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,
When is it appropriate to step in on our teenage son’s relationships? My son “Jack” is a 17-year-old high school junior, and he’ll be 18 in a few months. He’s had previous girlfriends, all of them great kids, and I stayed out of it. I’m 90 percent certain he’s sexually active.
This year his drama program paired juniors with freshmen to welcome them to school, and Jack was paired with 14-year-old “Sophie.” They became friends, and I always assumed it was a younger-sister type relationship. But I saw them hang out recently, and it was very, very flirty. Jack clearly has a crush on her, and she was flirting back. He mentioned wanting to take her to the spring formal in April (he’s going with a big group of couples, and needed parental permission to organize with them).
I’m feeling alarm bells at the age gap, and don’t know what to do. My husband thinks that it will blow over, like lots of teen crushes do, but I feel like it’s close to inappropriate. What can I do here? Should I do anything?
Dear Alarm Bells,
I think your husband needs a glass of ice water dumped on his head, or at the very least, take himself to Google to learn about statutory rape laws (full disclosure: I am not a lawyer). I don’t know where you live, but in my state of California, if Jack engaged in consensual sex with Sophie when he turns 18, it would be considered statutory rape and it could land him in prison. This isn’t something that should be dismissed as a trivial crush that will blow over, because a sexual relationship could seriously impact both youngsters. A lot of states have similar laws, so you need to conduct your due diligence immediately.
Even if their potential sexual relationship isn’t viewed as rape in your state, it is still creepy for a legal adult to have intercourse with a child who has one year of experience as a teenager. If anything, you should do everything in your power to tell Jack that a physical/romantic relationship with Sophie should be avoided at all costs. Inform him of the stakes and consequences, and remind him that there are plenty of girls his own age to pursue.
Can he be friends with Sophie? Absolutely, but it shouldn’t go any further than that. Hopefully a quick conversation will be all it takes to scare him straight, but if not, you may have to go nuclear and speak with Sophie’s parents about your concerns. Doing nothing is not an option.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband of 20 years compulsively lies about everything and nothing. Plus he’s narcissistic. Never admits when he’s wrong or apologizes for errors made. In the last few years I’ve made it a priority to call him out over every lie he tells. I didn’t get married to constantly correct him. His lies and my need to make him admit to lying has driven a wedge in our relationship. He is estranged from his parents, siblings, and our kids. I assumed it was my fault for the estrangement. He always blamed me. Now I see why his family and our kids cut him from their lives. I noticed our 20-year-old daughter compulsively lies too. I miss having a strong connection with my husband and having solid relationships with our kids. Is it possible for compulsive liars to change? How do I convince him to seek help? I’m not perfect by any means. I’ve sought help in the past for depression and insomnia. How can I help him get help? Our relationship cannot withstand this much longer.
—Desperately Seeking Solutions
This sounds like a living hell, and I don’t blame you for being at the end of your rope. If he’s estranged from his parents, siblings, and his own children—and isn’t taking any ownership of this despite being the common denominator, then that’s a huge red flag. The main thing you need to do at this point is to firmly inform him that his lying and narcissism cannot continue if this marriage is to survive.
You can say something like, “I’ve expressed my concerns about your behavior to you multiple times, but I’m at my breaking point now. If you don’t take action to find a regular therapist or mental health specialist within the next 30 days, I will take it as a sign that you’re unwilling to take my feelings seriously, and I will have no choice but to leave you.”
Don’t even think about doing this unless you’re willing to end your marriage if he doesn’t follow through, because you will never be taken seriously going forward otherwise. I obviously don’t know what’s going on in your marriage other than what you outlined in your letter, but from my vantage point this doesn’t seem like something worth fighting for. Two decades of dishonesty and narcissism from a spouse without taking ownership would be a dealbreaker for most people, and I hope it would be for you as well.
However, you should still give him a chance to prove himself. If this man truly loves you, he will do whatever it takes to save your marriage, including seeking therapy. If he doesn’t, then he’ll gaslight you or ignore you. As the popular saying goes, “Their disrespect is all of the closure you need.”
Since this is a parenting column, you should do everything in your power to ensure your daughter seeks therapy for her issues as well — and also check in on the mental health of your other kiddos. The tension between you and your husband can’t be easy for them to navigate either.
It all comes down to what you’re willing to allow, and you shouldn’t allow any of this anymore.
Catch Up on Care and Feeding
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I have a low stakes question: My 2-year-old daughter called me a “poo head” the other day. I was distraught; she was bubbling over with glee. I put on my best mischievous grin and responded that SHE was the poo head. She laughed a lot, said I was the poo head and it continued. I was honestly having fun. I looked over to find my partner (her Dad) looking somewhat exasperated. I asked him what was up. He said we’re not supposed to go along with it, that name calling is a thing, and that it probably shouldn’t be a game. I said I think it’s OK, it’s clear we’re having fun and if she was trying to be mean or trying to hurt me, or if it hurt another child, my response would be different. He shrugged, he thinks she’s too young to get different contexts and that I’m “making a rod for my own back” later down the line. I really wasn’t sure… do you think this will come back to bite me?
Dear Poo Head,
I’m not well-versed in Boomer jargon, so I had to Google the meaning of “making a rod for my own back” — but I get it now. In any case, I tend to agree with your husband on this.
Seemingly innocuous teasing and name-calling can be the gateway drugs for bullying, racism, and other nefarious behavior if not checked early on. Not to mention, eventually you’ll learn there’s an expiration date on this type of nonsense. Sure it’s cute now to call each other poo head now, but would it be as cute when she’s a fourth grader? Or when she’s in middle school? Probably not. There are much better ways to engage with your child other than resorting to name calling, because whether you think you’re doing this or not, you’re basically telling her that this kind of behavior is funny and OK.
You don’t want to be the person raising a kid who teases everyone. Stop being a poo head and put an end to this name-calling foolishness, stat. And yes, I know what I did there.
Dear Care and Feeding,
What is your take on sleepovers? We have an 8-year-old, and other parents are starting to consider them. We’re ambivalent.
—What’s the Upside Here?
Sleepovers can be great — especially if you’re in desperate need to send your kids off somewhere in order to enjoy a date night or some quiet time to yourself. Hosting sleepovers can be pretty fun too — I recently hosted a bunch of 12-year-old girls at my house for my daughter’s birthday, and few things are more enjoyable than doing cringeworthy dad stuff to embarrass your kids. I mean, hey — if you refuse to do your chores, then I’ll get sturdy in front of your buddies. It’s that simple.
I’m assuming you’re talking about sending your kids off to someone else’s house for a night, so you should focus on the things that are important to you. Do the parents own guns, and if so, are they safely secured? Are there teenagers in the home? I only ask because some parents wouldn’t feel comfortable sending an 8-year-old to a sleepover at a house with teens present. Does the family own any aggressive pets? Do they smoke? Do they listen to Nickelback? You get the idea. The point is you want to ensure that your child comes home safely, both physically and emotionally.
That said, if everything is on the level, then sleepovers can be a great way for kids to gain a sense of independence and bond with their friends. Not to mention, I’m 100 percent in favor of getting an occasional child-free evening in the process.
More Advice From Slate
I am the no-soda mom (diet or not, it’s all terrible for you.) I have been holding firm on this since our oldest was born. My daughter came back from a play date recently and told me she’d had Orange Crush. I immediately called the hosting parents and told them my children are never to be given soda, ever. Did I overreact?