Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here.
Dear Care and Feeding,
This may seem like a low-stakes question, but I am truly concerned. My 15-year-old daughter is an extreme introvert, and strongly dislikes big groups of people and large events. She finds it difficult to make conversation and is seemingly uncomfortable even with talking with some of her classmates, even those she has known for years. I am extremely worried about her and how this will impact her in the future. Ever since she was little, she has been very serious, and I would consider her relatively unapproachable. It takes her many years to get fully comfortable with a person, and to start opening up to them. Once you get to know her, however, she has a host of wonderful personality traits. I have had numerous talks with her about getting out of her comfort zone. I’ve tried everything, from yelling at her to reasoning with her, but nothing seems to work. All I want is for her to show that she is a human, and not a machine. For some reason, me saying this seems to bother her, because (as she told me) she does not think of herself as a robot who is devoid of emotion, and she’s sick of people like me saying that she is. It’s difficult for me to see her in any other way, however, because she rarely expresses strong opinions with me or her father, and often shuts down and refuses to let us know what she thinks during some conversations.
She volunteers at a local natural history museum, which has been great for her. She is passionate about the subject, and seems to enjoy interacting with visitors, other volunteers, and her supervisors. She claims that this is evidence that she can be outgoing and social when she needs to be, and doing so just takes more effort, but I am not convinced. I would like her to put this much effort into social and casual relationships, and not just ones where she is expected to perform some kind of task. How can I get her to change her personality, so she opens up more easily, and enjoys social interaction and gatherings more?
—It’s Just a Conversation!
Dear It’s Just a Conversation,
Wow, I’m amazed that yelling at your child, calling her a machine, and telling her she needs to become an entirely different person hasn’t worked out the way you’d hoped!
I don’t understand why you think her personality is a problem that needs fixing. It’s no wonder she is shutting down during your conversations. You admit that she has a lot of “wonderful traits,” and given what you’ve described about her museum work, it sounds like she is able to communicate with others when she needs to. It’s okay that she’s introverted and needs time to warm up to people and doesn’t like big parties (the same is true of many, many people!). It is also okay if she’s still figuring things out socially and learning how to talk with others. Pretty much everyone is still learning and developing their communication skills at the age of 15.
You’ve said some very hurtful things to your daughter, and I can only imagine that your misguided mission to change her entire personality has undermined your relationship and her trust. You’re the one who needs to change here—you need to work on seeing and appreciating the kid you have, instead of wasting more time and energy telling her that her natural inclinations are wrong. If I were you, I’d focus on trying to repair any harm done, and loving and affirming her for who she is instead of wishing she were someone else.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My daughter is 7 going on 8 and generally a very bright, sweet, and wonderful little girl. The problem is bedtime. I try to put her to bed by 9 p.m. with a set routine involving bath, PJs, multiple stories being read, tuck in, etc. But until 10 or 11, she continues to ask for various things or register various complaints—room is too hot or too cold, she’s thirsty, she’s lonely, she lost her stuffie, her PJs are itchy, her doll has some sort of problem, she needs a hug, etc. I try to calmly bring her back to her bed, address any issue, tuck her in again and leave, without too much attention or drama. But these requests come every 5-to-10 minutes for an hour or two each night, and it is driving me insane because this 1-to-2 hours between her bedtime and mine is the ONLY time all day I could conceivably have to myself to read or watch something or take a bath or just be quiet by myself.
My husband is usually on his computer or doing something else. He ignores her and she’ll walk right by him to get to me. She has plenty of sports and other activities, and I know she’s tired because she’s also extremely difficult to wake up in the morning and get ready for school (which by the way is also my responsibility). Any advice on how to get her to stay in bed and fall asleep in a timely manner would be greatly appreciated.
—Sleepless in New York
You could try gently telling your child that parents, too, need quiet time to themselves—there’s a chance she will be able to understand that, though not every kid her age does. You could also consider offering some sort of incentive she will understand and care about—when our older child was young and going through a little sleep regression, we’d put a sticker on the calendar every night she stayed in bed, and once she had a certain number of stickers she got a reward (something small but meaningful to her, like some toys of her choice from the dollar store or a chocolate milk and a treat at Starbucks).
That said, I do think you buried the lede here a bit; the bigger problem is your husband’s behavior. The bedtime shenanigans will eventually get resolved—you’ll address them, and/or your daughter will grow out of them—but you are still going to need (and deserve!) time to yourself, and to not feel as though everything is always on you. Your husband is currently choosing to let you handle all the parenting work and challenges on your own, perhaps because he doesn’t think of any of it as his responsibility. If he won’t listen or change when you talk with him about it, that’s a big red flag. As the other parent, he needs to actually, you know, parent, not leave you to try to deal with everything—including the current bedtime gauntlet and groggy morning aftermath—all alone.
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From this week’s letter, No One Thinks My Sons Are Actually Brothers, and It’s Freaking Me Out: “I’ve tried everything, from yelling at her to reasoning with her, but nothing seems to work.”
Dear Care and Feeding,
When/how is it ever appropriate to intervene in my brother’s parenting, if his kids aren’t at immediate risk, but could have future issues? Feel free to tell me to mind my own business, I just see echoes of our childhood in a way that alarms me. My siblings and I were raised in a very sheltered home. We weren’t allowed internet (except directly supervised for school), and we were discouraged from making friends because they could be “a bad influence.” We were basically allowed to socialize with family and at church.
At 18 I left home, and got into as much trouble as I could find. I lost a few years and some good friendships to my choices between 18 and 22. But I now have a really stable life, career, education, and loving friends. My older brother died of a heartbreaking overdose before he could turn it around. Our other brother “Peter” responded by following the family rules to a T, and married a woman from a similar family. They have four kids under 7. I’m worried that he’s setting his kids up for the same struggles we had: They aren’t allowed school friends, either, and lots of anodyne popular culture isn’t allowed because it’s “woke.” Peter’s 6- and 7-year-olds parrot his and my parents’ talking points about how “dangerous” the world is and how much crime there is in our area (they live in a very safe suburb). It’s so much like our childhood, I’m scared he’s perpetuating the cycle.
I’ve maintained a relationship with Peter, my SIL, and my parents through a combination of short blocks of time together and keeping my mouth shut. The last one is especially relevant because I am very different from them in religion, politics, career, and overall beliefs. I try to spend my capital wisely for this reason, and rarely put my foot down. But I love my family, and worry that the cycle will repeat.
— Worried Aunt
Dear Worried Aunt,
I understand why you’re worried, and I’m sure it’s difficult to watch parenting decisions that harmed you and your brother being repeated by your other brother. There is probably not much room to actively intervene in or alter his choices at this point. But that doesn’t mean you can have no influence on his children—you might have a real and positive impact on your niblings, if you develop your own connections and relationships with them. You can be one more person, a person close to them, showing them that there are other ways to think and act and be. Eventually they will grow up and make their own decisions. Their parents aren’t going to be able to control them or dictate their views or their way of life forever, and perhaps with your influence or example, they won’t necessarily feel tempted to rebel in the same ways you now regret.
In the meantime, I expect it’ll be hard and sometimes triggering to know that they’re being raised the same way you were. Maintaining these relationships within your family, as much as you love them, may come at something of a cost to you: I imagine it’s already not easy to keep your mouth shut so often; to know that your values and your choices aren’t respected; to always have to calculate whether to say something, and how to keep the peace. Added to all that work, now, is the pain of watching your brother replicate some of the patterns that directly harmed you in parenting his own children.
I know you care about all of them and want to be part of their lives, and I’m not suggesting you do otherwise. You’re the only one who can decide how involved you want to be, how often you can see them, etc. Just be aware of how you are affected by watching these cycles possibly repeat, and do what you need to do to take care of yourself, too.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My 13-year-old daughter “Bella” became friends with “Evelyn” two years ago during virtual learning. They continued to be friends in real life the following school year, as they had many classes and interests in common. Evelyn is a strict rule follower who excels in all she does, both in school work and extracurricular activities like music and the arts. My daughter also excels in these areas. They both put a lot of pressure on themselves and feel a lot of external pressure because of the area we live in.
The girls are in a lot of classes together again this year and often work as partners (by choice). They work well with one another. However, my daughter is starting to get frustrated and embarrassed by Evelyn’s lack of social awareness and emotional intelligence.
Evelyn has a strong disdain for anyone she feels doesn’t meet her high standards and will let them know with eye rolls and criticism. She calls people “idiots” if they don’t get straight As or if they sometimes break the rules. Bella is also a rule follower, but isn’t as hard on others as Evelyn seems to be. She realizes people who get lower grades aren’t “idiots,” and she doesn’t like when Evelyn rudely puts other people down. She has called Evelyn out on her rude comments and doesn’t want people to think she feels the same way, but that hasn’t stopped Evelyn from continuing to be insensitive.
Bella wants to give herself some space from Evelyn by not hanging out with her anymore, except maybe as partners in class. The problem is they now have the same circle of friends because Bella introduced Evelyn to her buddies. So they are not only in many classes together but also hang out in the same social group. I would like Bella to set boundaries with her friend, but I also feel for Evelyn, who really doesn’t have many friends. Since Evelyn doesn’t hang out with these other kids without Bella, I’m afraid Evelyn will feel completely abandoned or alone. I would hate it if it was my kid being “dropped” as the friend. How can Bella get some space she needs without completely cutting off Evelyn? Is that even possible if their personalities are so different?
— Friendly, But Not BFFs
Dear Not BFFs,
I don’t dismiss your concerns, but I truly think that this is something the kids are going to have to work out largely on their own. They’re 13, and at this age it’s really not going to be possible for you to step in and control how things go.
I understand why Bella would want to distance herself from Evelyn and her behavior, especially given that she’s tried to call her friend out on the lack of kindness and gotten nowhere. It’s a choice she should be allowed to make, and it’s good that she’s thinking about her values and the kind of person she wants to be instead of just cosigning or joining in her former close friend’s attacks on their classmates. Of course, any choice she makes about this friendship is hers alone—some of the other kids in their group may still choose to hang out with Evelyn, even if Bella doesn’t seek out her company as often.
The reality is that friends can and do grow apart, for all sorts of reasons, especially at this age. If this is just a difficult phase that Evelyn is going through and she comes through it a kinder person, perhaps the kids can eventually salvage something of their once-close friendship. If not, it’s Bella’s right to choose to be close to people who don’t put others down.
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