Care and Feeding

My Mother-in-Law Has a Terrible Habit With My Toddler

Enough is enough!

A grandmother shows her granddaughter something on her phone.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by CocoSan/iStock/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, 

I need perspective on something my MIL does with my 16-month-old toddler, and whether it’s worth mentioning or just one of those things to accept as different when Grandma’s around. When our daughter was maybe 8 months old, we discovered a YouTube channel of entertaining kid videos that our daughter responds very well to. We’re not crazy strict no screentime people, but generally do try to limit it and mostly just use a video or two when she’s super upset to help calm her down mostly (just had shots, fell over and hit pretty hard). Since my MIL watches her maybe once every two weeks, we showed her a few of the videos and she asked us to bookmark them on her phone.

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Since then, any time our daughter shows any sign of upset and my MIL is around, she immediately pulls up a video and hands my daughter her phone, including when we’re around and already doing something to help like distracting her with a toy or singing a song. When she does it and I’m there I usually just say something like “Oh no, we don’t need that video we have this really fun [insert whatever thing we have]” and brush the phone away. MIL always has her phone in her hand, and it is to the point where when my daughter goes to her, she will look around until she finds grandma’s phone and has it in her hand. After MIL babysits, she’ll tell us all about who they FaceTimed, what videos they watched, how amused she was by all the sounds the phone can make, etc. I feel like my daughter has plenty of time to be phone-obsessed and I’d really like to push it off as long as we can, especially when she’s just as easily amused by toys and books right now. That said, I also recognize that it may be the best behavior management option for my MIL, and it may not be my place to say anything as long as it’s not spilling over too much. (It’s not.). My husband has also mentioned how much his mom uses it as a primary entertainment device. Do we say something to her about it or just accept that at grandma’s Apple is the major sponsor of playtime?

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—Keeping the Little One Low Tech for Now

Dear KtLOLTfN,

You all can and should let your MIL know that you want to limit your daughter’s screentime, and that you two are very intentional about only allowing her to have a small amount of it each day. You can also ask her to support you in this endevor by reducing the amount of time she spends exposing her to the phone. However, it seems pretty safe to assume that Grandma doesn’t have many other or better ideas for how to interact with your little one and the screen has become an important tool for her when she’s on caregiving duty. That’s not the worst thing in the world; there are plenty of kids who are overindulged in any number of things at their grandparents’ houses but manage to still maintain the habits and values their parents wish to instill in them. Try to get your MIL to work with you, but be forgiving of her reliance on the electronic baby sitter; it’s probably been a while since she’s had a baby to care for, and she’s not as young as she once was. Also, when she’s keeping your daughter, provide activities that they can do together outside of the phone so she can’t say she doesn’t have any alternate options. Good luck to you.

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Dear Care and Feeding, 

My grandmother is 84. I believe she has some kind of speech disorder, although she’s never been diagnosed for and is resistant to the idea of therapy at all. But while she can communicate very clearly in writing, when she talks she has some verbal ticks; she often gets words out in the wrong sentence order, and can’t seem to connect names to faces. At family gatherings, I get called pretty much a random selection of any of the names of the men attending. This is not specific to me—everyone gets this kind of treatment.

It absolutely drives me up the wall. I love Grandma, but I cannot stand to be called “Eric” or “James” or any of my other relatives that might be attending the latest birthday party. Part of my irritation stems from my irritation with my mother, with whom I’m no longer in touch. When I was a kid, Mom didn’t think it was important to call me by my name, since she usually only communicated to get some chore done. Since I and my brother were more or less interchangeable when it came to mowing the lawn, she didn’t think it mattered if she called us by the wrong thing.

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I don’t want to go to my grandmother’s parties anymore. I’ve spoken with some of the family I still am in contact with, and most don’t like the idea at all, often with the argument that “You know she doesn’t mean it, she’s not like your mother,” or “She does that with everyone.”  I know it’s not the same, but it still makes me see red,. I’ve just turned 18, and nobody can make me go anymore, but I’m not sure if it’s worth burning bridges with half the family over this.

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—What Is So Hard About “Adam”

Dear Adam, 

I’m really sorry that your grandmother’s memory challenges are so triggering for you. I can imagine that stirs up difficult emotions. I think that you should consider talking to a therapist. Your family members are right to remind you that your grandmother and your mother have very different reasons for misnaming you; however, that doesn’t negate the hurt you feel, and you may need some support in figuring out ways to cope with something your grandmother most likely isn’t able to change. (Even if she is diagnosed with something, that doesn’t mean that her symptoms will be eliminated.)

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Your grandmother is 84. Her brain is not what it once was. While this may be frustrating to you, consider how devastating it is for her to deal with the loss of her memory and her ability to communicate clearly. When you attend her events–and please remember you don’t know how many more there will be considering her age– remind yourself that she is doing the best she can and that she isn’t trying to hurt you. Lovingly remind her that your name is Adam, and work to try and forgive her for something over which she has no control. Again, I think the support of a therapist will be extremely helpful here. Wishing you all the best, Adam.

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Catch Up on Care and Feeding

• If you missed Sunday’s column, read it here.
• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding, 

My young teen daughter came out to me on Bi Visibility Day after a year of talking about LGBTQ issues almost every day. It was not a surprise. It also explains several things past the sudden, intense interest in “the girls and the gays.” Last winter she suddenly stopped hanging out with her best friend in person—or really any friend—and moved all of her friendships online outside of school. It’s still concerning, but from random things she’s said, I think there was a crush she didn’t know what to do with.

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My problem is my husband. He wants to support her but believes it’s no big deal to come out because “all girls are a little bi.” I think he’s both inflating his experiences with who he’s hung out with (and been attracted to), along with women’s more socially acceptable praise of other women’s looks. I am bisexual so I don’t help challenge this worldview.

Our daughter hasn’t come out to him yet. I told him in secrecy because I wanted to think about how he would respond when she eventually tells him. I am disappointed in his response when I told him. I want him to understand that his world view may not be completely accurate. It was a big deal for her to come out and I want to honor that, not have her dad say something boneheaded when she reveals that she is bi, like “you and every other woman.” How can I educate this well-meaning, wrong dad and help him become a better ally?

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—Mama Bear Is Bi Too

Dear MBIBT, 

You should perhaps start a conversation with your husband about your own bisexuality. Explain how it informs who you are as a person, and what it means to your identity. Talk to him about the difference between being open to the idea of making out with another woman at a bar and being inclined to want to be in a serious romantic relationship with a woman. In our society, women and girls are generally allowed more freedom to experiment sexually with each other than men and boys are, but that does not negate the existence of bisexual women and girls who have more than just a sexual interest in members of their own gender.

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Let your husband know that your daughter deserves real support as she is a member of a marginalized group. LGBTQ youth face bullying, discrimination, the lack of an ability to see themselves adequately reflected in media and challenges with being accepted by loved ones; one study found them to be four times more likely to attempt suicide than cis-heterosexual kids. What your husband doesn’t believe to be real about bisexual girls and women can have real consequences for your daughter. Urge him to take her reveal seriously, and tell him that it’s important that she feels confident that both of her parents accept her and are committed to standing by her as she navigates a world that can be hostile towards people who identify as she does. This should be a series of dialogues that take place before your daughter says anything to him. Best of luck to the three of you.

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Want Advice From Care and Feeding?

Submit your questions about parenting and family life here. It’s anonymous! (Questions may be edited for publication.)

Dear Care and Feeding, 

I have a question about when it is acceptable for kids to have a boyfriend/girlfriend. Two weeks ago, my eldest “Sophie” came home from school announcing that she had kissed a boy. I didn’t give this any thought, as I thought she might be making it up, it might be a kid thing, etc. But the next day, she came home from school asking if she could invite “Tom” to our house on the weekend. I asked her who Tom was, seeing that she’d never mentioned him before and she replied that he was her boyfriend. I asked her what she thought this meant and she said that she had kissed him on the lips many times. Apparently Tom started in her class a few days before she first said she had kissed him. I spoke to his parents about a visit, and it was fine with them (turns out I know them already) so we arranged for Tom to come the following weekend. I was a little concerned at what I caught them doing. When he first got to our house, Sophie actually kissed him on the lips—like a long kiss. I caught them kissing each other on the lips several more times throughout the day. I’m worried that Sophie is getting into things she really shouldn’t be. Do you have any advice?

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—My 9-year-Old Daughter Is Boy Crazy

Dear MDIBC,

According to your signature, you left out what sounds like a VERY SIGNIFICANT part of the story. I have a few questions here. One, what was said when Sophie revealed that she kissed Tom “many times,” and just days after he joined her class? Also, I take it you didn’t say anything to Tom’s parents when scheduling this play date, even though you knew the two had started a kissing habit…why not? Finally, and this is the one haunting me the most: how on earth did Sophie and Tom pull off a “long kiss?” Are you telling me that during this kiss, you just…sat there and watched as they made out?

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You ask when it’s acceptable for kids to start having romantic relationships. I think that is a decision that varies a lot from household to household, and parents should take into consideration the maturity and behavior of the child in mind. However, dating generally starts in the teen years, if not 15, 16…not 9. Nine is simply too young for a child to have a boyfriend or girlfriend. They are not ready for the emotions that come with dating, nor do they need an invitation to start experimenting sexually. It’s normal for kids to have crushes on each other and playground relationships do blossom during the tween years; but your daughter is too young to be calling someone her boyfriend, and too young for all this kissing she wants to engage in (though her curiosity is likely very normal for a kid her age, it’s not time for her to act on it.)

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You must talk to your daughter about age-appropriate relationships. It’s okay for Tom to be her friend, a friend who makes her feel special. However, she is not old enough to kiss him. That is something she has to look forward to in the future, not for her to start engaging in now. You also need to let Tom’s parents know what you observed, if you haven’t already (I really hope that you have, but if not, you can say that it took you some time because you felt nervous and uncomfortable, and that you didn’t want to ruin Sophie and Tom’s friendship.)

Talk to Sophie about other ways she can express her affection: high fives, a secret handshake, etc. Let her know that she won’t be able to hang out with Tom if she can’t be trusted to keep her hands (and her lips) to herself. And please, please keep a closer eye on her during future play dates.

—Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

What is the current policy on allowing young children to urinate in public parks? I let my 3-year-old son pee in a park recently, in a secluded spot among some bushes, and another adult said, “That’s disgusting!” (to her partner, but really for me to overhear). I used to pee in urban parks all the time as a child, but it seems to have gone out of fashion. Plus, this park is overrun by dogs every morning and evening, all of whom urinate wherever they see fit. What’s the difference?

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