Care and Feeding

My Son Wants a Sibling

How do I tell him he’s not getting one?

A little boy smiling at the camera as he lies on top of a baby.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by tatyana_tomsickova/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,

I have a 5-year-old son who is an only and we’re planning on keeping it that way. My husband and I love being parents, but we feel really content with one kid. I didn’t like being pregnant, we both didn’t like the baby phase, and my career (I’m the breadwinner) is really taking off. We see only upsides to raising one kid. As a few of my son’s friends started getting siblings, my son seemed content that he had us all to himself, but the questions have begun. He is requesting siblings that are of course his own age or only a little younger to play with him. He plays with neighborhood kids his own age every weekend, he goes to day care after pre-K, so he definitely has a social life. But I don’t know how to talk to him about the fact that his parents are choosing not to give him a sibling because we don’t think that’s what’s best for our family. We’ve always tried to be honest and age-appropriate discussing hard topics, but this one feels particularly loaded with stuff he just won’t get until he himself is a parent. How do other parents of only kids talk to them about their family planning decisions?

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—One Is the “Only-est” Number We Will Ever Do

Dear One,

It’s natural for your 5-year-old to start noticing different family dynamics and questioning his own, and it’s commendable that you feel a level of accountability to him when it comes to explaining your family planning decisions.

What you’ve suggested in your letter is enough of an explanation for now: “Mom and Dad have decided that one child is what’s best for our family. We want to be able to devote lots of time and attention to being great parents, and we can do that best by devoting our time and attention to you.”

It’s likely that if his social life remains as active and full as it is now, he’ll stop insisting on a sibling as he gets older. At 5, his request may be more about wanting an at-home playmate than a sibling, and having kids over to play from time to time may stem the inquiries. Ultimately, try to gently impress upon him that, in the end, the choice not to expand the family is yours and your husband’s and you both believe you’re making the right one.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My mother-in-law “Betty” lives about 25 minutes away and loves to swing by for weekend visits about once or twice a month. My husband grew up in this town, and one of the reasons we wanted to move back was so that our kids could get to know their grandparents better. We moved back during the pandemic, and honestly, having extra child care and family support during a time of day care/school closures was a godsend.

Well, things have now gotten a little dicey. The pandemic really affected Betty’s mental health and she’s now developed some hoarding-like tendencies. Each week, she’ll spend upwards of three hours a day getting as much free stuff as she can get her hands on (usually by scouring neighborhood events with free stuff available, or going to garage sales and haggling). I would ordinarily dismiss this as a mostly harmless pastime. But on her weekend visits to our home, she tries to give all the stuff to our kids.

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Here’s the issue: Our kids love the stuff! There’s food (usually unhealthy), tchotchkes, half-broken toys that still make lights and sounds but are visibly dirty, and other items that kids love, but quite frankly I don’t want it in my house. We have really been trying to declutter. I seem like the Grinch every time Grandma comes over and unloads a bunch of stuff only for me to throw it away a few hours after she leaves.

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My husband has tried to speak to her about this, but she refuses to stop. Is there a way I can help my kids be less attached to the stuff, so they don’t care when I throw it away? Would it be harmful to my kids to cut back on these visits unless Grandma can rein it in? Am I overreacting? Please help.

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—Sick of the Stuff

Dear Sick of the Stuff,

It can be frustrating to suddenly find yourself responsible for heaps of material goods that you don’t want, and doubly frustrating if getting rid of it means disappointing your excited kids.

If your husband has already talked to his mother and she’s continued to bring thrifted items over for the kids, you could try having a follow-up conversation with her yourself. She may receive the request differently if it comes from you. Or you could make an agreement with the kids: They can have one day of free play with these “new” toys and/or choose one snack to be spared. Then all the excess will be re-donated or otherwise removed from the home.

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This doesn’t rise to the level of seriousness that would necessitate you inviting Grandma over less, but you can control what happens to her gifts after she leaves. You’re completely within your rights not to keep the gifts; just explain to the kids why you’re not keeping all of them. Good luck with decluttering!

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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,

My cleaning lady is getting way too involved in my personal life. I am a stay-at-home mom with four young children, and I really appreciate the help cleaning up around the house, but I am about to fire her for offering too much personal advice.

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She is lecturing me on how my 4-year-old still wears a pullup at bedtime, telling me to cut out dairy products for my children, telling me I must only serve my family 100 percent organic food, telling me to enroll my kids in a special child development program. It is overwhelming. I have politely declined her advice but it continues on. Am I justified in firing her over this? My husband thinks I am being too sensitive and doesn’t understand why I don’t just ignore her. She does a fine job cleaning our house once a week otherwise.

—Annoyed in Atlanta

Dear Annoyed in Atlanta,

On one hand, if the housekeeping visits are just once a week, your husband may have a point that it could be worth ignoring the unsolicited advice. On the other hand, you’re paying your housekeeper for a specific service, and if the recommendations she’s offering aren’t related to that service and she’s continued to dispense them after being asked to stop, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for you to find someone else whose at-work boundaries are better suited to your personal needs.

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How inconvenient is the advice to you? Is it worth searching for someone else whose work is as satisfactory to you? Does the advice make you feel uncomfortable in your own home? If so, inform her kindly that one condition of the job is that you feel comfortable with the person performing it, and that you’re starting to feel unsettled by her constant suggestions. Make clear to her that you can’t continue to employ her unless she can agree not to offer frequent and unsolicited parenting advice. Her suggestions may be well intentioned, but it’s OK for you not to accept them. As long as you’ve communicated clearly that this will result in job loss if she continues, it’s fine to terminate her employment if she decides to keep offering advice.

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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,

I am a neurodivergent mother of two children. My eldest daughter, 6, shows many traits that align with autism as it presents in girls. She showed traits of autism as early as 12 months. She is hypersensitive to pain, has gross motor difficulty and overwhelming sensory sensitivities, struggles with social interaction, is very literal, prefers being in charge and struggles with collaborative play, and has a hard time regulating emotions, among other issues. She is also brilliant, inquisitive, energetic, creative, and has an incredibly quick mind and strong sense of justice. She is doing and has done wonderfully in preschool, school, and at home in large part because we are intentional (and very lucky) in finding environments where her needs are accommodated and her gifts are seen and supported.

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She’s just started first grade, and I am seeing—and she is talking about—masking (“I’m a different person at a school”), difficulty with social situations (she just sort of freezes up, skips recess a lot in favor of staying inside with her teacher), and I worry about an increased need for accommodations and social issues becoming more complicated. I feel like an official diagnosis would help us access resources and support and access accommodations as needed. It would also possibly give her a framework with which to understand her neurotype and access community. My husband refuses to consider having her assessed and feels that the possible stigma is too great a risk. He is also very dismissive of my experience, educational resources about autism and girls, and feels that she just needs to try harder, and that every girl has the traits detailed in the resources and research I’ve provided. I really don’t know what to do.

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—Actually Autistic

Dear Actually,

You may not be able to change your husband’s opinion on this, but his opinion shouldn’t supersede your daughter’s potential long-term needs. Trust yourself on this. You’re acting on experience, observation, and instinct in wanting your daughter to be evaluated. It sounds like you’ve been patient in waiting as long as you have to start the assessment process.

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There are a limited number of outcomes: Either your daughter will be on the autism disorder spectrum or she won’t. If she is, the earlier she receives the proper support and accommodations, the better. If not, your family will have a definitive answer here, and you can address her challenges at school differently. There’s no downside to asking for a diagnosis—except, perhaps, that your husband may continue to be unsupportive. Unfortunately, it seems like you may be dealing with that no matter the outcome here. I wish you and your daughter the best as you navigate this together.

—Stacia

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