Care and Feeding

My Kids Have Been Playing a Very Weird Game of Deception at School

What in the world is going on here?

A young boy and girl looking annoyed with their arms folded.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Prostock-Studio/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a 9-year-old son, “Ben,” an 8-year-old stepdaughter, “Anna,” and a 3-year-old daughter, “April.” My husband and I got married when the older kids were 3 and 2, and they have no other parents in their lives. While they know that we are a blended family, as far as they’re concerned they’re all siblings and my husband and I are both their parents.

Ben and Anna are in different grades at school. They go to an afterschool program that’s mostly just like an extended recess for 2-3 hours with just a few organized activities. Their closest friends don’t go to the afterschool program, but they both have “afterschool friends”—kids they wouldn’t really want to be friends with if given a choice but whose company they prefer to playing by themselves for three hours after school.

Both Ben and Anna came home in a big huff the other day. Apparently, their afterschool friends hadn’t known they were siblings—and that was the way they liked it—until a few days ago, when I picked them up early for once and everyone saw them leave with me. (They’re usually the last kids to get picked up.) I picked them up early because we were spending the weekend with my in-laws and we needed to leave town by 5. But this explanation doesn’t cut it with the kids, who are still furious at me. They insist that I have ruined their social lives. I am mystified. (Their best friends know they’re siblings! It’s only these afterschool kids they were trying to keep it a secret from.) They just keep dropping comments like, “I can’t believe that Greg found out we’re siblings. Thanks a lot, Mom.” All while happily continuing to play together at home, where they’ve always gotten along well.

I am trying to understand what this is about. My husband says I shouldn’t be prying into the kids’ relationship. I’m not being unreasonable in thinking there might be something behind this (is one—or both—of them being bullied, for example?) and worrying about it, am I? Should I really not be trying to figure out what’s going on here?

—What’s the Problem?

Dear What’s the Problem,

“Unreasonable” isn’t the word I’d use. Let’s call your concern something of an overreaction, shall we? It sounds like they were enjoying playing at not being sister and brother, and enjoying sharing this secret (which wasn’t much of a secret, of course, as the adults supervising them at the afterschool program could have blown their cover at any time). Cut them some slack: There’s no harm in children playing pretend—which I am quite certain is what they were doing. It gives them a chance to flex their imagination. Sure, they’re irritated that you ended the game. So what? The only problem here is that you’re taking it so hard. Me, I’d respond to that sarcastic “Thanks a lot” with a cheery “You’re welcome!” Eye-rolling optional.


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