Emily McCombs is Care and Feeding’s new weekly columnist. She is currently the deputy editor of HuffPost Personal, where she writes and edits first-person essays. She lives in Brooklyn with her 11-year-old son.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I coparent my 12-year-old son “Oliver,” with my ex-husband “Matthew.” I initiated the divorce four years ago over struggling with a huge labor imbalance for years. As a result, my life is happier and easier, but divorced life has not been kind to Matthew, and he blames me. He is big on learned helplessness for parenting, and unless it’s absolutely vital or scarring, I tend to stay out of his approach. But right now I need him to step up. I discovered something worrisome on Oliver’s phone.
He’s been spending a lot of time on hateful/misogynist/homophobic parts of TikTok and Reddit. When pressed, Oliver always says “it’s a joke” and even though he seeks out a lot of this stuff alone, he also shares it with his friends over text, and they reciprocate. I openly put monitoring tools on Oliver’s phone and tech at my house, but he has free reign at his dad’s. I talk about “everyone is in charge of their own body” and “a household is teamwork needs to be shared” while Matthew complains to his friends in front of Oliver about “I paid for an expensive date and she wouldn’t put out” and “women are naturally better at stuff like laundry.” I’ve read those articles about the misogyny-to-white-supremacy pipeline, and I don’t want to raise that type of adult, but Matthew isn’t on the same page. How do I navigate this?
You don’t have to be in my mom squad groupchat to know that you’re not the first to struggle with an unequal distribution of labor and childcare within the blessed institution of heterosexual marriage. Congratulations on finding your way to a happier, easier life.
You’re also certainly not the first person to have to co-parent with someone who does not share their values, since that’s often the very thing that led to divorce in the first place. While you should absolutely tell your ex to stop dropping his Misogyny 101 bon mots in front of your son, and to stop giving him unrestricted access to the nastiest, Andrew Tate-iest corners of Reddit, at the end of the day you can really only control what happens when your son is with you.
Writer and mom Joanna Schroeder describes the very misogyny-to-white-supremacy pipeline you mentioned in her viral Twitter thread and also offers up concrete suggestions for breaking the hold this propaganda has on young men, like watching political comedy shows together, giving him funny progressive comics to relate to, and being present to help them think critically through the memes and vlogs they’re encountering on their Explore pages. Expose your kid to other people who embody your values and involve him with cultural and community institutions where they’ll be reinforced. Even if you weren’t fighting to deprogram your kid from his dad’s sexist rhetoric, you’d likely be fending off the same messages that are thrown at young men from so many other sources.
The good news is that your son is not only listening to what you and your ex say, he’s also paying attention to how you live your lives. You made a difficult decision to choose your own happiness, and as a result, you are showing your son what a happy, fulfilled, capable woman looks like. (And, sorrynotsorry, what a bitter, discontented manbaby looks like too.) Your power of example may be the strongest tool you have.
My very dear friend and her husband asked me and my husband last month to be the guardians of her three young kids if anything should happen to them. After a lot of thought, we declined. We have four kids of our own and we couldn’t afford to take proper care of her children, though we do love them. Since then, my friend has totally iced me!