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 a new mom of 1-year-old twins, “Bella” and “Iris”. When I was pregnant, my husband and I decided that we wanted to give our girls names that we liked, as opposed to both of our families’ traditions of using family names (think “Dorothy” and “Ethel,” which are good names, just not our style). My mother-in-law was perfectly fine with this, and thinks that the names we picked out are much better than the family ones. My mother, however, will not stop giving me grief about it.
I was born a twin, but unfortunately my twin, who had one of the family names, was stillborn. When my mother found out I was having twins, she was overjoyed, and said she would finally have the chance to raise her lost daughter. While I was uncomfortable with this, I didn’t say anything because I knew she was working through some hard emotions. She’s only gotten worse. When she found out that I wasn’t using the traditional family name that my twin had, she threw a fit and started screaming at me, saying that I was taking away her chance to find closure over the loss of her child (it’s been 27 years and she refuses to go to therapy, even when I offer to pay for it). This made me break into hysterics, which led to my husband asking my mother to leave, which she did only after declaring how much my selfish actions hurt her. She called me later that day, sobbing, and begged for forgiveness. I forgave her.
When the girls were born, they were officially given the names my husband and I chose. When I introduced them to my mother for the first time in the hospital, she got this weird look on her face. Later, when my husband’s parents arrived to see the girls, my mother privately told me that she was disappointed that I had disregarded her feelings and not named the older twin after the stillborn baby. The icing on the cake was last week, the twins’ first birthday party. My mother made each of the twins a blanket with their name on it, and … Iris’s blanket had the name of my mother’s stillborn baby. Everyone got very quiet until my mother declared that all she did was put the “correct” name of my daughter on the blanket. I asked her to leave the party and we haven’t spoken since.
My husband is completely on my side and will do anything I want, whether it be call my mom and demand an apology or go to family counseling. I have no idea how to get past this breach of my trust and move forward in my relationship with my mom. I’m just really hurt.
— They’re My Kids, Not Yours
Dear They’re My Kids,
I am so sorry. Of course you’re hurt—and, I imagine, outraged. It’s terrible what your mother has been through, but she shouldn’t be punishing you for it.
It’s not an excuse and I’m obviously not qualified to diagnose anyone, but what you have described of her actions at the party and with the blanket (!) really makes me think that your mother has lost control, or perhaps had some kind of break, particularly if this sort of disturbing behavior is new for her. It would probably make me more afraid than angry, though I think whatever you’re feeling right now is totally valid. She needs counseling and compassionate treatment. She probably needed it long ago. I’m sorry, for both your sakes, that she won’t seek it out now.
It’s hard for me to recommend family counseling with your mother at this juncture; it seems to me that she has a lot of work to do on her own first, which she may never agree to. (It’s also hard to picture her agreeing to go to family therapy with you.) I do think you would benefit from talking with a mental health professional. You didn’t cause any of this, but you are now bearing the brunt of it. It might help to speak with a therapist about your feelings, the pain your mother has caused, the circumstances under which you could communicate with her again (if that’s even possible for you), as well as all the other options available. You deserve all the support you need as you try to figure out the best way to move forward.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My son was born at the end of November 2017. It was evident from a very young age that he was neurodiverse. He ended up diagnosed with apraxia (a motor planning delay that affects his speech and body movements), autism, and ADHD. He receives special education and has been an early intervention since he was little. This year he was forced to transition into kindergarten when he was only four years old. I did not want him to go to kindergarten because I felt he was too young and immature (he also has feeding challenges), but he would have lost his services if he didn’t transition. The school had told me he could repeat if I was really concerned about him transitioning early, and that made me feel better.
Now we are discussing his IEP for the next year, and I mentioned that I wanted him to repeat kindergarten. I didn’t want a child with an executive functioning delay to graduate from high school at the age of 17. His executive functioning delay means that he would be graduating with an executive function ability of a 14- or 15-year-old. If graduation is delayed until he is 18, his executive function will be that of a 15- or 16-year-old.
Imagine my surprise when I was met with significant resistance from the school. Honestly, it made me feel like I was being a bad parent. My child’s psychologist said that the school is offering no compelling reason to push him forward. He is low-scoring on most of the exams. This could give him time to master skills. The psychologist did not see any issues with him repeating kindergarten. But I can’t overstate how opposed the school is. I had eight people basically telling me that this was not advisable and that they don’t typically do this. I’m very frustrated. I understand that the research suggests that repeating doesn’t benefit most children. But my son isn’t most children. So I’m turning to you for some additional advice. What do you think, is it wrong of me to hold him back in kindergarten? If I do this, I have to go and fight for it and make arguments to the principal and two superintendents. I am willing to do that.
— Kindergarten Quandary
Dear Kindergarten Quandary,
Speaking generally, it’s really rare to hold a child back a year. It is also, as you’ve discovered, a controversial option and not one a school will (or should) agree to lightly. The staff at your school may believe that your son’s IEP will take his executive functioning issues into account and provide the support he needs in order to access the first-grade curriculum, which is what they’re primarily focused on. That said, I don’t think you’re necessarily wrong to consider holding him back, especially since the school initially told you he could repeat the year due to his younger-than-typical start to kindergarten. (I don’t think your son should have been forced to start kindergarten at age 4 or lose his supports and accommodations—I’m not a special education lawyer, but you might consider consulting one as you weigh whether and how to proceed here.)
You know your child and his needs, and ultimately, it’s your decision whether to keep pressing your case for retention so that he doesn’t graduate from high school, as you said, at 17. At the same time, I would think about what you want that extra year to achieve apart from just giving him extra time, as no kid’s development is a straight, predictable road, and there is no way to know for certain what a 5-year-old will be like at age 17 or 18. It could be an exhausting fight at the district level if you pursue retention, and you might not succeed. I hope that your son will get the appropriate education he’s entitled to, no matter what. But if your instincts are telling you that this extra year could really help him, I do think it’s okay to continue the conversation at a higher level. You might also consider pushing for more social/emotional learning goals in his IEP, so you and the rest of the team will have a clearer sense of how he’s progressing in those areas next year.
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From this week’s letter, I Monitor All My Teen’s Online Activity, and I’ve Just Discovered Something Horrible: “Carol is very private and does not typically talk to us about any of this, and getting her to open up is very difficult.”
Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and his group of friends have all been pals for more than 20 years, and have many happy memories of giant group house rentals, where everyone sleeps two to three families to a room or crashes on the living room floor. I attended many of these when we were younger, and I can tolerate them, but they’re not my idea of a great time. It’s too much socialization for me, and I get grossed out by the dirty dishes piling up in the sink and hair in the shower drain. A few people have continued to meet up year after year, but I stopped going when our kids were little, as taking care of them on top of everything else became too much.
Now that people are starting to get together again after being separated by COVID, there’s a huge gathering planned for this summer. I really, really don’t want to go—I think I’ll be miserable—but I don’t mind if my husband and kids do. However, my husband says I’m being unreasonable and antisocial, and it will be hurtful to our friends and a bad example to our kids if I decline to participate. I’m really struggling with this. I don’t want to be a jerk or seem like I don’t care about this group of people, but I have memories of crying at the old gatherings because I was so overwhelmed and frustrated. Do I have to go?
— Whine Mommy
Dear Whine Mommy,
They would have lost me at “two to three families to a room.” This is a vacation!
You don’t have to go. If I were you, I might suggest that your family get a separate place of your own nearby, or divide the party among a few houses so each family gets their own room, at least—any/all of this might make it more bearable for you. If these people are really your friends as well, they should understand that you have some basic needs, too, like a little bit of space and/or alone time! (Your husband, at the very least, should understand and support this, but he’s evidently chosen not to. A red flag, in my opinion!) If no one else in the group is open to compromise, that says something about how much they actually want to make this work for you, and in that case I don’t think you should feel remotely guilty for staying home.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I have dear friends with an only child—an 8-year-old—and we can’t stand the kid. To put it bluntly, he’s a brat. Like, Veruca Salt-levels of brattiness, complete with stomping, shrieking, and physical fighting over the gentlest denials. Except for when he’s able to compose himself enough to be charming, and then he’s syrupy-sweet for about 10 seconds and goes back to brat mode. His parents have encouraged and indulged his interest in horror films since he was a toddler. (They don’t let him watch the movies, just the trailers. Over and over.) This means his playtime with our kids (11, 6, and 5) revolve around pretending to be serial killers and drawing gruesome murder scenes. I am pretty protective of their media diet, but it almost doesn’t matter anymore because this kid comes over and gleefully helps them create crayon-scrawled pictures of decapitations, hangings, and grinning, blood-soaked villains. Hieronymus Bosch: for kids, by kids! Oh, did I mention he’s loud? Like, screechingly, ear-splittingly loud. And if he’s displeased, which is often, he gets even louder. Bonus: My kids love him. And have adopted some of his catchphrases, like “NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!” (In case you’re wondering, he is neurotypical.) I understand that this is probably a “me” problem. He is a child. So, in the interest of working on me—how do I learn to tolerate this kid? Distancing ourselves from the family is not an option. The parents have been our friends for decades and we enjoy their company. Their kid? Not so much!
— Mean Mommy in Massachusetts
Dear Mean Mommy,
It really is possible that something else is going on with this kid, but whatever the case may be, I understand your frustration. It’s a “you” problem in the sense that you have no control over other children or how your friends choose to parent. I will point out that you are already tolerating your friends’ son—at least, I assume that you haven’t snapped or yelled at him, but are rather biting your tongue, being as patient as you can be, and still spending time with his family. If he annoys you, he annoys you; I don’t know that you can do much about your feelings, just continue to control your reaction.
It may be possible to be less annoyed if you can bring yourself to look for positive, non-annoying qualities he may possess? It doesn’t mean all those other things he does won’t still bother you. But there has to be more to him than that. What do your kids like about him? What strengths or nice traits does he have—and what seems to bring them out? Is the situation any more manageable when you all do certain activities versus others?
There’s no reason that every get-together has to be a full house of chaos. Can you and the other parents occasionally hire babysitters (I hope they pay theirs well) and go out and do things on your own, sans kids? In your position, I probably would be looking to spend a bit less time with the family, in all honesty, but I’d also be looking for ways to preserve the friendship that don’t require spending quite so much time with their son—and hoping that, in time, he outgrows some of this behavior.
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My 10-year-old son just had a growth spurt. Once upon a time I just picked out his clothes or gave him hand-me-downs from cousins, but he’s getting interested in fashion and is much too cool for that now. We are having a great time shopping together, with one exception. These days you aren’t allowed to use dressing rooms, and he won’t believe me when I tell him what size to buy! He is a skinny guy and wants to be the smallest and gets upset when I tell him a size bigger than he is trying to pick out. He wants to get the smallest … but he’s 10 now and the smallest kid clothing just isn’t going to fit. What’s this about?