Care and Feeding

I Can’t Feign Happiness for My Friends Who Are Moms

A woman puts her hands over her belly.
Photo illustration by Slate. photo by Chris_Paris/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,

My husband and I have been trying to conceive for a year and a half. In that time, several of my friends have gotten pregnant and had babies. I am just starting IVF, something I never thought I would have to do in my early 30s. I know lots of people go through this, but I am finding the experience really embarrassing and isolating. Because I am having such a hard time with it, we have told only our families and a few of our very closest friends. Meanwhile, I keep getting texts from my reproductively blessed friends about their perfect, wonderful babies. I know new motherhood can be isolating too, but I just don’t have the energy to fawn over pictures of their kids on Santa’s lap or be honest about what is going on when they ask me how I am. I feel guilty that I am letting these relationships wane, and I know I will need their advice if I ever do get pregnant. I feel like if I was more mature I would suck it up, feign excitement for them and pretend everything is fine, or just be honest. I don’t have any of that in me right now.

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—Fertility Challenged

Dear Fertility Challenged,

I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time. I don’t believe there’s anything I could say that would make what you are feeling about fertility magically go away—I can only wish with all my heart that you are able to find a place of peace and clarity and compassion for yourself. You have nothing to be embarrassed about, and I hope you can find your way to feeling this to be true. Meanwhile, I can help with one piece of this difficult period in your life. My advice is one part fake-it-till-you-make-it and one part simple kindness. When friends text you photos of their babies, it’s perfectly OK to respond minimally. As long as you don’t ignore these missives, your relationships with the new parents won’t wane. Respond with a heart emoji or a word or two (sweet! xo)—that’s all. You can do this without even really looking at the photos if it pains you to do so (no one will ever know). No parent expects a lengthy response to such texts (which I’m certain they are sending to all their friends). You needn’t fawn.

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The truth is, with the exception of most grandparents and some aunts and uncles, no one is as besotted by people’s new babies as they are. And you are absolutely under no obligation to discuss what you’re going through with anyone you don’t want to talk to about it (when people ask us how we are, all they really expect to hear is, “Fine, and you?”).

If firing back a heart while averting your eyes still feels like too much for you—if even this seems like “feigning excitement,” and that makes you sadder—I think you might want to get some help managing your distress (there’s no shame in that). Talk to your gynecologist—they often have recommendations for therapists who specialize in maternal mental health. Or you may want to join an online support group through Resolve, where you can connect with other women going through similar issues. I’ll be thinking of you, and wishing you all the best.

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From this week’s letter, Switching Nannies Has Caused an Unexpected Crisis in Our House: “Our new nanny seemed good, but I wonder if it’s time to try someone else.”

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have been married for about seven months (together for three years), are in our late 20s, and we live in the Midwest (for his job) while both of our families are on the East Coast. I know there is no “right time” to have a baby, but I am very career-oriented and also would love to travel more, pandemic notwithstanding, and be more financially secure before pulling the goalie. My husband, however, is the youngest of four kids and his mom just turned 70. She and I have a phenomenal relationship, and my husband is a total mama’s boy. She has had some health concerns recently, and my husband has expressed his desire to have his mom be able to meet her grandchildren. (FWIW, she has four grandkids from his siblings.) He thinks we should try to conceive as early as next summer. I totally understand his thought process, and yes, it would break my heart if she never got to hold her baby’s baby. But a baby changes your entire life and I’m not 100 percent ready. Am I justified in being selfish and wanting to wait?

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—Feeling Rushed

Dear Feeling Rushed,

I don’t think there’s anything “selfish” about waiting to have a child until you’re ready to have a child. Or for that matter in not having a child at all if you don’t want to. The one and only reason to have a baby is because you want to have a baby. I hate to tell you this, but your husband is being a wee bit manipulative. I might (might) be willing to extend him some grace if his 70-year-old mother were on her deathbed—but even then I would never advise any woman to “try to conceive” when she doesn’t want to. “Some health concerns” is a part of life for those of us past middle age. I think you’re being extraordinarily understanding about your husband’s wish to “give” his mother grandchildren. But babies are not prizes. And while there is indeed “no right time” to have a baby, a good general guideline for a married couple who have not yet conceived one is: when both of you feel ready. Because you’re right: it will change your life, and not just in the short-term, either, but forever.

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Catch Up on Care and Feeding

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

What is the normal level of involvement parents should have in a high school senior’s life? Ever since school started again in person this fall, and I’ve begun to spend more time with my friends, my parents have created a lot of very arbitrary rules. Curfew, for example. I always try to be in bed by 10:30 on weeknights because school starts early in the morning, but my parents and I can’t agree about what time that means I have to be home by (they think 8:30 is reasonable, but since I always finish my homework before I go out, this makes no sense to me). For weekends, I suggested 11:30 but my parents countered with 10:45. Both the weeknight and weekend curfews seem way too early to me.

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What time do you think is a reasonable for a 17-year-old to be home by on weekends and weeknights? Also, when I tell my parents I’m going out for the evening, they always want to know exactly what I’m doing, beyond “I’m going to dinner with X friend at X place.” This always leads to conflict, because most of the time I don’t even know what I’m doing! I don’t plan out my night by the minute. Then they start suggesting ideas for what I should be doing, which is usually something completely different, which is annoying, and when it’s clear to them I’m not interested in their suggestions, they get annoyed at me. I understand that I’m still a minor living at home, and I’m not expecting them to grant me full independence, but I do feel like 17 is too old for my parents to be wanting the play-by-play of my plans. Is there some kind of middle ground here? For context, my parents have always been on the more cautious end, so none of this is terribly surprising. But I’m a good student and very responsible, so they don’t have any legitimate reason to worry about me getting into dangerous situations or doing anything illegal. I’ve been stuck in the house for a year and a half, and I want to spend some time with my friends on my own terms! Can you give me some boundaries I can suggest to my parents when I talk to them about this?

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—Micromanaged Out of My Mind

Dear Micromanaged,

Oh, Micromanaged, I feel for both you and your parents. They know the end is nigh. Assuming you are leaving home for college, soon they will have no idea what you’re doing or with whom you are doing it, let alone at what time of the night. They are grasping at the reins while they still can. (It may well be that they are not aware that that’s what they are doing: it’s possible they are repressing this alarming knowledge, telling themselves, and you, that they are only looking out for you.)

I’m with you, though. If you’re getting your homework done before you go out during the week (masked, I hope, and exercising all precautions available), I don’t see why you can’t get home closer to your sensible, self-imposed bedtime. And I don’t think 11:30 is an unreasonable weekend curfew either (in fact, you seem so immensely reasonable, your parents ought to be thanking their extremely lucky stars). As to their wanting to know/control everything you’re doing when you’re out of sight … well, see “end is nigh,” above.

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What might help you both get through this last gasp of your childhood/adolescence is a calm conversation. My advice to you is not to present your bid for slightly more freedom in terms of “reasonable boundaries” or otherwise make a case for why you deserve to have some autonomy. I think you may get farther with them if you put it in terms of helping them and you begin to make the adjustment to what’s ahead. Let them know that you’re aware that it’s going to be a rough transition. If they can ease up on you a little now, it will both give you the chance to practice setting your own schedule and making good decisions when they aren’t there to make rules (or suggestions) and make it that much easier on them when for the first time they have to face the fact that you’re not “under their roof” anymore. I can’t promise they‘ll buy this—although they absolutely should, because it’s true—but it would be very good for them if they can start getting used to the idea of your being grown and gone, bit by bit. Perhaps they haven’t thought much about how difficult this is going to be for them. Perhaps you haven’t thought much about it either (and why should you? That’s not your job). But bringing it up now, gently and (may I suggest?) with a soupçon of humor, is probably a good idea—and not only because it may persuade them to lighten up (that is, not only for your sake).

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And it wouldn’t hurt to remind them—again, gently—that they have nothing to worry about, that you have a good head on your shoulders. And because this isn’t only a matter of luck, but also of good parenting, you might thank them for that, too, reminding them that they raised and taught you well.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I both have thick, curly hair, which our two daughters (3 and 6) have inherited. We have decided that until they are old enough to properly maintain their own hair (probably around 10 or 11), they will both have short hair. My parents had the same rule for me, and while I resented having short hair when I was little, I now understand their perspective. Kids play, they get messy, and it’s a lot easier to deal with short hair, particularly if that hair is curly. The fewer knots and tangles I have to deal with, the better.

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Unfortunately, our older daughter has started to complain about her short hair; she wants to grow it long. She is embarrassed that people frequently mistake her for a boy and wants “long, pretty, princess hair” like the other girls in her school. But she’s too young to deal with actually maintaining that “long, pretty, princess hair,” and I don’t want to have to. To me, it seems an obvious call: it’s not worth the stress considering her age and activity level. My mother agrees that I should stand my ground. But my husband has asked if this is really the hill I want to die on. Of course, he also doesn’t plan to be the one washing and styling our child’s long, curly hair, so unless he changes his mind and volunteers to take this on, I’m not giving his view much weight. However, my friends think I’m being unfair, and say that if our daughter wants long hair, she should be allowed to grow it out. Should I listen to my friends, and deal with the consequences of a long-haired child, or stick to my guns for the sake of my own sanity?

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—Hair and Feeding

Dear Hair,

I have lots of both sympathy and empathy for you and your 6-year-old. As a person with thick, curly hair who has always preferred to wear it long (and whose own mother insisted she keep it short when she was very young because it was such a pain to deal with—mainly because, I’ve been told, I howled when she tried to brush the knots out of it)—who also had a daughter with the same kind of hair (who also howled), I truly do feel the pain of both sides of this equation. But I have good news!

(And, by the way, this might turn out to be useful for you for yourself as well as for your daughter.)

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I was nearly 50 before I learned how to take care of my own hair (and thus was able to pass this information along to my by-then 12-year-old). The truth is, it isn’t hard at all to “properly maintain it”: in fact, thick, curly hair requires less fussing over than most other kinds of hair. It doesn’t need to be washed as often (I wash mine once a week), it is easily detangled with a good conditioner, you get to leave the conditioner in instead of rinsing it out, and then all you need to do is scrunch it between your fingers and let the water and excess conditioner drip out—and let it air dry. You never need to brush or comb it (my daughter and I “comb” it with our fingers when we coat it with [lots of] conditioner in the process of detangling it, though you can also use a wide-toothed comb, and if there’s a sufficient amount of conditioner, it won’t hurt when you run it through slowly). Sure, it gets increasingly tangled before the next time it’s washed—but the tangles don’t make it look messy (they just add to the curliness) and you just have to resist the urge to take a brush to it. Neither my grown daughter (whose hair is waist-length) nor I (a few inches past my shoulders these days) have run a brush through our hair in years. And our hair looks great. (How I wish I had known this when my kid was your kid’s age!)

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I’m with your friends. I do think it’s unfair to make your daughter wear her hair short if she wants to wear it long (and vice versa, too). But I understand why my mother made me keep mine short (I was a formidable howler), even if I couldn’t bring myself to make the same choice when it came to my own daughter; instead, there were copious tears every day before school, or I’d give up and send her off with her hair half-brushed: she looked like a tiny madwoman. And, honestly, if what I’m suggesting still sounds like too much work to you, I won’t judge you for trying to make your life easier. (Though I would suggest you try what I’m proposing once or twice before you make your decision—so that you can see for yourself if this feels like too much work. I know I spend less time on my hair than most people. On non-washing days, all I do is shake my head and re-scrunch a little: it takes me about a minute.)

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There are plenty of tutorials online you can refer to, but the basic principles are those I described above. There are many brands of shampoo and conditioner you can try (California Baby is one, and they even have a tear-free formula; my own favorite these days is Jessicurl). You can add a curl cream or other styling product after the leave-in conditioner/detangling stage in the shower (for years I used Devacurl’s; these days I use the one Prose makes, because I prefer fragrance-free products), but you don’t have to use curl cream (for a child, I certainly wouldn’t bother). It will also help—once her hair grows out from its current short haircut—to get it cut and shaped by someone who is expert at curly hair (lots of stylists aren’t).

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I will add one further note about this. If your daughter doesn’t end up liking her naturally occurring curls—if by princessy hair she means artificially curled, mostly straight hair (the kind of hair nearly all Bachelor contestants have, for example)—well, then, forget it. That is definitely not worth the trouble (for anyone, if you ask me). Let her choose between her (no-doubt) gorgeous natural long curls and a nice pixie cut. A pixie cut—that’s what they gave me!—is probably the only hairstyle that’s easier to care for than hair like mine.

Good luck. I won’t even comment on your husband’s position, except to agree that he doesn’t get a vote if he isn’t going to be in the least bit involved in any of this.

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—Michelle

More Advice From Slate

My husband and I are moving to the city where one of my dearest friends lives. She really wants us to move to her neighborhood. I love the idea of being close, except I hate her neighborhood. It’s a bunch of huge McMansions. I get why she and her husband chose it—there’s lots of space for their big family—but you couldn’t pay me to live there. But it’s close to my work, in my price range, etc., so my friend doesn’t seem to catch on to my polite demurrals (“That might be a little too much house for us” or “We’re looking in a lot of neighborhoods.”) What can I tell her besides “your house is hideous”?

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