Care and Feeding

I Think My Aunt’s Newborn Gift Has a Sketchy Ulterior Motive

I don’t want her bringing this in the house.

A knitted blanket.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo 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,

I have an aunt who is very difficult. We are not close, but she is somewhat financially involved in my dad’s business, so I am unwilling to be rude or cut her out of my life for his sake. She is unvaccinated for political, Trumpy reasons. She recently announced that she is working on a “project” for my newborn’s nursery. We will not be allowing him to be around unvaccinated people, and I’m prepared to tell her that when she asks to visit. She has a long history of insisting on making personal presentations of gifts; in other words, the gift comes with the requirement of access, so there’s no world in which she just drops it off or passes it to my dad. I’m now in the situation of knowing she is making something that will not come with the access she wants (a visit with my son). Should I preemptively head her off here? Like “Auntie, I know you’re working on this project, but you should know you will not be seeing the baby based on our pediatrician’s advice?” Or is it less rude to wait until she tries to arrange a visit and then say it?

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— Nice-Ish Niece

Dear Nice-ish Niece,

Let your aunt know now that you’ve heard about her plans and that while you are very honored by the gesture, you will not be allowing unvaccinated visitors to see your baby. If she can make arrangements to deliver this grand gift otherwise, great. If not, oh well. You suffer this person for the sake of your dad; you aren’t truly interested in having her in your child’s life and so making her upset is a relatively low-stakes proposition. By letting her know your position sooner than later, you give her the option to decide if she really wants to continue making whatever this thing is, or if she wants to give it up because she won’t be making one of her grand presentations. That’s considerate enough.

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Slate Plus Members Get More Advice From Jamilah Each Week

From this week’s letter, We Screwed Up and Let Our 4-Year-Old Get Addicted to His Tablet: “When we try to get him to give up the tablet, he does so, but will be up for the entire night whining.”

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have the age-old question: How do you get a 7-year-old to eat healthy greens? My son likes potatoes, cucumber, corn, and celery (but ONLY when cooked into a soup or slathered with peanut butter). That’s. It. I have spent hours looking up recipes from every culture, dressing up vegetables in fun arrangements, and hiding vegetable “pasta” in every sauce I can think of, healthy or unhealthy. Even if he doesn’t know what vegetable it is, or that it is a vegetable, he doesn’t like it. I’ve added other veggies to potato dishes, but he picks them out. We have always told him he has to try at least five bites before he’s allowed to say he doesn’t like something, but even after trying it multiple times he doesn’t like it. His doctor says he needs more leafy greens and doesn’t see a reason to test him for sensory issues. I have spent years of my life making elaborate side dishes he won’t eat. I don’t want to give him a complex about healthy eating, but his doctor has said he needs more veggies, and it’s such an important time for his physical development!

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— Veggie Tales

Dear Veggie Tales,

This is pretty normal, and a lot of parents struggle to force even much older children to eat enough vegetables. All I can tell you is, don’t relent. Keep trying new recipes, ideally inspired by flavors that your son definitely likes (e.g. topping broccoli with cheese if he’s a cheese fan) while continuing to make the tried and true dishes you know that you can get him to eat enthusiastically. Smoothies are another way to sneak leafy greens into a kid’s diet; you can mask the flavor of spinach or kale with fruit and a little yogurt (though be mindful of how much sugar goes into them, of course). That said, you and your son must accept that he won’t always enjoy the vegetables on his plate, but that doesn’t mean that he’s off the hook for eating them. A single serving portion of spinach cooks down small enough that he can be expected to eat it even if he doesn’t like it. Stick to your guns and make vegetable consumption a requirement for leaving the table, having dessert, evening tablet time, etc. No debates or negotiations, he just has to do it. Best of luck to you.

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Catch Up on Care and Feeding

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

When we got divorced, my ex left town to go live with his girlfriend on the opposite coast. With his agreement, the family court entered an order awarding me full custody of our three young kids without any set parenting time for him. While I’d be happy for him to visit with the kids, he’s chosen not to see them for over a year. He has a video call with them every few months, but, more often, tells me he’ll call them at a specific time and then doesn’t. He was also ordered to pay child support, but he’s never paid because he’s not working and is a stay-at-home dad to his girlfriend’s children.

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Our kids are mostly doing well, but I don’t know what to say to them. Most of the advice online about children with divorced parents seems to assume that both parents are involved in the kids’ lives. I also can’t say that he’s “not able to be a father,” because he’s acting as a father to his girlfriend’s kids. I don’t want to run him down (he is their dad), but I also don’t want them to think that abandoning your kids is perfectly acceptable behavior. I don’t really want to tell the kids that he loves them, because I don’t think he actually does. Or if he does, it’s a kind of love I can’t understand. What’s the best way to talk to my kids and to help them deal with the loss of their father?

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— Single Mom

Dear Single Mom,

I’m so sorry that you and your children are experiencing this. I don’t think you should protect your children from who their father is and his lack of interest in their lives. Instead, be honest, in an age-appropriate way. Explain the relationship you used to have with their dad, and talk about the choices he has made since you all divorced. Let them know that there are fathers and mothers across the world who have walked away from their families, and that it is heartbreaking, confusing, and unfair. You don’t understand or know why your ex is able to justify his behavior to himself, so you needn’t justify it to his children; what he is doing is wrong and cruel. Keeping that truth from your kids will not spare them the pain of his absence. Assure them that you will never leave them, that it is an honor and privilege to love them and raise them, and that they will always have everything that they need.

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It may take two people (in most instances) to create a child, but your kids are not the first nor the last to be raised by a single parent, and they should know that the life you are making for them is enough, even if this joker never decides to participate in it. Hear them out, and allow them to share their feelings about their father openly (while, of course, not letting them to disrespect you or point blame in your direction without correction). Seek out opportunities for them to have meaningful relationships with adult men, such as uncles or family friends. Depending on the age of your kids, the book Where’s My Dad may be a useful tool for talking about what has happened and for explaining how common your kids’ experience is. Be sure to remind them that their father’s choices—and that is exactly what they are, choices—are not a reflection of who they are, nor who you are. Wishing you all the best; your children are fortunate to have you, and don’t ever forget that.

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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,

My family has built the foundation of our life on the Church. It’s a positive way to look at the world, but I can understand why some might need to rebel for a while, to understand the alternatives. My cousin is in her early 20s and has left her father’s house to go to college. When I think of her, I always see her with the children of the family, the little ones following her around like ducklings and her face shining with contentment. Since she went to college, she’s shaved her hair, started to wear a whole new wardrobe, and proclaimed that she is never marrying. Everyone finds God’s path for them in their own way, but her declaration about marriage worries me, because she has always been a “mother without children,” and I don’t want her to spend her youth in one way and realize she no longer can have children later. God didn’t create anyone to be one role, but I know this column values parenthood as it deserves, and I’m wondering if you have any advice for approaching her about the devastating consequences for her worldly, short-term plan.

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— Worried

Dear Worried,

Your cousin very well may have two decades to make a decision before having to turn to medical intervention or other means to become a mother—she’s hardly running out of time here. And who she is as a college student isn’t necessarily who she’ll be at 30 or 35. She may later choose to have five kids. Or, she may have already made up her mind and won’t have any at all. The version of your cousin that stands out in your memory is from a time in which she had a lot less control over her actions and how her life looked. She wasn’t “a mother without children,” she was a young girl who enjoyed caring for her little cousins. That isn’t to say she didn’t, or doesn’t, treasure the time she spends with the younger children of the family; however, those experiences and her gender are not reason enough to decide that she will only find contentment as a wife and mother. There are lots of people who are excellent with children, some going so far as devoting their work to serving them, who have no interest in becoming parents. The best thing you can do for your cousin is to be accepting and loving no matter what her current haircut and life plan may be, and to allow her to become the woman she wishes to become without making her feel that she has let her family (or God) down for making different choices than the one you would make. Wishing you the best.

— Jamilah

For More Parenting Coverage, Listen to Mom and Dad Are Fighting

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