Care and Feeding

I’m Furious With My Mother for Flaking on Helping With Childcare

She promised to lend a hand when the new baby comes, and now I’m screwed.

A pregnant woman looks annoyed at her phone.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Mykola Sosiukin/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

We have a 2.5-year-old and live far away from both my parents and in-laws. I’m expecting baby number two in March. Initially, both sets of grandparents offered to fly out and watch our toddler when the new baby comes; we ended up agreeing to my parents making the trip. My parents, especially my mom, are highly anxious generally, and both of them (and my partner and I) are vaccinated and boosted, and we live somewhere that takes COVID precautions very seriously. Nevertheless, my partner recently contracted a mild case of COVID (neither our child nor I ever tested positive). Our toddler’s daycare also closed temporarily due to multiple cases and has recently reopened.

Today, when I called my mom for a regular catch-up, she was very upset and said they had come to the conclusion they could no longer come visit due to omicron. She said her doctors have told her she is likely to get very sick if she gets COVID. She does have a form of diabetes, but she has had this for some time (before COVID), and her condition has not changed recently. I understand that she is in a higher risk group, but this information is not new, and we made these plans over five months ago. I asked if their concern was about the travel itself or our toddler being in daycare and she couldn’t seem to answer; when I said we could keep her home for some days before they arrived, that did not seem to make a difference.

Now we have five weeks before my induction date and are extremely stressed and scrambling to find help. Anyone in the family who’d be in a position to would need to fly, and it’s even hard to find a paid person on such short notice. I am so hurt and angry. Their decision is not rooted in a basis I can understand. How do I move past this? COVID will, unfortunately, likely be here forever, and I don’t see how their risk tolerance has changed so dramatically, so suddenly, with no warning whatsoever. Just the day before, we talked about their plans to come! The “how” they announced this—so abruptly, out of the blue, without a good explanation—is making me as upset as the actual news.

— Pandemic Pregnancy Pandemonium

Dear Pandemonium,

I know you feel that your parents are letting you down, and your sense seems to be that if they cared enough, they would be willing to take what seems to you a minimal risk. And I understand that their change of heart—or what seems to be a change of heart, but might simply be a late confession, both to themselves and to you—is enormously upsetting. But I’ve said this before (and I guess I’ll have to keep saying it till I’m blue in the face): Risk tolerance is complicated and messy, it’s different for everyone, and it can indeed vary from day to day.

I really do get how upset you are. Your parents had seemed so willing—perhaps even glad and grateful!—to help you. What you don’t know is how hard they might have been working to suppress their anxiety in the service of offering you this help. Perhaps they’d managed to put it out of their minds for a while, and it snuck up on them. Perhaps something one of your mother’s doctors said, or something she or your father read in today’s paper, drew them up short. But as someone in a high-risk group simply by virtue of my age, I can tell you that my own level of risk tolerance changes frequently. And your mother’s fears are in fact well-grounded: While people like her (older people with co-morbidities who are vaxed and boosted) do sometimes have mild cases of COVID if they contract it, some do die—the numbers are still alarming. You cannot—or rather, you should not—bully people into taking risks because you have decided that the risk is small, or because you think the risk is worth it. Or because their having concluded that they cannot, after all, take the risk makes your life more difficult.

Find someone else to help. Someone else in your extended family may be much more risk-tolerant than your parents are right now. It’s not too late to book a flight for them, whomever they may be. And have a backup plan—several backup plans. Things can change, as you have learned, on a dime. But please do your very best to give your parents grace. I imagine that they feel terrible about this too. All of our lives have been turned upside down by the pandemic. The least we can do is try our best to understand—and protect—one another. And be kind, as kind as we can, to those we love. And to everyone who is struggling. I know you love your parents. You will get past this.

—Michelle