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 Indian, and my husband is Black. We’re expecting our first child (a girl!) in three months, and both of our families are very excited. This will be my parents’ first granddaughter, and my in-laws’ first grandchild. We live in a large-ish city on, about a half-hour’s drive from my husband’s family, who live in the more suburban area where he grew up, so his parents have made it clear that they’re excited and willing to play a large role in their granddaughter’s life—which is great, but my mother-in-law expects that this role extends to her religious life as well.
She has attended the same majority-Black church since before my husband was born and wants to take our daughter too. She extolled its Sunday School programs, how much my husband enjoyed it as a child, the wonderful community, and above all, how it will connect our daughter to her people. Sounds great, right? Except… my husband and I discussed this issue before we decided to have kids, and we want to take our daughter to the progressive Hindu mandir in our neighborhood. We’ve attended before, and it has families from all across India, as well as other mixed-race families like ours—including two other Indian and Black couples with young kids, which is awesome.
Since my husband’s family lives so much closer, and we will see them so frequently, we chose the mandir to make sure that our daughter has strong ties to both of our cultures, and because I stayed a practicing Hindu throughout my life, whereas my husband stopped attending services when he moved out. But we still haven’t told his mother for several reasons, the primary one being that she has said that she’s worried our daughter will grow up to be confused and uneducated about her “real” culture. This was in response to me saying that we were hoping to take our daughter to India to spend some time in the summer with my parents when she’s old enough, and make it an annual visit, but she’s made similar remarks when I’ve talked about my plans to speak Hindi at home. My husband also hates arguing or starting difficult conversations with his mom, and says he knows she’ll constantly bring this up and guilt him for it. So I guess my question is: How do we shut my MIL’s churchgoing plans down and also prevent her from making insensitive remarks about my culture in the future without causing a blowup? I like my MIL a lot, and we get along well most of the time, so I’m scared this could permanently damage our relationship.
—Religious Rupture in Raleigh
Dear Religious Rupture,
First of all, congratulations on this new adventure of parenthood that you are about to embark on! It is a journey that not only surprises you about how deeply you can love another small being, but one that will also strengthen your relationship with yourself. There is another relationship however, that will come to the forefront during this time and be tested — and that is the central family relationship with your partner.
You have said that you discussed the plans for children with your husband even before you decided to have kids. So both of you are clearly on the same page, and that’s a good thing because it would be exponentially more difficult if you weren’t.
It’s now your husband’s responsibility to stand up for you—and your plan for your family—to his mother. At the end of the day, the decisions for your daughter are made by you and him, and his mother needs to fall in line.
You said that your husband hates starting difficult conversations with his mother, but parenthood will not only ask but require him to step into a bolder version of himself. We choose our partners because we want them to make us a priority, and we want to know we can count on them for support. When we lack that support, the relationship suffers because of it.
My suggestion is to talk to your husband about making your plans clear to his mom. I know there’s some fear involved, but he has to put this in perspective and realize she’s not a monster. I sense that she’ll understand and accept this in a much gentler way when it comes from him, her own son. If that doesn’t happen, then he should still hold firm knowing that the main decision-makers regarding your daughter are you and your husband.
Another byproduct of this is that it will strengthen the bond between the two of you, because you’ll know that in a difficult situation, you could count on your partner to support and be there for you. That kind of love and support between parents is a huge benefit in the life of a child.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My daughter “Izzy” became friends with another girl in her sophomore biology class “Mira” during the school year, they’ve been hanging out by our pool this summer. Izzy is a good student—she makes As and Bs, is part of two clubs, and is on the school dance team. She has visited our (good!) state school, is likely to get in, and wants to study nursing. Mira has been a straight-A student for “as long as she can remember.” She is an officer in four clubs, is a varsity track athlete, and has plans to organize school-wide fundraisers next year. Her whole life revolves around school and extracurriculars. Izzy says that even though Mira is invited out, she never dates or goes to parties. I was in the living room when Mira learned that she got her first-ever B+ (in the most difficult math class sophomores are allowed to take) she was crying, hyperventilating, basically heartbroken, while Izzy tried to console her. Mira later texted Izzy to apologize, explaining that her dream is to get into an Ivy or another top school, and in order to do that, she “needs” to be “on top of everything.” She also privately apologized to me for “ruining my day with her meltdown,” and said that it had always been really important to her family that she succeed, because her parents’ families had come to the States from nothing, and her parents still went to Harvard and Berkeley.
I feel awful for Mira—she seems to spend every day stressed out and trying to make sure everyone is happy, and is under pressure at home too. Before Izzy was born, I was a high school counselor, and I know college admissions get more selective every year. I’m worried about Mira’s mental health, not only if she doesn’t get into the schools her parents want, but also in the next two years leading up to college admissions. Am I overreacting or am I right to be concerned? Is it weird if I want to support Mira and her mental health, and if it’s not, how can I support her?
—Type-A Teen Troubles
Dear Type A,
Even though I hear stories like this all of the time, they always break my heart. Yes, I’m in favor of hard-work and discipline for children, but I’m also in favor of kids being kids. What Mira’s parents fail to realize is their daughter’s college choice is not directly correlated to success. My older brother received his MBA from Harvard, and he has told me about many of his former classmates who are struggling emotionally and professionally today. Although I don’t know the exact reasons for those struggles, I would go out on a limb to guess that at least few of them broke under the pressure of striving to be the best since they were young. On the flip side, I know tons of people who did not attend the most selective colleges (including me), who go on to have very successful careers.
Obviously you’re limited in terms of what you can truly do to help Mira since you aren’t her parent, but I think it’s possible to give her a healthy dose of perspective. One way to do that is to ask her why she dreams of going to an Ivy League school, and you can follow up from there. If she says she wants to get in because of the prestige of those schools, you can ask her why that’s important, because as I mentioned earlier, prestige doesn’t equal success. You can inform Mira that a kid like your daughter Izzy will have many of the same opportunities afforded to her in the job market that she’ll have, plus Izzy will have the added benefit of being a well-rounded, socialized young woman who lives for herself and not for the dreams of her parents.
Speaking of which, if Mira says she wants to get into an Ivy League school because of her parents, I would follow up by asking if she could take her parents’ wishes out of the equation, what would she want for herself? Her answer to that question will speak volumes, but the most important thing you can tell her at that point is that she can do whatever she desires without a degree from Harvard, Yale or the others.
Everyone has different definitions of “success,” but in my opinion, success equals happiness — and getting a degree from a certain university will never be the sole reason why one gets there. No one remembers individuals after they die by saying, “She had a 3.8 GPA at Dartmouth.” People remember us by how we touch lives and by how we make the world a better place. If you’re up for it, show her examples of people in her chosen field who succeeded without an Ivy League degree—and I guarantee you there are many of people to choose from.
Your pep talk may not alleviate the stress she’s feeling, but hopefully it will make her understand that the quality of her life has very little to do with her grades in high school Algebra. I know it may seem like you would be overstepping by talking to her parents, so you don’t have to do that. Instead keep reminding her that she’ll be just fine if she focuses on her mental health and mixing in some fun in the process. It has worked for me and countless others, and I hope it will work for her as well.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
Recently I was talking with some other parent-friends about our teens (all between the ages of 13 and 14, a small group that has been together since first grade) and tech. It came up that all of the others use monitoring software or regularly look through their teens browsing history, make sure they know what’s on their phones (yes they all have phones), etc.
I said I didn’t do any of those things. I don’t even know the code to unlock my child’s computer (though I do know the code for the phone). I don’t really snoop. I will sometimes ask what they are doing or look over their shoulder, but I don’t have monitoring software either. I’ve given my child the talk about internet safety (don’t reveal what your age is, where you live, what school you go to, etc.), we’ve talked here and there about porn (though not ethical porn), we’ve talked about what is and isn’t appropriate for someone unknown to ask, and so on. I guess I’ve just been trusting that if there was a problem they’d come to me with the issue.
I’m an elder millennial, and I grew up as the internet was. I ran circles around my parents with regard to monitoring or wondering what I was doing online. That said, I often felt that when they did try to snoop, that they were invading my privacy. I’m sure my child can probably run circles around me in terms of hiding things if they wanted.
But am I being naive? Should I be monitoring more closely? Is this a normal thing now and I missed the message? Most of these parent-friends are firmly Gen X (and at least 5 years older than me) so is this some generational divide?
—Wrong For Refusing to Snoop?
Dear Refusing To Snoop,
It’s certainly your right as a parent not to monitor your child’s internet usage, but based on my experience, there are more people I know who track what their kids are doing online than not, myself included.
Granted, my kids are 8 and 11, so they’re younger than yours—but I’ve had age-appropriate talks with them about the dangers of being online, and even though they mostly get it, I still do my part to ensure they’re safe with tracking software.
What I’ve noticed is that my kids aren’t the problem—it’s their classmates and friends. My 11-year-old has a phone, and I discovered that one of her classmates sent her a text with some inappropriate sexual content, which I quickly intercepted and dealt with. If I wasn’t monitoring her content, who knows how many of these texts she would receive? How would I know if someone is bullying, targeting, or harassing her without monitoring? I have a great relationship with her and we communicate well, but I know she won’t tell me everything. The fact is most 11-year-olds aren’t equipped to handle all of the depravity that can be found online, so it’s best to bring them along as slowly as possible by monitoring content instead of allowing them to receive the proverbial fire hose to the face by navigating through unfiltered inappropriate content.
And quite frankly I couldn’t give a rat’s rear end about invading either of my daughters’ privacy, because I’m here to protect them, not to be their buddy. That said, I’m not monitoring every text message and every visited website, because I use a company to do all that for me. There are plenty of apps out there, but I use Bark, which mostly operates in the background and my 11-year-old doesn’t even notice it (although I’ve clearly told her that I am watching how she uses her phone).
Like I said, it’s your right as a parent not to track your kids’ internet usage, but in my mind, there are way too many threats out there not to.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
Let me start by saying that I am not a parent. My best friend “Megan” is a single mom with two kids who are 8 and 4. I love Megan with all of my heart, but her kids are awful. They yell at her to give them snacks, buy them toys, or whatever else they want in a given moment. She rarely puts her foot down which results in her kids having a ton of expensive toys and eating cupcakes and candy at 6 a.m. just to shut them up. Again, I’m not a parent, but if I talked to my mom the way these kids talked to her, I would be six feet underground. Should I tell her that her kids are out of control? They seem to be doing fine at school and elsewhere, but I cringe whenever I witness how disrespectful they are to her at home.
Dear Terrorist Kids,
Well, let me start by saying that you’re right: few parents want to hear parenting advice from non-parents. That’s not to say that you’re wrong about what you’re witnessing, but even if she’s your best friend, she may not be open to your critiques about her children.
I usually believe that as long as the kids are safe and not in imminent danger, then we should keep our thoughts to ourselves. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t speak up if you feel compelled to—but there are some things you should keep in mind first.
Perhaps Megan is overwhelmed as a single parent and simply doesn’t have the energy to endure arguments with her kids, which results in giving them dessert for breakfast. Would I raise my kids that way? No, I wouldn’t—but that doesn’t make Megan’s way wrong. She’s taking the path of least resistance so her finite levels of energy can be allocated to other important tasks like work or maintaining her sanity. Instead of judging her for allowing her kids to walk all over her, instead you should ask how you can support her. Maybe that means babysitting so she can take some much-needed time off to recharge. Maybe it means bringing over some takeout so she doesn’t have to worry about meal prep for an evening. The possibilities are endless, but what you’re describing to me is a mom who’s absolutely fried and is in desperate need of relief.
That said, if you still want to say something, you should do it in the moment, but direct the feedback at her and not at the kids. So if one of the kids yells at Megan to “make me a snack, now!” you could say something along the lines of, “Megan, do you think it’s OK for Johnny to talk to you that way? What if he talked to a teacher or authority figure like that? It could end badly for him. I know I’m not a parent, but I know disrespectful behavior when I see it.” In a best-case scenario, she will start changing her ways now that she’s aware that others are picking up on her kids’ behavior. If she gets defensive or angry, you can disarm her by saying, “I don’t mean any harm. I love you and I can tell that you’re overwhelmed and I want to help. What can I do?”
Hopefully your friendship is strong enough to allow some real talk, and if it is, then it could serve as a much-needed wake-up call.
More Advice From Slate
Is it OK to change your mind about having a baby? My husband and I have been together for over five years, and one of the things that we agreed upon completely during that time was that neither of us wanted children. I truly never thought I would. Over the last few years, though, I have had many friends, family, and co-workers have children, and for the first time been exposed to the joys and awesomeness of having kids (instead of just the horror stories).