Care and Feeding

I’m Positive My Grandson Needs to See a Specialist

Should I push this issue with my son?

A grandmother hugs her grandchild.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Standart/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Care and Feeding,

We are proud grandparents afraid of interfering in our son’s and daughter-in-law’s childrearing but growing increasingly concerned about an obvious problem. One of our grandsons is now 3 years old and speaks fewer than ten words. We have tried to bring this up to the parents in a very mild way, hoping they would take the hint and have him evaluated. A few months ago, they announced that they would indeed do that, but now they’ve changed their minds, telling us he’s a “late bloomer.” That may be the case, but it seems to us that’s something that should be the diagnosis of an expert. We worry about the strong correlation between speech delays and educational progress. We’re afraid to bring up our concerns because they are very touchy about us saying anything about their parenting, which, in every other respect, is fantastic. How can we get them to take their son to see a speech pathologist without ruining our relationship?

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—Worried Grandparents

Dear Worried,

You can’t. And I know you’re distraught—I know this is probably keeping you up at night, and you can’t stand the thought of keeping your fears to yourself (indeed, you have convinced yourself that you must not keep these fears to yourself, that you would be shirking your grandparently duty if you did, and the only trick is finding the right words with which to express your worries)—but you need to step back and allow your son and his wife to make their own decision about when (or if) they consult an expert beyond the child’s regular pediatrician. These parents are fully aware that their child speaks fewer than ten words. Your insistence to them that this is a problem they should be addressing suggests that you know something they don’t—but you do not in fact have superior knowledge. You are all working with the same facts (you simply believe that they are in denial and you are not—and, presumably, that the pediatrician who sees your grandson for checkups and whenever he’s ill or injured is likewise in denial, or is incompetent). Pointing any of this out to them is not your place, I’m afraid. Hold your tongues, shower your grandson with love (that is very much your place!), and let his parents do the parenting.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My son, who is almost 5, has always preferred playing with adults to other children. During the last year or so, we’ve regularly had play dates with several other families, and when we do, he attaches himself to the other mothers. When we are out at a playground, he wants them to be the ones to push him on the swings or give him snacks, even when they are trying to take care of their own children. He wants to hold the other mothers’ hands when we walk anywhere. If he gets hurt when another mom is around, he always wants that mom to comfort him and will actually run away from me (although when we’re home alone, he’s fine with me being the one to comfort him). These other moms almost always oblige him: they’ll ignore their own kids to push him on a swing or will give him more snacks even when I say he has had enough (honestly, he’s already had a snack at daycare AND in the car on the way to the playground!). I can’t figure out what’s going on. It’s embarrassing me and makes me not want to arrange play dates (or to arrange them in a way that avoids having the other moms around). Is his attachment (or non-attachment) to me normal? I pay attention to him as much as I can, but of course at home I’m often cooking, watching his younger sister, etc. (he goes to daycare during the day while his father and I work).

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—Other Mamas’ Boy

Dear OMB,

Something is definitely up here. I’ll be honest with you: it concerns me that your primary feeling around all of this (or at least the only one you’re owning up to) is embarrassment, and that the only solutions you’ve proposed are 1) no more play dates, or 2) no more other mothers at play dates. Your son is telling you something, and you are failing to receive the message. I can’t translate what it is exactly that he’s telling you because I’m an advice columnist, not a psychotherapist. But you might take a moment to set aside your embarrassment and wonder what he’s feeling and why. Your defensiveness (you pay as much attention to him “as [you] can”! You are of course busy with other things when you’re home with him!)—with its implication that he craves more of you than you’re able to give him—suggests that you have an inkling of what’s going on, even if you believe there’s nothing you can do about it. But there is always something we can do about it when our children are troubled. If you have no idea what to do, that’s what professional help is for. A few visits with a pediatric psychotherapist should clarify what’s going on with him, and I’m betting that after working with your son the therapist would have some useful suggestions for you about what you might be able to do to help him feel more securely attached.

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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,

I am a queer white woman who recently became engaged to my longtime girlfriend. My mother died when I was three, and my dad remarried very swiftly. While he and my stepmother both earned very high salaries and made sure my childhood was more than comfortable, they were also distant and cold. When I came out, they were not outwardly hateful, but they ignored me and iced me out of our extended family. Given that we currently talk once every two years at best, I’m certain that I don’t want them at the wedding.

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However, from the ages of 4 to 13, I was primarily raised by a Black nanny named “Nora,” who was more of a parent to me than my dad or stepmother ever were. Nora attended my high school graduation, and we talk every year during the holidays; her two sons still stay in touch with me as well. I want to invite Nora and her sons to my wedding, and I want to ask her if she will walk me down the aisle. When I brought this up to my fiancée (who is a woman of color), she said she was concerned that this could be more “emotional labor” on Nora’s part that would only benefit me, a privileged white woman. She also pointed out that she grew up under similar circumstances as Nora’s sons—her mother was a housekeeper for an affluent white family—and said that after spending years caring for her sisters while her mother took care of someone else’s children, she would feel upset that those children still wanted to have her mother caring for them and protecting them as adults. I’m not sure what the right thing to do is here. Should I invite Nora and her family to our wedding or not?

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—No Longer Nannied in NC

Dear NLNiNC,

I think your fiancée has helped you see something you would not have otherwise, and that being able to (begin to) see your relationship with Nora more clearly, or at least through a wider lens—and pausing to think, for the first time, about what it might have meant to her family—is important, wedding or no wedding. I also think your fiancée may be projecting to some extent (no shade meant here; we all do this, and it’s not all bad, either, since projecting our own feelings onto others can sometimes help us be more empathetic). But all of that aside: inviting Nora and her family to your wedding is a lovely thing to do. After all, an invitation does not create an obligation. If Nora and her sons would like to attend—if they would enjoy celebrating this milestone with you—and their circumstances permit them to, then they will come to the wedding. I don’t believe that being a wedding guest constitutes emotional labor.

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However. Asking Nora to walk you down the aisle is another matter altogether. I know you feel that she was “more of a parent” to you than your parents were, but the reality is that she was not, and is not, your parent. You would be putting her in a very uncomfortable position if you asked her to do this, I think (there is really not a graceful way to say no to a request of this sort, and I suspect she would be very surprised—even taken aback—to be asked). I know you are greatly disappointed in your parents—and of course you have every reason to be hurt and angry—but asking your childhood nanny, with whom you talk once a year around the holidays, to assume this role is quite a stretch. Her attending your high school graduation five years after she left your family’s employ is one thing; asking her to sub in for your parents now, years later, is another.

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If your fiancée plans to be walked down the aisle by her parents, and it makes you sad to contemplate walking alone, the two of you need to come up with a better plan for the wedding, one that matches your mismatched family circumstances. Neither one of you has to be walked down the aisle, of course: not every bride—or groom—is accompanied by a parent in a contemporary wedding. You may decide together that it makes more sense for both of you to walk alone. But whatever you decide, please be gentle with yourself. Weddings stir up a lot of feelings that the feeler of those feelings may have imagined were dead and buried. I know you say you’re certain you don’t want your parents at your wedding. I’m willing believe that you are certain. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t sad. It seems to me that the idea to ask your long-ago nanny to play the role of your missing parents (once again!) has less to do with your relationship with Nora than it does with your sadness.

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For another take on this question, check out Eric Thomas’ advice in Dear Prudence.

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Catch Up on Care and Feeding

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

As we emerge from the worst of the pandemic, we’ve started receiving invitations to the weddings of friends and extended family members at which kids aren’t allowed. My son was born at the beginning of the pandemic, so this is the first time we’ve encountered this. These weddings are taking place across the country from where we live! I’d happy attend if the weddings were local, but I don’t know how I’m supposed to do this (and yet I’m getting pressure to, especially from family). How do people do it? Am I expected to go by myself and leave my kid home with my husband for 3-4 days? Are we all expected to fly across the country and then switch off being in the hotel room with him? Are we supposed to hire a babysitter in some random place where we don’t know anyone? How would that even work when he’s never done bedtime with anyone but my husband or me (Covid baby)? Or do the wedding planners realize that by not allowing kids (even at the auxiliary events), it means that people like us won’t come? (So the invitation is just a gesture? And the family members who expect us to somehow make this work and just be there don’t understand that?) What are we supposed to do?

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—Wedding Guest Blues

Dear WGB,

As noted: an invitation to a wedding does not confer an obligation to attend said wedding. No matter what those family members putting pressure on you say (and no matter what the little voice in your head says), you don’t have to go to a wedding unless you want to and your current circumstances make it possible for you to. Period. This is true whether the people getting married are your oldest friends, your closest cousins, or your former employers.

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You have a toddler. It’s not easy to go to a faraway wedding at which children are not welcome when you have a small child. And it doesn’t matter what the hosts were thinking when they invited you (or if they were thinking at all). Nor does it matter what other people do when invited to a wedding that requires flying across the country. Different people do different things. One person might be thrilled to leave their small child in the care of the other parent and get a break for a few days (I was not one of those people, and it doesn’t sound like you are either). Another might consider the wedding itself an excuse to take a vacation (this might depend on where it’s being held) and switch off being in the hotel room with their partner for that one evening but otherwise spend the time away seeing sights and having adventures as a family. And so on. Among the many perfectly reasonable ways to handle an invitation to an out-of-town wedding is to Just Say No. With regrets, obviously. And perhaps a gift from the couple’s registry.

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I will say this, though. If your question was really, mostly, a (slightly) veiled complaint about being invited to weddings without your kid, you are both coming to the right place (I personally enjoy including kids, babies through teens, at everything, and I never invite anyone to anything without specifically telling them to bring their children if they’d like to) and fighting a losing battle (because hardly anyone feels the way I do about it). So you can complain all you want, but it won’t get you anywhere (except an invitation to my house, maybe).

—Michelle

More Advice From Slate

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I recently attended my fourth grade daughter’s fall conference with her teacher. The year is going great, and the conference was very positive. My daughter loves math and seems to be doing quite well this year. She tested in the 94th percentile in math on her state standardized tests last year, which really boosted her confidence.

For fourth grade they’ve broken the kids out into different math groups, and some kids go to other classrooms for math. All of the groups learn the same material. My daughter does not go to another class for math, and stays with her regular teacher. Her teacher noted that she has really gotten to have a lot of 1-on-1 time with the kids in her math group this year because there are only 17 kids in her group, and she has another teacher in the room to help her. This all sounds great, right?

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