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,
I have two grandchildren. One visits monthly, even though she has a full-time job and is in college. The other rarely visits, and our interactions are limited to Christmas presents and what we can do for grandchild No. 2. She has just turned 18 and in wishing her happy birthday, I discovered that there is a party being thrown for her. No, we weren’t invited, I discovered this through a Facebook post. I thought we had a pretty good relationship with her parents, but I’m now wondering if that tenuous relationship is based on what I can do for her. I’ve given her gift cards for Christmas and birthdays as I don’t know what an 18-year-old wants. I’ve fully funded the 4-year college program, and I started an IRA for my grandchild, which I fund. We have stock accounts for both grandchildren, and they’re doing pretty well. Now that I’ve discovered the previously mentioned celebration of the eighteenth birthday, and that we’ve never been invited to school functions, weekend activities, birthday parties, etc. I’m beginning to feel a bit used. Your thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks in advance.
—Maybe Too Generous
Dear Maybe Too Generous,
You mentioned all of the financial gifts you provided to your granddaughter, but there’s much more to a relationship than things money can buy. Perhaps there’s an issue with your relationship with her parents that you’re not aware of, and if so, I suggest you get to the bottom of it using the direct approach. There must be a reason why you’ve never been invited to her functions, right? I’m not saying the reason will be a good one, but there’s definitely a reason.
You can say something along the lines of, “I really want to be involved in as many aspects of my granddaughter’s life, and I learned on Facebook about her 18th birthday party. It hurts that I wasn’t invited and it hurts that I’m not invited to any of her functions. Is there a reason why this is the case? If I did something to upset you, I’d appreciate it if you let me know.”
Perhaps the parents didn’t invite you to the party because they thought you wouldn’t be interested in attending. Maybe they limited the guests due to financial reasons. Maybe they’re upset with you about something you’re completely unaware of. The only way you’ll find out for sure is to sit them down and ask.
Since your granddaughter is now an adult, you can also speak to her candidly as well to ensure no stone is left unturned. Also, the benefit of her being an adult is you won’t need to go through her parents to have a relationship with her if you don’t want to.
I believe this all can be handled with a frank discussion about your feelings. At the very least, you’ll know where everyone stands and then you can act accordingly.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m a biracial woman, and my husband is white. I don’t look very mixed, and people generally assume both of my parents are Black. While my son inherited my skin tone and tight curls, my daughter has super pale skin, straight hair, and hazel eyes—she gets asked more often if she’s Jewish than if she’s Black. If our family is at a restaurant or museum, people assume I’m my son’s biological mom, but my daughter’s stepmom. However, we have continually talked to both kids about the realities of being Black in America, and how it will affect the way they’re treated compared to their white peers. Our kids attend a local arts magnet high school which is both economically and racially diverse (about 25 percent Black and 75 percent POC). They are in different tracks—our son (a junior) does band, our daughter (a sophomore) does choir.
The school offers full-tuition scholarships to summer music intensives at a few prestigious music and arts schools which are highly coveted. One scholarship per grade, per track is a merit scholarship open to all, which is highly competitive, and there is also one scholarship per grade from a foundation specifically for Black students, which requires an audition and essay but the students are competing against fewer peers. Both of our kids tried out for the two scholarships, and on the day they were announced, our daughter won the sophomore scholarship from the Black student foundation. We were delighted, and had a special dinner out to celebrate her, but her brother was sulking the whole time. She got upset and asked why he couldn’t be happy for her, and he blurted out that he didn’t think she should have applied for the scholarship because nobody ever treated her like she was Black. He brought up a recent incident when we all went to the mall, and he and I were followed around by an employee, while she was looking at clothes nearby and wasn’t targeted at all. He told her that nobody in school believes she’s his sister because everyone thinks she’s white. In his opinion, the scholarship should have gone to a Black kid who actually was prevented from opportunities because they were Black, not someone who “was only Black when it helped her.”
She started crying, we ended up leaving, and now they’re giving each other the silent treatment. We took away his car privileges for the rest of the week, but he refuses to apologize and truly believes it’s wrong that she applied for an opportunity for Black kids when he knows many other Black students whose families are struggling and who have faced discrimination throughout their lives who needed that scholarship more than she did. I feel… conflicted about this. I have never passed as white or even mixed, and was always viewed as more “aggressive” and “unruly” by teachers and administrators, was accused of shoplifting numerous times while minding my own business in stores, and getting pulled over is always a nerve-wracking experience. My son can already relate to all of these, but my daughter can’t, and may never be able to. It makes me question whether he might have a point, but I don’t know what we would do in that case. I really need to hear an outside opinion on this situation, and would love to hear your advice.
Dear Scholarship Struggles,
As someone who regularly wears my “Non-Threatening Black Man” costume consisting of a collared shirt, eye glasses, and dress shoes when shopping in nice areas to limit—not eliminate —harassment from store employees, I totally understand where your son is coming from. This young man is expressing the pain of realizing he will always be viewed as a threat in America, and I wouldn’t blame him for expressing anger at his sister—even though it’s clearly not her fault for how she looks.
The part of your letter that struck me was when your son said his sister “was only Black when it helped her.” If she is the kind of person who enjoys the perks of being “white passing” and doesn’t do anything to uplift the Black community, yet will apply for benefits meant for people of color, that would be a huge issue in my eyes. I’m not saying that’s the case, but if it is, then I feel like your daughter could be the problem and not your son.
I’m not saying that your daughter should choose to identify as Black if she doesn’t want to. Heck, I know plenty of multi-racial people who identify as 100 percent white, and that’s totally fine by me. My main thing is if you’re going to identify as white, you shouldn’t apply for grants and scholarships designated for people of color. That said, does she have the right to identify as white and apply for these scholarships? Absolutely she does. It’s just a really bad look, that’s all —and that’s probably why your son is so upset. I feel as if your daughter is the one who needs to be educated, and maybe by listening to how your son feels, she’ll understand how painful it is to wake up Black in America on a daily basis.
I also think it would be wise to find a therapist for your son—preferably a therapist of color—to navigate what he’s going through. I remember experiencing depression right around the time I started high school because of the discomfort of realizing my Blackness was a problem for many people in my community. Therapy was frowned upon back then, but it would’ve saved me years of heartache (and possibly would’ve prevented a suicide attempt years later) if I spoke to a licensed mental health professional. Speaking from experience, please do whatever it takes to help him right now before it spirals out of control. Additionally, you should consider having your daughter attend the sessions as well as a way to hash out any problems between them.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I live near my sister, and our kids are similar ages (mine are 8 and 4, hers are 6 and 3). Our families used to visit each other at least once a week, so our kids are close. This fall, my sister got a second pet dog. He’s not a breed I am comfortable allowing my kids to be around. I feel that way due to statistics about this breed’s aggressive behavior, and some bad personal experiences.
I told her that I wasn’t comfortable with my kids being around the dog, and I said we could only do visits at our house or other locations like the park, grandparents’ houses, etc. I tried very hard to be as neutral and inoffensive as possible, emphasizing that it was just my personal comfort level with this type of dog. But in retrospect, I guess it was inevitable that she would feel judged, since our kids are similarly aged and obviously she feels safe having hers around him.
She tried to convince me I don’t need to worry. I said my mind was made up, and I didn’t want to get into a debate, and to please just respect my boundary. She asked me point blank “so do you think I’m endangering my kids?” I said that she’s taking a risk that I personally wouldn’t take, but we all take risks and everyone’s risk tolerance is different. She said I was being ridiculous and prejudiced against her dog.
Since then, we’ve only gotten together at our parents’ house for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and our dad’s birthday. I extend invitations to hang out, but she always declines with something vague like “sorry, can’t make it this weekend.” Around New Year’s I asked her what was going on, and she denied that anything had changed. She said they’d just been busy.
My kids have been asking why they barely see their cousins anymore, and I don’t know what to tell them. They miss them and I feel bad about it. I miss my sister too but don’t think my boundary around the dog is unreasonable. How can I fix things here?
—Cousin Relationship Ruiner
This is the thing about being a parent—nobody should question your boundaries in terms of keeping your kids safe. If you feel uncomfortable about having your children around your sister’s dog, then that’s your right. I could stop there, but I know you want to repair the relationship with your sister, so you may need to bend a bit.
The one thing I would consider is perhaps having your kids visit your sister’s house under your supervision. Assuming she’s of sound mind, she wouldn’t adopt a dog that could potentially injure her own children, so I don’t think giving her the benefit of the doubt would be a bad idea. I also could see how she would make the inference that you think she’s an unfit mom by endangering her kids, even though I’m sure that wasn’t your intention.
If doing that is a bridge too far for you, then I would suggest sitting her down and telling her about your experience with this type of dog and how scared you are. If you come from a place of vulnerability instead of judgment, she will probably come around and be more open towards you, which could lead to a compromise.
Being an anti-racism facilitator for a living, I always tell my clients that one bad experience with a person of color is no reason to hate everyone of that particular race. I’m not discounting the trauma you experienced in your past, but I simply want to remind you that it’s misguided to think every dog of that type of breed is a threat. I believe you should take some time to get to know the dog first (with an open mind) and then make a decision on how to proceed.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m wondering what your thoughts are on unmonitored screen time. My 8-year-old grandson has a tablet he spends quite a bit of time on, and my daughter hasn’t been up for fighting the battle of keeping the parental control settings on (he likes to watch kid centered YouTube videos and YouTube can’t be accessed with parental control). My grandson is sweet, intelligent, and caring, and right now I don’t think he’s watching inappropriate or dangerous content, although he has exited out of a video as I walk by. There are so many harmful things on the internet, and I think his access should be limited, but I’m unsure of how to approach this conversation with my daughter, who is a single mother and already carries a lot of mom guilt despite being a truly phenomenal mom. My grandson can be rather strong-willed, and I know this will be a major battle for her. I guess I’m looking for confirmation that this is a battle worth fighting and tips on how to have this conversation with my daughter.
—This Site Cannot Be Reached
Dear This Site,
Screentime is a controversial issue in the parenting world, so I’m not going to get into a debate on what amount is healthy or unhealthy for a child. There are so many factors involved, and since your daughter is a single parent, I’m sure there are times when she puts her son in front of a tablet just to get a moment of rest.
However, monitoring software exists that tracks the websites/apps kids use and will block inappropriate content—including on YouTube. I use Bark, but there are other options as well. So yes—it is possible for him to surf YouTube videos while keeping him safe from the bad stuff.
You can say, “Honey, I did some research and found software that can allow your son to surf YouTube while keeping an eye on what he’s watching. I bought it. If you’re interested in it for Grandson, I can install it for you.” Then I would suggest having her monitor the type of videos he’s watching, and see if there are any red flags. I could be wrong, but I have a feeling he’s engaging in completely innocuous behavior, and your mind will be put at ease. If you wanted to take a lighter approach, you could say something like, “Grandson sometimes closes windows quickly on YouTube when I walk by. I worry about what he might be looking at. Have you checked his history lately? There’s also tracking software you can put on to monitor what he’s watching?”
Another thing to consider is my cardinal rule of getting involved in another parent’s business. If the child is not in imminent danger, then you should leave it alone. I know your heart is in the right place, but unless your daughter approaches you for advice or you see something that he’s watching something clearly inappropriate, then maybe you should let it go and trust that your daughter knows what’s best for her son.
More Advice From Slate
My first grader is bright and imaginative, and he seems to be well-liked by his peers. Despite this, he often comes home from school dejected because no one wants to create imaginary play productions during recess. I have encouraged him to join the others and let go of his determination to put on pretend Broadway productions, but this goes in one ear and out the other. Should I say anything else, or let him work these playground politics out on his own?