Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My awesome, challenging, sweet, infuriating 9-year-old daughter was recently diagnosed with ADHD. This was the least surprising thing to ever happen to one of my children, as far as I’m concerned.
I had expected the diagnosis to help my husband and I agree on strategies for supporting our kid, but unfortunately it has not. The report we got back was very rote, and felt like a generic set of recommendations. I think, in fact, it was a case of the doctor including every possible recommendation so that we could bring a comprehensive document to the school and whittle away to what is needed—an easier process than fighting for things that aren’t included. But the result is that my husband has written off the whole thing. He said: “They’re basically saying she needs special ed, and she doesn’t need special ed!”
He has doubled-down on his overall sense that it’s all bunk, she just needs to “try harder” to “pay attention more” and “listen to the teachers.” He has reluctantly agreed that I can try to find a therapist for her, and take her to appointments, but he will not be part of it.
And while medication is not listed as the first line reaction, it is included as an evidence-based strategy to pursue should her issues persist or intensify. He has stated multiple times now that he will never consent to medicating a child.
I feel very torn. I am completely convinced by the diagnosis. Indeed, I’d figured it was the case based on research I started doing three years ago. I don’t see neurodivergence as a problem to solve. What do I do?
— Not on the Same Page
Dear Same Page,
Your husband is far from the only person who takes this stance on us ADHD-ers. But ADHD is not some kind of made-up pseudo-scientific condition; it is a neurological condition proven to exist by cold, hard science. We all believe in science here, right? Researchers are able to show the differences in brain scans of ADHD brains vs. those without ADHD.
And as a woman with my own ADHD diagnosis, I can promise you that no amount of “trying harder” or “paying attention” is going to make your daughter’s brain work like a neurotypical person’s does. In fact, that line of thinking is actively harmful, because we end up feeling like we must be lazy, stupid, or screwups if we can’t simply will ourselves into overcoming the challenges caused by our disorder. This is a large part of the reason that ADHD is often related to diagnoses of other disorders like anxiety and depression.
The longer the disorder goes untreated, the more these challenges are compounded. To be successful in school and in life, your daughter needs tools and strategies for managing. It sounds like you’ve been very active in researching the disorder and managing your daughter’s diagnosis. It might help your husband understand better if he takes a more active role in the process, such as attending appointments (if he isn’t) and hearing the information that you are hearing directly from teachers and doctors. In the case of the latter, he can express his misgivings and disagreements directly to a professional, who may be able to explain things in a way that makes sense to him. And don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion: Maybe hearing the same information from multiple experts will get through to him.
Coming to a stalemate as parents is a hard situation, but if you are unable to get on the same page, I believe that ultimately you must prioritize your daughter’s mental health and wellbeing above all else by getting her the help she needs to thrive.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I am struggling with what I suspect is a silent epidemic, particularly among mothers—to disclose or not to disclose our own potent trauma to our children.
Personally, I have a 9-year-old daughter who remains not only the singular joy in my life, but also a very tender-hearted child who is still very much immersed in “magical” things like dragons, unicorns, Santa, etc. I know the day will come soon—probably within the year—when these beautiful remnants of young childhood will dissipate, so I appreciate them every moment I can, as she is my only child and I have no desire for more.
My childhood was not so magical. I was molested at 2, bullied mercilessly from ages 6 through 15, raped by three guys when I was 12, and attacked/assaulted multiple times in separate incidents in my 20s. My 30s involved a lot of deaths and losses back-to-back-to-back, and PROFOUND, life-threatening, protracted postpartum depression. I’m in my 40s now, picking up the pieces, but doing better. I’ve been in therapy off and on for most of my life since I was 19.
I’ve been on all the mental health drugs from SSRIs to SNRIs to mood stabilizers to off-label use of Everything. Nothing really helps me alleviate the symptoms of complex trauma/C-PTSD that I suffer from.
I recently got a BIG promotion that, miraculously, has given me the option/privilege to do an expensive, 6-week course of Ketamine and integration therapy. It’s the type of option I could only fantasize about before. It kinda feels like my last, best hope—my Hail Mary for wrangling the demons that eat away at me behind the Very Well-Constructed Walls. Nobody else, especially my daughter, knows what lies behind the walls.
My question is many-fold, I suppose. What, if anything, is appropriate to share with our children about our past trauma? And at what general age? And if so, how? I don’t necessarily mean now, but is it ever recommended to tell your children, even in generalized terms, what you’ve gone through when it runs so deep and is so brutal? I worry I will forever live behind this wall where no one really knows me. I don’t want that for my daughter. But I also don’t want to hurt her beautiful heart or infect it with anxiety and worry for me because of my own wounds.
— Lotta Walls
Dear Lotta Walls,
I mean this from the bottom of my heart: Trauma is SUCH an asshole. In my experience, it’s extremely time-consuming, expensive, and ridiculously difficult to recover from and that’s stupidly unfair given it’s usually the result of someone else’s decision to hurt us. You are to be commended for continuing to do the life-long work of healing these wounds.
When it comes to telling your child about difficult events in your past, I think it depends on your motivation for doing so. Do you want your child to understand the reasons behind your behaviors or triggers they may have witnessed? Do you want to use your story to model resilience in the face of struggle? What do you hope she will learn or take away from it? You want to make sure you are sharing your past for the sake of your child and not for your own sake, and also that you maintain healthy boundaries when sharing. You don’t want to place your child in the role of therapist, friend, or your parent.
My son is currently 11. When he’s an older teenager, I plan to tell him that I was sexually assaulted as an adolescent at a social gathering by a group of teen boys, because I want him to truly understand the impact of the decisions he makes around consent, and also to never be a bystander to sexual assault.
If you do decide to share parts of your experience with your daughter when she is older, definitely consult with your therapist to come up with a game plan about what you want to say, what is appropriate to share, and what is best to keep private. Keep it to the broad strokes. Your daughter doesn’t need the upsetting or scary details. Keep in mind that she will probably have questions and that answering them could bring up memories and some hard feelings for you as well.
Even if you never explicitly share your experience with your daughter, I do think it’s extremely valuable for her to witness you taking steps to improve your mental health, like therapy and medication. Hopefully, if she ever struggles as an adult, she will have learned from your example the vital importance of asking for help.
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From this week’s letter, Uh, Small Town Life Has Not Turned Out the Way We Planned: “Will we just always be considered outsiders here? Is this just how all small towns are?”
Dear Care and Feeding,
Should you ever intervene in the way your teen dresses? I have a wonderful 13-year-old daughter. She has tons of friends, is very popular and sociable, and is a good, kind, fun-to-be-around person. She does dress similarly to her peers, but maybe a little bit more on the “skimpy” side. Recently, we went to a professional performance (think: musical). She was excited to dress up and came down in a very revealing (probably inappropriate) dress. I bit my tongue and said she looked great. When is it appropriate to say “that’s not really appropriate for a 13-year-old”? I made a vow to myself to never make a negative comment or critique about her appearance or choice of clothing or hair, but sometimes I’m not sure I am doing the right thing.
— Prude Mom in Portland?
Dear Prude Mom in Portland,
I find it helpful sometimes to imagine how I would feel in a given situation if my child’s gender were reversed. For example, when I felt unsure about allowing my son to pierce his ears, I considered if I would feel the same discomfort if he was a girl. (The answer was no, so he got them pierced for his eighth birthday.) I wonder, if you had a son who insisted on wearing tank tops or short shorts, would you worry so much about him showing his body, or is there something about the female body that feels particularly “inappropriate”?
If it’s that your daughter’s attire truly felt like a mismatch with the setting or occasion, a discussion about formal dress codes might be in order. But otherwise, try to sit with yourself and connect with what is really underneath your discomfort. Yes, we live in a society that sexualizes young girls. But choosing to wear a short skirt or a skimpy spaghetti strap is not in itself sexual, despite the long history of sexist school dress codes that hold girls responsible for covering up so they don’t distract the boys, who presumably are unable to control themselves in the presence of a bare knee or shoulder.
Why not try asking your daughter what it is she likes about a certain outfit? How does wearing it make her feel? What information does she want to impart to the world through her clothing? It’s possible she simply feels confident and attractive in her clothing, and if that’s the case, well, a teenage girl who doesn’t hate herself is its own kind of miracle.
Regardless, shaming her for her clothing choices is likely to get you nowhere. But opening up to important conversations about sexist double-standards, the objectification of women, and the ways we are perceived by others gives you both a chance to learn from one another.
Catch Up on Care and Feeding
Dear Care and Feeding,
Writing in with a tale as old as time: I’m a mom of two toddlers attempting to have a career, and can’t seem to achieve anything.
We had a terrible month—I supported my mother through major surgery on the other side of our state in the same two-day span that my husband was across the country for business. This left our kids with his sister who had forgotten that she agreed to watch them when we asked weeks prior. It did not go smoothly. I worked the day before my mom’s surgery, drove across the state that night, worked in the waiting room all day (hours I’ll never be able to claim), then drove back to my kids late that night. The next day I was back at work.
Last week, we were notified by daycare that RSV was going through the center. Our youngest was sent home sick that same day and ended up testing positive for RSV. We were in the ER a day later, though thankfully sent home after a few hours of care. Both kids are now sick, and I’ve called out for all my shifts this week. My husband owns his business and is at a point where he only works three days a week plus incidental calls. This would theoretically make him the more flexible parent (rather than me, the government employee), but I’m still the one doing 90 percent of sick care, daycare drop off/pick up, and other related tasks. His argument is that as the primary breadwinner his business takes precedence over mine. And in fairness he’s had lots of deadlines this month, compounding our difficulties.
To get to the point … what is the point? I want to work, but we’re just at the beginning of the winter flu/RSV/COVID season. I anticipate calling out on a regular basis, and I’m already far behind at work. I’ve been working towards this job for years—it’s the dream for outdoor education professionals—but now that I have it, I’m doubting my ability to follow through. Can moms really not have it all?
— Running Out of Sick Time
Dear Running Out of Sick Time,
It’s a special feeling when you have to use your time-off to attend to caretaking duties, even when you know it’s a privilege to be able to take time off at all. And you will probably NOT be surprised to learn that it’s women who are disproportionately affected by this issue, which was worsened during the pandemic. In 2020, millions of mothers of school-age children left or lost their jobs, although many have since returned to paid work.
When those in households where both parents work were asked to imagine who would be the preferred person to leave the workforce to become their children’s primary caregiver, 69 percent of women said it would likely be them, compared to 31 percent of men. That trusty ol’ pay gap also means fathers are more likely to command higher salaries and hence, have their careers prioritized. (Not to mention that women are more likely to take on the lion’s share of housework and other domestic duties even when both parents work full time.) And all of this is most impactful for Black and Hispanic women, who already earn less than white women statistically.
I won’t sugarcoat it: It is really damn hard for moms to have it all. To attempt it, your husband is probably going to have to step it up on carrying his share of the childcare. If he supports your professional aspirations and your desire to exist as a self-actualized person outside the domestic sphere (and have him tell me to my face if he doesn’t), this is something he should be willing to do.
But ultimately, all the advancements feminism has made are about choice, so it really matters most what you truly want to do. You say this is a dream job, is it your dream job? And is having this job essential to your sense of completeness and identity beyond being a mother?
Being a mother who also works outside the home often means doing everything a little less perfectly than you’d hoped for, and juggling priorities that shift on the daily. But it’s worth it if your job is a factor in your overall wellbeing. Consider also the example you want to set for your kids. Do you want them to see you modeling making it work as a mom with a career or would you rather be able to devote your complete attention to your work as a parent? Whatever your choice turns out to be, know that it’s worth fighting for.
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