Care and Feeding

My Sister Is Caving Under Our Parents’ Pressure

What can I do to help?

A child holds a basketball.
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,

My little sister is really talented at a lot of things and has always had a lot of hobbies and puts a lot of work into them. When sports started up this last year she got scouted at a basketball game for this scholarship/enrichment program for underprivileged kids on native reservations, and they said she had the potential to get a full ride to university and to even get her school team sponsored. Since then, she’s been under pressure to practice all the time, diet and exercise like an athlete, and live for basketball. She always liked basketball, but it was one of her many interests, and now that she’s training all the time she barely has time for her other hobbies, or even friends outside the team. I saved up for a year to buy her a good quality artist’s tablet for her birthday, and she was so excited to get it. She relied on the art supplies from school previously, and we don’t always have the budget to replenish school supplies on the rez, and this way she can draw as much as she wants and share her art online more easily.

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She was recommended for this exclusive basketball camp over the summer, where she’d train like a professional, meet scouts and coaches and future players, everything she needs to help her get noticed. The problem is, it’s really expensive. My parents asked me to help pay for it, but I had just moved into a trailer with my boyfriend and another couple after graduating high school, and we all work minimum wage jobs and side hustles to get by. I help out my family with groceries or bills sometimes, but I don’t have disposable income. Plus, my sister has confided in me that she finds the pressure and commitment to basketball overwhelming, and she’s not enjoying it anymore, so I didn’t want to max out my credit cards for something she doesn’t even want.

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I knew my parents would be upset, but my mom said that if I didn’t have the money for things that mattered I shouldn’t buy toys, and she’s going to sell my sister’s art tablet. My sister’s heartbroken, and no matter what I say, I can’t change my mom’s mind. I get the stakes, my sister would be the first in our family ever to go to college and my parents will do anything to help her succeed, but she doesn’t even want to go to this camp. She loves art and her tablet is her one nice thing she has for herself. It’s so hard to get off the rez and get the opportunities my sister has a shot at, but she’s so young, and it doesn’t feel fair for her whole life to only be about something she doesn’t even like that much anymore. Selling her tablet feels like they’re punishing her to punish me. Is there anything I can say or do to advocate for her to our parents?

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—Artistic Differences

Dear Artistic,

As the dad of two young daughters who also have the potential to be fantastic basketball players, this breaks my heart. I wish you included your sister’s age in your letter (and since you didn’t leave your email address, I couldn’t follow up), but I guess it doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of things because no matter how you slice it, she’s just a child.

I would approach your parents together and remind them of the fact that your sister is indeed just a child and she shouldn’t have the burden of pressure to “save the family” placed on her. As a youth basketball coach, I cannot count the number of talented kids I’ve seen who fall to the wayside due to overbearing parents who expect basketball to be their job. Yes, I understand that being exceptionally good at something requires engaging in practice and hard work, especially when you don’t feel like it — but if it’s not balanced with fun activities like art, in your sister’s example, any kid will burn out.

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Your mom mentioned “things that mattered” but what matters more than her child’s mental health? Does she honestly believe that forcing her daughter to do something she now dislikes is going to be good for her in the long run? Trust me, it won’t.

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Personally, I don’t think your sister should go to this basketball camp — and you should tell your parents that if they sell her tablet, she still won’t attend. Obviously, I don’t know your parents, but hopefully they’ll see that they’ve pushed your sister too far and back off. If they continue to make life miserable for her or threaten her if she decides not to play, then perhaps you’ll have to take potentially drastic measures. Some examples could include bringing this up to other trusted adults or authority figures to intervene — or even consider having her move in with you if it gets really bad (again, hopefully it won’t come to that).

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I’m the one of the biggest basketball fans you’ll find, but I think your sister needs a full reset — meaning, she shouldn’t even think about the sport or pick up a ball for at least a month. In doing so, it’s essentially like breaking up with the game. If she ends up missing it, she can pick it back up again. If not, then she’ll realize the sport isn’t for her, and she can focus on other things. I can promise you that she’ll never enjoy it again if she’s pressured into playing.

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If your parents truly will do “anything to help her succeed” they should start by taking some ownership of the fact that the pressure they’ve put on their daughter is the main reason she doesn’t want to play anymore. At the end of the day, your sister will only play basketball if she wants to — and the best thing they can do for her is to let her choose her own path, even if it doesn’t include college. Speaking of which, thankfully many American companies nowadays are embracing a workforce where a college degree isn’t necessary to have a job that pays well, and what the state of Maryland is offering is a great example of that. If you’re not familiar with STARs (Skilled Through Alternative Routes), check this out.

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There are many different paths to success, but it’s much more difficult to navigate if you’re stressed out and unhappy. I truly hope your parents realize that for your sister’s sake.

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’d like your opinion on how well kids can comprehend unusual situations with their names. As my now husband and I were planning our wedding, we ran into the fraught problem of last names. I’m a feminist who thinks the default of women always giving up their last name is sexist. My husband really wanted us to have a family name.

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When my husband offered to take my last name, I refused that option, because my last name is difficult to spell and thus pronounce, and I didn’t want to inflict that on our kids (or him). However, his offer did make me feel more comfortable about agreeing to taking his last name. Setting aside the perception of sexism, taking his last name (a nice short name that’s also the name of a city) made more sense logistically and emotionally.

But I was still agonizing over it and feeling mournful about losing this piece of my identity. So I came up with one last compromise. I’d legally take his last name, as would our children. But socially, we’d be known by both our last names. So one name for driver’s licenses but two for Facebook, as an example.

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Now that we’ve done this and are planning to start a family, my husband is fretting that this dual nature of our surnames will confuse our kids. I think they’ll figure it out just fine. Kids understand nicknames and understand when their parents have different last names (mine did). I think they’ll probably end up dropping my name socially and use his for convenience, which I have no problem with (keeping my last name socially was more about keeping my sense of identity intact).

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Is this not a big deal? Or are we setting our kids up for confusion?

—What’s In a (Last) Name?

Dear Last Name,

I don’t think what you’re posing is that big of a deal. As a matter of fact, my wife and I did something similar — she kept her maiden name legally and uses my last name socially. Our two kids use my last name socially and legally, and there isn’t much confusion. Not to mention, she did it for the exact same reason you did in terms of keeping her identity intact, and I have zero issues with it. Personally, I think it’s weird when dudes insist their wives take on their last names legally. I honestly couldn’t care less.

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I think you’re right that your kids are going to roll with whatever their legal name is because it’s the path of least resistance in formal settings such as school. Additionally, your husband’s last name is easier to say, so that adds to the reasons why your kids will gravitate towards it. Regarding your husband’s concerns, kids are way smarter and resilient than we give them credit for. I know our situations are different, but my two kids know that my wife has a different last name than the three of us, and it’s not even a blip on their radar. If anything, my daughters may decide to keep their last name for the same reason my wife decided to keep hers. It’s totally normal in this day and age.

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Trust me, this is extremely common, and your kids will be fine.

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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 have two children and my brother does too, they are all under the age of 6. When our children hang out, my brother’s children are terrible. They scream, they throw fits, and they generally treat their parents with zero respect. It’s gotten to the point where I say that since they are in my house they will follow my rules but due to a lack of parenting by my brother and his wife, they just scream at me. I love my family but we avoid hanging out with them (it’s been 4 months, we are running out of excuses, especially as it’s summer) but their children are terrible influences on my children. When they leave, my children suddenly have the urge to copy their cousins’ behavior which causes so much stress for my wife and me. When my brother’s children are dropped off at our house they are fine when their parents are not around but as soon as either of them shows up all hell breaks loose. They hit their parents and scream in their ears. I never see my brother or his wife give time outs or threaten to have something taken away. If anything they are bribed to be on good behavior which never seems to work for long. How can I approach my family without overstepping? I’m not the only one who sees this but no one wants to step up. Is it my place to tell them their children are spoiled? My wife says that it’s my brother so I need to say something. It’s getting to the point where I am going to have to discipline them when they are in my house in front of their parents because I literally cannot take anymore of their awful behavior and neither can my patient wife.

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—Uncle Under Duress

Dear Uncle,

If the behavior of your brother’s children is impacting the mental health of your family, then you have every right to step up and say something. I don’t think you should dish out insults by calling his kids “spoiled,” because all that will accomplish is upsetting him and his wife. That certainly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep it real with them, though.

Although it’s a different situation, I mentioned something similar last week to a librarian who wrote in. First, you need to set ground rules for these kids along with the consequences for not for abiding by them. If they refuse to follow those rules, either by talking back or ignoring your wishes, then you should unapologetically kick them out. If you’re feeling nice, you can provide one warning first, but I wouldn’t fault you one bit if you didn’t.

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The goal in doing so is to teach your brother’s kids that actions have consequences — which seems to be a lesson that’s not being taught by him and his wife. Usually taking firm action can light a fire underneath someone to self-reflect a bit and realize, “Oh, crap — my kids truly are menaces.” That obviously would be the best-case scenario here, assuming they take the requisite action to fix their behaviors. In the event they point fingers and blame you for being rude, you can feel free to borrow one of my favorite expressions when I’m being gaslit: “I was there and my feelings about this situation are not up for debate.”

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The key here is to follow through with your threats. If you say you’re going to throw them out for bad behavior, then do it. Yes, I know there’s a good chance that you’ll offend your brother and his wife, but you need to remind yourself that you’re not doing anything wrong. Next, tell your brother that they will not be allowed back at your house (no playdates, drop-offs, etc.) until they can assure you that the behaviors will be addressed and corrected. If they get upset or blame you, you can use the line I mentioned earlier, but also say, “I love you and the kids, but their behavior is putting a lot of stress on me and my mental health. I refuse to continue like this. I’m willing to discuss this alone with you to see if we can come to some sort of a resolution here.” Then when you meet with him, you can tell your brother everything — without being too judgmental, of course. Remember, if you can’t keep it real with your family, who can you keep it real with?

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Life is too short to suffer in silence, and you need to take action at your next possible opportunity.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’d like to have a party for my daughter’s fourth birthday. However, I’d like to avoid getting a bunch of plastic junk that she’ll look at once and then throw in a corner never to play with. I honestly don’t think gifts are necessary, but I know people feel obligated to bring one. With that said, I’ve had two ideas for how to address this:

1) I could request that anyone who feels they’d like to provide a gift instead contributes $5 to a pot ahead of the party, and I can get her one gift that I know she’d enjoy (I’d love it if someone requested this for their kid’s party since it means I don’t have to go shopping, and it would cost significantly less than a junk toy).

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2) I could request that attendees provide a gift that’s an artistic activity, like a coloring book or building set.

Are either of these considered in poor taste? I’m really trying to avoid waste and wasteful spending, but I also don’t want to offend anyone. I’d love your opinion.

—Gifted Child

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Dear Gifted Child,

None of your suggestions are in poor taste. As a matter of fact, I would agree wholeheartedly that those requests would make my life easier as a parent on both ends of the situation. As the gift-giver, I despise shopping and would much rather give money to the parents for them to buy a gift that they know their kid would like—or at the very least, I would like to receive specific ideas on the exact gift to buy, similar to a wedding registry. As the gift-receiver, my house is overrun with so much junk that I find myself making runs to Goodwill on a monthly basis. If my kids receive another tub of slime, I’m going to lose my mind.

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There are a couple of things you should keep in mind. Some people will do their own thing regardless of the direction you give them, and you should be at peace with that. If 75 percent of people fall in line, consider that a win. Also, there will be people who think $5 is way too low to give as a gift, so you should think about making a price ceiling, like “no more than $25.”

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Regarding your second idea, you should give clear cut suggestions on “artistic activities” that your daughter would like — and make that list at least ten items long to limit the chances of her receiving duplicate gifts.

Again, I think both of your ideas are great. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for the gift-givers and to ensure you don’t end up with useless junk on your hands. That’s a win-win if you ask me.

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—Doyin

More Advice From Slate

My husband is in education, so during the summer he is a full-time stay at home dad to our children, ages 4 and 18 months. During the school year, he cares for them several days a week. I’ve long had a hunch that he was letting a screen do the child care for him. And now, after my first week working from home full-time, the facts can’t be ignored: They watch TV all day, every day. If they start to get restless he’ll put on something else, or they’ll come bother me. Also, every day since I have been working from home, while the little one is napping, my husband will set up my older child with a movie and take a nap himself. I really do not want this kind of care to continue, but I am very hesitant to say anything because I know if the shoe were on the other foot and I were a stay-at-home mother, I would bristle at my husband waltzing in and telling me that I’m parenting badly and need to change things. What say you?

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