Care and Feeding

My Wife Is Trying to Mold Our Daughter Into Her Mini-Me

A 5-year-old girl smiles and holds a basketball.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by AzmanJaka/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 wife is a self-described “girly girl.” She needs to dress up and put on makeup to walk our dogs or to make a trip to the corner store. She never wears sneakers in public because she thinks sneakers are too manly, so she’s always in heels, wedges, or nice flats instead. None of this bothers me because I find her extremely attractive, and she is the kindest person I know. The problem is our 5-year-old daughter has a love for contact sports, especially basketball. My wife refuses to let her play basketball and tries to steer her to more feminine activities (her words, not mine) like ballet. Our daughter has no interest in putting on a tutu and wants to play basketball with the neighborhood kids instead. Any advice on how I can get my wife to come around?

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—No Ballet, Please

Dear No Ballet,

I think it’s fine if that’s how your wife wants to define femininity for herself, but I have a problem if she tries to push those activities and beliefs on a daughter who feels differently. That’s like a parent telling his son that boys have to be rough and never smile. That’s absurd to me. This is 2022—boys can join the ballet and girls can play quarterback. Enough of the labeling.

As you probably know, I have two daughters who play basketball. Both of them know the names of all of the members of the Avengers, but not the Disney princesses. They also both love wearing dresses and getting their nails and hair done. There’s no “one-size-fits-all” persona to being feminine in today’s world, and I do my best to empower them to do whatever they want.

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If I were you, I’d remind your wife of that. Would she rather have a resentful daughter who can do a nice arabesque, or a happy one who has a tight crossover dribble? I hope she would choose the latter. If we force our kids to be something that they’re not, they will always find their way to their true north—often at the expense of their relationship with their parents. It’s simply not worth it.

There are millions of 5-year-old girls playing basketball across the globe right now, and they’re learning valuable life lessons like teamwork, sportsmanship, dealing with adversity, and so much more. That doesn’t make them less feminine—it helps them become strong humans, and isn’t that what we want for our kids?

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She loves the game, so let the game love her back. Have a serious talk with your wife, reminding her of all these things, and put her on the basketball court, dad.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a 27-year-old with a big extended family full of marriages and babies who has no intentions of ever marrying. (I am both aromantic and sex-repulsed asexual. It’s not happening.) But I want to eventually become a parent via adoption. This is far off, but I’m actively working on it happening. However, when I attempt to bring this up with family, they get awkward and immediately change the conversation. It hurts me that they seem bothered by my “unconventional” way to becoming a parent. Most of my cousins (the ones that aren’t parents yet, oddly enough) are on board, but the lack of support from the older members of my family has certainly hurt my feelings. Is there a way that I can get them to at least engage with the conversation? I’d like for my future child to have great aunts and uncles they can engage with the same as my cousins’ children.

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—Wannabe Parent

Dear Wannabe,

I hear you on older generations who don’t support life choices that differ from their own. I can’t count how many times older friends and family members told me I would regret leaving my “safe” 9-to-5 corporate job with a 401(k) and benefits to go into business for myself. As I sit here today, the only regret I have is that I wish I’d made the move sooner. Your older relatives may have been told themselves by their parents that there is one best way to be a parent, to hold a career, etc., so understandably they’ll catch feelings when someone strays from that blueprint.

You seem to rightly get that you can’t live your life hoping for the approval of others, and I applaud you. Stay your course. I have a hunch that they operate from an “I’ll believe it when I see it” philosophy, so when you go through with the adoption and become a fantastic parent, they will breathe a sigh of relief and support you and love your child. It almost always goes down that way, from what I’ve seen. If your family shuns you for adopting? I know it will hurt deeply—but honestly, do you want people like that in your life? I would view it as a blessing in disguise if I were you. More importantly, you’ll learn who the ride-or-die people are in your life who will support you in this decision.

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In other words, don’t spend another moment trying to get your family to see the light on something they’re not prepared for. Do your research on adoption, surround yourself with the friends and family who are on your side, and become a kick-ass parent. I do think that the rest will fall into place.

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 39-year-old son recently died of COVID-19 after suffering for 19 days in the hospital. He was the father of three children—14, 10, and a baby boy. He was married to his wife for 19 years. In the weeks after his death, his wife received a friendship letter from one of their supposed friends. It must have been quite some letter, as my son’s widow started seeing this guy only weeks after his death (before his funeral, even). It has only been a couple of months, and she has practically moved in with him. He goes to my granddaughter’s sporting events and has taken family photos with my son’s children. He has basically replaced my son.

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My ex-daughter-in-law acts as if this is all a normal thing. We feel it is very disrespectful as we didn’t even have time to grieve our son and spend time with our grandkids. I have always been available for child care after school and to help run kids to all their activities. The kids are also being disrespectful because the mom has let them do many things that would have not flown had my son still been alive. I feel he has been kicked under the rug and spat upon. No one thinks she should be alone, but there is something to say for decency. We are from a small town in southern Oregon and my son had many friends and relatives. Many of his friends feel the same. It is humiliating for his memory and embarrassing for our family.

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—Heartbroken and Sad

Dear Heartbroken,

Please accept my sincere condolences. I’m sure that “heartbroken” doesn’t begin to describe how you’re feeling right now. I’m with you that while your daughter in-law shouldn’t live her life alone, dating another man before the funeral of her husband of 19 years and father of their three children is not OK. Yes, I’m aware that people have their own ways of grieving, but for the sake of her children alone, this should not be happening.

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It seems to me that your daughter-in-law and son must have been going through some problems in their marriage that you were unaware of, which probably helped to move this new relationship forward quickly (or perhaps it has been going on all along, which seems more likely). Not that it excuses her behavior, of course—but it might explain some of it.

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In terms of how to handle your grandchildren, there isn’t much you can do in terms of how she chooses to raise them going forward. It may sadden you that she’s allowing them to take part in behaviors and activities that your son would never allow, but as I’ve said countless times before around here—as long as the children aren’t in imminent danger, you have to let those things go. She’s their mother.

You didn’t mention that your daughter-in-law is keeping you from seeing your grandkids, so you should continue to stay involved in their lives as much as possible. Go to their sporting events, offer to babysit them on weekends or after school, video chat with them often, and continue to support them as you would if your son was still alive. Keep the memory of their father very much alive, and offer yourself as an emotional support to them during this very difficult time, since it seems like their mother is not very available to them.

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I can’t imagine how devastating it must be to see how quickly she moved on to another man, but unfortunately there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. Instead of focusing on her, focus on being the most amazing grandparent you can be. I know that’s much easier said than done, but I’m sure your son would want you to do that as well.

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 4½-year-old daughter has trouble immediately returning greetings from strangers, acquaintances, and even family members. For instance, if a store clerk says hello, she’ll say nothing or, at the worst, turn away and bury her face in my leg. She needs time to warm up. Once she does, she is then her usual talkative, bubbly self. But this of course never comes to pass in quick interactions outside. Invariably, the other person will say something along the lines of “oh, she’s shy.” I feel this has negative connotations. I once asked her why she didn’t say hello to the person we see once a week when we pick up lunch, and she responded, “Because I’m shy.” So the label is now her excuse. This behavior occurred before the pandemic but has gotten worse. And some people seem affronted—one person asked if she was in a bad mood! Do you have any advice on what to say when someone labels her shy in front of her? Should I even try to head it off?

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—Mom of a Shy Girl (but Please Don’t Call Her That)

Dear Mom,

I feel you so much on this. Even though I speak in front of large crowds on a regular basis, I’m a total introvert and would much rather chill inside my house playing video games with my daughters than attend a large party (even pre-COVID). My 11-year-old daughter is the same way and tends to thrive in quiet spaces.

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For some inexplicable reason, society tends to favor extroverts and shuns introverts as being shy, arrogant, moody, or aloof. It’s not often that people bring the same energy for extroverts by saying, “Oh, she’s just a weirdo who craves attention from others in order to feel self-worth.” Before my extroverted readers fill my inbox with hate mail, just know that I don’t feel that way about you—but how would you feel if you were consistently described that way for merely existing? Trust me, it would get annoying quickly.

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To help defuse those situations, maybe you can proactively offer something like “I consider myself lucky that my daughter is really cautious around new people. Don’t take it personally if she doesn’t greet you right away.” Doing so will instill in her that you’re supportive of her behavior and that it’s not unusual. If she is called shy by others, I’d quickly correct them by saying, “I don’t use the word shy because of its negative connotations. I would rather call her cautious and thoughtful when being introduced to new things.” Maybe I’m missing something, but I think it’s a good thing that your daughter is self-aware enough to be wary of new people she comes across. I sure wouldn’t want my kids running into the arms of every stranger who says hello to them.

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Empower your little lady to own her inner introvert. Despite what society says, it’s an amazing quality to have.

—Doyin

More Advice From Slate

My husband is in education, so during the summer he is a full-time stay at home dad to our children, ages 4 and 18 months. During the school year, he cares for them several days a week. I’ve long had a hunch that he was letting a screen do the child care for him. And now, after my first week working from home full-time, the facts can’t be ignored: They watch TV all day, every day. If they start to get restless he’ll put on something else, or they’ll come bother me. Also, every day since I have been working from home, while the little one is napping, my husband will set up my older child with a movie and take a nap himself. I really do not want this kind of care to continue, but I am very hesitant to say anything because I know if the shoe were on the other foot and I were a stay-at-home mother, I would bristle at my husband waltzing in and telling me that I’m parenting badly and need to change things. What say you?

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