Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I have a healthy sex life. We often send each other videos of ourselves. Well, we got the kids an iPad, and while setting it up, I didn’t realize that it synchronized the pictures and videos from my phone to the iPad. My 6-year-old daughter watched a video of me using “toys.”
I am mortified and feel like the worst parent. I haven’t talked to my daughter about this yet because I’ve been trying to process it and find the right words. Help me!
Explain to your daughter that there are things that adults do that are just for adults, and that, unfortunately, she saw a video of one of those things. Let her know that you weren’t doing anything wrong, bad, or inappropriate—just something that was meant for the eyes of her father only. Share that there are activities that a mommy and daddy, or two other adults who like each other, can participate in to express how much they care about one another, and that those activities are private and, again, for adults only. Apologize to her for her having to see something that may have made her feel confused or uncomfortable, reiterate that what was happening in the video was completely normal for adults to share with adults, and be more careful with your settings in the future. You must also emphasize the private nature of what she saw; it is not to be discussed with anyone else, nor should she be talking about sexual matters with anyone aside from her parents.
There’s no need for you to destroy yourself over this. You aren’t the worst parent, and your child isn’t going to be permanently traumatized by this. Kids have been walking in on much worse for a long time. It may be difficult to see this now, but in the future, your daughter may be able to benefit from having parents who have a healthy relationship to sex. Since this uncomfortable incident has broken the ice, now would be a good time to talk to your daughter, if you haven’t already about sex, as both a source of birth and pleasure for grown-ups. The Every Body Book is an excellent, inclusive resource. Your daughter is also likely ready for Sonya Renee Taylor’s Celebrate Your Body, a beautiful book that examines the changes girls experience as they enter puberty, and is written in language accessible to kids 6 and up. Forgive yourself, please!
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From this week’s letter, “I’m Completely Disturbed by the Book My Daughter Chose for a School Assignment”: “I have absolutely no idea what to say or even where to begin.”
Dear Care and Feeding,
This year, our 14-year-old daughter started her freshman year of high school and decided on a whim to join the tech crew for the drama club. She had no experience with tech but we encouraged her to give it a try, hoping she could find a great artistic pursuit alongside an important social outlet (she was bullied a bit in middle school for being generally “artsy” and nonconformist). To our delight, she’s loved it! She helped produce the fall musical and was selected to be the no. 2 in command for the spring musical.
The problem is our son, who’s 16. He’s been involved in acting all his life and has been part of the drama club all throughout high school. He’s getting upset that his sister is getting more involved; the two of them were often in the same clubs and sports as kids, but drama club was the one activity that he had to himself.
On one hand, I empathize with my son; having his sister join has undoubtedly changed the dynamic. On the other hand, I think this is a part of life, and he has no more “stake” in the drama club than his sister does. I also think he should recognize how helpful the club has been for her personal and social development. What say you?
— Musically Mom
Be empathetic to your son’s feelings and let him know that you understand how much drama club means to him, and what an adjustment it must be to go from having something all to himself to having to share it with his sister, something he’s probably had to do at home or in other ways throughout their lives. Ask him to be empathetic to his little sister and her struggles to find a place where she fits in. Remind him that she’s on tech and he’s performing, so they won’t always be working closely together, and there’s still ample opportunity for him to socialize with other people and occupy the same place he did within the organization that he did prior to her joining. Also encourage her to respect his space in the group.
It’s true: The drama club does not belong to any single person, so it would be cruel for him to ask his sister to let go of something that has brought fulfillment into her life in order for him to enjoy it all to himself. He’ll just have to suck up his saltiness and deal with it. Hopefully, in time, he’ll get over this no longer being “just his” and will be able to celebrate not only the happiness that it brings his sister, but the fact that they get to bring theatre to life together.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m currently dealing with a very toxic mother-in-law. Pre-COVID, I just saw her as loud, eccentric, and a little messy, slightly on the hoarder side of housekeeping. I saw her lose her temper a few times but considered her harmless. During lockdown, she secured a relationship with a gentleman who had land property and a business. He bought a house that had been foreclosed on next door to where he and my MIL live; my partner and I ended up renting it from him and repairing it.
That’s when the kid gloves came off and the control started from my MIL. She demanded that we pay rent to her every two weeks and she would pay the boyfriend (there were months where she got three checks and was pocketing the difference). She began to fill a spare room with hoarded junk. We started to hear nonstop complaints about the electrical bill from her on his behalf. We weren’t allowed to visit next door without her allowance, effectively cutting off communication with the boyfriend; she said she was the landlord and anything we went to him about led to a cursing, slamming, tantrum tirade from her. This all culminated in a spectacular 3 a.m. “fight” between the two of them where all her stuff was dragged in the yard and suddenly into our home.
So now suddenly she lives here with her mail, utility payments in her name, and with her taking over two-thirds of the house with her things—just as she planned. There were flattened car tires after demanding we buy her a truck. The AC hoses in my car were ripped loose. The coup de grace was her “accidentally” slamming my partner’s car into someone, totaling it, and then nonchalantly saying it’s not her car or insurance so not her problem. She then called the people she hit and demanded that they sue us to “teach my son a lesson for disrespecting his disabled mother.”
Upon being threatened with eviction from the ex-boyfriend whom she has now made up with, her infringement on my personal space has become worse. I found cat urine in between my mattress and boxsprings. My partner is afraid of her and I see her as completely evil and soulless. She will do anything to be a helpless disabled Christian woman in public, but is hell on Earth in private. I was documenting all of this with the hope of having her committed, but I realized she knows exactly what she is doing and she actually enjoys it.
How can I let go of the resentment and seething hatred for the way she manipulates people? I don’t want to be a casualty of her self-entitled games by becoming bitter and hard. Any advice on dealing with someone who’d rather set the house on fire than let anyone have their way?
— Afraid of the Anger
While it is important that you and your partner both deal with any resentment or anger for how his mother has behaved toward you all, I think it’s far more critical that the two of you start developing a plan to move away from this toxic woman and strip away the influence she has from your daily lives.
How is your partner coping with this? Is he defensive of her, or simply demoralized by years of her nonsense? Either way, you’ve got to get him on board with change, and fast. This woman is a danger to herself and others. She has destroyed your property, tampered with your car, and cavalierly struck people with your partner’s! She seems to be dangerous and unhinged and her behavior is absolutely inexcusable.
There are toxic relatives who are to be navigated and those from whom estrangement is the most reasonable option. Your mother-in-law is the latter. In the meantime, continue documenting everything as you focus on getting the hell out of that house and this woman’s life as soon as possible. Do not talk shit to her, do not inform her of your plans. Get your affairs in order (make sure you won’t be on the hook for any bills when you leave, which shouldn’t be a problem since she put things in her name) and get gone, quickly.
As far as managing your feelings, try your best to accept that this person is who she is and that there is nothing that you and your partner did to cause her to treat you in the way that she has. She sounds like she is suffering from mental illness, which is not to give her a pass, but to contextualize what you seem to be up against. I would imagine that your partner will be in need of some significant support in navigating both the break-up with their mother and the residual feelings of what has likely been a lifetime of bizarre behavior from her. Be empathetic and kind, but do not waver on the importance of making a break from this woman. If your partner wants to stay in touch, fine, but she cannot have the sort of place that she has in your life now.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I have a close friend and relative whose mom just passed away unexpectedly (technically their stepmom, but they considered her their mother, as their biological mother was out of the picture). My friend (a teenager like me) is now left with their father. I don’t know him well, but what I do know is he is not always kind to my friend. When he gets drunk, he goes on rants about people like my friend, who is nonbinary and bisexual.
How do I support my friend both in the sense of grieving their mother and dealing with being at home with their father?
— Want to Help, Not Hurt
Dear Want to Help,
I am so sorry that your friend is going through this. One of the primary ways you can support your friend is by listening to them and encouraging them, reminding them that their father is incorrect and that his words do not reflect who your friend is and their right to exist in the world safely as they see fit. You can also be someone they can talk to about the loss of their mother and the feelings they are struggling with.
This sounds like a potentially unsafe environment for your friend. How often does the father get drunk? What do these tirades consist of? Is it a few horribly bigoted comments, or is it directed as an attack on your friend’s identity? Either way, what he is doing is incredibly harmful and you should consider talking to your friend about securing some additional support from a trusted adult, such as a teacher or guidance counselor at school who may be able to help them to identify some useful resources—and if necessary, help your friend relocate somewhere safer. Where do your parents stand on the matter? If they share your values and you feel safe doing so, talk to them about what is going on and your concerns for your friend.
Channel the love you have for this person into letting them know they are valued, cared for, and not alone. Check in consistently, even if it’s just a quick “Thinking of you, you’re awesome” text. Be a friend, because your loved one could really use one right now. Wishing both of you all the best.
More Advice from Slate
I live in L.A. and have two lovely teenage daughters. They are obligated to wear uniforms for school but when not in school they like to dress in short shorts and halter tops, as do their friends. My husband disapproves of the way our children dress and believes I should be responsible for policing it. But I am not comfortable with the implied slut-shaming of criticizing their clothing as “too sexy.”