Care and Feeding

I’m Not Much for Holiday Traditions. Am I Required to Change Now That I Have Kids?

A Christmas tree.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Do kids care about holiday traditions? My husband and I are not into making a big fuss about, well, anything. Most of the time I think this is good, but now that we have young kids, I’m wondering if we should try to up our game and establish some holiday traditions to make some magic for them (right now I’m thinking about Thanksgiving and Hanukkah/Christmas but it could also be birthdays, Fourth of July, etc.). Neither of us had entrenched family traditions growing up, but we did see our extended families for holidays, which made it special. We live far from home and will most likely rarely see family for the holidays. What kind of holiday magic is most impactful for kids?

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—Holiday Muggle

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Dear Holiday Muggle,

I can’t speak for every kid, but I certainly cared a lot about holiday traditions, and so do my children. Some of my favorite memories revolve around the things I did with my parents during Christmas (by far my favorite holiday), and I hope my children feel the same way when they become adults.

My main advice is to avoid traditions that are centered around gift-giving. Yes, I know Santa Claus is a big thing around this time of year, and I certainly played the game with my kiddos. However, I made sure that Santa only provided one small gift to my kids, while the others came from me. (If I wanted an old white guy to take credit for my hard work, I’d get a job in corporate America.)

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You do not need to do much to make the holidays special for your kids. Choose to create some traditions that fit well with your values. Bake cookies, volunteer in your community, have a cheesy karaoke night, put up the wildest holiday decorations in your neighborhood—the list is endless.

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,

My husband and I have been together for 12 years and in that time I have had maybe three positive interactions with his mother. My husband and I had an agreement where he visited her himself, without me and the kids. Our kids saw her about once a year, and it was usually quite brief. They never really questioned why they didn’t know their dad’s mom as well as they know my parents, who are very involved grandparents.

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My 8-year-old daughters are identical twins who look similar enough that it’s obvious that they’re sisters, but no one would ever say that they look like the same person. They recently went through a phase being obsessed with looking identical. One of them has been wearing glasses for about a year. We recently discovered that the other needs glasses too, and she was so excited to get the exact same frames as her sister. My mother-in-law recently invited my husband to a birthday celebration, and since I was out of town my husband took the girls with him.

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I have done my best to shield my daughters from their grandmother’s nastiness, but I wasn’t there. Her constant nitpicking, especially of things beyond their control, came as a shock. She spent the entire time complaining about small details. They’re too pale and need to go outside more. They’re too smart. They’re too talkative. They shouldn’t have glasses at such a young age. They look too similar. My mother-in-law got mad at them for sitting comfortably crossing their legs, saying that it was un-ladylike, especially when they were wearing dresses (they were wearing leggings, and also are 8) and that if they fidgeted their feet, her dog would drag them off the sofa. Something finally clicked for my husband and he yelled at his mother. His sisters were both there and stood up for my husband, so she kicked everyone out of her house.

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It’s been a week since the incident. I don’t think they’ve been traumatized by it, but they no longer want to look identical, so even though they have the same clothing preferences, they don’t try to make their outfits match everyday. They are already deciding what frames they will get when they eventually get new glasses. We are hosting a small Thanksgiving just for us and my sister-in-law and her kids. My daughters are worried that grandma will show up to Thanksgiving and yell at them, even though they know rationally that she won’t because she hasn’t come to any before. I’m worried about them. Am I overthinking this?

—Should I Be Worried?

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Dear Should I Be Worried,

Let’s start with the most obvious thing—you need to cut your mother-in-law out for good. Life is too short to spend your time with toxic people, especially when their toxicity impacts your children. On the off chance she shows up for Thanksgiving, I wouldn’t even let her inside of your house. No, I’m not kidding.

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I’m also an identical twin, so I have some thoughts on what your daughters are going through. This is a polarizing topic in twin circles, but the fact they no longer want to dress identically is a good thing as far as I’m concerned. My parents weren’t perfect, but they nailed it when they refused to dress my brother and I alike because it helped us to form our own identities early on in life. Granted, it would be healthier if your kids came to this conclusion in a different way, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.

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Regarding the twins’ newfound anxiety, I wouldn’t sweat it. Only a week has passed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve forgotten all about your MIL’s nonsense by the time you read this. If they are still off-center a few weeks from now, then you may consider having them speak with a therapist to nip any potential problems in the bud, but I doubt it will come to that.

The main thing you should do is reassure your daughters that your MIL will not be around them going forward, because that should relieve a significant amount of discomfort they’re feeling.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m writing to ask about something that recently happened with my almost 2-year-old daughter. My husband, our daughter, and I are white and live in a mid-sized Canadian city. My husband and I both want to raise anti-racist children, but I’m not sure if we’re doing enough.

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Recently, when I was reading her a book, she pointed to one of the characters and told me, “no like him” (meaning, I don’t like him.) This character was the only one on the page with dark skin and a turban. I did ask her why she doesn’t like him, but she couldn’t really explain. She has repeated this comment a few times, both to me and to her dad, always about this same character.

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It seems probable to me that she has decided she doesn’t like this guy because he’s dark-skinned and wearing a turban. Honestly, it shocked me a little and disturbed me a lot to think that at her age she could have already picked up the idea that there’s something wrong with people who look different from us.

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We have included in her book collection picture books featuring illustrations and stories of diverse people, and themes of social justice and equality. She goes to a culturally diverse daycare that shares our values. We don’t have any close relationships with any families in which turbans are worn. She does have friends and peers who are non-white though.

I know this is one small incident and it’s possible it doesn’t mean what I think it means, and I’m not trying to blow it out of proportion. I just don’t want to miss a sign that we need to do more. Am I making the classic white person mistake of thinking that she’s too young to deal with something because it might make me and her uncomfortable? What could I say if this comes up again? So far, I tried explaining in a neutral way that he’s wearing a turban, some people wear turbans and others don’t, and that it’s OK to wear one. I felt like I was floundering, and I have no idea if any of it really registered with her.

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—Anxious White Mom

Dear Anxious White Mom,

I want to give you kudos for caring this much to write in, because plenty of parents in your shoes wouldn’t be fazed by what your daughter did.

Although I know it didn’t feel good to hear your daughter say that about the man in a turban, I can assure you that she’s not racist. Sometimes we have to put things in perspective—you can’t expect your daughter at this age to understand the nuances of racial prejudice. However, kids as young as your daughter are aware of differences, and it could be chalked up to something as simple as not liking this particular man’s turban. Maybe she doesn’t care for headwear of any kind. Who really knows? But I want to reassure you that your daughter is not a bigot.

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Continue doing what you’re doing by ensuring your daughter is surrounded by diversity. As she grows older and matures, she’ll do a better job of articulating why she feels the way she does about certain people. If you notice that she feels negatively about people of color, then you should intervene immediately, but I’m confident that won’t be the case.

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Why? In my experience, the parents who are focused on raising anti-racist children usually do.

Catch Up on Care and Feeding

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

Why do parents always call their pediatrician for minor things? I’ve been in practice for over 20 years now and have seen a rise in parents who treat their pediatrician like their mom or neighbor to shoot the breeze with about whatever is going on with their child. Parents call or email when their children have one day of a cough or fever. Hasn’t everyone experienced a cold before?  It doesn’t go away in one day!  We can’t possibly talk to the parent of every child with a cough! Or they call because their child fell off the bed, even though the child seems fine. I’m not a bitter pediatrician. I love my job. But you can only see so many patients in a day, and we are spending an increasing amount of time on the worried well rather than those who need medical care. I don’t think that the parents are uneducated about health. I think they are anxious and haven’t learn to trust their own common sense.

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—More of a Reassurance Line Than a Pediatrician

Dear Pediatrician,

You have dedicated your life to taking care of sick children. You have seen children and parents go through some of the hardest trials and tribulations families can go through. I’m sure it can be annoying when parents call about things you know are not a big deal.

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I also want to encourage you to keep in mind a different perspective. Most parents have not seen what you have seen. Most parents worry every day if they are enough for their child. If they are doing enough, if they are being enough. Heck, I know that I’ve been one of the parents you’re complaining about.

The moms and dads who contact you need reassurance, and honestly what an honor it is that they look to you for that reassurance. I would say that this says a lot about you as a pediatrician, because they feel comfortable coming to you.

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That said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you setting some boundaries around your time. Perhaps you can have a nurse or an admin serve as a gatekeeper to handle the “common cold” inquiries. Maybe it’s as simple as sending an email to all patients informing them of the types of calls you’re willing to accept going forward.

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It’s obvious that parents respect and value you. Where you see frustration right now, I see an opportunity for you to guide and lead.

—Doyin

More Advice From Slate

I have bipolar I disorder, aka manic depressive illness. Compound that with perimenopause, and it can be rough on my husband and son. I’ve responded by not only doing all the medical things one should do, but also by explaining what’s going on to my 9-year-old son. I apologize for my snappiness, anxiety, and rage when they come through. Some people think I shouldn’t be this honest. Am I doing something wrong?

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