Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I are currently expecting our first baby. Even before pregnancy, we’ve had discussions and have agreed that grandparents are not to be used for everyday daycare. We think that’s an easy way to make what should be an enjoyable experience into a daily chore. Our parents seemed to agree as well, but offered to do odd babysitting/days of care as needed. With this is mind, we’ve talked to a local daycare facility and made arrangements for our son to attend there once I return to work when he’s about a year old. Recently, my husband brought up the fact that his mother has offered now a couple times to watch our son at least twice a week instead of him going to daycare because she “just isn’t sure she can let him go to daycare so much when he’s still that little.” She also asked my husband not to mention it to me yet because she knew I was against the idea. She has only spoken to him about it when he has been at her house alone.
I’m incredibly glad my husband told me about this, but furious with my MIL, for multiple reasons. First, she doesn’t get to decide what she can/can’t “let” us do with our child and his care (as long as we aren’t making obviously harmful/negligent decisions). Second, it feels very sneaky/deceitful that she’s brought it up to my husband more than once and asked him not to tell me. I want to talk to her about how inappropriate I think all of this is (and I’m a very non-confrontational person, so that’s a big deal!), but my husband says he’s told her that we will discuss her offer together and get back to her, and that we need to just politely decline if we don’t want to actually consider it. She does have severe anxiety over many things, which he says is why she didn’t want him to bring it up to me (basically she was afraid of upsetting me). I think blaming her approach on her anxiety is a cop out and leaves situations like this open to happen again and again throughout our lives. For full transparency, I will completely admit that I am a very independent person who has a difficult time with accepting help from others because it makes me feel like they think I’m not capable of taking care of things on my own; I recognize that is probably contributing to this situation to some extent. Can you offer an unbiased take?
— Daycare Deposit Is Paid
Dear Daycare Deposit Is Paid,
I understand that this may feel “sneaky,” but I don’t think it’s entirely unfair for a mother to have private conversations with her son. She wanted to get him on board with her day care idea, she tried, and she failed. I know personally how awful it can feel when it seems like folks don’t trust you to handle your own life without unsolicited help, but I don’t think this is as much vile or disrespectful as it is simply not what you want. Your MIL’s anxiety may feel like a cop out (and you know her better than I, perhaps it is), but it doesn’t make her approach here villainous. She’s just being an overbearing grandmother, like countless other overbearing grandmothers across the globe and throughout time.
You and your husband can politely and firmly explain to his mother that while you appreciate her offer, you have made a final decision about daycare and you won’t be swayed. If she attempts to plead her case to you, fine, hear her out, and then let her know that your decision is final. Grandparent Daycare may sound like an awful proposition to you, but your MIL’s desire to help out isn’t inherently bad; again, it’s just not what you want. Considering that daycares shut down from time to time due to COVID and other illnesses, it’s a blessing that you have her available if you ever need her. Let her know how you feel, stand firm in your choice, and move on.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My wife prizes higher education, which is understandable, as she has several advanced degrees and works as a professor. I am more on the fence, having earned only a BA and achieved professional and financial success far beyond my expectations in a field totally unrelated to any formal education I received. My elder son “Joe” is well on my side the fence, having grown up a brilliant autodidact. He did well in school, but found it boring and stifling. Against my wife’s wishes, Joe passed up admissions offers to join a start-up. Once he had already joined, I helped fund the start-up and find other investors, to my wife’s displeasure; the start-up prospered and was sold in short order, making both my son and me a considerable amount of money. This was a few years ago, and Joe has never looked back (to college). He has moved on to yet another (so far, doing well) start-up. He is happy, but his mother’s constant harping on him to go back to school has strained their relationship. Our daughter “Sam” has been a more conventional (but also extremely smart!) learner and is now approaching college. She looks up to her brother. He has been encouraging her to skip college and come work with him (she is interested in the field). This has, predictably, enraged my wife. I think “Sam” will be fine whichever path she chooses, but I do worry that “Joe’s” encouragement could be a way, if subconscious, of sticking it to my wife. I am at a loss of how or whether to intercede. Ideas?
— Neither a Bachelor nor a Master
Dear Neither a Bachelor nor a Master,
Try to assure your wife that even if both children reject traditional college education, it’s school and not her that they are rejecting. She had the opportunity and the access to pursue the sort of career she desired, and her children should have the same. It’s okay for her to feel disappointed that if her children don’t share her passion for the academy, but she has to learn to manage that so that they do not carry the weight of expectations that simply don’t match the family she ended up with.
At some point, your wife will have to make peace with the fact that Joe has found happiness and success through very different means than she did, and that the same could be true for Sam as well. You should encourage her to let go of her campaign to get Joe back in college; point out how unhappy it makes him, and how it weighs on their relationship. Remind her that most people go to college in order to figure out what it is what want to do with their lives and how to execute that; Joe managed to find this out through other means and has created an enviable career from himself. If he is ever to go back to school and further his education, that’s going to have to be the result of his own desire, as he doesn’t have the need and pressure from his mother won’t change that.
As far as Sam goes, check in with Joe about his encouragement of her to come work for him. Ask him directly if he’s trying to prove something to his mother, or if his own distaste for college has him convinced that it’s no place for his sister. Suggest that he allow Sam to make her own choice about school without him pushing her in one direction or another; it’s great that she has an opportunity with him if she needs or wants it, but she’s her own person and should be able to give college some serious consideration.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I married a lovely woman in her early 20s while in my late 40s, despite the rubberneckers and naysayers. My daughter was clearly suspicious and judgmental, but as she’s an adult who was raised right, she kept it to herself. At least, at first. Apparently, she expected my wife would be treated like a second-class citizen in our family, and not be included in any of the family inheritance. Obviously marrying changes your life, and therefore I changed my will to leave my assets to my wife instead of my daughter. This includes a financial inheritance and several properties, which my daughter apparently felt entitled to. I didn’t even tell her, knowing it would start drama; my daughter brought it up after I’d been married a year, saying she wanted to “make sure” she still had what she’d been expecting. She asked directly, so I told her, and she hit the roof, saying she had always included money and the beach house in her future for her son, and she is “emotionally attached” to the beach house from her childhood.
She even went as far as to say the beach house should “stay in the family,” because it was her mother’s family’s, which I of course shut down immediately, saying that my wife IS part of the family. We fought, and I found out that she had expected all my assets after I passed just because they were inherited from my late wife’s family, and she thinks her son deserves the family fortune over my wife. I’m ashamed to have raised someone so miserly and entitled, and when I told her that, she exploded that she was ashamed of having a father who “prioritized a wife younger than his own daughter over his own grandson,” words I remember because they still haunt and infuriate me days later. I have calmed down enough to try talking again, but I need advice on how to approach this. I don’t want to have another fight, but I can’t control her emotional reactions, and obviously I won’t stand for her spoiled entitlement or disrespect of my wife (who now thinks my daughter dislikes her!). How do you navigate a blended family with an adult child?
— Adult Acting Like a Child
Dear Acting Like a Child,
There was a period of time during which your daughter reasonably expected to inherit from you the wealth that you inherited from her mother, which ostensibly would have happened had you not remarried. While I do understand your desire to provide for your wife in the event of your passing, especially considering that she is likely to outlive you by a significant amount of time, I am rather surprised that you thought you could hand off the fortune you received from your late wife to another woman without your daughter taking issue with your plans. This would be somewhat different if this was money that you had earned, but you literally only have this wealth and this house because your wife died. You may have been the beneficiary of her estate, but your wife had a daughter and a grandchild, and I would bet my bottom dollar that she’d prefer for her money and her family home to go to them, rather than the younger woman you found to share your life with after she died. I would imagine that her family members, who earned the money that you have been fortunate to enjoy, would also want for it to be used for their actual descendants. Just because you were the one to control the fortune doesn’t mean it was intended for you and you alone. You and I both know that this is not what your late wife would have wanted, unless she was deeply estranged from your daughter and you just somehow left that part out—and even then, I’d imagine that her desire would not be to hand off her family coins to some random girl just because you love her.
I don’t know that you can be convinced here, but I strongly think you should reconsider your will. You should give your daughter the beach home, or perhaps consider selling it so that you can leave substantial cash for her as well as your wife. Again, I cannot fathom how you think it’s fair that money that came from your late wife’s family should be primarily used for your new woman when your daughter has admitted that she had relied upon receiving a substantial inheritance in the future. Honestly, it feels like you’re stealing from your own child. Her ancestors, including her mother, left behind provisions for her, and you have decided that this arbitrary other person is entitled to them because she’s in your life. That is beyond cruel. Your daughter wasn’t lying when she said you prioritized this young woman over your grandson, because that’s exactly what you have done. You talk about the naysayers and haters judging your marriage, but look at the material; a woman half your age shows up and is set to receive a grand inheritance that your daughter’s mother left to you, surely trusting that you would pass it on to her child. I’m surprised you haven’t heard more pushback from more people. Apologize to your daughter for your lack of understanding and revise your will in a way that honors the woman who made your lifestyle possible.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My daughter is a bright, friendly, energetic, and amazing 9-year-old. She also happens to be beautiful and physically developed for her age. Over the last year, I’ve noticed her becoming increasingly consumed by everything boys: who has a boyfriend; what a certain boy thinks or prefers; which boys are paying attention to her—the list goes on. In turn, boys, including some who are much older, are flocking to her. I would really appreciate any pointers or resources on how to communicate with her in an age-appropriate, non-shame-based way about how to navigate her growing romantic interests. I can already see her displacing her own thoughts and feelings in favor of those of the boys around her. I also worry about her finding herself in unsafe situations. Other dads have joked about it being time to keep her locked in the house (I do not find this amusing and say as much), but I’m trying to fight those controlling and prohibitive impulses. How do I help foster in her a strong sense of self-worth that doesn’t revolve around her level of attractiveness and ensure she has the skills/sense to keep herself safe? On the latter point, I hate that this is all about what she needs to do/not do rather than how to socialize boys and men not to be creeps. Alas. She is more so within my sphere of influence.
— Don’t Want to Be That Dad But…
Dear That Dad But,
Society sends girls a lot of messages about the importance of boys, teaching them early to feel validated by their attention and to be willing to adjust accordingly in order to get it. As parents of daughters, we have to attempt a reset. Let your daughter know that there’s nothing wrong with being interested in boys, or with discovering that interest at her young age.
However, she isn’t old enough to date and should be reminded of that; find out the nature of these “boyfriend” relationships she’s talked about and intervene if necessary. Explain to her that girls are often encouraged to be seriously focused on boys in a way that boys are not socialized to focus on girls, and that this is a problem that can stick with her for much of her life if she doesn’t learn how to put boys (and her interest in them) in their proper place.
Tell her that boys are just among the many wonders that the world has to offer her, and that it’s important that she doesn’t spend all of her time and energy focused on them. Furthermore, it’s critical that she continue discovering who she is and what she likes without adjusting those things to make her more appealing to boys.
Let her know that her looks have and will continue to get her attention, but that she cannot base her self-worth or self-image on that. Who she is on the inside is what really matters, and the people who deserve a place in her life will be the ones to recognize that. Just because someone recognizes her as pretty doesn’t mean that they are worthy of her time and attention, and she will need to learn how to discern people who have her best interests in mind from those who don’t. It’s also wise for you to reiterate the conversations you’ve had with her about bodily autonomy; no one should touch her without her permission, and she should not consent to any sort of touch that she finds uncomfortable.
It’s critical that your daughter doesn’t think of boys as the proverbial “prize to be won,” which is how many young girls (and women) view their male counterparts. At this point in her life, she should be focused on friendship, not courtship, and it’s important that she knows how to build meaningful bonds with kids of all genders without prioritizing being picked by a boy. Talk about gender dynamics. Explain that women are socialized to think romance is the most important thing in the world, while our male counterparts are trained to see themselves as the priority. Let her know that the number of boys who do or don’t find her attractive does not matter, but what does matter is how she feels about herself. She may not receive all of this right away, so you’ll need to beat this drum consistently. Find the line between allowing her to indulge her natural interest in guys and preventing her from going completely boy crazy. Remember that boy craziness is, in fact, a normal part of many young women’s development, and do your best to try and introduce some balance.