Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My sister is extremely sensitive to rejection, real or perceived. For example, if someone says they don’t meet up with friends on weekends, she hears “I hate you and I never want to meet up with you socially.” She is not in therapy, neither is she considering that route. Needless to say, we have a difficult relationship.
Ever since my child was born, she has been buying us all kinds of truly tasteless and generally useless things alongside stuff she knows we already have (think backup backup diaper bag or a custom-made keyring with the baby’s name written in “gender-appropriate” glitter). I knew this was going to happen and told her upfront all I wanted was hand-me-downs from her child or a small gift that the baby wouldn’t outgrow right away, like a teddy. Well, zero teddies and a mountain of tchotchkes later, I just want this to stop. But I also know it will hurt her to be told to stop buying us these things more than it will hurt me to take one photo with the offending item, send off a thank you message, and then toss the thing into a box. I guess I answered my own question there, but it feels like I’m being punished for not being indifferent enough to her issues?
— Too Many Diaper Bags
Dear Diaper Bags,
I think you did answer your own question. Rejecting your sister’s tacky gifts will cause her pain. It’s unfortunate that she isn’t working towards resolving her issues with rejection, but she is who she is. Though her gifts may be useless to you, to her, she feels like she is contributing to the care of your child. You can politely try and redirect her towards things you can use (“I know you love shopping for the baby. I’ve been looking for a new diaper pad. Let me show you a picture of one I saw that I liked.”) You can also mention that you’re all stocked up on baby gear and that you don’t want her to waste money on things you can’t use. But ultimately, for the sake of this already difficult relationship, it sounds like it would be easier for you to continue gracefully accepting her wack presents with a smile. Consider donating these things to a women’s shelter, where hopefully, they can find a home with someone who can use them. Also, try to be grateful that your sister wants to be helpful; her gestures may not be useful, but they are coming from a good place.
New Year, Same Problems
For an upcoming special edition of Care and Feeding, we want to hear about the messy situations plaguing you that you’d like to shed in the new year. A pet fox corrupting daughter? A 10-year-old behind the wheel? Harsh PTA crackdowns? Submit your questions anonymously here. (Questions may be edited for publication.)
Dear Care and Feeding,
A teammate of my 16-year-old daughter has a very, very bad smell at practice. We have discussed that there may be financial restraints, or lack of knowledge around hygiene, or something else that has caused the smell. It has now been a few months and we have almost passed the “appropriate” time to say something. We don’t want to embarrass her and are very conscious of her feelings, but the smell is very, very distracting. How could we bring it up in an appropriate way?
— Funky Teammate
I think it would be best if you presented your concerns to a team coach, who has to have noticed the odor for herself by now. Let them know that you want to be supportive, if possible, and that the smell is distracting and needs to be addressed. Ideally, it would be the coach or another adult who has a relationship with this child who will have that difficult conversation with her. Don’t be afraid to be a little pushy here; the coach may be hesitant to deal with this (the fact that they haven’t yet done anything about it says a lot), but it’s a significant issue and this kid deserves to know that they have an offending odor. Do your best to nudge this person. I wouldn’t recommend attempting to take the matter into your own hands; someone else’s parent confronting a child could be considered harassment or otherwise inappropriate, no matter how noble your intentions may be. Furthermore, the smell issue can be indicative of things going on in the home, and it’s important that someone in some official capacity here be the one to initiate a dialogue about them. Hopefully, the coach will be on board with talking to this young lady; you can also offer to purchase hygiene products for her to gift to the girl, if you’re so inclined. Good luck, and I hope this resolves itself soon.
Slate Plus Members Get More Advice From Jamilah Each Week
From this week’s letter, The Whole Family Wants to Get Rid Of My Daughter’s Terrible Boyfriend: “I am supportive of her spreading her wings and exploring, I just wish she was doing it by herself or at least for herself, rather than following a guy.”
Dear Care and Feeding,
My son (21) identifies as male and asexual and tends to dress in clothes like skirts and cami tops. He’s away at school most of the year and has a very strong and accepting community there. Our home is a safe space for him to express himself in any way he chooses. A lot of the things we do as a family are also what I would consider LGBTQ+ friendly (think theater events and lunar fairs). His father (we’re divorced) is a Trump and Qanon supporter. My son wears jeans and flannel shirts when he sees him. He dresses similarly when he comes home for Thanksgiving and other events which include our extended family. I like to think I understand why this is more comfortable and safer for him. We’ve gotten derogatory comments (“Look! A boy wearing a dress!”) in public, and I know the threat of violence against the LGBTQ+ community is very real.
However, as a cis heterosexual woman, I’m unsure how to help him navigate any of this, or if I’m even qualified to. I’ve never had to hide who I am for fear of not being accepted or becoming a target for hate. What can I do to help him stay safe and feel comfortable while also encouraging celebrating who he is?
— Mama Bear
Dear Mama Bear,
Your son is lucky to have a mother like you, one who accepts and celebrates him for who he is. Make sure you are vocal about your support. Let him know regularly that you will always be there for him and that you’d do anything to protect him. Be mindful of the environments that you bring him into, including gatherings with extended family; it sounds like there is a peaceful relationship with his father, but if there is the possibility that this would change if his dad saw him dressed as he’d prefer to, then there may need to be some discussion about the future of their relationship. If your son isn’t totally safe with his father, then he needn’t see him. He can choose that for himself at 21, but it’s important that he has your support, especially if he makes the difficult decision to cut his father off. As far as other relatives go, it may be useful for you to talk to them about your son’s identity, as opposed to burdening him with having to “come out” to them. With his blessing, you can explain to how he identifies and let them know that he is the same young person they have always loved, and that he needs their love and support now more than ever. If members of the family are unable to accept him for who he is, that should impact your own relationships with them going forward.
There are a number of great resources for parents of LGBTQ youth where you can educate yourself about your child’s identity, better understand some of the challenges he is facing, and learn how to be the best ally/advocate you can be for him. The Strong Family Alliance has a guide for parents of queer youth, and the CDC has compiled a list of organizations that provide information and support as well. Again, the most important thing you can do is to make sure your son knows that you are in his corner and that he can always be himself with you, no matter what. Wishing the both of you all the best.
Catch Up on Care and Feeding
Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m a 15-year-old girl, and I’ve never been in a relationship, so this is literally irrelevant to me at the moment, but someday in the future I would like to have my own biological kids. However, I am very sensitive to smell and afraid of newborn babies and the process of childbirth. I like kids, but newborn babies are so fragile and breakable and it scares me. I feel like my fear of childbirth is self-explanatory. And obviously being so sensitive to smells is an issue, since babies smell. Do you think that these issues will stop me from being a mom one day?
— They Can’t Even Support Their Own Necks!
You have a long time before these issues would become a concern for you, and I don’t want you worrying over something that is so far ahead in the future. However, know that you are far from alone in fearing childbirth or thinking that you might break a baby. Motherhood is scary. It is one of the most difficult things a human being can do. One day, maybe even soon, you’ll get the opportunity to hold a baby and you’ll realize that it’s far from impossible—it can even be intoxicating. You’ve also got plenty of time to talk to mothers about their experiences with childbirth and caring for a baby. Women have been doing this since the beginning of time.
There’s nothing wrong with finding it impossibly frightening at 15. It’s unlikely that you’ll hold on to these feelings forever, but when the time does come for you to start considering motherhood seriously, you can talk to a therapist or counselor if the idea remains to be too daunting for you.
Speaking of, if you find that your issues with bad smells are deeply troubling—that they bother you in a really profound way and keep you from functioning normally—you should talk to your parents about speaking to a behavioral therapist. You may be dealing with sensory aversion issues, which would mean that you’re much more sensitive to smell than other people and that you may benefit from some support. If you feel like you absolutely can’t take smells that offend you, consider having that conversation with your loved ones. Otherwise, I can assure you that while they do smell bad on occasion (and that funky diapers are an unpleasant reality of maternal life), babies usually smell like heaven. Relax, don’t stress. You’ll be ready when the time comes, and the time most certainly isn’t now!