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 a 28-year-old gay man recently married to a wonderful guy. We had a small wedding with close friends and his family in attendance. No one from my family was invited or informed about the wedding until afterwards. Why would they have been? When my parents found out that I had a boyfriend when I was 15, they disowned me and kicked me out the house. I lived with my boyfriend’s family until we broke up. I asked my Aunt “Kat” and Uncle “Colin” if I could stay with them, but they said no because they didn’t want to “pick sides” in this “fight,” and Kat said it would hurt her sister’s (my mom’s) feelings if she “replaced” her as a mother. Their daughter, a cousin to whom I’d been close, was instructed not to speak to me. I was devastated, as I’d always been close to them and they had claimed to be supportive of gay rights for as long as I could remember.
I ended up on the streets and later in a homeless shelter. As you can imagine, it was horribly painful, but I adjusted to the idea of myself as someone without a family. I managed, through huge effort and the dedication of some social workers, to get back on my feet and make a life for myself. Last year, my cousin reached out to me over social media with an apology and some kind words. She and I reconnected, and she persuaded me to attend a couple of family events at which she insisted I would be welcome; she said that others would want to apologize and “make things right” with me. I went, and found that what this meant was my parents and I ignored one another while Kat and Colin enthusiastically chatted to me, acting as though nothing weird had happened. I quickly stopped attending these events and shifted to occasional polite exchanges online with them.
It never occurred to me to invite these people to my wedding, and they learned of it only when I shared photos online. Now I have been bombarded with calls and messages from my cousin and her parents, all expressing how hurt they are that they weren’t invited. “How could you pretend to have reconnected with us but disown us as your family like this?” is a genuine message I received from my aunt, along with, “Who are these strangers you refer to as your ‘parents’? Your real parents are so humiliated!” (I referred to my mother-in-law and father-in-law as my family in a post, not as my parents.) These messages and their anger have opened up so much hurt for me, and they have also led me to wonder if I was wrong not to include them. Was it callous to leave them out after we’d reconnected? Can you please give me an outside perspective on 1) whether I should have invited them, and 2) what I should say in response to their messages other than “It genuinely didn’t occur to me you’d want to go”? My husband and his family detest my family for obvious reasons and definitely don’t have objective advice on this!
—I’ve Disowned Them, Apparently
My outside perspective is that 1) I wouldn’t have invited them either, and 2) you should say, While I appreciate your recent friendliness toward me, your failure to help me when I was in teenager in desperate need continues to pain and haunt me. I’m sorry you feel “disowned”—I know firsthand, of course, how awful that is, since it happened to me when I was still hardly more than a child.
The question is: Can you bear to do this?
I can tell you’re conflicted about your family. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t have written to me, you wouldn’t be doubting your own instinct to exclude them from your wedding, and you certainly wouldn’t have gone to more than one of these “family events” at which your parents ignored you and your aunt and uncle did not attempt to make things right. Your cousin’s heart may be in the right place, but she was wrong about your family’s intentions. (I’ll be honest: I don’t know why you believed her. If your parents had any interest in apologizing and doing right by you now, they would have reached out to you themselves. No—I take it back: I know why you believed her. It’s because hope dies hard.)
At this point, it seems to me, you are hanging on to the slim thread of a family connection your cousin offered you when she first wrote to you, and that your aunt and uncle, who failed you spectacularly in your youth, are willing to grab onto—as long as they don’t have to take stock of themselves, own up to what they did and how it affected you, and stand up to your parents finally, after all these years. I suspect you’ll find my suggested response to their messages too harsh—that you don’t want to take the chance of cutting all of them out of your life now that you (sort of) have them back in (however superficially). I understand that. I’m not judging you for it. Even though you have been welcomed into a family that loves you and you and your husband have now created a new family of your own, you still feel an understandable, even primal tug toward people you believed loved you. You may not want to close that door. Would you be comfortable responding this way, then? I’m sorry you’re upset . I’m still so hurt from what happened years ago—it’s very hard to get over that. This has the great virtue of being honest, and it isn’t even a little bit harsh. It even opens up the possibility that they’ll ask what they did to hurt you—because they may have rationalized it away and buried it so deeply they can tell themselves they don’t know—which might lead to a productive conversation. Might. Please don’t get your hopes up.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My child is about to leave his preschool of four years and enter kindergarten this fall. For a long time now, I have been opposed to active shooter drills. Now, after Uvalde, I’m even more uneasy about them. The odds of a school shooting are low (although still much higher than they are in any other comparable country) but shooter drills are still a regular occurrence. School officials say they’re explained age-appropriately, but there is lots of evidence out there that suggests they’re traumatic (and maybe not that effective anyway). We are appalled at the thought of our sweet kiddo not feeling safe in school and learning that people might want to kill him. We’re seriously considering homeschooling until he’s at least a bit older (and I would quit my job to do so). Is this insane? Is the loss of innocence worth the other benefits of kindergarten? People say things like, “You can’t protect him forever,” and “He does fire drills, right?” Both are true but I don’t think they’re applicable in this situation. My kid shouldn’t have to practice hiding from a shooter. The government should make it harder to get guns.
—No Guns, No Shooters, No Drills
Your kid should not have to practice hiding from a shooter. That these drills have become commonplace is an unspeakable horror. But while active shooter drills may not be that effective when a real-life shooting occurs, pretending there is no chance (or even only a small chance) of yet another shooting at yet another school is no solution, either. You’re right, of course: the solution is gun control. I think you’re choosing to focus on the drills because those are “easier” to worry about than the much worse, much darker, more terrifying thing. Don’t let yourself be distracted, though. Fight the real enemy, not the chimera.
As to the possibility of your child being traumatized by the drills—well, when he first learns about them, he will be frightened for sure (in this way, they are like fire drills). Unfortunately, he’ll grow accustomed to them. Do I think you should homeschool your child because of the drills? I don’t. Would I be tempted to homeschool my child if she were still young? Yes, but because of gun violence, not because of the drills. Would I try to push past my justifiable anxiety and dread and fear? I would. And would I be heartbroken every day? I already am.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
When the pandemic shut down my (baby) niece “Eva’s” daycare in March 2020, my mom stepped in to take care of her. Then Mom wanted to continue taking care of her when the daycare opened back up a few weeks later, for two reasons: 1) she wanted to keep Eva safe, and 2) if she went back to daycare, then Mom could no longer see her at all because of safety concerns (the rest of us—my brother, sister-in-law, and I—presented no risk, as we all worked from home and otherwise weren’t leaving the house). So Mom ended up taking care of Eva for over a year, and she only returned to daycare after her second birthday. She’s just now turned three.
Here’s the problem: In the last few months, Eva has turned cold on my mother. She screams at her and refuses to even sit on the couch with her. This is really hurting my mom, who grew so attached to her during the year of grandma-daycare. We’re all assuming this change in behavior is abandonment related (even though she loves her regular daycare), and she’s OK sometimes when they are alone together. But when she’s in the presence of my mother and my brother and sister-in-law, she behaves in this terrible way toward my mother. (I should also note that I was living at home during the whole “grandma-daycare” business and saw my niece every day too, until I moved to another state last August, and that the coldness toward my mom started after I left. I’m sort of grasping at straws and wonder if my niece is mad at my mom because I left. Could these two things have a connection?) My mom is so wonderful and kind, and they had such a sweet connection during their year together. (I should also note that my brother and sister-in-law are also kind people, so it’s not their doing either.) Why is Eva so cold?
Three-year-olds aren’t cold. When they behave the way your niece is behaving, they are acting out something they’re feeling that they don’t have words to express. I don’t know why Eva is in distress and I don’t know why she’s directing it toward your mother, but certainly one possibility is that she is able to do this because she has a strong connection to her—because it was your mother who took care of her during a long period when everything else was in turmoil. That is: she may feel safe acting out her distress “on” your mom.
But that’s a theory that has no more validity than your speculation that this turn of events has something to do with you. The only thing I know for sure is that something is troubling this child. Well, no—I know something else for sure. That’s the fact that you and your mom are focusing on the wrong thing. Your mom’s feelings are hurt (and your feelings are hurt on her behalf) but it’s not—it is never—the responsibility of small children to tend to the feelings of the adults who are responsible for taking care of them. It’s a common mistake, so I don’t mean to single out you and your mother (I’ve seen it played out many times). But do try to remind yourself, and your mom, of this: What’s important is to find out what’s going on with Eva, for her sake. Her grandmother—and her concerned auntie, on Grandma’s behalf—need to do their best to let go of the “rejection.” Keep your eyes on the prize.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My mother-in-law was babysitting our children, 2 and 4 years old, in our home when there was a fire in an adjacent townhouse. It was quickly extinguished, and everyone was fine. But when I reviewed our home security footage, I was disturbed and outraged. When the fire alarm went off (the alarms in the whole row are interconnected) my MIL, who had been preparing lunch in the kitchen, immediately ran into the living room, where the kids were. She ran past Kid #1, whom we adopted at 18 months, and picked up Kid #2, whom we unexpectedly conceived while the adoption process was underway. She then appeared to turn back toward Kid #1 and gesture for them to follow her. But when Kid #1 paused in confusion in the middle of the room, she left them behind, carrying Kid #2 out of the house, where she handed them off to a neighbor (this part was not on camera). She then came running back into the house, picked up Kid #1, and carried them out. I understand a petite woman in her 70s can only lift one toddler at a time. But I feel she should either have taken Kid #1 out first, since they were closest, or (ideally) picked up Kid #1 (who despite being older is only slightly larger, and not as quick to follow instructions as Kid #2), taken Kid #2 by the hand and taken them both out at once. MIL claims she was in a panic and acted without thinking. In fact, she claims she doesn’t even remember the exact sequence of events. (We have not told her we have it on camera.) But I’m concerned that the very fact that she was acting instinctively shows a preference for our genetic offspring, which she would never admit but might affect how she treats them on a day-to-day basis. My husband thinks I’m being unfair, that we should try to put this frightening incident behind us and be grateful to his mother for driving to our home five days a week so we can save what we’d spend on daycare toward our kids’ futures. Is he right or should I speak to MIL?
—Burning with Rage
I think you are projecting something pretty awful based on a very small amount of information, and that your repeated use the word “claims” suggests you don’t trust your husband’s mother. If you have reason (other reasons, based on troubling interactions and behavior and things she has said) not to trust your mother-in-law, then you should not be relying on her for your children’s care—it’s not worth saving the money. And perhaps you do have good reason not to trust her, and this frightening event is only the excuse you needed (or you thought it was, finally, a good excuse) to fire her as your children’s unpaid nanny—and your husband has foiled that plan. (If this is the case, come clean with him! Tell him why you don’t feel good about leaving the kids in her care.) If you were perfectly happy with the care she was providing before the fire, then I think you’re reading too much into what happened and your husband is right: let it go.
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