Care and Feeding

I Don’t Want to Be Complicit in My SIL’s Holiday Lies

An Elf on the Shelf sitting with knees to chest and smiling
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by azndc/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,

To start, I am as child-free as they come, but I have a terrific 9-year-old niece. My sister-in-law has introduced an Elf on the Shelf and my niece has taken to sending me photos of where she finds it each morning. I HATE the idea of these toys. I still remember the day I learned about Santa. It shattered my trust in my mother. It may have made me a more critical thinker because I doubted everything I was told from then on, but I lost an outlet in my parents and there are many big items in my life they are unaware of as a result. When my niece talks about her Elf, I do not want to lie to her, but I am aware that it is very much not my place to say anything. I’ve been responding to these images with changing the subject (“oh, Christmas is coming soon”), but that won’t keep working. I don’t want her to look back and think I was in on the lie. What do I do?

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—Wanting the Elf Shelved

Dear Wanting,

First off, I’m sorry that finding out the truth about Santa Claus scarred you for life and “shattered” the trust you had for your mom. However, I’ll go out on a steady limb by stating that the overwhelming majority of kids don’t experience your reaction when they learn the reality behind jolly ol’ St. Nick. If they did, these traditions wouldn’t exist.

In my opinion, lies have a negative connotation or malicious intent, and I don’t think that applies here. The world is harsh enough as it is—what’s wrong with letting kids believe in magic, wonder, and fantasy before they grow up to learn about what life is really like? We shield kids from bad things all the time—or at least tell them about issues in an age-appropriate way, which can sometimes mean omitting part of the truth.

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If the Elf on the Shelf isn’t your thing, remind yourself that this holiday is not about you—it’s about your niece. You’re a grown woman, and if you don’t have the ability to put aside your feelings about it for the sake of your niece, then I feel sorry for you. Like I said, I highly doubt she’s going to resent you for not speaking up about this. More importantly, I would be beyond pissed off if someone outside of my immediate family ruined the Christmas tradition for my kids because of their own personal issues—and I’m sure your sister-in-law would feel the same way.

Smile, nod, and play along like 99.9 percent of adults do with children this time of year. It will all be over before you know it.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I thought I was friendly with a man who lives near me and whose kids are on a sports team with my kids. We have a schedule overlap, so we would often be the only parents waiting for a significant time while our kids finished, and we both were going through divorces, which is not easy to do, at the same time. We started sharing our stories a bit and discussing, over time, how the divorces have made us more aware of personal patterns in relationships that we are trying to address. I’m a crybaby, always have been, though usually I make it to a toilet before I go off in public now. He told me how he tends to overdo his anger and irritation in a condescending way and how he would like to do that less in the future.

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I really enjoyed our conversations and our intellectualizing of our personal growth, but now I’m finding it harder. I’m a white lady and he is a Black man, and one of the other sports team parents mentioned casually that he makes YouTube videos for a living. I looked up his videos, which are on trending topics related to Black people and the issues that they face living in the USA. I thought the videos were good and insightful, and I watched a bunch thinking I’d say so to him the next time I saw him. Until I came across his most recent video on “white women’s tears.” He made some interesting points, but he also used what I remember as direct quotes from our conversation together in a way that leaves me feeling a bit used and nervous around him now. I never meant to represent anyone beyond myself when I was talking to him, and I believe he’d be really upset if I took some of the things he’s said to me and used them in a public forum, especially as representative of a whole group of people, whether men or Black men or what have you.

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I’ve started avoiding him by pretending I have to do some work on my laptop or just letting him talk now, but he is still very interested in my reactions, always saying “How about you?” or “What do you think?” and if pressed, I try to say something without saying anything, which has made our interactions a lot more awkward. I guess my question is, should I tell him that I feel a little upset that he used this information I shared with him in a private manner, or should I get over it and be more reticent in the future?

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—Possibly Naïve but Still Angry

Dear Possibly,

I had to chuckle when you mentioned that he would be upset if someone used his words or actions as being representative of an entire group of people. Um, you know that happens on a daily basis to Black people across America, right? I’ve only been to Chicago once in my life, but because I’m Black, I have to answer for every “Black-on-Black murder” that happens in that city. When a deranged white guy decides to shoot up a church or a school, we rarely say, “You know, I think the white community needs to address its gun violence problem” (even though they do need to address their gun violence problem). To say it’s incredibly annoying is an understatement.

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That said, I’m always a fan of the direct approach and I believe you have every right to address your concerns with this man. Granted, he didn’t use your name (which would’ve been a big problem), but it still seems as if he’s using you to further his brand without any interest in being a friend. You can say something along the lines of “I checked out your YouTube channel and noticed that you included some parts of our conversation in your latest video. I gotta admit I feel a little violated here because I thought what we talked about was between us. It makes me uncomfortable to talk now. Can you understand that?”

It could go one of two ways from here: He could deny it, which means he probably thinks you’re an idiot, or he could own it and apologize. If it’s the former, then I would completely cut ties with the dude other than a cordial hello every now and then in an effort to keep things from being too weird since you see him often. If it’s the latter, then I think you can use this as an opportunity for you both to learn about what it means to be white and Black in America. Ask him questions about his vlog and let him ask you questions as well—and who knows? Maybe you’ll be a guest on it someday (if you want to, of course). The main thing is to ensure he doesn’t misrepresent your words and actions.

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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,

This may sound like a silly question, but I’m going to ask it anyway. Here’s the background. I’m a single mom and I’m Jewish. Sadly, my daughter’s elementary school is not the most inclusive place in the world. They barely mentioned Dr. King in January, so that should tell you everything you need to know. I’m in the process of saving up money to move out of this backwards town and state next year, but we’re stuck here for now. Here’s the question. Last year my daughter’s school only put up “Merry Christmas” decorations on campus and didn’t recognize any other holidays. Obviously we don’t celebrate Christmas so my daughter felt left out. I didn’t raise a stink about it last year, but I’m wondering if I should now. I worry I’m sending a bad message to my child if I ignore things that are unjust. Why can’t they just say “Happy Holidays”? I know it’s a silly thing to get worked up about, but I could use some guidance.

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—Diversity, No Inclusion

Dear Diversity,

This is not a silly question and you have every right to be upset. Here’s an analogy I like to use. Let’s say your favorite restaurant has amazing mozzarella sticks and up until this point, they offered marinara sauce as the only dipping option. After listening to patrons who enjoy other sauces, the restaurant decided to offer up ranch, pizza sauce, honey mustard, and a bunch of other options to ensure everyone felt included. Do you know what would not happen in that scenario? People wouldn’t boycott the restaurant by saying there’s a “war on marinara sauce” and acting childish. They would grab their favorite sauce and enjoy it like well-adjusted adults. The same rule applies here.

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It’s absurd that this needs to explained to adults who are responsible for educating our youth, but here we are. Yes, you absolutely need to speak up about this because what you’re asking for isn’t unreasonable. Every child in that school should feel included, and a simple phrase like “happy holidays” does just that. You can ask the principal or other school administrators why they are against being inclusive, and then firmly suggest that making a ridiculously simple change could positively affect the morale of so many students.

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I know you mentioned that the other parents in your situation are afraid to rock the boat, but injustice only exists because of people who do nothing to stop it, and you should be the one to lead the charge. You may think it’s easy for me to say because my kids aren’t the ones who could be potentially retaliated against, but I’m constantly speaking up in my community against racism and injustice despite hate from racist trolls and other troglodytes because I couldn’t live with myself otherwise. The question for you is, could you live with yourself if you said nothing? I hope the answer is no.

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If all lives matter, shouldn’t all holidays matter too?

Catch Up on Care and Feeding

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 17-year-old, “Nick,” finally finished sending out his college applications. I’m very proud of him and everything he’s accomplished, and I’m sure wherever he ends up, he’ll do well. However, there’s one aspect of his college applications that left a bad taste in my mouth. Nick is one-quarter Puerto Rican because my husband’s mother is Puerto Rican. The other three-quarters? Pure WASP. However, apparently Nick chose to list his race on his applications as Latino, which I’ve realized because we’ve been getting nonstop mail about scholarships for Latino students. My husband doesn’t seem to think it’s a big deal that Nick listed himself as Latino. He told me that since he calls himself Latino, his son should be able to as well. He also said that Nick is lucky to have this leg up in the competitive admissions process.

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I asked Nick why he chose to put Latino on his application, and he shrugged and told me that his guidance counselor told him to do it. I’m worried Nick is taking advantage of mechanisms that exist to help students who are disadvantaged. He is much more white than Puerto Rican, so why should his Puerto Rican background take precedence over his white background? Additionally, I worry that he might end up taking spots that could’ve otherwise gone to Latino students who have faced real adversity on account of their race. I would prefer if he wrote white on his application, not to negate his grandmother, but to better reflect his background and the way he is perceived in society. My family doesn’t understand why I’m ambivalent about Nick’s college applications. I know I should be happy for my son and his future, but I don’t want to feel like he exploited the system to get there. Am I making a big deal out of nothing?

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—Admissions Mom

Dear Admissions Mom,

I respect why you feel this way, but I don’t necessarily agree. If Nick identifies as Latino and has Latino blood coursing through his veins, then I don’t see the problem with him saying so on his application. Just because your son may look like a typical white kid, doesn’t mean he is one.

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I have a friend who’s one-quarter Black and three-quarters white who used to identify as white until college (and said he was white on his application). But once he was mistreated multiple times due to his appearance (he isn’t “white passing”), he decided to embrace his Blackness, so to speak. At the end of the day, I’m not going to fault anyone for how they choose to identify, as long as they aren’t lying about it. It’s fluid and personal to every multiracial person.

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However, if you told me that Nick identifies as white and decided to say he’s Latino in order to game the system, I wouldn’t be in favor of that (even though he has every right to do so)—but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. I love that you care enough about others who are less fortunate, but your son shouldn’t have to renounce who he believes he is in order for somebody else to get ahead.

—Doyin

More Advice From Slate

I’m a single mother, sole parent to a 6-year-old son. Next month I will be starting a new job, working 12-hour night shifts in a hospital two hours away from our home. (I’ll commute and will sometimes stay up there without him.) He seems prepared for me not being with him overnight sometimes and not seeing me for a couple days, but he recently asked for a phone of his own so we could exchange messages. Is this a crazy idea?

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