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,
I have a good male friend that I have known for years. He has 3 daughters, all teens. Recently the youngest one (13) has been suffering from mental health issues, including hallucinations and paranoia. I don’t have kids but have been a sounding board for my buddy as best as I can.
This kid was recently admitted to the hospital on an emergency basis and underwent a series of tests. My friend’s wife went to the hospital to stay with their daughter while he stayed at home with his other kids. He called me throughout the next two days and nights for support, and I was glad to be there for him. All tests were negative, and she was back home after 48 hours.
I saw my buddy’s wife posted pictures of their daughter on Facebook in the hospital, while they waited to find out results of her tests. I imagined having my mental health issues plastered all over social media without my consent, and it made me wince.
I waited a few days until things had settled down, and then I gently mentioned to my friend that I realized his wife needed support in those moments, but sharing their teen’s mental health struggles may not be in their kid’s best interests. He was mad, extremely so, and we haven’t spoken since. He basically told me I had no idea what I was talking about, that I didn’t have kids, and to butt the hell out. I’ve done as he requested and left him alone.
Do I owe an apology? Did I overstep? I tried to be diplomatic, but maybe I should have said nothing at all. But honest to God, I was just thinking of that kid seeing herself paraded around online, and how she might feel, and I felt I should say something.
—Should I Have Shut Up?
Dear Should I,
This is a tough one, because I know you meant well—but this is one of those instances where you probably should have kept your mouth shut.
First off, you don’t know the intimate details about this situation and every family operates differently. Would I post stuff like that? Absolutely not, but I see uber-private details posted online about my friends’ kids this all the time. I think it’s weird, but I keep my thoughts to myself because it’s truly none of my business. As I often say in this column: as long as children aren’t in imminent danger, we shouldn’t judge how parents raise their kids.
Secondly, these people are probably going through hell right now, and the last thing they need is someone from the peanut gallery judging their Facebook etiquette. I’m sure it’s even more insulting to him because you don’t have children. Again, I’m not saying you’re a jerk because I know you had the child’s best interests at heart, but you probably should have sat this one out.
Yes, I think your friend deserves an apology, and hopefully your friendship can be repaired. Going forward, just offer support like you were doing before, because that’s what he really needs right now.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I can’t decide if I should have children. I always assumed I’d have them, but over the past year or so, I’ve started wondering whether I truly do or just feel obligated to have them.
Here’s the thing: My passions are inherently incongruent with children. I love the finer things: dining out, the arts, and world travel. I’m fortunate to have a career that supports these hobbies. These interests dominate my social life and friendships. They are core to my identity. My friends aren’t starting families soon, if ever, which is fairly common where I live.
Additionally, I come from an abusive family, and despite decades of therapy and estrangements, I worry there’s a risk I could perpetuate the cycle of abuse and pass on generational trauma.
I’m 31 and have zero interest in expending the stress, money, or time to undergo IVF or adoption, so I know the clock is ticking. If I want two children without intervention, my husband and I basically need to start trying… now. And my husband deeply wants children. Two years ago when we got engaged, I was certain I did too. I know he’d make a great dad. I don’t want to pull a bait and switch on him—this is the stuff that ends marriages, and he is my person.
I do think I’d make a good mom despite my emotional baggage. I love children, and people have told me they think I’d be a nurturing and responsible parent. But I just don’t want to change my lifestyle. Maybe I’d be ok giving up my joy 10 years from now (yes, I know children bring other kinds of joy)—but as I mentioned, having my first child at 41 is not a realistic option for me.
What will I regret more, cutting off the life I love at the knees or not becoming a parent?
I’m glad you’re at the point where you’re making this decision now instead of kicking the can down the road. To be 100 percent clear, I will never be that guy who says that parenting brings the ultimate joy in one’s life. Being a dad has been the most amazing journey for me, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but I’ve come across a few moms and dads who told me in private that they regret having kids. There’s simply no “one-size-fits-all” answer to your dilemma.
Similar to you, I enjoyed a lot of things before my daughters came into the picture. My interests were different—I liked drinking at bars on random weeknights, playing video games, and watching basketball. My point is that other than the drinking (I’ve been sober for six years and counting), I still do many of the things I love. I regularly play video games with my 12-year-old daughter, and she now has a dream of working for Nintendo someday. I also passed along my love of basketball to both of my daughters and have coached their basketball teams for many years. My point is that your personal dreams and interests don’t die once you become a parent. Life changes, but it is possible to incorporate what you love into life while raising tiny humans.
What I will say is that in most cases, parenting introduces people to an unconditional love that is life-altering in nature. I’ve become a much better human since my kids were born, and I can hardly recognize what life was like before they arrived in my life. Would that be the case for you? I can’t say for sure, but I love the dad version of myself way more than the pre-dad version.
For the sake of your husband, you need to talk to him about your feelings as soon as possible.
I know this is a tough decision, but remember: Having kids doesn’t mean giving up your hobbies and interests. It just means that your life will be different—and for most people, it’s different in an amazingly good way.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My family (my husband, 7-year-old, and I) have another family (husband, wife, 10-, 5-, and 2-year-old) who are our best friends. We almost consider them family. We spend most weekends together, and we have been on many vacations together. However, the wife in our friend couple has been physically abusive to the husband. We know it happened once a few years ago, but we hoped it was a one-time thing. Well, it happened again last night, and I have no idea what to do or how to help. The husband and children stayed at our house last night. I’m not sure what they will do after today.
An extra complication is that we all have a HUGE vacation we are going on in one month that is non-refundable. This vacation does include two other couples as well as children, and the abusive wife is the one who planned the whole thing.
I don’t know whether we should push for the separation that I think is needed for the husband and the children. I don’t know how to approach my closest friend who has done this. Confrontation and abuse are so far outside of my comfort zone that I don’t even know where to begin. My husband is very angry with the abusive wife, and I just don’t know how this is all going to affect our lives. I know it’s selfish, but the upcoming vacation is a big concern. We have all saved for years to be able to afford this, and we are not in a position to lose thousands of dollars on a vacation we don’t take. Obviously my main concern is the safety of the husband and children but I can’t help but think about the effects on my family as well. Any advice would be appreciated.
—Sad and Concerned In South Carolina
Dear Sad and Concerned,
I think you need to reframe this. I understand that missing out on an expensive vacation is gut-wrenching, but we’re talking about domestic abuse here. Would you even think twice about removing yourself from the trip if it was the husband physically abusing his wife? Probably not. Abuse is abuse and you need to act accordingly—even if it means taking a sizable financial “L” to get your point across. Not to mention, there are young children involved. What kind of message would you send to them to turn a blind eye to abuse to save some money?
You need to seek resources for yourself and the husband. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline immediately—they can offer you some counsel. When you know the husband is in a safe place, please make sure he does the same.
They can advise you on how to help the husband. They can also counsel you on how to help the wife—if, depending on the nature of the abuse and violence, they think you should get involved at all.
I doubt they’ll be able to help you with the vacation, but hopefully once you’ve made those important phone calls, you’ll be able to assess how to move forward with it, if at all. A phone call to someone in charge at an airline, cruise line, travel agency, or hotel might go a long way—these are extenuating circumstances, and they might be able to help you rebook your travel so that you’re physically separated from the danger this person poses to you, your family, and friends.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My daughter’s daycare is an administrative mess. Twice, my husband and I have logged on for Zoom meetings only to find the teacher forgot. Emails go unreturned, the phone goes unanswered. There seems to be a lot of staff turnover, and the position for lead teacher in my daughter’s classroom has been unfilled for three months as a rotation of substitutes cycle through. The school is always very apologetic, and I know from the news the toll the pandemic took on careworkers in this industry. How can we tell whether we’re sending our kid to a great place that is doing its best in rough circumstances, or whether we’re sending her into a really bad scene? Daughter is 20 months old, so she’s too young to give us a full report on how her days go—all we can tell is that she’s a bit teary when we drop her off, but always seems to be having a good time when we pick her up. She comes home clean, fed, and carrying art projects.
—Normal Chaos or Chaos-Chaos?
Call me insensitive, but I don’t really care about what’s going on in a particular industry. Professionalism is professionalism. There are no excuses to ghost parents during Zoom meetings. There are plenty of daycare centers that offer amazing service. If you’re running a business—especially a business that includes taking care of the most valuable and vulnerable people in our lives, then it’s normal to expect great service. I would never tolerate what you’re describing.
If you are more understanding than I am, and you have a personal day you could use, you could offer to volunteer at the center to see firsthand what’s going on in there. If you determine that you’re witnessing straight up incompetence, then you should leave immediately. If there’s something deeper going on, then maybe you can see what you can do to help fix it.
Also, consider speaking to other parents who are sending their kids there to see if they share the same opinions. Like I said, maybe there’s a systemic issue at play. Either way, if I were you, I’d start shopping around to see what other options are available in your area. I promise you that not every daycare center operates this way, and you should do everything in your power to find a place where you can feel comfortable sending your kids.
More Advice From Slate
I have bipolar I disorder, aka manic depressive illness. Compound that with perimenopause, and it can be rough on my husband and son. I’ve responded by not only doing all the medical things one should do, but also by explaining what’s going on to my 9-year-old son. I apologize for my snappiness, anxiety, and rage when they come through. Some people think I shouldn’t be this honest. Am I doing something wrong?