Care and Feeding

Why Can’t I Enjoy This Special Time With My Son?

A woman reads to her child.
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 or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a neurotypical 4-year-old boy, an only child. He is a great kid and we have loads of fun together! However, I find reading with him really hard. He talks the whole time, sometimes about something tangentially related to the book (I guess) but mostly not. “But Mommy, there could be a train that would come and take a monster away and it would ride a skateboard and just jump so high into the air and land with a baby” annnnnnd my brain is coming apart at the seams. I completely understand that it is my duty to have these nonsensical conversations with him (oh, and we do), but I’m still looking for suggestions on how to revamp our reading together, maybe try to actively work on his ability to focus a little? (Or is that ridiculous?) Interactive books (seek-and-find, that sort of thing) work just fine, but what I really want is a way to get him interested in the idea and structure of stories—that there is a plot arc and characters and we want to find out what happens. I’d therefore be particularly grateful for specific books or ways of identifying books that might help with this. For what it’s worth, I’ve tried asking my local librarian this question and she seemed to just grab a bunch of books that are popular. Fair enough, but I’m still really interested in another perspective. I know I’m not reading enough with him because I’m plain avoiding it, and I know we need some kind of low-key (I’m so. tired.) shared-pleasure activity. It feels like reading should in theory be able to be that.

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—Reading is Supposed to be Fun

Dear Reading,

I know you’re tired. I feel for you. But let’s see if we can separate out your exhaustion from your kid’s (lack of) love for books (right now). And let’s see if we can shake you loose from this series of “should” and “supposed tos” that have got you in its grip. (It’s not just you. Every parent has to fight this battle.) Your little boy isn’t interested in “the idea and structure of stories—that there is a plot arc and characters and we want to find out what happens” yet. The librarian couldn’t identify books that might help with this “problem” because all story books do the thing you were asking her about (it would have been nice if she had said this, but I think she probably just didn’t understand your question). And while all parents are told how crucial it is to read to their kids, some kids just don’t want to be read to. Forcing this on him is just going to make him associate reading with a thing one has to endure. Let it go. (By the way: studies have shown that a way more important predictor—than being read to—of whether a child will grow up to be a reader is seeing their parents reading their own books for pleasure. In other words, to raise a reader of books, be a reader of books.)

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The dictum about making sure to read to one’s children has to do with language development and acquiring vocabulary (which your son seems to be doing fine with: he is already a talker). What you do need, for your own sake, are some other quiet do-together activities. What about drawing together? Making collages? Stringing beads? Playing with Model Magic or Play-Dough? Baking a cake? What about a simple board game? Or just going for a walk? You might even try telling him a story, just making it up as you go. Don’t let reading turn into a battleground! When he’s ready, he’ll be ready.

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And you won’t always be this tired, I promise. It. Gets. Better.

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Slate Plus Members Get More Advice from Michelle Each Week

From this week’s letter, My Husband Has Issued a Painful Ultimatum About My Russian Family: “Is this so wrong? Should I do as my husband says and just tell them I can’t do this anymore?”

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 9-year-old recently told me via a note that she likes girls. I was thrilled for her, gave her a hug, and told her whoever she liked was fine by me. We’ve talked about it here or there since then; she has also talked to her friends about it. My question is, how do I best support her? I’m so appreciative and proud that she told me and that she’s comfortable with who she is, just like I always wanted her to be. I also know she has no idea the challenges that the LGBTQ community face as she’s just 9 years old. What is my role here?

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—Proud but Nervous Parent

Dear Proud,

Your role is to love and continue to support your child in exactly the way you have so far. Life is full of challenges, of course, and we must all face the ones that come our way. Telling her that life as a gay woman may turn out to be harder than she thinks will do her no good and may do her considerable harm. And if enough proud parents of LGBTQ kids embrace their kids for everything they are, including whatever their sexuality is, this next generation of queer kids is going to find navigating their lives a hell of lot less challenging, at least around this one aspect of it.

Catch Up on Care and Feeding

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a teenager, assigned male at birth. However, since last June, I have been questioning my gender identity. I tried coming out to my parents in July, but it went badly. It wasn’t that they were transphobic. They said that they loved me no matter what, but that they think I am simply confused and that I have gotten the idea of being trans in my head from reading about it online. After this, I tried to suppress the idea of being trans. However, if anything, I have become more sure about it in the past half-year. I have been growing out my hair, practicing more feminine mannerisms in private, and starting to try out female names. I would like to come out to my parents before my birthday, but doing so makes me nervous. I don’t think I’m 100 percent confident in my identity (maybe closer to 100 percent than in July, but I am, by nature, an indecisive person). I also fear a repeat of what happened in July. I don’t have reason to believe my parents won’t accept me, but I’m still nervous about their dismissing this as a passing phase. Do you have any tips on how to come out to your parents? And is there anything that will help me be more sure that I’m making the right choice?

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—Closeted and Confused

Dear Closeted,

I’ve got news for you, which I hope will be more comforting than it is upsetting. You don’t have to be sure. Gender, many of us have come to understand, is more complex, nuanced, and fluid than was once assumed. Your parents are partway there: they did not reject you—they did not throw you out of the house or lose their minds when you came out to them the first time. But they did not do what I wish they had done, which was to be wholly supportive of you, to listen without judgment, to envelope you in their love, and not to dismiss what you told them. They think (or pretended) they know more than they do, but it’s very clear they don’t know a thing about this.

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There is no timetable for your coming out to them again. Please don’t pressure yourself to do this before your birthday or on any other arbitrarily assigned day. Talk to them when you feel ready to talk to them. But if you are putting it off although you desperately want to tell them now—so that you can live openly and honestly as the person you are—you might consider putting your thoughts and feelings about this in a letter, since that would give them a chance to absorb what you have to say fully before dismissing it—dismissing you—the way they did the last time. (You might even say that you are putting your thoughts on paper because they were so quick to shut you down before.)  But however and whenever you choose to let them in on what’s going on with you, please keep this in mind: there is no timetable for certainty, and being 100 percent certain of anything is in fact pretty unusual (even if it makes things feel easier for us if we can convince ourselves that we are absolutely, positively sure). Keep in mind too that what you figure out/decide right now doesn’t have to be what’s true forever—and that there isn’t a damn thing wrong with change and evolution as time passes. (This is not the same thing as calling each new experience of ourselves and the world around us a “phase.”) I often tell young people that they don’t have to figure out the rest of their lives right now (though there is so much pressure on them to!). They only have to figure out what’s next for them.

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I know you asked me for “tips” about how to come out. The only tip I have for you is to do it on your terms, not only when you feel ready and in the way that feels right to you, but also with the determination not to let your parents make you feel childish, foolish, or wrong. Remind yourself as often as necessary that your identity, not only when it comes to your gender but in every aspect of it, is yours, not theirs. It is easy for some parents to lose sight of this. Parents will sometimes feel confused when their children come out. Sometimes their own identity suddenly begins to feel shaky. For example, a parent who has a lot of their identity bound up in having a son, and in their relationship with their son, may feel grief-stricken and not understand their own grief, which is about the loss of who they thought they were. Sometimes they feel they must have done something wrong, that they’ve been bad parents, that they need to “fix” this (and sometimes much of this is subconscious). What I’d like you to keep in mind is that none of this is your problem. It’s theirs, and they will have to deal with it.

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As for you: listen to your heart. If it feels right to you to use a new name and grow your hair long, then do that. Don’t be so hard on yourself. All teenagers reckon with who they are and who they will be. It’s part of growing up. And people who skip this stage of their development have to reckon with it later.

–Michelle

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