Care and Feeding

My Sister Won’t Allow Kids at Her Wedding—Not Even My Baby

A woman watches a movie on a plane while she holds her baby on her lap.
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’m currently pregnant with my first kid. Hooray! I’m a first-time parent and I haven’t spent very much time with young kids (or even older kids) at all, so I have a lot of learning before my baby is born, but my question today is a practical one. My sister, who lives across the country from me, is getting married when the baby will be about 6 months old, and has made it clear that children are not invited to the wedding. Planning is in full force, and I’ve been asked to play a huge role in the wedding (think officiant-level), which I’m really honored by and want to be able to do. However, I need to be realistic about whether I can commit to this. Can a 6-month-old baby fly across the country and then stay with a babysitter who they’ve never met for the length of a wedding? Asking family to care for the baby isn’t an option (they’ll all be at the wedding). I’m assuming people with 6-month-old babies go to events without their babies all the time—the tricky part for me is imagining doing it in another city. Can it be done?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

—Unsure Officiant

Dear Unsure,

Congrats on expecting!

Yes, it can be done (more on that in a minute). I think the bigger question here, lurking behind the words on the page, is whether you want to do this? I’m getting the sense that you’re feeling a little put out by this, and that you’re understandably anxious about making this commitment before you even know what new motherhood is like. Have you had an honest talk with your sister about your fears? If I’m reading between the lines correctly, I think that might be in order. I’m a little surprised she’d extend the “no kids” rule to an infant niece or nephew, when mom is so involved in the ceremony.

Advertisement

If I’m not reading between the lines correctly, then, as I said, yes. This can be done! Rather than leave your baby with a stranger, which might stress you out so much you cannot focus on the wedding and your duties, can you fly a friend with you (preferably on your sister’s dime since she’s the one making this ask of a new mom) who will serve as weekend nanny? This would prevent any stranger-danger vibes you might get from a hired caregiver, avoid the possibility of a last-minute cancellation, and ensure your baby feels as comfortable as you do when the day comes. You can also have your friend do a trial run at home once or twice before your leave. If your sister (or you) can afford it, this route seems a small price to pay for your peace of mind and your sister’s wedding vision.

Advertisement
Advertisement

As to the plane ride itself, every baby is different, but my kids always did great on the plane as infants. Bring snacks, books, and toys (my niece loved sticking and unsticking rolls of painter’s tape!) and make sure baby is drinking from bottle or breast on takeoff and landing; it helps with pressure changes in the ears. With a little luck, you should be all set.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Catch Up on Care and Feeding

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 9-year-old kiddo has severe ADHD, with a formal diagnosis from his doctor. We have an accommodations plan with his school and try to keep time structured for him at home, both of which help him a bit, but it’s really not enough, at home or at school. We’ve tried all the things—cutting sugar and screen time, more outdoors time, structure, seeing a therapist, and on and on.

Advertisement
Advertisement

I’ve wanted to get him on meds for a couple years now, but his dad (my ex) insists against it. His argument is the standard “I don’t want to turn him into a zombie”–type rhetoric. I’m pretty done with it, honestly. The problem is that we have joint decision-making in our parenting plan, so legally my hands have been tied. I’m at the point, though, where I’m so sick of watching my poor kiddo struggle and watching how it so negatively affects his self-esteem that I’m ready to say screw it and get him on meds without his father’s approval. I feel like I need to do right by my kid and then fight whatever fight it might bring.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Am I being unreasonable? What would you do? Should I just do it and then inform his dad? Should I inform him ahead of time?

—Mom Votes Meds

Dear MVM,

I’m no lawyer, but please do not circumvent your son’s father on this. I know it’s maddening to feel that your child needs help and not be able to give it, but you do not want to open yourself up to legal actions that could restrict your parental medical rights in the future.

Advertisement

Many of my loved ones—family, friends, my late husband—have ADHD diagnoses. For some it was caught in childhood, and for others not until college. Because it is highly heritable, I’m also watching my own kids for signs. In general, I think of ADHD medication the way I think about glasses; some people can adapt their behaviors and don’t need the lenses, some need lenses only now and then, and some need them daily to live life the way others do. So, all that to say my personal perspective is that medication can be an important tool in the ADHD toolbox.

Advertisement

A lot of parents I know have done what you and your ex-husband have: started with behavioral strategies to see if that was enough for the child to manage their symptoms. I’d probably start out that same way. Unfortunately, you are now seeing that behavioral adaptations aren’t enough for your son to thrive academically or emotionally, so it is time to go back to the toolbox.

Advertisement

I would suggest you and your ex meet with the prescribing doctor (typically a psychiatrist) and see if you can establish a trial period—a set finite time within which to try the medications and see what their effect is on your son. Establish parameters and time frames to evaluate the drugs, and include dad in the conversation. You do need him on board, not only legally but logistically. Your son will not reliably remember to take his medications, so on the days that dad has custody, dad will likely need to be administering them. I would also encourage you to involve your son in these conversations. He is getting old enough to advocate for himself, and deserves to feel like he has a say in this. ADHD can often make a person feel as if they are a failure and not in control of their brain and, thus, life. Allow him to reclaim some of that control by advocating for what he is feeling and needing.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Keep in mind that there are many medications on the market, and each one interacts with one’s brain chemistry differently. You need to anticipate a bit of a trial-and-error period to nail down the correct drug type and dose. This should be thought of as separate from and precursor to the overall “is this working for our kid” trial period. Once the correct medications are determined, your son’s psychiatrist might be able to offer different dose options—higher on school days for concentration and a more “maintenance-level” dose for the weekends. This might assuage some of your ex’s concerns.

Advertisement
Advertisement

A final thought: Many of my late-diagnosed loved ones have commented on how shockingly better they operated on medication, and how they wish they could go back in time and start it earlier to save them a lot of anger at themselves. I hope, through these conversations, dad can see the potential that the medications have, not for diminishing your son but enabling him to flourish.

Advertisement

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,

I would like your help with a disagreement I’ve been having for months with my husband involving the type of content we introduce to our 2-year-old daughter.

My husband strongly dislikes all books and videos involving pretend or make-believe or unrealistic depictions of nature or the human experience. This includes things like Disney movies, Sesame Street, Clifford stories, and Dr. Seuss, as well as more generic things like stories with talking animals, fairy tales, and make-believe creatures like dragons or unicorns. He also doesn’t like YouTube videos with classic children’s songs because he says the images are too bright, too cartoony, or move too fast. When it comes to books, he only wants to read her stories with realistic-looking illustrations of children addressing realistic problems, and practically the only videos he approves of are nature documentaries, classical music concerts, and home videos of her and her cousins.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

He always says she’s too young to understand the difference between pretend and reality, and that she needs a stronger basis in the world before we introduce pretend things later, perhaps when she’s 5 or 6. However, I know that our daughter is bright, talkative, funny, and capable of imagination (e.g., she already makes up stories about the birds living outside our apartment and rearranges the words in songs to make us laugh). And anyway, at the end of the day, what’s the harm if she believes in fairies or talking animals for a little while?

One last thing I should add is that our family lives in Western Europe. I am American, but we live in my husband’s native country. While my husband’s opinions might be an extreme case, there is some (founded, I admit) criticism of American culture and consumerism in the country where I live, which might be contributing here.

Advertisement

Is it really so bad for a 2-year-old (almost 3!) to be exposed to make-believe, or are these things more developmentally appropriate for an older child?

—Please Just Let Me Parent

Dear Let Me Parent,

It is not only OK for a 2-year-old to be exposed to make-believe; it is critical.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Imaginative play, make-believe, and fantasy characters are integral to children’s learning and development. Check out the work of Deena Skolnick Weisberg, whose research indicates that imaginative cognition (fictional stories, imaginary characters, make-believe play) helps children develop scientific reasoning. She has also published articles demonstrating that toddlers can, in fact, discern fact from fiction. I would also point to the work of Kathy Hirsh-Pasek or the book Play by Stuart Brown for an understanding of how play in general is critical for our cognitive development—even through adulthood.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Both Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood are television shows that were created with child development specialists who know how children explore their world and their feelings. Learning a real concept from an imaginary creature like Elmo brings a sense of play and joy to the lesson, and simply put, our brains (especially in childhood) learn more when at play. It’s fascinating to read about your husband’s objection to the land of make-believe, since even Aesop himself teaches us lessons through fables. (And I haven’t even gotten into indigenous storytelling traditions.)

I hate to just leave you with what amounts to assigned reading for your husband, so I will offer one personal testimony as well. My oldest son is about to turn 7, and has loved television shows that use make-believe characters to teach real scientific concepts. One favorite is The Octonauts, about a bunch of animals who are deep sea adventurers. From this show, he not only learned gobs of information about aquatic creatures, but he also discovered a love for tectonic plates and volcanoes, including the Ring of Fire (a long chain of underwater volcanoes). Today, he owns eight books about volcanoes and another three about geology, and gets a new volcano nonfiction book from the library each time he visits. I could offer several more anecdotes, but my point is a lot of learning can come from fanciful characters. We underestimate our children if we assume they can’t understand the difference between fact and fun, and we deprive them of critical learning moments when we restrict them from the wonders of imagination.

Advertisement

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 3-year-old daughter was an excellent sleeper until about three weeks ago, when she got spooked by a loud thunderstorm. Since then, we’ve had an hour of screaming when it’s time for us to leave the room. Bedtime used to be very routine and calm. Now, she starts weeping when I tell her it’s time for sleep, clutches me in a death grip, then screams for me while my husband tries to settle her and after he leaves the room. She calls for mommy, repeatedly leaves her bed and runs to find me, begs me to snuggle or hold her hand for one more minute, and wails until she’s exhausted. Then she wakes up between 2:30 and 4:30 and starts the whole process over again. Last night she woke up screaming three separate times! My husband does his part to help, but it’s devastating to hear my daughter wail for me like this and feel like I can’t help her.

Advertisement
Advertisement

We’ve read her books about thunder and lightning to explain there’s nothing to be afraid of. She loves the book, asks for it every night, and has a basic understanding of how thunder works, but she says she’s still scared of it (keep in mind, there hasn’t been any thunder since the storm three weeks ago). We tell her that she’s safe and we’re here and we’ll check on her. I make up elaborate stories of places she can go in her dreams where I’ll meet her to ride unicorns if we both go to sleep. None of this has made a change. A sleep doctor gave us a few tips like giving her a new stuffed animal that will protect her and let us know if anything is wrong, and using a ticket system (she gets two each night and loses one any time she calls for us, and she gets a prize if she earns 10), but neither of these did a thing. The doctor said a sleep psychologist would be our best bet, but we don’t have any options in the area.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

We’re all exhausted, and it’s making my already high anxiety worse. She has trouble waking up in the morning and sometimes cries at school. My husband and I are having trouble functioning daily, and I’m irritable and upset all the time and feel too tired to drive safely. Please help.

—Beyond Exhausted

Dear Beyond,

I wish I could say that I had a magic solution, but sleep and sleep issues are incredibly kid-specific, so a lot of it is simply trial and error (or waiting it out). But I do have a couple of ideas.

At the risk of sounding obvious, have you looked into telehealth/remote sleep psychologists? When my first son was little, bedtimes were marathon events for us, and our consultant met with us over FaceTime during the day and gave us “homework” for the evening routine. Psychology Today allows you to search by specialty, patient age, and other filters, and it notes providers who are available for online appointments; when I looked up sleep psychologists in my area, several came up who offer telehealth options.

Advertisement
Advertisement

My second suggestion comes right from what I learned from that consultant. Instead of trying to prevent the behavior, try instead to wean your daughter off the behavior. Start by sleeping either in her bed with her or on the floor right next to her, even holding hands. Yes, this is annoying, but grab a book and book light or something and lean into it. (If you don’t have an air mattress, get thee to Amazon.) After a set interval (somewhere between three days and a week), move a foot away, ideally toward the door if that’s how the room is arranged. After that same interval, move again. Eventually your goal is to be out in the hall with the door open, and then with the door closed. This method allows your daughter to build on past successes, and employs incremental change instead of a cold turkey approach.

Advertisement
Advertisement

While I usually advocate that parents share plans with their children, in your daughter’s case I suspect that might make her more anxious. You’re probably better off just letting events proceed without sharing the whole plan with her. Good luck!

—Allison

More Advice From Slate

I’m a sentimental pack rat. Nothing approaching hoarder levels, nothing that seriously concerns me or others. I can get rid of stuff when I need to. I just don’t like throwing away birthday cards, or dumb little knickknacks from old times with friends.

The thing is, I now have an infant daughter. And one day she’s going to be coloring pictures. And bringing home school papers. And covering pieces of paper with stickers. And making flimsy arts and crafts projects. What am I supposed to do with all of them?

Advertisement