Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I am an ex-pat currently living in Mexico with my husband and two small children. We try to come back to the U.S. about twice per year, and I look forward to bringing back things we can’t find here very easily, such as books for the family in English, certain medicines, quality clothing, etc. The problem is, every time we travel back, my mom and family members insist on loading us down with gifts for my husband’s family, which always sends us over the weight limits of the baggage. They also tend to give us these items the night before we are to leave. I appreciate their thoughtfulness towards his family, but I always end up having to leave behind items I consider essential to avoid even more baggage fees, and am always disappointed that I can’t bring items that would help us.
I sometimes have trouble adapting to the difference in our chosen country and my homeland and find that simple things like good books from home help me tremendously. I don’t want to seem ungrateful for the gifts, but how do I tell them that it’s important that we take advantage of these trips to bring home items that are important to us? I feel like my mom buys gifts just to feel like she is doing her part, but I am tired of finding items we need and then having to leave them behind at the last minute.
— Annoyed Ex-Pat
Dear Annoyed Ex-Pat,
I think you should tell your mother what you told us: Your luggage space is precious to you because it allows you to bring back things that make your life in Mexico easier. Let her know just how important it is that you bring back certain items, and that her generosity towards your husband’s family has compromised your ability to do that. I would hope that your mom is more invested in the quality of your life in your adopted country than she is in delighting your in-laws with presents. You can compromise a bit by making room for a few small items for your mother to send to them, but stand firm in reclaiming your luggage space, and let her know that you’ll have to leave her with any gifts that just don’t fit. Don’t overthink this. Your mom will simply have to get over her inclination to shower these people with presents every time you come to town. If she is that pressed about them having these things, she can ship them, or perhaps pay for the things you need to be sent down instead. Prioritize your happiness and choose yourself here.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My 15-year-old son has a phone. I have restrictions set on it for night time use, which go into effect at 9 p.m. He can still call/text his immediate family, but he can’t communicate with friends, play games, or anything else. Due to him having Fs in all classes and not doing his homework/school work, I have recently made the curfew begin at 7 p.m.
He hates it! He says I’m being unreasonable and unfair. I told him when he turns in his assignments and makes better grades (C or above), he will earn that time back. Am I being unreasonable, and am I the only mother in the planet that gives my children limits on their phone use?
— Phone Police
Dear Phone Police,
You don’t have anything to feel bad or conflicted about here. Outside of situations where he needs to communicate with his parents, phone use is very much a privilege for a child your son’s age. He is not entitled to have access to apps or time to text with his friends. Your son’s terrible grades are absolutely reason enough to limit his time on his device, as well as other social activity that can provide a distraction from school. I know your question isn’t about the grades or study habits themselves, but if you haven’t checked in with your son’s teachers or a school guidance counselor about them, you should set up a meeting as soon as possible—all Fs is very concerning, and more could be challenging your child than just a distracting device. In the meantime, hold firmly to your new rule and don’t let him convince you to do otherwise. When you son improves in school, then you can go back to the way things were. Be strong, don’t back down here.
Dear Care and Feeding,
Until recently, I was in a queer-platonic partnership and co-parenting a child (I will use gender-neutral language throughout to protect identities). We were theoretically supporting each other and planning retirement together, as well as doing everything a couple would do except being romantically involved. Then that relationship ended abruptly and dramatically, and now I am no longer permitted to see the child.
I don’t even feel right saying this was my kid, as I had no legal or other status recognizable in the family, the community, or the state. But I was effectively a step-mother in every other way: cooking, cleaning, bathing, kissing boo-boos, singing lullabies, being the at-home parent facilitating online learning during the pandemic, going to social and sporting events, attending school parties, and so on. For over five years, over half of the child’s life, I was a consistent participant and presence.
When I was kicked out, the biological and legal parent made it clear that they considered me a threat to their child, a clear warning in legal terms that I should pursue zero contact in the future. Nevertheless, I am heartbroken. I miss and worry about them so much. I feel like I have betrayed and abandoned them even though I did not leave voluntarily. I’m still not even sure why I was removed, to be honest. I guess my question is, how do I deal with this grief? I do not expect this situation to change.
— Grieving Un-Parent
I am so sorry for the unexpected loss of your relationship to this child. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to adjust to such a drastic change in your life, and to your future plans. It is essential that you allow yourself the time and space to grieve what you have lost without blaming yourself for what has transpired (that is, of course, unless there are some actions on your part that you simply haven’t shared with us, and even then, you deserve to adequately mourn the loss of your chosen family). I strongly urge you to seek the support of a therapist or counselor to help you manage the emotions you’re dealing with here. A professional can help you to make sense of what has occurred and to identify ways to cope with your grief so that you can move forward with the rest of your life. If for some reason you are unwilling or unable to speak with a professional (and even if you do), you should talk to your loved ones as well. Open up to someone close to you about what you are feeling and allow them to care for you during this difficult time. Try not to isolate yourself with these thoughts and emotions.
You need to talk about what you are feeling so that you can process it. It will take time for you to find peace; don’t beat yourself up for not being “over it” or moving on quickly. You were part of this family for years, and it is going to take you some time to adjust to what has happened. Be as gentle with yourself as possible. I wish you all the best in moving forward and urge you to focus on taking care of your heart as best you can.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I used to struggle with very bad anxiety for almost a year, then it more or less went away during the pandemic except for the occasional anxiety attack. My anxiety came back at full strength somewhere around September last year. I got very anxious about school, and I am stressed about going back.
One of the main things I’ve been stressing over is how to tell my teachers this year (assuming most of my teachers will be different from last year). I’m worried that some of my teachers might not believe me because I don’t have a formal diagnosis. Anxiety runs in both sides of my family (I’m also at higher risk for mental illness due to my gender and sexuality), and pretty much all the symptoms are there. I also don’t get panic attacks (only anxiety attacks or meltdowns), so I don’t really have any way to actually prove to them I have it.
Is there anything I can say or do if this happens? And what would be the best way to tell them? Email? In real life before or after class?
— Anxious 8th Grader
Dear Anxious 8th Grader,
As an anxiety sufferer myself, I am so sorry that you are battling this monster. I’m also optimistic for you because you are able to identify the problem and have language to talk about it; many young people (and older ones) deal with anxiety without being able to explain or understand just what is troubling them. The fact that you recognize it means a lot in terms of getting support.
You mention not having a formal diagnosis. Do you think your parents would be willing to take you to a professional who would be able to provide one? A therapist or counselor could be tremendously helpful in identifying ways to manage your anxiety on a daily basis. You should consider asking your family to provide you this level of support, if they have the ability to do so. If not, you all can look into what resources may exist at your school or through the school district to help you. There may be a counselor on hand at your school who you can talk to regularly about what is going on, and I think that could be a great benefit to you.
As far as informing your teachers, your approach really should be based on what makes you the most comfortable. If you feel capable of having these conversations in person, then you should do so; I think it would mean a lot for them to hear directly from you about your anxiety and it may help you to forge a connection with them. If the idea of talking to them makes you feel too anxious, then you can write them an email. Even if you do talk to them in person, you should follow up with something in writing; you want there to be documentation that you have talked to them about your challenges, just in case there’s ever an issue in the future—you don’t want them to be able to act as if they didn’t know what’s going on with you. You don’t have to share with them your entire mental health history; instead, let them know how your anxiety manifests in terms of school and schoolwork and anything they should be mindful of in terms of interacting with you. Not all teachers can be trusted to be open-minded and understanding, but I think most of them would appreciate hearing this information from you and would want to be as helpful as they can.
Do be mindful that informing your teachers doesn’t mean that they are going to automatically know how to best work with your challenges, and that you may have to talk to them on multiple occasions about how anxiety shows up for you in the classroom. Be patient with them and with yourself; you are dealing with a significant challenge here, and you are showing great maturity by wanting to face it head on. Give yourself grace and patience as you adjust to new teachers and as they adjust to you. I wish you all the best for this next chapter in your education, and I hope that you are able to get the support you deserve.