You mentioned that your daughter has participated in crafting visits four to five times in the past few months, each lasting two hours. Can you limit these visits to once a month or twice a month, but one hour per stay?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

The thing is: Your daughter’s 8. Sewing and crafting may not be the most interesting thing in the world to her, but you’re right to believe that she can build up a bit of patience with what she considers to be a boring task, if it makes her grandmother happy to spend time with her, teaching her these techniques. She’s old enough to learn what it means to do something selfless for someone she loves.

If you’re inclined to propose another sort of compromise, suggest that your daughter choose an activity she’d like to learn, practice, or share with her grandmother. They can alternate between sewing/crafting and that “more interesting” activity your daughter chooses. They’ll still be spending a significant amount of time together, but they’ll be learning from each other, and hopefully, they’ll both enjoy themselves.

Advertisement

Catch Up on Care and Feeding

• If you missed Sunday’s column, read it here.
• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

Nine months ago we moved about 30 miles away, still in a large metro area. We moved for a variety of reasons, wanting a larger house and bigger yard, and a new start at school, primarily for our two eldest kids who are now 13 and 11. Our old school system was very highly rated, but we had a rough start with our oldest child, who has ADHD. She struggled at school, and both she and we were miserable academically.

Advertisement
Advertisement

In our new district, which is also very highly rated, all three of our children are doing fantastic in school, including our daughter. She has been off of medication for her ADHD since she started the year, and getting all A’s and B’s. Needless to say, my husband and I are ecstatic.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Here’s the issue. Our daughter has not made any friends at her new school. She is still very close with her best friend from her old school. She sees her about once a month; I will drive her the 1.5 hours round trip to her friend’s house for sleepovers. She has a great time, but when she comes home, she’s sad and depressed about us moving. She routinely asks me why we decided to move, even though she knows the reasons. She is constantly asking to move back to our old neighborhood. I sincerely feel for her. She is shy and doesn’t make friends easily. I’ve tried to encourage her to make friends at school, but I also have a similar personality to her, and I know how hard it can be. I’ve talked with her about our reasons for moving and acknowledged her feelings, while also reiterating that we aren’t moving back to our neighborhood.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Should I continue to encourage her friendship with her old friend? The obvious answer to me is yes, but it’s not easy for me to spend three or four hours of my weekend driving her back and forth, just to have her come home feeling depressed and angsty. When she comes home from a sleepover she is like a different kid. Is helping her stay so connected to her old friend just making her more miserable in the end, and interfering with her transition to her new school?

—Mom of a Moody Middle Schooler

Dear MoaMMS,

I empathize with both you and your daughter. It’s always tough to watch children struggle socially and not know quite how much to intervene. It’s admirable that you’ve committed to helping her try to maintain a close friendship in your old neighborhood. But three-to-four-hour commutes round trip are not sustainable. Eventually, your daughter will have to accept that she now lives too far away to see her best friend as regularly as she wants to.

Advertisement
Advertisement

There are other ways that they can try to keep in touch: writing letters, sending email, and audio or video calling one another. Encourage that sort of continued connection while phasing out the sleepovers. Just know that, for middle schoolers, digital-only connections with long-distance friends may prove unsustainable, as well.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Ultimately, your daughter will have to focus her attention on finding her social footing in her new community. You can help by finding social outlets for her other than school: consider joining a church, community group, or an extracurricular program. Middle schoolers sometimes connect through shared group identity. Encourage your daughter to try a few affiliations outside of school to provide her with multiple opportunities to connect with local kids. I wish you all the best.

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,

My wife and I have two daughters, a 3-year-old and a 1-month-old. I can’t speak for the infant yet, but our 3-year-old is a happy, playful, seemingly well-adjusted little girl. My concern is that she doesn’t have any male influences in her daily life. She has two moms, female teachers at preschool, female teachers at swim lessons and art classes, female babysitters, etc. Both our families are in the Midwest and we are on the West Coast. So while she does have loving grandfathers and several uncles whom she knows well, she only sees them a few times a year. Do we need to make more of an effort to include some adult men in her life? Or am I seeing a problem that isn’t really there? Will it be detrimental to her development (as well as our baby’s) to live in such a female-dominated world?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

—Missing the Men?

Dear Missing the Men?,

If your daughter is socially well-adjusted and happy, it isn’t necessary to make any immediate changes to the circle of friends and family you’ve created for her. As she grows, her health and happiness will continue to be the benchmarks. It sounds like, at this point, her male relatives provide the engagement you’re describing, when she’s able to see them. She may not need any more than that. Gender-specific influence isn’t necessarily a requirement for a healthy upbringing. Love and support are, and it sounds like she has plenty of that already.

—Stacia

For More Parenting Coverage, Listen to Mom and Dad Are Fighting

Advertisement