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Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband has been attending two family vacations every summer since he was a child. One includes only his parents and sister at a lake for a week; the other includes all of his aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents at a beach for a week. When we first got together (10 years ago) I would go for 2-to-3 days since I was working and attending school. It was fun, but it is repetitive and nothing changes so I’m pretty bored of it. We now have a 1-year-old daughter and my husband still wants to attend both vacations with his family. This would mean living with his parents and sister in a rented home for two weeks every summer. I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life. I also don’t have the best relationship with my in-laws anymore since I confronted my MIL about her lack of boundaries and disrespect toward me since my daughter was born, and she screamed at me and refused to make any changes because she had “done nothing wrong.” I took a much-needed break from my in-laws for months while my husband visited them with our daughter alone. We are on civil terms now, but it’s still awkward, and my husband can feel it too.
I’d like for us to go on our own vacations now that we have created our own family. I’d like to vacation with friends or my family or just the three of us, so I’d like my husband to keep some of his time off for that. He says he understands and wants the same, but won’t compromise or leave behind the full two weeks with his family. I’ve suggested attending but renting our own home for privacy, or only staying a few days, and he feels I’m being unfair. I feel it’s different for him because staying in a home with his parents on vacation is normal for him, but it’s a lot for me. I know that my husband doesn’t like change and wants everything to stay the same, but things are different now: We have a child, we have a home, and my relationship with his parents has changed drastically. I also feel he is putting his parents’ feelings about any changes above mine. Am I being unreasonable for not wanting to attend the same two vacations, live with my in-laws, and do the exact same thing in the exact same location for the rest of our lives?
— Shouldn’t Vacation Be Fun?
Dear Shouldn’t Vacation Be Fun,
My immediate snarky reaction is that if your husband didn’t want anything to change, ever, no one forced him to move out of his parents’ house or start his own family. (I’m not suggesting that you say that to him.) I understand the importance of togetherness and tradition, but it is definitely not unreasonable to want to go on other types of trips on occasion! And even if everything were totally copacetic with your in-laws, which it’s not, it’s also fine to want your own space while vacationing.
You’ve already thought of most of the things I would have suggested: going for just part of the time; renting your own place; sometimes skipping out altogether; etc. If your husband truly won’t compromise on any of this, any year, it’s upsetting and also limits the good options available to you. Fealty to family can be a fine thing, but you and your child are his family, too. And if he’s oblivious or callous about your feelings and wishes in other areas, not just this one, obviously that’s a problem that goes far beyond vacation—pay attention to such patterns and take them seriously.
Absent a major shift in his thinking or your situation, what options do you have? You don’t have to go on vacation with your in-laws, certainly not for two full weeks every summer, if you’d rather not. You’ve taken a break from them before; there’s no reason you can’t also skip the family lake house some years. I realize it might be challenging to handle all the planning and logistics on your own, but I think you can also try to schedule other trips you’d like to take with your kid if you have the means and the time off available. Your husband can save enough vacation time to join the two of you on these adventures, or not; it’s his choice (who knows—maybe the FOMO will be enough to get him on board?). It’s understandable that he wants your child to participate in his family’s summer traditions sometimes, but the fun and/or meaningful things you want to do with and for your child matter, too.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My nephew is 9 years old. He has cerebral palsy and suffers from limited mobility (he uses a wheelchair), vision impairment, cognitive impairment, and a seizure disorder. He has recently been matched with a service dog who is primarily needed to alert the family to seizures, but also provides him with support to be more independent. I am very glad that he has the dog to assist him.
The problem is that my wife and one of my children are allergic to dogs. We live a few hours away by plane and visit my parents twice a year (they come to visit us twice a year). When we visit, we stay with my parents. Unfortunately, my parents watch my nephew after school one day a week. This means that the dog is in the house at least once a week. Even with deep cleaning, that is likely to set off an allergic reaction in my family. My parents have suggested that we begin staying in a hotel. My kids are very disappointed because they love Grandma and Grandpa’s house—they love the candy drawer and my dad’s woodworking shop and sleeping in a tent in the basement with all my old toys. My wife and I don’t want them to lose that experience. We’ve asked if my parents could watch my nephew at my sister’s house, but they said the commute is too far (his special needs school is near my parents’ home, but about an hour from my sister’s home). We asked if the dog could stay home on the day my parents babysit, but that was shot down, too. I’m not sure how to proceed from here. They do not seem willing to compromise, and I don’t want my kids to feel less important than their cousin.
— What’s Fair?
Dear What’s Fair,
In a conversation many years ago, my younger child’s former special educator shared these words about school-based accommodations for disabled students, which I’ve never forgotten: “Everyone should get what they need. That doesn’t mean that everyone always gets the same thing.”
It was determined that your nephew should have a service dog to be as safe and independent as possible at home, in childcare settings, and at school. That is why he has been matched with one. The dog is not just a pet to which he’s grown attached; the dog is helping him get his real day-to-day safety and mobility needs met. Your sister is sending her child to a school an hour from their home because that is the educational environment he needs. Your parents are helping to meet still another need by providing childcare once a week, at a location that is conveniently near your nephew’s school. You get where I’m going with this by now; a need is different from a really-nice-to-have wish. If the service dog stays home on the day your parents watch your nephew, that means that your nephew won’t have the additional support at their house or all day at school. He and his educators and family won’t have the reassurance of knowing the dog will alert those around him if he might be about to seize. He shouldn’t have to go without his service dog one full day a week, year-round, thus compromising his independence and possibly his health, because you want to stay with your parents a couple of times a year. I understand that allergies are serious and renting a hotel or Airbnb is an added expense, but I don’t think it’s right to ask your family members to make a choice that ultimately makes your nephew less independent and less safe on a weekly basis for the sake of your (very occasional) convenience.
You are entitled to your feelings about this, and so are your kids. But you have a choice in how you handle this. If you keep pushing your parents and sister, focusing on how unfair you believe this arrangement to be, or allow your children to conclude that they are “less important” or being wronged, you’ll be encouraging your kids to resent their cousin, sowing discord in your family, making your nephew’s and sister’s and parents’ lives harder, and, I cannot stress this enough, really telling on yourself. On the other hand, you can accept the fact that your nephew has, as all people do, a right to the support and accommodations he needs in order to be safe and participate in his education and other activities to the fullest extent possible—which, in his case, includes having his service dog with him every day, not six days a week. You can allow your children to express any disappointment they may feel while also doing your best to help them see that this is one small but important step toward inclusion and independence for their cousin, something your entire family should want and support for him.
Hopefully, your kids can hear and internalize the truth that other people getting what they genuinely need is no slight to them. And if you really don’t understand this, I urge you to spend some time educating yourself so that you can be a better relative to your nephew and sister.
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From this week’s letter, Our Daughter Is Being Forbidden from Seeing Her Best Friend for the Weirdest Reason: “My ex-wife told our daughter this, and our daughter said she’s going to hang out with her best friend anyway.”
Dear Care and Feeding,
My parents both had hungry childhoods, and were proud to give my siblings and me a solid middle-class one with a stay-at-home parent. It was good and loving, and I appreciate it very much.
They were also able to afford things that I cannot afford to give my child now. My husband and I have a 6-month-old, and expensive brand-new stuff when it counts for safety. Otherwise, we both contribute to and receive from our neighborhood’s endless loop of hand-me-down kid stuff. Every time my parents find out, they get worried and upset and offer to pay for the “nice” version out of their retirement savings. They cannot afford this, so we keep saying no, but it is a pattern. For example, our son has the regular colds that come from daycare. We send him to our local church daycare because it’s well-run, well-staffed, and cheaper than the fancy Montessori. But my parents are convinced he’s going to get RSV, and tried hard to convince us that one of us should be a stay-at-home parent (which is literally financially impossible for us). When that didn’t work, they offered to pay the difference for the Montessori, which I know they can’t afford, either.
Although this argument has been resolved, I’d like to stop the pattern. I get they want the best for him, and are confused that two parents with college educations and highly technical jobs cannot pay for it, but ultimately the world is different than it was in my childhood. Our son will still be loved, fed, secure, and safe. How do I make that clear so they can just enjoy my son instead? They love to play with him and are excited about many non-material things they do together.
— He’ll Be Fine
Dear He’ll Be Fine,
There’s nothing magical about Montessori that prevents the spreading of germs, and your parents must know that. All this seems to be about them wanting “the best” for their grandchild after the hardships they experienced growing up. And to be honest, I don’t know that it’s in your power to fully reassure them, or convince them to shed their worry. On some level, they probably do know that you and your son are okay and in no serious danger; but when you’ve known real precarity, the associated fear for yourself and your loved ones can be very slow to dissipate, if it ever does.
I get that this is probably frustrating to you at times. It seems like they should be able to grasp that you’re not worried, and that you are providing a secure life for your child. I would just try to be as patient as you can, and continue to let them know that you’re grateful for their offers of help, but that your son is safe and happy and doing well where he is. It’s perfectly okay to say something close to what you wrote in your letter: “I know that you sometimes feel anxious for him and for me, partly because of how you grew up, but we have all we need right now, and I just want you to be able to love and spend time with him and enjoy being his grandparents.”
Also, it’s worth considering that your son is very young, and so perhaps your parents are still getting used to having a grandchild, if he’s their first. Becoming grandparents may have brought up some feelings or fears for them, in the same way becoming parents probably did. Their anxiety about him, and your situation, may lessen over time as they get to see him thrive and grow.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m a woman in my early twenties, and I have an emotionally unavailable father. Throughout my entire childhood, I felt as though he prioritized his work over us. He never made an effort to participate in any of my school activities, even the ones that were related to parents, or learned about my hobbies, personal interests, or friends. He excused his absence by saying he was the sole breadwinner, and left all the child-raising and house-running responsibilities to my mother. In my early teens, I tried to bond with him by showing interest in his hobbies and spending time with him whenever he was fixing things around the house because I hoped that might bring us closer, but it didn’t. I felt like my efforts were pointless since he never did the same for me, so eventually I gave up and accepted that we would never be close.
Now that I’m an adult and about to move into my own apartment, which will make my parents empty-nesters (my older brother also moved out a few years ago), I feel like my father is trying to connect with me. Whenever he asks me questions about my daily life—such as how my work is going, what I do on weekends, or if I’m seeing someone—I feel incredibly uncomfortable. I guess I got so used to never having him around and not sharing anything personal with him that whenever he does show interest now, I feel like he’s invading my privacy. I can’t even tell if his attempts are genuine or not, because he’s the kind of person to repress his feelings rather than talk about them. This feels very out of character for him. I don’t know if he’s being sincere, or if this is just him realizing that if he wants to be involved in my and my brother’s lives in the future, he needs to actually make an effort. I honestly have no idea how to feel about this. Is it worth making a last attempt, or should I just cut my losses and move on?
—Confused Young Adult
I cannot tell you whether your father is sincere or not, but if he is, that’s not mutually exclusive with a recent realization that he needs to make an effort if he wants to be part of your life. Both of these things could be true. I hear that you’ve been really disappointed by him in the past, and his behavior now is a jarring change. I don’t think you necessarily owe him a certain type of relationship going forward just because it’s now more important or convenient to him to reach out.
You’re really the only one who can and should make this decision about letting him in. I’d think about whether there’s anything you want, anything your father could do, that would make you believe in his sincerity or at least serve as a kind of sign that you can at least try to meet him halfway. Also, spend some more time considering all the different options: What if you try to connect with him and it doesn’t work out? What if you try and it does? What if you say “no, thanks” and close the door for now—or even for good? How would you feel in each of these scenarios? Which do you feel best (or least bad) about?
It’s also okay to tell your dad that you’ve been hurt by his past lack of interest, and you aren’t yet sure what that means for your relationship. You don’t have to make a firm decision right away. You’re moving out of your parents’ house soon, and that will be another big change; when you’re no longer under his roof, the choice to see or talk with him will really be yours. You can give it time and see if his overtures even continue once you leave, or if they start to feel more natural to you. Keep checking in with yourself, thinking about how you feel, and what you want once you have a little more space. It’s fine and fair to figure this out in your own time.
More Advice From Slate
My husband and I are expecting a baby in December, and we have started arguing constantly about hypothetical or just far-in-the-future problems. Like public school or private school. Or how many activities—sports, music lessons, etc.—is an acceptable number. But we’re also staying up late fighting about things we’re going to have to deal with right away too, like who’s going to get up during the night when the baby cries and how long I should plan to breastfeed. We used to be the kind of couple other people envied because we seemed to get along so well, and we actually did get along well—but now I’m afraid we’re going to fight about everything for the next 18 years! How do we decide about all these things we disagree about?