Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My older sister is quite devout and seems to feel that it is her duty to rescue those family members she feels have strayed from the religious upbringing she and I experienced. Each of her nieces and nephews is gifted with a monthly devotional booklet subscription, given each year as a Christmas present. They are all adults now, and not one of them wants to receive this subscription. I know that several of them have asked my sister to stop sending it, and she ignores the request. The nieces and nephews view this continued push of religious propaganda as insulting and disrespectful. Now, my own adult child has established an address of her own, and my sister has asked for it. I referred the request to my daughter to either give it or not, and she is conflicted. She is frustrated and insulted that my sister continues in this unwanted campaign to influence her choices (she is a wonderful, thoughtful adult who frequently sings in church choirs and is a paragon of good behavior but not a member of the church where we were raised). Also, she believes that if my sister wants a relationship with her as an adult, she should contact her directly. Regardless of my attempts to remove myself, I seem to be in the middle of this anyway. What is my play here? I will be at a family gathering soon, and I’m sure that my sister will bring up the fact that I have not given her my daughter’s address.
— Conflicted in Pennsylvania
I can’t say it won’t lead to awkwardness or bad feelings between you and your sister, but as a parent, your play here seems obvious: Respect your child’s wishes. She hasn’t made a decision about whether you can share her address with your sister, so don’t share it. If your sister keeps asking, you can instruct her to reach out to your daughter directly via some other method (call, text, email) if that is really what your daughter would prefer, or else say that you’re not going to share your child’s address without her permission.
As many in your family have already tried to get your sister to stop sending unwanted religious paraphernalia, I suppose adding your voice might not do much good. But if I were in your place, I’d still want to be direct and tell her that’s the reason you aren’t sharing your daughter’s address. Maybe if she sees that there are consequences for continually disrespecting her family members’ beliefs and boundaries, she’ll stop proselytizing by mail and content herself with (silently) praying for you all? Probably too much to hope for, but miracles can happen.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
After many years on the East Coast, my husband and I moved back to my home state of California, about two hours away from the town where I grew up and where my family still lives. Around the time we moved, I got pregnant, and we welcomed our beautiful baby boy at the end of 2021. My in-laws live across the country but come out to visit every couple of months (more than I would like, to be honest, but it’s nice that they make such an effort to be part of our son’s life). My family has only ever come to see us once, shortly after the baby was born. If we want to see them, we have to make the trip to them, which we have done numerous times, despite how difficult it is to travel with an infant every few months. We have invited them to visit—they also know there is a standing invite for them to visit whenever they want—but they always either decline or cancel at the last minute because something “came up.”
Recently, I mentioned that we would be without childcare for a week and asked if they would like to come and help out so that my husband and I can work and they can spend time with their grandson. They finally agreed to come up for two of the days, but have made it very clear that I’m asking a lot of them, including booking train tickets (they could easily drive), finding somewhere to board their dog (my brother has offered to take care of the dog numerous times), and finding a hotel (we don’t have a guest room, but we offered them our bed and my husband and I can sleep on the air mattress). They keep talking about how this is an extremely expensive “babysitting trip” for them, and it’s starting to seem like they want us to pay for the entire thing, or at the very least feel very guilty for asking so much of them.
I feel incredibly offended about this for numerous reasons. First, my parents aren’t rich, but they are solidly upper-middle class and live very comfortably. My dad did retire a year ago, so I would understand if they were getting more concerned about their spending, but they took numerous trips last year (just none to see us), are discussing remodeling their house again, and bought an expensive designer puppy this summer. On the flip side, my husband and I make decent wages but have way more expenses, including student loans, a new mortgage, and a baby. At the end of the day, we could afford to pay for their trip, but does this mean we have to pay for all of their trips to visit us in perpetuity? Second, a “babysitting trip”? I thought of this as a great excuse for them to come spend time with their grandson, not to mention their daughter and son-in-law. We even made plans to take them out to a nice dinner their first night here to thank them for coming up to visit so they know that we’re genuinely excited for them to be here and are not just foisting our child on them with no gratitude. Third, they love and adore my 5-year-old niece, who they take care of one day a week (and have since she was only a few months old), so I know that they genuinely find joy in spending time with their grandchildren.
I guess I have two questions: Am I wrong to assume (or just hope) that grandparents would, on occasion, help out with childcare, or at the very least visit their grandchildren (time and finances permitting)? And at what point does it become the child’s responsibility to foot the bill for their parents’ visits? I want my family to be a part of my son’s life, but I’m feeling sad and dejected about their lack of effort.
— Abandoned in California
I don’t blame you for feeling sad about this—I would be sad, too, not to mention perplexed. I don’t think parents of young children are automatically entitled to childcare from family members, but of course you expected that your parents would at least want to visit. It’s possible that they really prefer when you come to them, and have been sort of taking it for granted that you would do the traveling, as you have been. Have you or your husband had any other conflict with them that might make them (fairly or not) hesitant to visit your house? Might there be any other personal or health concerns at play for them?
I realize I’m grasping at straws here—honestly, based on what you’ve shared it sounds as though your parents are enjoying their retirement and have a lot of other things they want to do. I know that’s hard to sit with, because you want them to prioritize spending time with their grandchild—again, a very reasonable expectation!—but how they spend their leisure time (i.e., all their time, now) is up to them. You can’t change how they feel, or force them to be more involved grandparents if that’s not high on their list right now. And I don’t think trying to guilt them into more frequent visits would get at the heart of the problem.
If they’re spending money on all the things you mentioned, then it’s not really about the cost of the trip. I will say that I don’t think you are under any obligation to pay for their train tickets every time, but could do so on occasion, only if you want and choose to. Have you talked with them, candidly and calmly, about how hurt you are by their (seeming) lack of interest in visiting you? I’d try to have that conversation independent of this “babysitting trip” and who pays for what. It’s not that you want them to come just to help you out—you want them to get to know and have a close relationship with their grandson. They should already understand this, but perhaps they need to know just how important it is to you, and how hurt and confused you are by their hesitancy.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My daughter “Emmy” has just turned 16, and it’s time for her to get her license.
I bought her an old used car and she loves it and is excited to drive. We also went and got her permit a few weeks ago, and she has been asking to drive everywhere. However, Emmy has some health issues that are making driving really difficult. She is extremely hypermobile and her intense training as a gymnast from a young age messed up the nerves in her right leg. Every little movement hurts her, and she’s been cautioned by doctors to never overstep her bounds and risk a huge setback in treatment, but I think that her excitement for driving has overridden her caution, and she’s decided that driving is “worth the pain.”
At first, I thought that the fact she could drive through her pain was a good sign, especially since we’ve been working on tolerance with her doctors. But last night, Emmy came home exhausted and with a pronounced limp as she tried to keep the weight off her leg. She told me that she was in so much pain and that it’s been getting worse for weeks, but today was truly terrible. When we went on a five-minute drive later that night, she was wincing a little as she pushed down the pedal and had a hard time controlling her acceleration. I didn’t bring it up while she was driving, but now I wonder if Emmy’s driving has caused her pain to get out of hand. If driving were just a fun activity like riding a bike or jogging, I’d remind her to watch her movements and ask her to consider stopping, but I feel like driving is a necessary skill and one she really wants to learn. There are ways to modify a car so that the driver can use their left leg, and this would solve the problem, but modifications like this are expensive and not an option for us at this point. Should I continue to support Emmy’s driving or have her stop? And how can I teach her to manage this intense pain in daily activities, since she clearly doesn’t have boundaries that are working for her?
— No License Is Worth This
Dear No License,
First, Emmy’s safety is paramount. If driving is making her pain worse, that’s already concerning. You mentioned that she also seemed to be having trouble managing the pedal and controlling her acceleration. That could be partly because she is still learning how to drive and how her car responds. But if you ever feel that she truly can’t control the vehicle, you’ll need to put a stop to the driving or wait until you can modify the car. (I’m not sure if the modification you’re referring to is a Left Foot Gas Pedal Accelerator—if so, I found a number of them available for anywhere from $100-$400. I realize that is not an insignificant amount of money, and doesn’t include installation; I just wanted to mention.)
Aside from that, you need to have a consultation with Emmy’s doctors, and ask them about driving specifically. They’re familiar with her condition, have been treating her for years, and would probably be best positioned to speak to your questions about pain management and whether driving could actually set her back or risk progress she’s made. This also seems like a situation in which a good physical therapist could be very helpful—at least, that’s my first thought when chronic pain becomes tough to manage and starts to interfere with necessary or everyday tasks. Perhaps Emmy already has a PT she’s worked with in the past? There may be no way to make driving or other activities entirely painless for her, but with her medical team’s okay and the right support, I wonder if it would be easier for her to do it safely and manage in moderation—at least, enough to learn how to drive, and to maintain that skill and enjoy the independence that comes with it. Having limitations or boundaries around a particular activity doesn’t mean that the activity itself is always and entirely out of the question. Again, you should talk with her doctors and physical therapists about this, but maybe it’s possible for her to learn to drive and get her license and drive occasionally, for example; just not possible for her to drive for long stretches, or drive every single day.
Keep in mind that Emmy is 16, and so this will be her own decision to make in two years, when she reaches adulthood, assuming her doctors don’t veto her driving and she can pass her road test. Her feelings and wishes should count for a lot even now, so long as she can drive without endangering herself or anyone else. I would talk with her about this, too—before and after you both talk with her medical team. Make it clear that you care about what she wants, and you also care about her safety and wellbeing. She’s been living with the pain caused by her medical condition for years, and will be for quite some time—perhaps she’s already managing it as best she can, even if she sometimes makes choices you wouldn’t make for her?
No matter how self-aware Emmy is or becomes, managing a chronic condition like this is going to involve some flexibility and trial and error; some testing and moving and resettling of boundaries. Listen to how she’s feeling and what she wants; encourage her to listen to her body and care for herself as best she can; obviously, as her parent, do what you must to help her remain physically safe. Try to trust that she can learn to recognize and respect her own needs and wants and limits—for all of us, no matter our health or ability, that’s an important part of growing up, becoming more independent, and learning how to self-advocate and make our own decisions.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My family moved within our same city about two years ago. The kids (both middle-school age) didn’t switch schools. However, the move itself—the time leading up to it, the actual move, the settling in, etc.—was hell for my anxious child. It took months to get them back to where they’d been before the move, and it feels like we’ve only just emerged. Finally, everyone sleeps and eats and no one yells or cries.
Now I have a career opportunity that would mean moving again, and this time it would mean a new school, in a new state. We would be closer to my in-laws, which would solve an elder-care situation. But honestly, I don’t think I can do it? I think I have to turn down the opportunity and stay where we are. My spouse feels split—torn between the various pros and cons, and thus is punting it to me since it’s a career opportunity for me. It feels impossible. I don’t want to put my child back into that fear state. But I can’t turn down every opportunity forever, can I? There will never be a good time—they’re in middle school, so everything is hard, and moving them mid-high school would be impossible. I don’t know what to do.
I hope your child has all support and therapy they need to help them deal with their anxiety. I can’t tell you whether or not to take the out-of-state job—it’s your call, and it sounds as though you’re leaning toward no, at least for now. I hear that this is a really difficult decision, and it just sucks to think about potentially sacrificing a professional opportunity because you believe it may be best for your family to stay where you are.
I’m not saying it’ll be easy to stay put until your kids are done with high school, nor am I saying that’s what you have to or should do. But even if that’s what you and your spouse ultimately settle on, we’re still talking about a finite amount of time. Of course you don’t have to turn down every opportunity forever. This decision is hard enough without telling yourself that you have to make the same choice again, over and over, for all time. Your kids will continue to grow and change. Your family’s situation will continue to evolve. Your career won’t stand still. You get to decide about every opportunity as it comes along, including this one.
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