Care and Feeding

I Can’t Take Friends Unloading Their Own Grief When I Divulge Mine

A woman consoles a friend.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Maria Sannikova/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,

We’ve suffered two miscarriages in the last six months, and I’m wondering how to tactfully handle other people’s feelings about it. When very well-meaning people offer condolences, they often start crying… even when I am not acting emotionally about it (I tend to get stony and deal with my own emotions privately), and it makes an already exhausting situation worse when I end up consoling them—the people who are not currently going through trauma! I am aware that they mean well but end up so irritated at having to manage their emotions that it destroys any goodwill from their condolences. How do I tamp down on my irritation with all of these people who love us?

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—I’m Not Crying…Why Are You?

Dear I’m Not Crying,

First off, please let me offer my condolences and empathy to you. My wife and I suffered two miscarriages in two years, and it was awful.

In this instance I think it’s completely fine to be unapologetic about not having the time or desire to handle anyone else’s emotions but your own. You don’t have to be mean about it (although I wouldn’t fault you if you were), but you could simply say something like, “Thank you so much for the condolences, but I’m still processing this and I don’t have the emotional capital to spend consoling anyone else. I know you mean well, but I need to end this conversation now.” At that point, you can walk away and be at peace with it. Most people of sound mind will understand where you’re coming from as they wipe away their tears.

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Right now you need to prioritize your mental health and, quite frankly, be a little self-centered in the process. Do whatever it takes to fill up your cup and find some semblance of peace during this awful time. In doing so, you should have a zero-tolerance policy for anyone or anything that depletes your energy. Otherwise, the pain you’re experiencing now will only get worse.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a 17-year-old girl, and I’ve been regularly babysitting “Jack,” a little boy in my neighborhood, for almost four years. Last year, his parents separated, and are currently going through a divorce, and his mom, “Jill,” (who kept their house) has been asking me to babysit much more frequently, and to watch Jack after school while she works from home, which I’m happy to do. Jill frequently complains about her soon-to-be ex-husband to me, which is a little awkward, but kind of understandable, since the divorce sounds pretty nasty. But she also complains about him a lot in front of Jack, and associates him with bad behavior. For example, if Jack grabs three slices of pizza, she’ll tell him to make sure everyone has enough food and to not be “selfish like his dad,” or remind him to keep his room clean so he doesn’t become “a slob like his father.” I feel very awkward whenever this happens. I’m not sure how to talk to either her or Jack about this. Jack is only seven, and I feel like this could lead to him growing up believing these things about his dad, especially since it seems like Jill is going to have him for most of the week. When I interacted with his dad in the past, he seemed like a nice guy and a good father to Jack, so hearing Jill constantly disparage him is kind of uncomfortable. What should I do the next time this happens? I have tried to bring this up with my mom, but she says that it’s just because Jill is going through a lot right now, and doesn’t seem to think it could negatively impact Jack.

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—Babysitting Blues in Boston

Dear Babysitting,

Even though it’s not uncommon for separated parents to behave that way, I think you have every right to be concerned about Jill’s behavior. Kids are impressionable and if they constantly hear bad things about someone from a parent, they will most likely tend to believe it.

However, at the end of the day, you work for this woman and it would be really strange for you to give her unsolicited advice on how to raise her kid—especially since you’re technically a kid yourself. If you piped up now, the chances are it wouldn’t go over well.

That said, you have to determine if her behavior makes you feel so uncomfortable that you may consider walking away from the job, and only you can answer that. If it gets to the point where you decide that your work environment is unbearable, then you should put in your notice to protect your own mental health. Of course she’ll ask why you’re planning to leave, and you can either tell her truth or just dodge the issue if you feel that she’ll fly off the handle.

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If you choose to be honest, it’s going to take a ton of courage to do so for the reasons I mentioned earlier. The difference this time is your feedback is solicited, so she should expect to hear some uncomfortable truths. You can mention how the comments she makes in front of Jack make you feel uneasy, but that you know it’s not your place to question her parenting, so you think the best course of action is to leave.

At that point, she may have a moment of self-reflection and apologize or she’ll tell you to hit the bricks. Either way you win, because you won’t have to deal with that messy situation going forward.

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You should never feel as if you should suffer in a job that makes you feel uncomfortable in any way, and it’s an important lesson to learn early on in life.

Catch Up on Care and Feeding

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

I think this is a pretty low-stakes question but our son recently turned 3 in March and we signed him up for tennis lessons.  The program is for 3- to 5-year-olds.  This past Sunday was the second lesson and we made it about 20 minutes before heading home which is probably 10 minutes longer than we made it for the first session. Our son will line up when told but that’s basically the extent of it. He won’t hold the racket unless he feels like it and he won’t do (or make the slightest attempt at) any of the drills. He’ll sometimes stand and watch what the other kids are doing but other times he’ll run around and play aimlessly. For the most part, he doesn’t seem to be disrupting the other kids. Once it seems he is completely checked out from what the coach and other kids are doing, we leave because we figure there is no point in trying to force it.

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My question is, should we keep going?  And if we do, should we commit to staying for the full hour so he doesn’t learn that we relent and go home if he continues to act this way? My instinct is to continue to attend with the lowest of low expectations and then go home if/when it’s clear there’s no hope, but I don’t know if that’s the wrong strategy. Is it better just to cut our losses and stop going entirely? Try again next year? I don’t know the other kids’ ages (some of them are clearly older but there are plenty who seem right around his age), but he is the only one who acts this way.

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—Too Soon?

Dear Too Soon,

I coached youth basketball for six years, and I have serious concerns about parents paying for sports lessons for their 3-years-olds. Most kids that age believe that pooping in their shorts is a good idea, so to expect them to be engaged in a technical sport like tennis seems silly to me. The youngest children I coached were 5 years old, and it was extremely challenging to get them to listen or follow the simplest directions, so I can’t even fathom the frustration your son’s coach must feel in his private moments.

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My suggestion is to save your money (tennis lessons aren’t cheap) and remove him until he gets a little older. In the meantime, you can experiment with your son at home by buying him a basketball, soccer ball, tennis racket, and see what he gravitates to. If he indeed likes tennis, then you can spend some time with him hitting a ball against a park wall or simply dribbling a tennis ball with his racket on your driveway. Then when he turns 5, you can start him in formal lessons, and the same process applies for any sport he may find some interest in.

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My friendly youth coaching advice is to only put your son in tennis (or any sport, for that matter) if he truly enjoys it. Chances are he’s too young to know what he truly enjoys yet, so you should wait a couple of years until he gets there. I can’t count the number of parents I’ve come across who force their kids to play sports whether they’re 3 or 13, and it only results in miserable, resentful children. Please don’t be like them.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter, “Kate” has been friends with “Sadie” since she was two. They met in daycare and since have been in a number of activities together. They go to different schools at the moment, but they will be going to middle school together next year. They are not super close (I suspect in part because they go to different schools, as they were besties in daycare), but they have a number of mutual friends, text sometimes, always greet each other pleasantly, that sort of thing.

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Sadie’s dad went to prison around the time Sadie was born for having massive amounts of child pornography and literature on grooming children. It was particularly depraved, extremely graphic stuff, primarily focusing on girls about Sadie and Kate’s age now. He has been out for a few years. Her parents are still very much together. He is regularly at Sadie’s events. From what I can tell based on what I found online, he doesn’t have restrictions that would prevent him from being around his daughter or attending school events.

How do I navigate this as a parent? Sadie is a nice kid. Obviously none of this is her fault, and she deserves friends. On the other hand, I want to keep my daughter as far out of his orbit as possible. Obviously play dates are a no, always have been, always will be. I admit I freaked out when I realized Sadie had Kate’s number, but I was at a loss how to explain that to my daughter. (The girls are in the same group chat set up by a mutual friend.) I know next year they will have classes together, and the potential for them to hang out at school together is very likely.

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Should I say anything to Kate? I do not want Sadie to be ostracized. It’s a sensitive matter, and kids are not the best at navigating that. I very much want both girls to be safe. Even if he isn’t around Kate other than in passing, I don’t want him to have his eye on her. I feel like the closer Sadie is to Kate the more likely this is. I feel like telling Kate would give her some situational awareness and context as to why this mess has me anxious. I also feel like if Kate knew, she’d be in a better position to speak up if Sadie said something that might indicate Sadie is being abused. (I worry about that a lot. To be clear, I have no evidence to suggest that this is the case. The situation is just worrisome.) On the other hand, this turning into gossip would be devastating for Sadie. Also, this heavy stuff for a kid, and I suspect it might worry Kate. I’ve known this for a while, but don’t have a clue how to approach this. Please help.

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—Stumped

Dear Stumped,

This is definitely the toughest question I’ve had to answer since I’ve been an advice columnist here, but I’m going to give it my best shot.

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First and foremost, Kate’s safety should be your top priority as you navigate this. I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn when I say that the overwhelming majority of parents would be extremely concerned if their child was in the same situation as yours. Is it possible that Sadie’s dad is completely rehabilitated? Sure, there’s a chance of that — but I certainly would not give him the benefit of the doubt in that regard, as you already mentioned. It sounds like you’re making smart decisions about where Kate sees Sadie.

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Since I don’t know all of the details concerning the dad’s history, my first recommendation is that you contact an organization like RAINN or even your daughter’s school counselor to get advice on how and whether to talk to your daughter.

That said, based on what you say here, I probably would speak to Kate about this. In doing so, you must make it abundantly clear that this information isn’t for public consumption, social media fodder, or the school gossip train. Once you’ve done that, you obviously don’t have to describe his actions in graphic detail to Kate, but you can say that he did something highly illegal involving girls her age in the past and because of that you want to ensure she stays away from him. If she presses further, just decline to mention anything else about it.

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You’re probably thinking, “Well, what if Kate asks Sadie about her dad?” I actually think that’s OK. He was (possibly still is) someone who preyed upon girls their age. The main thing is to ensure Kate doesn’t blame or shame Sadie for any of it. If anything, by starting a dialogue about the situation, Sadie may feel as if she has someone to confide in the event Sadie is being abused at home.

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This is obviously a difficult situation, but one upside is that it presents an opportunity to speak with your daughter about complex issues like sexual abuse, body autonomy, pornography, rape, and consent—conversations you should be having anyway. If this sort of discussion feels out of your depth, when you call RAINN, the school counselor, or some other professional, ask if they have recommendations for books or resources for parents. Kids need to be taught—in age appropriate ways (and as young as preschool age)—that their body is theirs. And if anyone at all touches them inappropriately or makes them feel uncomfortable, they need to tell a trusted adult.

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Last, and maybe you’ve already done this, but since he was convicted of a crime, you might be able to find public information about his sentence, which would include any conditions he would need to abide by after his release from prison. This might be useful information. (I should note I am not a lawyer.)

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I don’t envy you as you attempt to navigate this with your daughter, but I believe she deserves and needs to know.

—Doyin

More Advice From Slate

My second-grade daughter today told me she and two other little girls in her class were gently reprimanded by a specials teacher for wearing tank tops (not spaghetti straps, two fingers’ width). I didn’t get a call to bring her new clothes or a note home or anything, so I checked the dress code and according to the student handbook, yes indeed tank tops and muscle shirts are both prohibited. There’s a few other items I take issue with—bans on bike shorts, short skirts, “clothing that advocates disobedience to society.” How would I go about challenging a school dress code? Just from talking to a few other moms, I think I would generally have support from the community, but it’s a conservative suburb in the South so ideas about “modesty” and “tasteful” run deep.

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