Care and Feeding

I’m Afraid My Kid’s “Cool Aunt” Is Enticing Her Toward Alcohol

And that’s not the only problem.

A smiling child looks on as her cool aunt drinks wine
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here.

Dear Care and Feeding,

How do you deal with bad influences? My sister-in-law is great, and she’s definitely “the fun aunt.” However, she has zero filter. She has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and will often talk about drinking. My daughter has even said to me once that she can’t wait to drink. She also talks negatively about her body, which makes me worry about my daughter having a fear of gaining weight and/or judging others for weight gain. There are other things she does that irritate me, like using “gay” as a put-down and her outdated ideas on gender roles. She doesn’t live close, so at least this isn’t a constant issue. It’s pretty hard for me to ask her to change who she is. However, I guess the more reasonable question is what to tell my daughter. Any advice would be helpful!

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—Not Cool

Dear Not Cool,

Since it doesn’t sound like you want to cut Cool Aunt out entirely, your best bet is to use this as a learning opportunity for your daughter. There will always be people in her life who have bad habits and bad opinions. The challenge here for you is getting your daughter to recognize the bad habits and opinions of your SIL without coming off as overly judgmental. As you witness these things, make sure to point out that you would expect better from her—whether you do that in the moment or later depends, I guess, on your tolerance for open conflict and how you want to demonstrate your own values. Your daughter may not even realize that she’s being influenced by her aunt, so having a quick, general chat before the next visit about what makes her aunt fun and what other parts of her personality are not worth emulating (people are complicated!) could make a big difference.

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Is there a way for you to separate the drinking part of her aunt from the “fun” part of her aunt? Are there activities they can do together where drinking isn’t an option, so that your daughter can realize booze isn’t what’s making her aunt fun? (If not, aunt might need help.)

Additionally, have you talked to your sister-in-law about your fears? Framing your problems with her behavior as concern for your daughter may help her to see that her actions have network effects. Ideally, she would agree that fomenting an urge to drink and poor body image in her niece is suboptimal. (I also think you’re within your rights to ban the “gay” put-down in your house, full stop.) Then, the two of you can work together on enhancing the ways in which she’s a positive influence.

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Slate Plus Members Get More Advice Each Week

From this week’s letter, The Playground Meanies Bullied Me Into Silence in Front of My Kid: “I don’t have a lot of practice dealing with older kids yet. Is there something else I could have done to advocate for my daughter?”

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m looking for some advice on room-sharing between my 4.5-year-old son and 2.5-year-old daughter. At the moment, there are not enough bedrooms in our home for them to be separate, so they share. They generally get along very well. The 4.5-year-old is a typical oldest child—rule follower, responsible, obedient. The 2.5-year-old is a typical middle child (we also have an infant)—stubborn, fiery, strong-willed. At first, their room-sharing was a nonissue. However, over the past few months and even more in recent weeks, bedtime has become a hassle. They are both in regular beds. After lights out, she climbs out of her bed, into his bed, and they horse around, bicker, play, etc. They aren’t in any danger, but this can go on for a long time (90-plus minutes) if they’re really wired. I’ve recently taken to threats (which I’m not proud of), but even that doesn’t seem to really make a difference. I just want to put them to bed and be done. I don’t mind if they need a little time to wind down but I DESPISE having my night drag on and on after lights out. I’m a stay-at-home mom, and I need bedtime to be an “end” to the day. I feel like I’ve tried everything—gentle, respectful, rewards, etc. Nothing seems to work. Any advice?

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—So Tired

Dear So Tired,

The kids are probably aware that the room is shared out of necessity and that you don’t have the option of separating them. Unless there’s something clever you can do with a temporary wall or large closet, this puts you in a very difficult negotiating position. So you’re right: Threats won’t work.

I sympathize wholly and completely with how you must feel getting reeled back into the bedroom after lights out. If you’re thinking I get maybe 30 minutes of time to myself each day and they’re taking it away as you walk to their room, it will not make for a graceful de-escalation. If yours are like mine, they’ll pick up on this and make it part of their game. Ideally, you should try to find a way to just not care that they are up, thereby taking away the control they’re exercising over you. One suggestion might be to switch your own schedule to getting your “me” time in the morning before they wake up. If you no longer expect free time after bedtime, you won’t be as frustrated with their antics.

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You might also try not breaking things up. They have to go to sleep eventually, right? If part of their new bedtime routine involves figuring out how wild they need to be before Mom comes to visit again, gently explaining that you need this time to yourself and that you’re not coming back until the morning might do the trick. Again, you’re not in a great negotiating position since if one of them hurts themselves or starts screaming like crazy, you’ll have to go in there.
But when you do inevitably have to come in, reiterate that this is your time and leave again as quickly as you can.

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Lastly, is there anything you can change in their daily routine that would make them less interested in staying up? Maybe increasing physical activity so that they’re more tired at bedtime, shifting bedtime to later in the evening, or even starting earlier so that if it takes 90 minutes, you still have time afterward? Good luck!

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Catch Up on Care and Feeding

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’d like guidance on transitioning kids from public school to private school in the fall. For background, we have waffled over this decision (me: guilt over pulling our second grader out of her current school; husband: the money). It is equidistant to the public school. Our second grader loves school. She has many friends and excels at school. However, there are several things we (mostly I) do not love about our school district. Our kid would be going to the new school with our upcoming kindergarten son. So this would be new for both of them. We’ve done the visits and shadow days, and second grader loved it, although she says repeatedly, “I don’t want to leave my school.” How would you explain to your child why you want them to go to a new school? I’ve tried simple things like “The day is shorter! You’ll be outside for at least an hour each day, instead of just 15 minutes max! You’ll get to have science class every day!” The reasons are these and that, in general, the education quality and opportunity to have an experience where educators aren’t “teaching to test” is huge. I am hoping that summer break will make for an easier transition, but the mom guilt is creeping up on this one.

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—Tense Transition

Dear Tense Transition,

Don’t listen to your kids in this case. As children, they are liable to make terrible decisions about their own education (not their fault!) and, like most people, also fear change. The reasons for the school switch that you present here should also make perfect sense to your second grader, especially the part about getting to be outside more. You seem excited about the idea of having science early and often in her education. Is she also excited about science and experimentation? Make sure you connect the idea of the new school with things that she already knows and likes doing. If it’s possible, you can also explain to your daughter that she will still be able to see friends from her old school and that this is an expansion of her known universe, not a cutover from one to the next. Maybe she can still participate in after-school activities at her old public school or attend camps with those friends in the summer.

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Having personally done this when my kid was the same age and having read Slate’s publishing on the topic, I completely understand the guilt you might be feeling over the public/private school debate. The truth is that every school district is different and every kid is different, and this decision is yours to make.

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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,

How do you help a kiddo get over a big disappointment? Recently, my child tried out for a team they have always made in the past, and this year somehow all their friends made it, but they didn’t. I was at the tryouts, and I thought they did really well. They’ve made it the last two years, and I think their tryout this year was better than in previous years. My child was not the best, and I feel like I am usually pretty rational about their abilities. Out of about 40 kids who tried out for this team, there was space for eight (because it’s mixed-age and eight have to come from the next age level), and I placed my kid around fifth best. But kid didn’t make it in this year, and five of their friends did—this was after “putting in the work” of doing the suggested camps and extra fundraising the organization asks for.

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I’m pretty thrown myself, in a way I never have been before. When this child has tried other activities/programs and not made it in, I didn’t care either way, or I felt the result was fair. This time, I feel like something went wrong or that the results are unfair. This is also my child’s most passionate interest, and they spend a lot of time working on this skill. I moved around a lot of our normal activities in anticipation of keeping Child’s schedule open for this big commitment, and now we have no after-school activity for spring. And all of Child’s friends are doing this other thing together. So how does Child move on, and how do I move on? And when Child asks me why they didn’t make it in, I am honestly baffled myself, whereas in previous activities I could cite a clear example of something Child could work on to improve. How does everyone navigate these difficulties with their children?

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—Confused

Dear Confused,

First of all, I think it’s OK to be honest with your kid and tell them that you’re baffled. They did their best. You didn’t see anything to improve. Maybe 10 of them were just as good as one another and there were only eight spots—two people have the bad luck of not getting selected. If there was an error, it could be hard to correct since it would mean telling someone else they have to leave. That’s life! There are going to be many more times where things in your kid’s life come down to chance or where they feel like they deserve something and don’t get it. Learning to work through that feeling and come out the other side without being a mess is a valuable skill.

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Also, I can’t help but notice that you only mention your kid’s feelings once in your letter, despite the framing being about how “we get past this.” It sounds like you put in a ton of work and are experiencing a big letdown. Don’t beat yourself up! You did your best. Also, don’t assume that your feelings of disappointment are necessarily equal to those of your kid. If your kids are like mine, they’ll pick up on your feelings and mimic them back to you, making it even harder for you to tell how they really feel. I’m not saying they’re relieved or that you’re projecting—just that they might not be as crestfallen as you are.

My advice: Chalk this one up to chance, get back on the horse, and try again.

—Greg

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I have a 2-year-old son, and about a year ago I became extremely concerned about climate change. I worry about his quality of life as an adult, and though I very much want another child, I think it may be cruel to bring another human into this world. Is it acceptable to bring a child into a world that may not be livable in 20 years?

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