Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I am a woman in my 60s with two grown daughters in their 30s. My husband and I live in central Texas and didn’t plan to leave. However, my husband has been experiencing some health complications. While these are not yet major, I think that it is time to make the move. I am no longer able to care for him on my own if he becomes incapable of doing simple things for himself, and because of COVID, we do not want to involve home health nurses or nursing homes. I think that the best thing to do is to move near one of our daughters, who have both expressed the desire to have us move near them when we get older. We have the money; we have been saving for this for years, and we always knew that we might have to do this in the future, especially since neither of our kids stayed in Texas. The question is: Where to?
My older daughter, “Remy,” lives on the East Coast, near a nice town with affordable housing and a beach area. She is the daughter I have been closest to. Remy has a master’s degree, works from home, and is extremely well off. My husband believes that she will be able to care for us better. He is also a lot closer to Remy. Four years ago, Remy adopted “Charley,” who was 10 at the time and became our first grandchild. I became extremely close to the two of them, as Remy would constantly fly over so that we could have a close relationship with Charley. A year later, Remy met “Eli,” a similarly well-off PhD candidate in her program who met her high standards for a partner. I greatly enjoy Eli’s company. He’s intelligent, witty, loves my daughter, and is able to hold up a conversation with my husband. He is also a great dad. He and Remy later adopted “Ethan,” Eli’s younger cousin, and “Scarlet,” who are also amazing kids. If I’m being honest, I want to move near Remy and Eli and their family. I like where they live, and I love helping out with the kids’ school. (They are all homeschooled.) When I tentatively asked Remy about moving, she got so excited and immediately started shopping for houses in the area. I get calls from Charley all the time asking if we really are coming to live with them. I want to, but I also have to consider my younger daughter, “Lyra.”
Lyra lives with her husband, “Brad,” in Idaho. I love Lyra, but I don’t like Brad. Every time I’ve interacted with him, he’s been rude, ornery, and ready to fight about everything. Lyra defends this by saying, “Traveling makes him grumpy” when they come here, or “Having people over makes him grumpy” when we go over there. I don’t believe in controlling other people’s marriages, so I stay out of it. But I also hate how he treats his kids. He has “Jason” from his previous marriage, and twins “Michael” and “Arlo” by Lyra. Jason is a bigger boy with borderline autism that has never been officially diagnosed (as someone who worked with kids like this for years, I know), and Brad constantly makes jokes about his size and calls him “stupid,” which I find inappropriate. The twins are little and prone to mess, and Brad yells at them whenever they spill or break something that never should have been around little boys in the first place. On top of this, Lyra and I don’t get along very well. She is one of those people who always sees the “glass half empty.” If I comment on the nice weather, she’ll go off about how it never rains. If I see Jason running around the yard and tell her he’s cute, she’ll say that he has too much energy. If I comment on a pretty rug that she bought, she’ll snap about how Brad needs to get a better job, because they’re constantly struggling to pay the bills. This is true, they are not well off. I know that Lyra’s attitude is a problem with minor depression, which she is in therapy for. But it is still depressing and unfulfilling to be around her family. Even her kids are bratty and easily tipped into tantrums, which I try to ignore because I know that it’s mostly a product of their parents. This doesn’t make it any easier to have something thrown at me, though.
I know that I should probably move near Lyra. If I move near Remy, Lyra will be heartbroken and most likely attempt to temporarily cut me off. I just don’t want to deal with this drama at my age, especially with my husband’s health in decline. If I don’t move near Remy, she will be sad, but she’ll also just come visit me wherever I go. This may be a way to repair the rift between the sisters. But I honestly think that I’ll just have to see them separately, since they dislike each other. Do you have any advice? I want to do what’s best for everyone, but I don’t think that there’s a perfect answer here.
—East or West, Which Is Best?
Dear East or West,
There’s no perfect answer, you’re right. But I don’t really think you need to frame this decision, in your head, as choosing between your daughters. That’s going to make you feel worse, no matter what choice you make. Yes, this move will have an impact on all of your intra-family relationships. But I don’t think any one decision will solve existing conflicts or determine how all of those relationships will unfold in the future.
You said that you’re moving primarily because your husband needs more help and you want more support from one of your children. If that’s the case, it probably makes sense to move to the place where you’ll have more support. I realize that you may be feeling some guilt for not getting along as well with Lyra and her family, and that’s making this decision feel more fraught. Of course, if you really wanted to, you could choose to move near Lyra to try to be a loving presence in your grandchildren’s lives and support your daughter. But I don’t think you should make such a move only out of guilt, or to attempt to repair a sibling rift that far predated this decision you’re trying to make. And if you moved closer to Lyra and expected her to offer you some help that she was ultimately unable to provide, that could cause even more strain in your relationship and more stress for her.
Try to stop comparing your daughters and their situations—not just in terms of this move, but overall! It’s not helpful for you, for your children, or for any of your relationships to compare one family to another. Putting whatever issues you have with Lyra and her husband aside for the moment, it is okay to prioritize your own needs—and your husband’s—in this move. It does sound as though Remy is in a better position to offer the kind of assistance you believe you’ll need as your husband’s health declines. Whatever you ultimately decide, make sure you have clear and open conversations about your anticipated support level so that your family members understand and have a chance to think about what they’re realistically able to do.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My 12-year-old daughter has been writing in her diary for the past year. She finds it helpful to write things down. She went old-school, using a physical diary. I recently found three pages from her diary, clearly torn out, left lying on the dining table. One is from a few weeks ago, where she talks about no longer enjoying soccer and how she wants to stop. One is from last week where she mentions how guilty she feels about needing glasses or new shoes because she knows our financial situation isn’t great. And the last one was a day old, about how she’s been feeling really anxious and wanted to try therapy.
I’m really unsure how to react after this. I’m 80 percent sure she left those pages there on purpose, but the remaining 20 percent gives me pause. If she did leave the pages there on purpose, I want to talk to her. Finances are tight, but her old glasses were broken and she could barely see out of them, and her shoes were falling apart. Not wanting to play soccer anymore is totally fine by me, though I’d want to know the reason why because I was under the impression that she loved it. It’s not like I can let her quit soccer, take her to therapy, or reassure her about our finances without also letting her know that I read those pages. I also want to talk to her to figure out why she’d rather do this whole thing instead of just coming and talking to me.
On the other side was more typical stuff, like a crush on a cute boy in her class, and other things that she probably wouldn’t want me to know. She’s very careful with her belongings, so leaving the pages out was probably intentional, but at the same time, I’m struggling to imagine her doing so where her brother could see it. So, on the small chance that they were just left there by accident, I’d be violating her trust so much if I came to her to talk about this. How can I proceed if I don’t know whether or not this was intentional?
—Torn About a Diary
It’s also kind of hard for me to imagine a careful 12-year-old tearing pages out of her diary and leaving them in a high-traffic area by accident. It does seem likely that they were left for someone to find. Of course, it can be really difficult for kids to know how to communicate with their parents, especially when something is upsetting them. But your daughter needs to know that you’re always there and you want to hear from her, whatever she is feeling or struggling with—she doesn’t have to resort to games or subterfuge to bring things up or get your attention.
You could bring her the pages and say that you found them out on the table and wanted to make sure they were returned to her—because they really should be returned to her, whether they were left out purposefully or not. At that point, she’ll probably ask if you read them. I would say something like, “I would never want to invade your privacy by looking for or reading your diary, but these pages were torn and left out on the table, and I thought maybe you left them out for me to find. Can we talk about what’s in here?” And then I’d want to do a lot more listening than talking.
No matter what you decide to say about the pages, you should make an effort to talk with your daughter about some of what you read—and anything else she wants or needs to share. You don’t have to directly reference anything she wrote in her diary in order to be in an ongoing conversation with her about how she’s feeling, what she’s anxious about, questions or worries she has about your family, or things she might like to change (like playing soccer). Most aren’t easy subjects, I know, but they’re all things you should be talking about regularly, anyway. The more openly you can discuss her feelings—and signal your eagerness to keep discussing them—the easier it might be for her to say something next time, instead of communicating via a diary you aren’t supposed to see. One more thought: If she doesn’t want to come talk to you, if it’s easier for her to express herself in writing, maybe you can ask her to write to you instead.
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From this week’s letter, My Mother-In-Law Wants Me to Keep a Devastating Secret From My Wife: “My mother-in-law told me all of this when I was very tired after a long night of newborn care and I did not push back at the time.”
Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m a recent widow. After my husband passed and I retired, I had nothing tying me to my home anymore. My kids both live in the same area and invited me to go live with them. I have my own place now. I’ve made friends, lots of people my age nearby with my hobbies and interests too. And while I do set boundaries, I’m also available to babysit my grandkids as needed. My daughter’s kids are older now, so while I do occasionally babysit, I’m not needed as much and our time together is more about spending time with my preteen grandchildren. My son has three toddlers (a 4-year-old and 3-year-old twins), so he and his wife constantly need help and always appreciate it when I can help out. My daughter-in-law’s stepmother Kathy also lives nearby. We get along very well, comparing experiences as widows, and sometimes babysitting the kids together (it’s the only way either of us feels comfortable taking the kids out, three energetic toddlers are a lot to handle and we aren’t as young as we used to be).
My daughter-in-law’s mother, Julie, lives on the opposite coast with her husband. She’s very jealous of the amount of time that Kathy and I spend with the grandkids. She cannot get over how they call Kathy “grandma.” Anytime any of them hit a milestone she gets irrationally upset that she wasn’t around to witness it, and then she takes all of it out on my poor DIL. She’s very critical of anything we’re involved in—when my DIL sent the family Easter photos, her mother criticized her because the girls were wearing dresses that Kathy had helped buy and our grandson wore shoes that I’d gotten them. Julie similarly nitpicks any decision that my DIL makes. The 4-year-old is starting to read equals he’s starting too early and needs to slow down and enjoy childhood. One of the 3-year-olds likes kicking soccer balls equals my son and DIL aren’t doing enough to encourage her love of sports.
When Julie visits, her jealousy and bitterness mean we try to avoid interacting with her as much as possible. She’s finally gotten the hint that she can’t be this mad if she’s not around to help out, so she’s decided to move about an hour away. How can Kathy and I tactfully tell our DIL that Julie is an awful person and we’d rather not help out if she’s going to be around, too, but at the same time, our DIL has our sympathies and we’d love to help out as long as her mother isn’t around? She needs to learn to stand up for herself against her mother. I would love to help with that, as long as I’m not overstepping my boundaries with her.
Dear Grandma Duties,
Remove the part about her mother being an awful person, and let Julie know that you and Kathy will be glad to spend time with her and help however you can when her mother isn’t around. You don’t have to go on and on about not liking the woman (Julie can probably read between the lines). I don’t know that you’ll always be able to avoid her, especially if she does move closer—you’ll probably be invited to the same birthday parties, holidays, etc.—but you don’t have to be in her company all the time. It’s fine for you to have that boundary and choose to do things with your son and daughter-in-law and their kids separately.
I understand that you want to help Julie and believe she should stand up for herself. But keep in mind that whatever is going on with her mother’s behavior, it isn’t Julie’s fault or responsibility. Her mother sounds like the kind of person who would be difficult no matter what her daughter said or did. It may be very frustrating to watch, but it won’t help Julie to make her feel like you’re judging her for not speaking up, and could make it harder for her to confide in you. Keep in mind that you don’t know all her history with her mother, and for all you know, she has tried very hard to stand up to her without much success. She obviously isn’t ready to cut her off entirely. And you’re not going to be able to force her mother to change her personality or direct the course of their relationship.
If you’re with Julie and see that she’s upset about something her mother said, it’s okay to tell her you’re sorry her mother spoke that way, and you don’t think she deserves it. You might also want to say the same to your son, the person closest to Julie and the one most likely to help her think and talk through whether she wants to change how she communicates with her mother. Continue to support them both however you can and make sure they know they have your love and can always count on you.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m a 33-year-old woman with a 6-year-old daughter, “Rose.” We live on the same block as my older brother “Daniel.” It has been helpful most of the time. Sometimes, Rose goes to her uncle’s house straight from school and comes home for dinner. The other day, she came home from her uncle’s all excited because she “finally scored a point against him in practice.” It took a few minutes to unriddle what was going on. Dan fences as a hobby, and one time when she was over she noticed the masks and foils and asked what they were all about, so Dan told her. Rose was interested and he showed her some first steps.
Where things went wrong (from my perspective) is that Rose was apparently not sure if we’d approve of her interest, so she asked Dan to keep it quiet. Daniel has been compulsively secretive since he was about 10—I still remember his fight with our mother when she told her friends he’d been accepted into an Ivy League school without his permission. He has some very rigid ideas about when it is and isn’t appropriate to transmit information. So I’m sure that to Dan, there was nothing more needed—his niece asked him to keep a secret, so he kept a secret.
They’ve apparently been practicing fencing for a bit under two months now. Dan even got her a child-sized mask and foil. I trust him, and I’m sure he wouldn’t do anything to hurt Rose, but I am quite annoyed that he didn’t bother to tell me something like this for so long. But at the same time, I’m not sure how seriously to react to this. Ultimately, no harm has been done. Should I be changing the arrangement where Rose just goes over to his place after school? Or set some kind of rules to follow about what he tells me about Rose? I’m not sure how to actually enforce that, since if he doesn’t tell me something, I wouldn’t know there was anything to tell.
Dear Questioning Judgment,
I wouldn’t want someone my kid was spending a lot of time with to keep secrets from me, either—that’s rule number one when it comes to adults spending time with kids! Dan should have known better.
Assuming you really do trust and have no other reasons to worry about him and Rose outside of what you’ve shared here, I don’t think you need to put an end to the after-school hangouts. Talk to both of them separately, starting with Rose. She asked Dan to keep her new hobby a secret because she was trying to work around you, and didn’t know whether you’d approve. You want her to come and talk to you next time, and feel comfortable doing so. Make sure she understands that she shouldn’t keep secrets like this from you in the future. Reassure her—if she needs to be reassured—that you care about how she feels and what she’s doing, and you always want to talk with her about these things. And then try to follow through and consistently show that you’re interested in her life without turning into a helicopter parent about it. You can enroll her in a fencing class.
When you talk with Dan, let him know that you understand he was trying to respect Rose’s wishes, but as her parent, you do need to be aware of what your minor child is up to when she’s not with you. They aren’t peers; he’s the adult. It’s not appropriate for him to encourage or go along with your child keeping a secret like this from you. He can be as secretive as he wants about his own adult life, but that right doesn’t extend to what he does with Rose. Even if the two of them were practicing fencing with the utmost care for her safety, it’s the sort of thing a parent should know about. But again, if you truly have no other concerns, I don’t think you need to prevent them from spending time together—just keep an eye out, keep communication open, and make sure they know that this can’t happen again.
More Advice From Slate
My husband is in education, so during the summer he is a full-time stay at home dad to our children, ages 4 and 18 months. During the school year, he cares for them several days a week. I’ve long had a hunch that he was letting a screen do the child care for him. And now, after my first week working from home full-time, the facts can’t be ignored: They watch TV all day, every day.