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,
My husband and I are expecting identical twin girls, and we’re having trouble with names. We have a 3-year-old son, and we love the family name we picked for him. We’re having a harder time coming up with names for our twins, in large part because my husband wants names that sound similar. I’ve heard testimony from numerous twins that this is not a good idea because it makes it harder for them to create an identity.
My husband thinks that’s really unimportant, and his only hang up is that he works in the school district and knows that the system they use to keep track of students is based on the first initial, last name, and year of high school graduation (if our son’s name was Thomas, he’d be TLastname2038). Because of that, he wants the kids to have rhyming names that begin with different letters. He’s been sneaky about it too, suggesting names like Isabelle and Eleanor, before suggesting we give them the nicknames Belle and Elle.
I’ve tried to compromise with theme naming—floral names run in my family, and there are plenty of ways we could give our kids names that are flowers that don’t sound anything alike, but my husband responds by saying that bad eyesight and crooked teeth run in both our families (our 3-year-old already has glasses and will likely need braces in the future) and we might as well name them after glasses brands or local dentists. I know families have trouble with names all the time, but I’ve never heard of a situation like ours. Most of the time you hear of parents who each have ideas for names that the other parent always shoots down. In this case our fundamental philosophies for picking names are different and neither of us are willing to compromise. My husband thinks it’d be cute, I have heard testimony from (perhaps overdramatic) identical twins telling me being named Anna and Hannah ruined their lives.
Dear Twin Dilemma,
Go find your husband and make sure he’s sitting down with you while you read this. I’ll wait.
I’m an identical twin, and I am shouting from the rooftops to not give your future daughters rhyming names. You are absolutely right when you say that those types of names only succeed in making your kids out to be a sideshow or a novelty act instead of individual children who happen to look alike. Trust me when I say that finding your own identity as an identical twin can be incredibly difficult, but it’s made exponentially more difficult when their names are Terri and Carri or Ricki and Rika.
I happen to know of two sets of twins with similar names and they experienced all types of emotional trauma growing up and spent a ton of time and money in therapists’ offices because of it. Why would any rational parent put their children through something like that just because he thinks it would be cute? It’s completely ridiculous and selfish in my eyes.
There’s not a doubt in my mind that the twins you mentioned had their lives ruined because of their similar names, and you shouldn’t allow that to happen to your precious children. There’s an endless list of alternatives for names that should satisfy both of you, and you need to do whatever it takes to find them. Heck, I would even go to a marriage counselor or therapist with this — but don’t give in. This should absolutely be a hill you should die on.
Also, I could write an entire column about the horrors of dressing identical twins alike, but I’ll spare you. Please don’t do that either.
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’m finally realizing that I think my dad is verbally and emotionally abusive. I spent my whole childhood walking on eggshells to not piss him off. He had frequent outbursts, consisting of yelling and swearing. I would cry, avoid, and he’d eventually apologize and say he’d try harder. Of course it never really changed. Now I see my mom still living that life. She feels controlled and trapped. He’s a loving man so she stays and I understand how tough that would be.
So my question, how do I involve my children in this relationship? I never want them to feel the fear that I had. He is the most loving grandpa and would do anything for my kids and me. Is that enough though? He has a temper that he can’t control and will not do anything about it.
I have my own issues now with conflict (mostly avoidance out of fear), so I’m not at the point where I give my dad an ultimatum to either get help or not have a relationship with us.
I’m lost on what to do here.
—Sad and Confused
Dear Sad and Confused,
I guess I’ll be the one to break it to you, but the vast majority of loving men and grandpas aren’t verbally or emotionally abusive and controlling. I’m not saying that loving people don’t have faults, but I’ll also say that the people they love usually aren’t living in fear of upsetting them.
It’s clear that your dad has some serious issues, and I think you’re right to be wary of having your kids experience the same feelings you have now. You said that he would do anything for you and your kids, right? So why doesn’t that include getting help for his anger and behavioral issues? Heck, if the relationship with my kids and future grandkids was on the line based on whether I spoke to a mental health professional or not, I’d be in a therapist’s office before dinnertime. It’s time for this man to do the same.
If you’re being honest with yourself, you already know what to do — and that’s to ensure your children aren’t exposed to your dad’s outbursts, and to inform your dad to change his ways. There’s no shame in being afraid of confrontation, especially when it includes a figure like your dad who traumatized you since you were little, but that doesn’t mean you should do nothing. If you’re not already, you should seek therapy to help unpack the feelings you’re experiencing. This may also help give you confidence around speaking with your dad. Additionally, you should enlist a friend or family member to stand by your side when you talk to him in person so you have that extra support.
So, what could you say when you’re ready? Maybe start with, “Dad, I love you very much, but I have to be honest with you. Your temper and outbursts really had a negative impact on my life, and it’s taking all of the courage I can muster as a grown adult to talk to you about this today. I know you love my kids, but I can’t have them live with the fear I had all of my life around you. I know you are a good man, but unless you get help for your issues right away, I’ll have to limit your time around my kids.”
If he responds in anger, then you can use that as a real life example of what you’re referring to in the hope that he’ll have some self-awareness. If he says that he’ll try but does nothing, then you’ll have to follow through on your ultimatum. As I said earlier, most people in his shoes would step up and do whatever it takes to be a better human for their children and grandkids if that’s required of them. Hopefully that will be the case with your dad as well.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My adult daughter (25) and her husband (27) are not thriving. He was raised by his great grandparents and when they passed three years ago, my son-in-law inherited that house, where all 4 had been living. He has little to no family left alive, and those that are do not provide him guidance. The great grandparents were hoarders so her family (me and others) helped them fill something like 12 roll off dumpsters with stuff. Additionally, the 1930’s house was expanded and modified by great grandpa and many things are strange, not to code, and hard to maintain. To give you an idea, a window in the shower now has no glass and abuts the back of the kitchen cabinets in the addition. My son-in-law works 20-30 hours a week and my daughter struggles with depression and takes seasonal jobs. They mostly manage because they have no mortgage, although when an unexpected expense comes up I often pitch in. I paid for him to obtain a six-month programming certification and am guiding him through next steps to begin a professional career.
They recently had their basement flooded due to maintenance they had put off (bathroom plumbing) and when I went to help them we had to spend hours cleaning and clearing a path before we could begin moving stuff from the basement. We did dishes so the kitchen sink could be used to wash our hands, piles of laundry so we could access the washer to wash wet items from the basement, and picked up five bags of trash and four of recycling so we could walk around the house. They have insurance so the basement restoration will happen. I will pay the deductible.
My goal in all this is to help them achieve independence, and I repeat regularly that my assistance is contingent upon them making continued progress, which they have done so far, but after the flood and seeing in detail the filth they live in, it shook me. They are adults. I can’t and won’t live their lives for them, but they are my children, and I can’t stand idly by while they live in a situation that I truly believe is hazardous to their health and which given his background and her struggles they seem unable to address. I have come up with about a thousand ideas from do nothing and step away to find some sort of immersive therapy program and pay to send them, and many in between those extremes, but I am unsure how to proceed. Please advise.
—Mama Bear With Misgivings
Dear Mama Bear,
Your daughter’s situation is heartbreaking, but you’re absolutely right—you shouldn’t live for your adult children. You know the saying that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink? That certainly applies here.
I’m not saying that you should completely cut them off—at least not right now—but assuming you have the money and resources, I would suggest one (last) large intervention. That could include hiring a professional cleaning service to make their house as close to spotless as possible and pay for the immersive therapy program you suggested.
The hard part is informing them that after this is over, you’re done with being their financial and emotional savior. If your goal is to help them to achieve a level of independence, it will never happen if you keep swooping in to save them. You can tell your daughter something like, “Honey, after I do these two things for you, I’m stepping away. You and your husband need to make the most out of your lives, and I trust that you can do it.”
Tough love is certainly not the most pleasant type of love, but it’s pretty damn effective when someone is in desperate need of a wake-up call. Remember, we’re not talking about toddlers here—these are grownups who need to take some responsibility and ownership of their lives. Yes, I completely understand how upsetting it is to watch your daughter struggle, but she has to learn to figure out how to deal with this on her own, or else you’re looking at a lifetime of enabling her, and I know you don’t want that.
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,
I have a large family. I have two older siblings, and my parents divorced when I was 10. My mom never remarried, but when I was in high school my dad married a younger woman with two toddlers. My dad and my stepmother had two more kids. I am currently 23. My stepbrothers are 9 (twins), and my half-sisters are 6 and 4. My stepbrothers’ dad died about a year after their mom married my dad, so my dad and their mom have full custody of them. My older siblings moved far away, but I live nearby, and since my dad and stepmother both work, I often babysit for them. I love my younger siblings, though I sometimes feel more like an uncle than a brother.
My dad is in his 60s now and is starting to deal with a lot of the consequences of his age. I don’t think having young kids when he’s this old helped his health (my oldest sibling is 10 years older than me and has a 4-year-old, meaning my youngest sister is the same age as her nephew). He can’t run or keep up with young kids like he used to. He takes the bus to work, and often finds himself out of breath after walking up the same hill from the bus stop to our house that he’s been walking up for 15 years. My younger siblings’ friends have dads who are in their 20s, 30s, and early 40s. Some of their friends have grandparents who are in their early 60s. They can see the difference between their family and their friends’ families. Yesterday, one of my stepbrothers and the older of my half sisters told me that they were really scared that Dad was going to die soon. I told them that they didn’t have to worry about that, because even though he’s getting older it’s no more unlikely that he would suddenly die sometime in the next 10 years, but they can see that dad’s health is declining and this does not comfort them. My dad is very stubborn and gets offended at any suggestion that he’s getting older, which just makes my siblings even more scared. He refused to get reading glasses for nearly 10 years because they’re an ‘old person thing’ (which was weird because like many old people he is farsighted, but so is my youngest sister who also wears glasses). The thing is, I’m also really worried about my dad’s health. How can I comfort my siblings when I’m as scared as they are?
—Scared For Dad
I don’t know how close you are to your stepmom, but I would suggest enlisting her when you speak with your dad. Speaking from experience as someone who has been on the receiving end of an intervention, I found that it is much more effective when more than one person is there to deliver a harsh truth. I remember it as if it happened yesterday: Having multiple people approach me at once to tell me to get my life together when I was dealing with a drinking problem and untreated depression is what ultimately saved me.
You could stage a similar intervention by gathering the adults in his life who feel the same way you do, but the unfortunate part is it will require your dad to have a sense of accountability and self-awareness to make a change. I turned my life around and have been sober for over six years, but will he do whatever it takes to improve his health? I honestly don’t know.
Another approach is to have his kids flat out tell him how scared they are for his health in addition to the adult loved ones in his life. Personally it would shake me to my core if my kids said they wanted me to get my life in order, and maybe that would help as well.
Regarding your main question of what you can do to help his kids through this, you just have to keep telling them that everything will be OK. I know that sounds trite, but honestly — what else can you tell them?
The fact remains that the onus falls upon your dad to get his life in order, and if you can convince him to do that, then everything actually will be OK.
More Advice From Slate
Recently a friend of a friend’s brother, Morgan, died of cancer. Lately, I have been teaching my 6-year old daughter about death and grieving. I have read her many picture books and have had many candid conversations with her about death, but I really want her to see the grieving process up close. Is it inappropriate of me to take her to Morgan’s funeral as a learning experience?