Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My parents “opened their relationship for the good of their marriage” a few years ago. (They are 60, I’m 40.) I suppose it’s not really any of my business what they want to do in their bedroom, but I have to admit I was happier not knowing about their sexual antics. Mostly, it’s irritating to be introduced to their latest lover du jour, who will inevitably disappear into the ether in a few months and be shortly replaced by another new person or two.
I’d like to put some boundaries in place, at the very least tell my parents that I simply don’t want to meet their new lowers. But whenever I object, they either say that this time is different or they just bulldoze past my objections, and I wind up being cringingly introduced to some new partner of theirs. I don’t want to go no-contact with them, but I don’t see any other options that keep this from recurring.
— This Is Ridiculous
You have every right not to meet your parents’ casual lovers if you don’t want to, and you don’t even owe them an explanation. After all, most children are understandably not interested in their parents’ sex lives (at any age), and adding polyamory to the mix doesn’t change that. One of the most empowering things I’ve learned as an adult is that “no” is a complete sentence.
Additionally, it’s important to remember that it’s not your responsibility to manage how people react to your boundaries. I know I’m running the risk of sounding insensitive, but they are being insensitive, and if they don’t like it, that’s their problem.
To set the boundary, you can say something along the lines of, “What you choose to do in personal life is up to you, but going forward, I have no interest in meeting your romantic partners in the early stages of your relationships. I hope you’ll take this seriously, because if you choose to ignore my request, I’ll have no choice but to distance myself from you. However, if you find yourself in a serious relationship after six months [or whatever amount of time is acceptable to you], I may reconsider.”
The main thing is that you must be willing to follow through on this if they call your bluff. In doing so, you should remember that disregarding your boundaries is a clear sign of disrespect towards you—and why would you ever want someone in your life who doesn’t take you seriously? Hopefully they will listen, but if not, you may have to love them from a distance until they realize that you mean business.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m a single father with a 9-year-old daughter, Ella. I divorced her mother when she was 2, and then her mother died about two years ago. I don’t travel for work too often, but it’s still more than I would like. I have an upcoming trip where I’ll be gone for three days. Usually, my sister and her family watch Ella when I travel, but they can’t this time—which leaves me in a bit of a pickle as far as childcare is concerned.
My friend has offered to watch Ella. Ella sees my friend quite regularly. My friend has babysat before, though never overnight, and Ella is perfectly fine with those arrangements. For some reason, which Ella won’t tell me, she’s terrified of the idea of my friend looking after her, whether it’s at our house or at my friend’s. She’d much rather come with me if my sister can’t watch her. She’s a pretty active kid and would definitely be bored sitting around listening to highly technical presentations, and if she isn’t being active she’d just be staring at her iPad. I really don’t want to cancel my trip. It would be a huge boost to my career if I present at this conference.
My only options at this point seem to be leave Ella with my friend even though she’s uncomfortable with that for some reason, travel with Ella and find a way to keep her entertained while also networking with the other people at the conference, or leave her with my parents who live two hours away (they aren’t willing to come down here to watch her but are more than happy to have her). Both of the latter options would involve taking her out of school, which I also want to avoid. But I also don’t like the idea of leaving Ella with someone who for whatever reason she’s vehemently opposed to staying with.
—How Do Single Parents Do It?
Dear Single Parent,
This is a tough situation to navigate, but I think it’s important to respect your daughter’s wishes and not insist she stay with your friend. I mean, if she’s terrified of the thought of spending a night with this person, then it’s probably for a good reason, right? I loathe to put this out there, but I would do whatever it takes to find out what her concerns are with your friend in case there is something inappropriate going on.
Given the other options at your disposal, I would suggest taking her with you on this business trip. Granted, she may find the subject matter of the conference to be dull, but it could serve as a great bonding opportunity for her to see you in action as a professional. Not only that, you could enjoy meals together, take walks around the city during downtime, and allow her to experience an adventure in a new place. I’ve spoken at many conferences where other speakers had kids like Ella tag along. It’s not abnormal or weird, and everyone handled it well.
I know missing school isn’t ideal, but you could reach out to her teacher and ask her to provide some assignments for Ella to work on while you’re both away. Also, if it comes down to having her use a tablet to keep her entertained for a little while, then so be it. We have to do what we have to do as parents.
The other option is to drive Ella to your parents’ house, which could put your mind at ease regarding keeping her safe, but it seems like an unnecessary hassle to make another long trip just for childcare. In any case, I wouldn’t consider doing is canceling this trip, especially if it can boost your career—and if it boosts your career, it will help your daughter in the long run too.
Slate Plus Members Get More Advice From Doyin Each Week
From this week’s letter, My Cousin Just Asked Me to Help Keep a Big Secret From Her Kids. Hmm.: “I’m dreading an instance when one of them hears about it and comes to me asking if it’s true.”
Dear Care and Feeding,
My mother and mother-in-law are competing narcissists who can’t stand each other. In the last few years, my husband and I have watched their politics grow in completely opposite directions—my mom is extremely liberal while my MIL is extremely conservative. Last year we attempted to have a family gathering for our only child’s first birthday at my parent’s home, and our mothers had a conflict regarding masks: MIL refused to wear one and called my mom “paranoid,” despite having several high-risk COVID family members present including our young child. This single interaction a year ago has put my mom off ever including my MIL in any family events for the foreseeable future.
Now my MIL, who has alienated herself from her entire family due to her being so difficult, guilt trips my husband every time we come to visit because she feels she gets “crumbs” and that my family is separating us all. The truth is my husband and I are tired of both of their childish behavior and have no clue how to resolve the rift these two stubborn idiots have caused. We feel we can’t even have a party to celebrate our child’s second birthday this year without someone’s feelings being hurt. How can I support my husband and let him know his mother’s happiness is not his responsibility and how do we move forward celebrating our family’s milestones?
— Smothered By Mothers
Despite all the drama in your letter, I’m going to keep this brief.
Few things are more annoying to me than grownups who can’t act like grownups, so I have very little patience for this nonsense. The solution is simple—tell them to knock it off, or else they won’t be allowed to your kid’s birthday party (or any other family gathering). At that point, they’ll have to decide whether having a relationship with their grandchild is more important than acting like middle schoolers.
If you want to be helpful in this process, you could offer to moderate a conversation between your mothers. If done effectively, it could help to bring them together and hopefully end this once and for all. No matter how this goes down—a moderated discussion, a duel at 10 paces, or something else—you need to hold firm and not allow this behavior to continue under any circumstances. They don’t have to be best friends, but you must demand that they’re civil for the sake of your child and your sanity.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I have triplets who will be in Kindergarten next year. We have a son and identical daughters. Our school district is small, so there are only two classes for each grade in elementary school. We want to encourage our kids to be as independent as possible—splitting them up into different classrooms, but we’ll always have a situation where two kids are in the same class.
We think it might make the most sense to switch off who’s in a class by themselves and who’s in a class with a sibling, but I’ve been told by a friend who has twins in our school district that they really don’t like it when identical siblings are in the same class. If we go by that, then my son would never be in a class without a sister and I can see him struggling to make friends or other things by himself as long as a sister of his is in his class. They go to preschool now. They were originally in the same class but were eventually shuffled around so that each one is in their own class (the preschool has multiple classes for 4-to-5-year-olds, luckily).
I’m just worried that my son being in the same class as his sisters every year is going to negatively impact his social skills. My daughters are identical, but most people can tell them apart because one has shorter hair and the other has longer hair, and they have different colored glasses. I’m not sure how many more issues my daughters sharing a class would cause than my son sharing a class with a sister. I know it’s way too early to be worried about this, but I can’t help it. There’s so much conflicting advice on raising multiples, and I feel like with any choice I make, I might pick the wrong option and screw up my kids’ futures.
— Splitting Up in School
Dear Splitting Up,
Identical twin here. Let me say that your kids will be fine no matter if they share classrooms or not. My twin and I were in separate classes all throughout elementary school, ended up being roommates with the same major all throughout college, and we’re still best friends to this day. I know other sets of multiples who were always in the same classes and are thriving today. Believe me when I tell you that whatever route you choose will not ruin their futures.
Yes, I know life with triplets adds more challenges, but it all comes down to raising them in a loving and supportive environment (which I’m sure you’re doing). As long as kids feel a sense of psychological safety, they will feel the confidence necessary to make new friends and explore life on their own. I know you said that it could be tough for your son to make friends, but you won’t know that until he’s put in the position to do so. If he’s anything like the other multiples I know, he will find his group of friends in time.
Speaking from my lived twin experience, there are plenty of things in life to be stressed out about, but this shouldn’t be one of them.
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Our 5-year-old daughter gets invited to so many birthday parties. It started out as just good friends, but now in pre-K, she’s invited to all of her classmates’ parties. We are going through financial struggles, and we can’t afford these birthday gifts. What should I do?