Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here.
Dear Care and Feeding,
Our neighborhood recently had a marijuana dispensary open in accordance with New York State laws around legal distribution to adult customers. While my husband and I are thrilled, other parents in the community are … less than thrilled. At a recent PTA meeting, our school principal baselessly accused the store owners of “poisoning our children” simply because of the candy offerings.
I took the opportunity to remind the principal and other parents that the store is open legally, the owners had to go through an extremely rigorous application process to even get a license, and they certainly wouldn’t want to jeopardize that by knowingly selling products containing THC to obvious school children who can’t present ID proving them to be over 21. I likened it to any of the many nearby establishments that sell alcohol.
Although my partner and I partake in edibles in a safe manner (always locked away and never accessible to kids, never while around the kids, in small quantities with a designated sober adult) we’re concerned with the “just say no” rhetoric we heard in the PTA meeting. While we don’t want to encourage drug use by our children, we’re realistic; we know that although our kids are young now (8 and 3,) a time will come when they will make a choice about whether or not they want to use them. We want to equip them with unbiased information about the risks and effects of drugs while creating an open line of communication they can feel free to ask questions or talk about any issues as they arise. Is there a guideline for these conversations? Is now an appropriate time to begin those discussions with our 8-year-old?
— Anti-Nancy Reagan in N.Y.
First off, you’re correct to be concerned about prevention education that stresses abstinence only: According to the data, the “Just Say No” approach has been proven to be ineffective when it comes to preventing children from using substances. (Although given the strong D.A.R.E. vibes you’re getting from the PTA, I would advise you to be discreet about your own indulgences and maybe even your more controversial opinions, since evidence of substance use can be used as evidence of unfit parenting.)
The truth is, kids are likely to experiment with drugs and/or alcohol. According to the Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration, by their senior year of high school, “almost 70 percent of high school students will have tried alcohol, half will have taken an illegal drug, and more than 20 percent will have used a prescription drug for a nonmedical purpose.” Many children first try substances at a much younger age, and according to SAMHSA, it’s never too early to start having these discussions with your child.
I asked my bestie Erin Khar, who wrote the memoir “Strung Out” about her 15-year struggle with addiction (that started when she reached for a pill from the medicine cabinet at age 8), what those conversations should consist of, and she stressed the importance of providing kids with neutral information about what drugs are, why people use them, and the potential dangers. As a recovering addict myself, I try to be as honest as is age appropriate with my kid about the reasons why I used substances and the consequences I faced that led me to stop using them. I hope that by fostering an environment of open and authentic communication on the topic, my son will be more likely to come to me for advice or help dealing with these issues.
And given that kids experimenting with drugs is statistically likely, Erin points out that “every parent should arm their children with life-saving harm reduction information.” Today, the rise of fentanyl-laced drugs has contributed to an increase in overdose deaths, and specifically deaths among adolescents, meaning that now even one bad decision on your child’s part could be deadly. After seeing enough news stories about kids and teens who died after buying prescription pills that were actually fentanyl on social media sites like Snapchat and TikTok, I talked to my middle-school-age son about the risk of taking pills that aren’t prescribed to him and told him I would be keeping fentanyl test strips in a common area where he can access them if he ever needs to.
As much as I would prefer my son not make the decision to use drugs at his age, I am more concerned with making sure he stays alive if he does.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m a single mother to my 8-year-old son, “Roger.” Roger’s father “Joe” and I had a friends-with-benefits relationship that resulted in Roger’s conception, but Joe sadly passed away in a car accident when I was pregnant, so it’s just the two of us, although we have a lot of support from both my family and Joe’s.
I am a nurse, and this past summer I took a travel nursing assignment in a really great locale. I had done travel nursing before Roger was born and loved it but didn’t think it was an option after I had him. However, this summer was a blast. A lot of our friends and family visited, Roger was in a great camp and had a nanny the days I worked. Since I only worked three 12-hour shifts a week, we had a lot of time together to explore. With the money I made, I was able to pay off all the credit card debt I had racked up and pad my savings account.
We moved back to our hometown in time for Roger to start school, but the first month of school was rough on him —he didn’t like his new teacher, they had a new principal who had changed a lot of policies, and the school had absorbed students from another school so everything was just in disarray. Roger begged me to take another travel assignment so we could go somewhere else. I think living long-term in another city showed him how boring our little town is.
I spoke to my recruiter, researched schools in different places and chose a short assignment in a cool fall location. Roger is thriving in his new school, loves the college student I hired to take him to school and watch him in the evenings when I have to work, and is generally a happy kid. My assignment ends in two weeks and the hospital offered me a contract extension. I told Roger about it, thinking he’d be excited to stay at his school for the whole school year, but he said he’s ready to move again. I shouldn’t have been too surprised because moving around and seeing new places was one of my favorite parts of being a travel nurse, and Roger is a lot like me. Together we discussed and chose a new location based on what we wanted to do this winter (winter sports or be in a warm place) as well as schools, and Roger is excited about starting a new school and exploring a new town and taking up some new hobbies unique to where we will be.
The problem is both my family and Joe’s have questioned if moving him around so much is wise, which is a thought I have had as well. He made friends over the summer and the past few months, and he keeps in touch with them, as well as his friends from back home, via FaceTime. We will be going home after my contract is up until my new contract starts, and he has planned to get together with some of his friends from there. Which is also like me, as I am still in touch with friends I made from being a travel nurse 12 years ago. Roger doesn’t seem to miss being close to our family and when I talk to him about it, he says that he is having fun and this is an adventure.
I really like travel nursing and the money is great. With the money I’ve made the past two assignments plus the one coming up I am able to take the entire summer off and Roger and I are going to Europe for a month, as well as max out my retirement accounts (Joe’s life insurance policy is in an account for Roger’s college fund so he is taken care of there). But, I know money isn’t everything.
Should I be more concerned for Roger establishing roots and being closer to family and creating friendships, or is what we are doing OK as long as he doesn’t seem to be displaying any sadness or frustration around it? Is being with me stability enough or do kids also need a stable, consistent home base as well?
— Wanderlust Duo
Dear Wanderlust Duo,
There is a little bit of research on the impact of frequent moves on kids, and it sounds a little scary initially. In a 2010 article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, research pointed to lower rates of self-reported “well-being” and “life satisfaction” in adults who moved frequently as children. But these results don’t account for the fact that these moves were often precipitated by a stressful event such as divorce or financial difficulties. Children in military families, for instance, who move frequently for non-traumatic reasons, tend to fare better. The research also showed that children who tended toward introversion and anxiety were more impacted by moving.
Given that Roger is happy and enthusiastic about the moves, I don’t think you’re harming him by moving around, especially if you take care to make connections in your temporary locations and continue to foster the ones he’s made back home and elsewhere. (As a side-note, I’m convinced this is one of those things a man who had a career involving frequent travel likely wouldn’t even be questioned about.)
And don’t underestimate the positive impact of our kids seeing us single moms getting! it! freaking! done! It sounds like travel nursing is personally fulfilling and is also allowing you to meet your financial goals, which sets a great example for your son. As long as Roger continues to adjust well and is enjoying your adventure, it’s my opinion that a happy parent is the most important factor in good parenting.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I need advice/words of wisdom for getting over my jealousy, and I’m hoping there are some parents out there (particularly mothers with teen daughters) who can help me get over these feelings, cuz jealousy is the worst feeling! (Please don’t think I’m awful and petty!)
So, my daughter (now 18 and just went off to college) and I have been very close. Still are. She’s able to confide in me about her friendships, her crushes, her feelings, her mistakes, etc. Of course, she doesn’t tell me everything because what teen does? And it’s normal for teens to have secrets or the need for a private life. Totally get and respect that. That’s not the problem.
So … why am I SO jealous of my daughter’s aunt (by marriage)? She’s actually a cousin, my niece-in-law, married to my nephew. But because of the 20-year age difference, she’s more like an aunt. The “cool aunt.” 60 percent of the time I don’t feel jealous; I’m happy my daughter has someone she’s close to who loves her dearly and has her best interests at heart, but the 40 percent of me that’s jealous, man when it rears its ugly green head, it feels awful. And then I find myself with these really angry, resentful feelings.
Like when I hear that my daughter has confided in my niece-in-law about something that I thought only I knew. Or when she will say, “Yeah, ‘Mary’ called me today. She really likes her dorm roommate.” They also text each other a lot. When we have family parties, my daughter sticks to her like glue and follows her around like a puppy. What hurts the most is when my daughter confided in me about something very emotional and painful for her, and I felt really hurt/jealous/confused when I found out she had told my niece-in-law long before she told me this very profound thing.
I guess part of the reason I feel this way is because my NIL is a lot younger, she’s beautiful, and they are very well off. (She’s a wonderful person and I love her dearly too.) But dang, this jealousy sucks. And part of me wants to ask her “Why do you want to be besties with my daughter?!”
Are my feelings “normal”? Is it ok for my NIL to be such a “bestie”? What can I tell myself when I’m having these awful feelings? Am I afraid Mary loves my NIL as much as me or something?
— Just Jealous
Dear Just Jealous,
We have a saying in 12-step recovery circles: “Resentments are like drinking poison and waiting for someone else to die.” It sounds like you have discovered that jealousy and resentment, while directed at other people, actually only serve to make the person experiencing them miserable.
But even though jealousy can be painful, in my experience it’s also an instructive emotion. When I am fully happy and at peace with myself and my situation, I am much less likely to experience jealousy. This is a transition period in your relationship with your daughter, so it makes sense that insecurities could be coming up.
But given that it sounds like you still have a great, intimate relationship with your child since she left for college, I’m wondering if your jealousy points to a dissatisfaction with some aspect of your own life. You mention feeling envious of your niece’s youth and beauty, which makes me think maybe it’s time for Mama to get her groove back a bit! After all, this is a big transition in your life too, and an empty nest is a great opportunity to reconnect with parts of your identity you may have neglected during the more hands-on parenting years.
Maybe it’s time for a new haircut that gets you feeling yourself, or to invest in a hobby or passion that brings you joy, or to plan a trip or adventure. Maybe there are relationships you’d like to rekindle with old friends, or your romantic partner if you have one. You may always experience pangs of jealousy, but my hunch is that the more you focus on leading your own rich, fulfilling life, the less likely you’ll be to compare and despair.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I recently took in my 15-year-old niece after her father’s death. She’s quite shy. My son is 17 and is quite close with my niece. My son introduced her to his friend’s younger brother, and she became friends with that brother and his circle of friends.
She suspects that she has social anxiety, and she is currently on a waitlist for therapy. She doesn’t have panic attacks, but she does overthink things. She agonizes over texting her new friends and has to get the wording just right to not come off as desperate or creepy. She has a crush on one of her friends and is especially nervous about communicating with him.
Her new friends and my son are all part of the debate team, so my niece joined too. The debate part wasn’t that bad, but she had to dress up and decided to do makeup. She almost didn’t go because she’s quite nearsighted and she thought the distortion caused by her glasses made the makeup look bad (it really didn’t, but no matter how much we said that it didn’t help). She has a constant fear that especially as an outsider, her friends are much better friends with each other than with her and that she’s intruding, or that they’re only friends with her because she’s awkward and they’re taking pity on her.
The only people she ever feels comfortable being her awkward self around are my son, my husband, and myself. I don’t know a lot about social anxiety, but I’m not sure if this is social anxiety. She is fine with doing something like speech and debate, she only has an issue with talking to people she knows or emailing/texting/messaging people online.
Whatever it is, she does have an unhealthy level of overthinking regarding social situations. She describes her social issues as getting worse following her dad’s death, but that they were always present even before the pandemic. I’m not sure if it’s coming across in my writing but this seems much worse than the average teenager’s social concerns. We have a few months left before she can actually start seeing the therapist. How can we help her until then?
— Alone, Surrounded by Friends
It will take a professional to diagnose if your niece has an anxiety disorder, but it doesn’t take a professional to understand that what she’s going through would be disruptive to anyone’s mental health. She’s grieving the recent death of a parent, and adjusting to a new and strange situation where she likely feels displaced and unstable. It’s lovely that your family has been able to create a safe space where she feels comfortable, and that your son has helped her form new connections who are supportive.
I agree that therapy is essential in helping her process all of this, but in the meantime, you may be able to access other resources in your area. Try searching for grief support groups or groups for teens who are dealing with mental health issues in your area. The school counselor or other mental health services offered there could be another stopgap option. National organizations like National Alliance on Mental Illness and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration have helplines that may be able to connect you to further resources. And maybe just as importantly, keep creating an open environment for her to be herself and talk about her feelings, just as you have been.
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