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,
Our dog, Kelly, died nearly a year and a half ago, when my daughter, Maeve, was just over 2 years old. Maeve is now 3.5, and whenever she’s sad, tired, or just feeling a little grumpy, she’ll often tell us she misses Kelly. Sometimes she cries about it. I honestly can’t believe she even remembers Kelly all that well anymore. She really only says this when she’s upset already, so it just becomes a bigger thing and makes it harder to help calm her down. We usually respond by saying we understand, that we miss Kelly too. (We never laugh or say she shouldn’t be sad anymore or anything like that.) When Maeve asks where Kelly is, we say that she died. Sometimes she asks if Kelly will come back and we say no, when someone dies they don’t come back. But I just don’t know what else to do or say. Is there anything else we should be saying? Why is this still so frequent over a year later? And how can we help calm her down when she does cry about it and thus gets herself even more upset?
—Grieving for Far Too Long
I don’t think she is grieving for Kelly. I think when she’s feeling bad about anything, she’s naming something she knows it’s OK to be sad about, and that crying over the loss of Kelly is “a good reason” to cry. So instead of reassuring her about what she already knows (that you understand, that you miss your dog too—and I’m sure you do), I’d help her talk about what she is really sad about in that moment. She may not know—she may just know she feels bad and not understand why—and if that’s the case, you can help her understand it (you can also assure her that sometimes people, even adults, feel sad or upset and aren’t sure why) by asking questions—gently—and talking her through her emotions sympathetically.
If this habit of returning to the subject of Kelly is already so ingrained that she insists on asking, yet again, where Kelly is and whether she’ll return, etc., don’t get sucked in. Answer her matter-of-factly (“Kelly died, sweetheart”) and redirect her. If she cannot be redirected—if indeed she is still grieving—it’s time to seek professional help. But my Spidey-sense tells me this is not what’s happening here.
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From this week’s letter, My Daughter Won’t Stop Telling Her Friend That She Should Hate Her Parents: “Anytime Kate brings up her parents, my daughter tells her that she hates them and can’t understand why Kate doesn’t too. This causes Kate a lot of distress.”
Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I had two kids in quick succession, and I stay home with them; he works Monday through Friday. Home duties are definitely split along pretty traditional gender roles, but it’s by our choice, and it works well for us. He’s great with our kids, but much more cautious than I am. Besides not being around kids much before we had them, he grew up in an anxious family with overly careful parents, and he tends that way as well. One problem that has emerged is that on weekends I like to not worry about getting too much done so that we can all relax and enjoy time together as a family, while he sees the weekend as a time that we/he can try to get a bunch of stuff done so that the week is “easier” for me. But because of his anxiety, I don’t find it easier to have him “help” me with most things on the weekend. When we do it his way, the weekend turns into a stressful rush where he’s pushing us to get household tasks done as quickly as possible (versus me spreading those jobs out over five days while he’s at work). Doing the majority of the household tasks I do with the two kids around is not a problem for me: I often wear the baby, and the toddler likes to help.
I’ve told him I want the weekends to be just a relaxing, fun time for us and that I will get the household stuff done during the week. I have not, however, directly told him that the way he approaches these things stresses me out more than just doing them myself would. I’d rather not say this to him, because he worries a lot about not doing enough around the house, and also because I think he would be offended by my implying I don’t think he can handle things at home. Suggestions on how I can best approach this?
—Stressed Out on Saturdays
Oh, for goodness’ sake, stop tiptoeing around your husband. He’s a grownup. He can handle the truth. (If he can’t, you’ve got a bigger problem than no-fun weekends.) If you’ve already decided to split household tasks around these old-fashioned gender norms and, as you declare, it works for the two of you, then lay down the law. Weekends are for family fun time, and you don’t need his help with the damn housework.
Seriously, Stressed Out: What you agreed to do was all the homemaking—not all the managing of your husband’s feelings.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
Over the last two years my mother-in-law has gone further and further down the path of anti-mainstream media, anti-science, and in my opinion, anti-reasoning, and she sends her anti-vax “research” along to us. My wife and I have two small children (5 and 2), and her method of engaging us in a discussion about vaccinating them has never felt like a conversation but a lecture on the danger of following blindly the advice of so-called experts.
At the beginning, my wife and I placated her, or we would try to remain neutral. We are both notorious people-pleasers (to a fault, apparently). Meanwhile, I would do my own fact-checking, and I’d share my findings with my wife and say something like, “She’s your mom, so you can choose to try to engage with her on this.” And sometimes she would—but of course her mother would respond that what I’d learned had come from the mainstream media machine, and she’d double down.
Sometimes it was too much for my wife to bear, and she would beg her to stop. My MIL would comply for a bit, and we’d all do our best to keep the topics of conversation light. In the meantime, we had both our children vaccinated and boosted. Meanwhile, it wouldn’t be long before she got going again. Recently, she texted my wife to say that she knows that she is jeopardizing their relationship but that her concerns were too strong: She declared that if we vaccinated our children we would be endangering them. My wife made the mistake of telling her that we already had, and my MIL went ballistic. She is convinced that we have harmed her grandchildren, and the barrage of messages has become overwhelming. But my wife fears that losing her mother (and her children’s grandmother) would be worse than allowing this to continue. My own position is that this is an extremely unhealthy situation. What do I do?
—Desperately Seeking Reason
This does sound extremely unpleasant. But your wife is an adult, and this is her mother. It’s her choice to make. If she can find a way to hang on to a relationship with her mom—if it’s important to her to do so—then you need to stand down. You don’t have to talk to her or see her if you don’t want to (I wouldn’t want to!). But you don’t get to make that decision for your wife. (Now, if she were the one writing to me, I would tell her not to put up with this, to let her mother know that if she can’t keep her opinions to herself, they can’t be in communication.) I think your wife knows that her mother means well—that she really does believe this nonsense—and she loves her and continues to hope to keep her in her life. It sounds utterly exhausting and demoralizing to me, but I am not her. Nor are you. Let her work this out herself.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I recently began the divorce process after several years of basically co-parenting and being roommates; we continued to share a room and bed right up until the end, but had not had any physical contact in some time (not just no sex; we didn’t hug or cuddle or anything). We’re trying to keep things as amicable as possible, and the kids asked if we could continue a family tradition of visiting my retired parents, who rent an apartment in the Caribbean each winter. Everyone is on board with this idea and it feels like a good way to celebrate who we are as a family, in spite of the split. The issue is, the kids have always shared a room with two twin beds, and my ex and I have always shared a room with a queen bed. We kind of assumed this would continue, but my soon-to-be ex’s new girlfriend isn’t happy with the arrangement. I understand her point of view, but I’m honestly stumped about how to handle this without really stressing out and upsetting everyone. (Each of us could bunk with a kid, I guess, but the kids love having a room together.) What’s the solution I’m missing here?
—Platonic Bed Sharer
The solution is an air mattress or twin-size futon on the floor of the room you share with your husband. (And your soon-to-be ex is the one who sleeps on it, since he’s leaving the comfort of the shared platonic bed for his girlfriend’s sake.)
More Advice From Slate
We have a very smart, creative 13-year-old daughter. I recently read the texts between her and her first boyfriend—something she knows I do—and was surprised. She tells him that her life is screwed up and that she feels unworthy and unloved. This does not seem to describe our relationship. Should I talk to her about this?