S1: This ad free podcast is part of your slate plus membership. The following podcast contains explicit language.
S2: Welcome to Mom or dad or Fighting Slate’s parenting podcast for Thursday, March 26, Cross Country Conundrum Edition. I’m Dan Course. I’m a writer at Slate and the author of the book How to Be a Family. I wanted out of Lyra, who’s 14, and Harper, who’s 12. And I’m coming to you from my basement in Arlington, Virginia.
S3: Hi, I’m Jamilah Lemieux. I’m a contributor to Slate’s weekly Care and Feeding Parenting column.
S4: And the co-host of this podcast does all the jobs that I have left. Help me, please. I’m 4. I am the mom to name who is 6. And we live in Los Angeles, California.
S5: Analysts, this new camp, right, the home school and family travel block that stretches my mom to three boys, Henry 7, Oliver 5 and Teddy, 3. My husband’s in the Air Force, so we’re currently calling Navar, Florida home. And you are coming to us live from your Lego room. My Lego round slash craft room, Jameela.
S6: You’re in your bedroom. I’m in my bedroom.
S2: So, yeah, we’re all coming to you from home in this very first all quarantine episode of Mom and Dad are fighting. This is gonna be the normal for the next few weeks, months, years. Who knows? But this is the way it’s gonna be. Slate Plus members are gonna hear a little bit from the kids who are floating all around these houses, stomping around as we try and record these podcasts. I’ll tell you more about that later. But first, today on the show, we’ve got to listener questions. Remember those?
S7: We’ve got a question for my mom, who is confronted by a friend about her less a fair parenting style. And now she’s second guessing herself. Is there a correct level of parenting anxiety? You’ve also got a question from a step mom who’s moved cross-country for a job. Her stepdaughter spent struggling. What can a step mom do to help? But she’s half a country away. Plus, as always, triumphs and fails and recommendations.
S8: Let’s start trying some fails. Elizabeth from Florida. Do you have a triumph or fail for us this week?
S9: So I’m not really sure if it’s a triumph or a fail, but it wasn’t opportunity for discussion. So that is where we’re going to leave this. Sounds like a fail. Yeah. So Henry has been spending more time online because although we homeschool, we usually are out and about and doing things. And he is definitely wanting more interaction. He’s in love with this math game called Prodigy. That’s online free. It’s great. There’s an opportunity to, like, play with your friends. But I couldn’t quite figure out how to figure that out. So I had him face time with a friend in Canada, but also plays the game who we know and we’re stationed with in Colorado. And I left them. They were like face timing. They had found each other in the game they’re playing. I left to go to attend to the other children and then there was like frantic texting from the other mom and like hysterical laughter over the face time. And then I could hear one of this little boy. He was talking to sisters like screaming. So I come back and the little boy is holding up a pair of his sister’s underwear. The other mom is like super calm. She’s amazing. And she is like, I think this virtual playdate is over. So we’re like, OK. And we shut it all down. And of course, Henry is like, I don’t get it. It’s just underwear. Like, why did this? And that was funny. You know, so we had to have this entire discussion about sort of Internet behavior and why it’s not just underwear now. I mean, for a 7 year old, look, there is nothing like sexual or anything about it. Henry doesn’t have sisters. So I think he sort of feels like if I held up a pair of my brother’s boxers, they wouldn’t care. But it felt like this opportunity to lay down kind of my expectations and the law about what being on the Internet was going to look like, what to do in case this happened again. And I mean, his little friend is as innocent as can be as well. And his mom had a lovely conversation. We did a face time and wine to debrief about how our respective conversations had gone. So I think going forward, hopefully he’s in a better place, or at least I’ve introduced the fact that I’m, you know, zero tolerance on this. But it was not what I was expecting for our math play date.
S10: Unfortunately, that was a triumph.
S3: I hate to say I begrudgingly agree.
S11: Well, unless it happens again. Right.
S10: And then if that fails, if right now he’s outside waving his underpants around. Yeah. Exactly. Or yours.
S12: Because he doesn’t have a pair of girls underwear of his own. So he could be rifling through your underwear drawer for the next play date so that he’s not unprepared. I just want to say, Elizabeth, you haven’t been around us long enough to start failing. But the failures will rub off on you virtually at some point. So just keep listening to Dan and I talking about parenting.
S13: And either we’re going to shape up better or you’re going to get worse.
S10: But I can’t wait. I cannot wait to find out who wins this battle.
S14: Yeah, exactly. Three kids. There’s a lot of opportunity for failure.
S10: Mila, what about you? You have a trial for fill this week.
S3: You know, I’m gonna also file mine as.
S12: I’m not sure, but actually I think I’m going to give myself a little bit more grace in the era of Corona virus. And I’ve noticed in the comments on Facebook that listeners are often kinder to me than I am to myself or remark that, you know, Jamelia can be really hard on herself. So I’m going to be gentle with myself and call this a triumph. So we moved from Brooklyn to California late last year.
S15: I moved in October, name removed in July. And so she has not seen her best d her lifelong best friends since we moved. There was one we did a pretty okay job of keeping in touch with in the beginning. There’s some face time dates, but school started, life started and we’ve kind of lost track. Even though these children, one in particular, remain very active and present in our imaginations and we talk about them, we talk about spending time together. We haven’t done the pen pal thing like I’d hoped and we’d collected addresses and all this stuff that we were gonna stay in touch with people. And so now seemed like a really great time to reconnect Naima to some of her friends. And so one of her very best girlfriends who she went to pre-K and the one before pre-K and the three years that you do when you’re not in kindergarten and you’re just a little person, I guess, preschool and pre-K through, they went there together and they went to kindergarten together. And we lived a few blocks from each other and they were inseparable. And then we, of course, separated them. And so, you know, I had her mother the other day and said, hey, it’s time for that Nia Nyima virtual play date seems like a really good time to do that now. So I got the face time number for the little one. And I go in the kitchen and I call her. I said, Hey, me and I am and doesn’t know I’m calling. You used to just hold on a second. And I go into the living room where Nyima is doing something.
S16: I said, Hey, Assalam wants to talk to you and it’s her bestie and I got to see her face light up. And it was the sweetest, most innocent, pure reactions, anything I’ve ever seen in my life.
S15: And Nyima was just so shocked and just over the molen that she could barely. She was nervous as like she was meeting a celebrity or something. And this is someone she’s known since she was 2 years old.
S16: And Nia says to her. So Nyima has Africa. And they was like, Oh, we didn’t move to Africa. We moved to California. She’s like, Oh, that’s right. So what do you like to eat out there? And I am just kind of stammers out through her smile.
S17: Pizza and Maestas. Oh, yeah. I feel like you like pizza in New York, too, right.
S16: And they just had the sweetest conversations. So that in and of itself, as a triumph, the dicey part begins where Nia’s mother and I allowed the girls to spend maybe the next day and a half on the phone. So goodbye school work, goodbye learning.
S15: You guys just entertain yourselves. And they literally they played with their my little ponies. They talked about everything under the sun. They played virtual games together. It was great. So not the best cat to the academic week, but a very beautiful and necessary reconnection that I’m happy to have been able to witness.
S18: Yeah. That’s a huge triumph. There’s no doubt about that. I mean, that’s totally great. I love that they played together. It wasn’t just asking each other stilted questions about Africa. It was them actually playing together once they relaxed into it.
S14: Yeah, I think that’s encapsulates their relationship, right? Like they were best friends, like if you hadn’t talked to your best friend in forever, that’s what you’d want to do, too. Yeah. So I think good on you for rekindling that. You know, like imagine how much time that couple days buys them for their relationship. I think that’s great.
S15: And when Naima went over to her father’s house for a few days, I had to feel the text messages from Nia myself. But it was also very lovely for me to hear from her as well. So she was my friend, too.
S14: Have you tried? Facebook makes a kids Facebook messenger where you can leave little like voicemails or text messages or things like that. And it’s all as a parent, you can look at all of that. You know, the privacy is not there, which is good, but that might be a good option for them.
S3: I don’t know about that. I’ll have to check that out.
S12: I am notoriously Facebook adverse for a lot of reasons, partially just because it never was my social media drug of choice, like it was the one when I was in college and then we had these other options and then I got addicted to Twitter and that was it for me. And now I would be very dark, but my fear of Facebook is going on there and finding out who’s died. What I know is a very likely reality that we’re all going to have to accept. And, you know, the deaths and proximity to my social and professional circles have begun to emerge in other places. And knowing that Facebook is going to be where they will all be recounted and shared, that I will check that out as many ways as we can. Keep them connected to each other right now is great.
S18: I think that is very lovely. I have an absolute no doubt about it. Fail or be no debate as to whether this was actually a triumph or whether it was a learning experience. It was just a fail. I sort of just like lost it yesterday. Like, you know, how you just have one of those moments where it’s like it all comes crashing down and all you can think about is the Corona virus and all the bad news you’re hearing from friends and how everything’s gonna be fucked forever, etc, etc, etc. And so I was just very glum and grumpy all afternoon, exacerbated by us giving the email volume to from our schools that Virginia is canceling school for the whole rest of the school year. That’s official, but I was just like in our super shitty mood all day and I think that I was just like not nice to be around. I was unproductive. I was grumpy. I was not kind to people. I was short with everyone. Anyways, there’s a real dick. And then today I like got it together.
S19: I have sort of collected myself. I’ve made real conscious efforts to be nicer to everyone and to put things in a little bit better context for myself. And we had a family meeting thing that we do quite often to discuss future plans. Harper called this family meeting because she had a bunch of ideas for things that she wanted to add to our schedule. And she went through those things and we talked about them and said yes to pretty much all of them. Several fun ideas that I mentioned. You know that another important part of the next few months, Stallard School is canceled because there is really important for everyone to be kind to each other, to try to be really kind to each other. And I said and I you know, I just want to apologize. I want to say I’m sorry. I feel like I was not kind. Yesterday, I was not as kind as I could’ve been. I was very grumpy and mean, and I’m sorry for that.
S20: And Harper and Lyra both were like, you were you were like Mark. Mark grumpy than usual. So, like, they they couldn’t even tell the difference.
S13: All right. Let’s talk some business. Yeah, right. Go back.
S3: So is the veil that you like pointed out to them that you’d been grumpier than usual or as the fail? Larry, just.
S21: Are you saying that you feel as though they can’t tell the difference between me being incredibly grumpy at rock bottom and me just every day?
S16: So perhaps that’s a triumph. This glass. Oh, yes.
S11: You guys are so nice having your worst day. I mean, success, normalcy.
S3: This is the normalcy that we need right now.
S18: I’m glad that I’m giving them normalcy and that my normal is indistinguishable from me. It’s like you had to cancel.
S9: See, I was waiting for like moments after this meeting. You just lose your mind on everybody that is singing.
S20: All right. No, that’s still to come today, I’m sure. No, no. It just felt like a real fail that I was particularly awful yesterday. And they were like, we couldn’t even tell the difference from you on any other day.
S11: I don’t see it as a fail. Then you keep saying that you can restated if you want to. Sounds to me like I think you have to think of it. Yeah. Like your bad is not as bad as you think it is, or my good is not as good as I think it is. Well, that’s the glass half empty glass and half you’re all at a family meeting to talk about things that you could be doing in the next few months.
S12: And she wasn’t the one who brought up kindness. So I think that’s a triumph that she wasn’t you know, this could have been a family meeting slash intervention because dad is so evil that I guess his true.
S20: Nevertheless, I got to see if in the future I can get them to be able to tell the difference from me being nice and me not being nice. Hopefully I can create a gap between those two states that will be recognizable to them in the future. That’s my goal.
S14: Do you plan to move just one bar or both bars?
S11: Like, are you gonna be worse than me or me?
S20: And nights are just one of my hunch, given the future of the lies ahead of us, is that I’m definitely gonna be worse.
S11: So hopefully I can also get better. We reject your fail. We reject. You have failed at failing.
S20: I failed a failing. That’s very kind of you to say. But you’re wrong. I’m going to talk some business now with our fine listeners. Please sign up for Slate’s parenting newsletter. It’s the best place to be notified about all of Slate’s parenting content, including this very podcast and care and feeding Jamelia. Great column and much, much more. Of course, it’s also just a personal email for me every week and I really want people to read my words. So sign up slate.com slash parenting email. Also check us out on Facebook. The search for slate parenting on that social media and death news delivery app. It is a really fun community over there on Slate Parenting and Facebook. We moderate it so it doesn’t get out of control. It is filled right now with people bemoaning their current fate with having to teach their children at home with Elizabeth. Speaking words of wisdom with me, just typing L-O-L.
S16: Occasionally I come in and like the comments that are polite.
S20: That’s true. Helis contribution at this time. She may give more later. Yeah, it’s great. Currently, I think that it’s a very useful place to be. It will help you feel a little more sane. Search sleep parenting on Facebook. All right. Let’s go to the first of our two listener questions this week. This was emailed to us at Mom, Dad at Slate.com. If you have a question, please email us at the mom and dad at slate.com. It is being read, as always by the fabulous Shasha layon ob.
S22: Dear mom and dad are fighting. I have a question about the prevalence of anxiety and guilt in parents. I am a mother to an almost 2 year old girl. Let’s call her N both in my social circle and in parenting forums. Most parents seem to be anxious about their children’s safety and feel guilty about failing them in some sort of way. Especially the other mothers I know all seem to try to live up to impossible standards. I’m usually pretty self-critical, so I expected to feel the same way. But this hasn’t been the case. Every once in awhile, the possibility of getting seriously injured or even killed flashes through my mind and I feel the adrenaline most of the time. I do not worry very much about and safety. For instance, when she was a baby, she like to crawl on and off the couch, and sometimes she would try to go headfirst. My partner wanted to stop her from exploring the couch altogether, and I wanted her to be able to practice moving. So I just showed her that. But first works better and then she got the hang of it very quickly, albeit with a few stumbles and bruises. She is now confident and fearless child. I thought I was getting it right. That is until one of my friends wanted to discuss my parenting style. She explained that she normally doesn’t discuss differences in parenting style with her friends, but she wanted to make an exception in this case because it was about my daughter’s safety or lack thereof. She said that she couldn’t forgive herself if and died, and she didn’t express her concerns. She gave many examples of my carelessness, ranging from lack of child proofing and attentiveness outdoors to hygiene and food safety, all phrased very politely. For instance, we do not have a toddler gate on our metal staircase. We would have to get a carpenter to make a custom model and we haven’t gotten around to it. When our daughter learned to walk and tried to climb the stairs, we just firmly told her no. After a couple times she got it and she’s never tried to climb it again. The conversation was polite. I didn’t say what I really felt, which was pissed. I felt pissed. How dare you judge my ability to care for any safety? After this conversation, I got to thinking about all the things my friend said. She’s one of those moms who holds unrealistic standards for herself. So I tried to tell myself not to worry. In her eyes, nobody’s parenting will ever be good enough. We have another play date scheduled and I want to cancel. But I’m of two minds. Maybe I should doubt myself more. Am I getting it wrong? Am I lazy to not have prioritized getting a taller gait? Is feeling guilty or anxious? Important because it keeps you from making mistakes. Rationally, I’m convinced that allowing children the space to get hurt is the best choice and maybe one of the reasons and is so confident and happy. But I also want her to live past her third birthday. I would love your point of view on this anxious mom.
S14: OK, so I am not a very anxious mom. Any of you are. But I can definitely identify with this letter writer. When we lived in the Netherlands, we had like the stares of death and they were curved and open and you could have fallen through them in a million different ways. And I never put any kind of came up. Stop the kids not to fall so I can definitely relate to this. I, first of all, definitely feel like I want to say you are not a bad mom. Every parent has different thresholds of safety. Every child has different thresholds of safety. And figuring out that balance is an important part of kind of your parenting journey.
S9: I’m a little pissed, too, that the friends like approach start in this way. I was trying to really think about if I would approach someone I have about car seat. So maybe that’s the same thing, like seeing someone with a car seat that was not installed properly. I have said something to a friend, but it definitely wasn’t in this. Like if I don’t say something and your child dies. I think that’s really passive aggressive and not very nice. I don’t want this letter writer to stop the way she’s parenting. It is definitely the way a parent in the Netherlands, definitely the way we saw them parent in Germany and just kind of in Europe in general, which is to let the kids explore, be there on those big things. So when you see them going off the couch, teaching them to go. But first. But letting them fall to knowing that like a little fall here in there is actually quite good for them and teaching them where those boundaries are. House for your friends.
S23: I think that.
S24: If you feel like you can hang out again without, like a confrontation and you’re happy to just kind of let what she said, sit there and you enjoy hanging out, then you can continue to hang out with her. But if every time you’re going out, you feel bad about how you’re parenting. I think there’s a way to just kind of face her out and find friends that feel supportive. I certainly have friends that are anxious and I see them being much more helicopter free or around, you know, than I am. But I have never felt by those people judged in this way or that it has made me question how I parent. There are certainly lessons and things to be learned by being around parents who parent differently. But I just think, you know, parenting is so hard and there are so many things you do wrong. That being around someone that is making you feel worse about what you are doing is not a good idea. But I don’t know. Again, I’m not a parent, so I can’t relate to thinking like everything in the world is going to kill my children. I sort of think they’re going to encounter these things one way or the other, and they might as well encounter them with me on the playground or in my house rather than years from now when I turn them loose. And they’ve never encountered any of this.
S25: Rather than turning them loose later to encounter stairs for the first time in twenty one, frankly, I want them to fall down.
S6: Now, the difference between like you expressing your concern about a car seat and this woman having this sit down with her friend, is that you expressing your concern about a seat takes as a given that your friend has a baseline level of concern about their children’s safety and just needs to know that their car seat has been incorrectly installed? Not that your friend does not care about their child’s safety. And it is up to you to save their child from certain death. Exactly.
S26: And so, yes, I agree with you that I think as mom needs a reminder of business. And it really struck me the way that this mom who wrote this letter and the examples that she gave or of specific times when there was a possible danger in her home. It wasn’t that she was unaware of the danger in her home, but she used the fact of the danger as a reason to teach the child how to handle the danger. Right. To teach the kid how to go. But first off, a couch. To teach the kid not to go up the stairs or how to go upstairs when it’s time to go upstairs. And so it strikes me that this isn’t at all an example of careless parenting, as the other mom seems to think. It’s a very specific kind of careful parenting. Right. It’s a philosophy of careful parenting where you express the care by teaching the child to deal with these things on their own as opposed to the kind of careful parenting where you make sure that this child will never have to face any of these things at all.
S6: And that’s an equally prevalent kind of parenting. That’s an equally valid kind of parenting. It’s a time honored philosophy that Brazilian’s of parents abuse through history that works just fine. So no letter writer. You should not feel like you should be more anxious just because an anxious mother tells you she thinks she should be. Jamila, what do you think?
S27: I think that you raise a good point then that it isn’t that the letter writer is being careless. It’s that they’re just making different, deliberate and intentional decisions than their friend would make.
S28: In terms of her own parenting, I would not be offended. I think it’s also important to reflect on the fact that your friend took the time to one.
S27: There was a list of things that she’d observe.
S29: So it wasn’t a matter of the first time that your parenting style seemed to deviate from what she deemed appropriate.
S27: That she called you out on it, too, that it was shared in the spirit of concern.
S30: There are some very smug and nasty parents shaming comments that are shared at times coming from a place of wanting to pat oneself on the back for how good they are at parenting by compare, as opposed to actually having care or concern for someone else’s child or children.
S31: And I would simply continue to reflect on what this person had to say and the decisions that you’ve made and, you know, take the best and leave the rest. You know, it could be that, you know, for example, the safety gate that you didn’t get around to having installed may be worth having installed.
S30: Of course, it’s going to be a bit more difficult to do something like that now, but maybe there’s some sort of stop gap or something that you could do, aside from asking a 2 year old to comply by a rule, because that is not always a winning bid to make, you know. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with from time to time taking a moment to reflect on how other people parent and some of the tools and tactics that they use and finding where. They may have some practical application in your own household and also being willing to say this doesn’t work for me. This doesn’t work for our child. And I think we’re doing okay without feeling that it isn’t that you’re a great parent and she’s a crappy parent or that she’s a great parent and you’re a crappy parent.
S3: I think the truth is somewhere in the middle, like baby bear porridge. Right, that you could probably benefit from a little bit of her philosophy and she could probably benefit from a little bit of yours. And that’s OK.
S32: If you haven’t already politely affirmed that you appreciate the concern and that you will take time to reflect on what she’s had to say. And if you want to have the conversation about, you know, some of what you may be deeming carelessness is actually different intentions than what you have.
S3: It’s deliberately different approach to parenting than some other parents have. And here’s where I get some of these things from and here’s why. Bankole. But if you don’t want to find yourself in a position where you feel like you need to defend your parenting, I was simply given honest. And I hope that you are thankful for her concern and that you’re able to receive it as an act of love as opposed to simply an act of judgment, and that your friendship can continue to move forward. And also know that the doors for criticism have now been opened. So if you at some point and I wouldn’t say do this in the next like three weeks because it is going to look petty. But at some point, if you feel that there’s something that this friend is doing in terms of parenting and it may not show up now, maybe our children are a little bit this may be the car that you get to pull out when they’re 8 and they want to go to an overnight trip and they’re saying, no, that’s too risky. That is your moment to shine.
S11: That is your moment to say, hey, actually, I am concerned about you buying your child from lifelong memories.
S6: And here’s why you are so nice to be able to view this as being offered in the spirit of love. I definitely want her to just tell us one of the shit.
S9: I actually agree with Dan. I just don’t think that anyone offering advice with love says if your child died and I didn’t tell you this. I just feel like if the advice is offered with love, you say like I noticed that, you know, your child almost fell down the stairs or is having trouble with the stairs that are just like so much nicer way to say that. Then like I’m telling you this because otherwise your child’s going to die. You know what I wonder?
S30: I wonder if this person, the friend, wrote two of Harington column and said, I want to talk to a friend of mine, because there are some things and the columnists may have said something along the lines of you’d feel awful if something happened to your friend’s child.
S33: They didn’t have the wherewithal to leave that part out when having the conversation that they basically repeated verbatim what had been said to them.
S10: I am in love with stimulas idea that if you do maintain this friendship, you now have carte blanche to go to fuck town. This lady’s parents say it’s coming.
S30: The day is coming. There is absolutely going to be something ridiculous that this person does and you are going to be the only one who. Unless she delivers these loving messages to everyone, she very well might.
S10: Here’s the only other thing I would say about this. If you’re gonna install the gate, install it at the top of the stairs, not the bottom of the stairs. The bottom of the stairs is where you teach your kid how to go upstairs. At the top of the stairs is where your kid toddles around. When you’re not looking at them, they fall all the way down the stairs. So that’s my two cents on that matter.
S34: You know, I just want to say that my daughter just came in and presented me with a note right when we started recording the podcast today.
S35: I heard her yell, oh, my gosh, Mommy’s going to hate me now. My gosh. And it turned out that she spilled some yogurt on the couch, which is fine. And so I went out there and I cleaned it up and told her it’s OK. It’s no big deal.
S34: And she came in just now. My co-hosts can see the note that she colored and illustrated it. Dear Mommy. And that’s a picture of the couch with yogurt on it. With yogurt on it. Yes. It says, Dear Mommy, I am so sorry for spilling yogurt on your couch.
S36: I feel so bad. I slipped up and called in my couch a couple of times and now she always calls on my couch.
S34: You will forgive me, right? Question mark. And so she drew the task with yogurt on it. And then at the bottom, she drew herself. And in case I was unclear that it was her, she labeled it me. And it’s her saying, sorry.
S14: Do you think you fit right? Like I forgive you and slip it back under the door?
S13: Well, I think that that is also what she thinks because she gave me a crack. I don’t think I have a choice. That was the expectation.
S10: Requires your earliest convenience. Love. That’s very adorable. Please take a photo of that and let’s post it to the Facebook page along with this episode. Yes, I will. All right. I think we’ve given the range of advice here. Very curious how this pans out. So, letter writer, please feel free to write us back and give us an update. Do you in the end decide to talk with this woman about this? Do you accept her advice in the spirit of love is Jamila suggests the utility chip, as I suggest. Let us know. Thank you for reaching out. Other listeners reach out. Email us at bombed-out site.com and send us a question. We will do our best to answer it just like this. Our second listener question, which is once again being read by the incoming Loblaw Shasha Layana.
S22: Dear mom and dad are fighting. I’m engaged to a wonderful man who has a 16 year old daughter. I’ve been in their lives since she was 10. I love my future stepdaughter very much and I was lucky to be able to spend a lot of time with her when she was younger. About two years ago, I got a job offer on the other side of the country. My fiancee and I decided it was in our best interests as a couple to move. We invited his daughter, but she decided to stay with her mother. Fast forward to now. This formerly happy, secure girl is struggling. Her grades have been failing. She got drunk after homecoming. Her values seem to have totally shifted. She’s depressed and she’s told her mom that it’s because we left. I don’t disagree that it had an effect, but I also know her mother travels frequently and for long stretches of time. They fight often. It breaks my partner’s heart when he learns of some new problem and he blames himself for all of it. My question is, can I do anything to help or should I stay out of it? I call my future stepdaughter every week to chat and she picks up. Most times I try to be non-judgmental and give her space to talk about whatever is on her mind. I also try to support my partner and remind him that he’s not solely responsible for this situation, but that doesn’t help. What can I do to help them both that I’m not seeing and the thought that keeps me up at night? Am I the one to blame for all of this? The wicked step mom.
S37: Well, you are a step mother, but you’re certainly not a wicked one. Teenagers get drunk at homecoming. That is a thing that happens. And I understand that you may be concerned that this young lady’s values have totally shifted. And let’s be careful not to conflate normal teenager ness, which can include grades tanking because you’re not having a super happy period in your life. And it certainly can include getting drunk at homecoming. Haleys Those homecoming, the first time I got drunk was like in the middle of the day at school because my locker partner paid me in Vacca to clean up our nasty locker. And where else did I have to go and drink? Barkha But lunch. So that was great for my friend said gimme cleaned up before I could go home. Very entrepreneurial. Jameelah, I’m impressed. Yeah. Shantha Raven and her parents who had a fully stocked bar, which was something that my mother never kept around. So we were able to sneak off of their liquor, whereas I would’ve got caught at all if I tried to drink that much. So let’s start at the end. No, this isn’t your fault. You’re not to blame for this. You did a quite reasonable thing that people do. And one of the devastating at times challenge is about not being in a relationship with the other parents of your child or children is that you may end up living in different places and having to reimagine what co-parenting and family time look and feel like. Your husband is the one who made a decision to agree with you that moving to the other side of the country was in his best interests. And the guilt that he feels over that and the guilt that you’re feeling are completely normal. But that isn’t to say that you all have done something inappropriate or unfair or unreasonable.
S38: Now with that.
S37: If it does seem that this young lady is in serious trouble and that’s something that you and your husband and her mother should work together in so far as you can to figure out. There may need to be some changes made to what her life looks like right now. It could be that she was not in an emotional place to handle having her beloved father still physically distant from her. And we’re not entirely sure what the co-parenting situation looks like, but it’s safe to assume that if nothing else, she this child is probably at the very least spending weekends with her father. And so now she’s not able to see him frequently. It may be the case that she would be happier and healthier in your household than in her mother’s household, though that was not the decision that she made when it was posed to her. When you decided to leave. I think that what you all have to do right now as parents, as the three of you. And again, every family’s different. Not all blended families are capable of having group conversations and discussions in the way that perhaps we should be able to have about the happiness and well-being of our children. But if there was ever a time for the three of you all to try to rally and work as a unit as opposed to in two siloed units, now is it? I don’t want you to be caught up in feeling blameworthy or responsible for what has happened, but you should recognize the power and influence that you do have in terms of helping this persons who have a better senior year than she’s had a junior year.
S6: I think it’s a really good point that you can both recognize that this is not your fault and you should not feel guilty about it and also recognize that this probably should be an opportunity to think about whether things need to change for the benefit of this kid. And maybe they change in the direction that you suggest Toomelah, that maybe the kid might be happier living with the letter writer and her soon to be husband where they are. Maybe they have to give serious consideration to moving back to the town where they were before or to doing something else to change jobs again at some point? I don’t know. But I do think that you should take Jamal’s advice and think about this as a chance for everyone to get together and really talk about what would be the best for this kid. I do think that this letter writer. Is absolutely already going way above and beyond the traditional requirements have not even yet a step right here, not falling short of those requirements. You were talking to this child once a week. You are being an open ear for her to let loose, to hear, being non-judgmental. You are offering her something that she desperately needs, which is an outside voice and an outsider year to talk through some of these problems with. And that’s incredibly valuable. And so I would really second what Jamila says that you should not blame yourself for this. Elizabeth, what do you think about this?
S14: Yeah. So I also thought this was an opportunity for sort of the whole family to get together and have some kind of discussion about what’s going on. And again, we don’t know enough from the letter to know like they invited her to come, but like, what was the discussion around that? And that was a few years ago. So I I just think it sounds, at least from the letter, like the step mom is very involved in a lot of what’s going on. And I wonder if maybe her. The aunt say needs to be kind of the lead on this, either talking with the daughter and seeing what’s going on, you know, having that dad daughter time without the step mom there, without the mom there to say, what’s the deal, what’s happening? Are you really unhappy about this? It sounds very kind of teenager me to say, like, why mad that you asked? Even though there’s a lot of other stuff going on. And I do think, Jimmy, like you said, there’s a lot of teenage things that are happening here. And you’re definitely not to blame for those or your decision. But it just seem like there needs to at least be a discussion maybe about where the best place for this child is. And I am thinking like if we’re talking about going into senior year, she didn’t do well with the first transition is another big transition. You know, the right move. But I think in general, the family needs to get together. I was also struck, though, by the role that the step mom is taking and sort of thought, you know, maybe she needs to put more of this in her fiance’s court and be more of the person giving advice and listening to him and encouraging him to talk to this child and the child’s mother and figuring out where the best place for the whole family is.
S6: That’s interesting. I do think you’re right that finding a way to make sure that the child’s actual father is like taking the lead in this conversation and decision making does seem important.
S14: Like she says, she’s calling. Listen, this letter is nothing but love for this child. And I love that. But no matter how much you love your step child or your soon to be step child or, you know, whatever their relationship is, it is still, I think, not your role to necessarily supplant the father. And if she’s mad about you guys leaving. That needs to be something that the daughter and the dad talk about. And if that means that your calling. Sure. But like is the fiancee calling his daughter all the time? Is he the one, you know, leading these conversations? Is this something that a summer with you could fix? Is this something that dad visiting more could fix? I mean, I think there are a lot of kind of smaller opportunities. I was also thinking like this might be a great opportunity for some family therapy. There’s a lot of online type options or to get everybody in the room and talk about what’s happening. Again, I think a lot of the behavior itself can be chalked up to kind of teenage behavior. But even if she’s just kind of saying like us, because dad left, I do think there’s probably a grain of truth that that was a hurtful thing that happened. And so can you take the opportunity to unpack that and hopefully be able to move forward in the best situation? I mean, it’s like the change that this girl went through in terms of like the family moving and then she’s got step sisters and then going to high school.
S6: Like all of that is a lot of a crazy suggestion. Letter writer, you had to move across the country for your job. But as of right now, I would bet money that you don’t have to go to that office. So could you spend four months teleworking from your old town where that daughter is?
S21: Could that daughter come to you for some longest period of time? Maybe now that she doesn’t have to go to school anymore. Take the load off her biological mother, who is clearly struggling with a very unhappy 16 year old. I don’t think you should be trading this kid back and forth across the country in this time of social distancing and quarantine. But I do think that there is a chance to maybe find a way to become more physically involved in this kid’s life, because a lot of the rules that led you to move across the country maybe are not exactly in effect right now. Is that crazy?
S24: No. I mean, I think taking advantage of this is a great idea.
S14: And I think to being physically present with her in some way will enable you to see whether this is kind of normal teen age or is there a boundary issue at mom’s houses? Are there just no rules? And that’s why at 14, she thought, this is a great idea, I’m going to stay here. You know, I’m not sure they have a full picture of what’s going on.
S30: I am a very active promoter of social distancing, so I don’t think that anyone should be getting on a plane anytime soon right now unless it’s absolutely necessary. However, I have been face time with my father every day, and that’s something that we were only doing. You know, every other week or so in the past.
S37: So you all can be talking to her and looking her in the eye a lot more frequently and easier than you have been perhaps prior to the current state of affairs.
S33: And I would recommend doing that, making time, especially your partner should be doing this one on one with her asking certain questions, you know, making sure that she has everything that she needs to have a private conversation. So if you need to send her a pair of good headphones, you know, or a new phone of her own. Perhaps that’s something that, you know, he can discuss with her mother.
S29: But I would say for now, try to figure out what you can by phone and because it’s likely that if she had. Experience a disruption in her schooling, yet that she very soon will. Perhaps some of the issues and challenges that she was facing will dissipate. It’s likely that her mother’s going to be travelling less if in fact that was something that is a cause for concern for her.
S30: And just a quick teenage anecdote of my own that I want to share. When I was a junior in high school, I got my first legitimately bad report card. I was not a big fan of school, even though I was very convinced that I was going not only to college, but that I wanted to go specifically to Howard University, which I did end up going to. But at the most important year, in terms of trying to get a scholarship and all that good stuff, I just dropped the ball. I hated school. I didn’t feel like the curricula had anything to do with my life.
S39: I wasn’t learning much about my culture, etc., etc. And I just kind of bullshit it and I cut a lot of school.
S40: My mom would leave for work in the morning.
S30: I’d go to like the Chinese spot, come back home, eat, watch Jerry Springer. And when I finally was unable to keep this up and still maintain decent grades and I was fully outed for how awful I’d been as a student. I told my parents that I was depressed.
S33: Now that I look back at it and as somebody who has a diagnosis, like I have been dealing with chronic depression probably for much of my life. But when I said that to my parents, it was my get out of jail free card. I didn’t say I want to be in therapy because I need help. I did not want to be grounded. I didn’t want to be yelled at or punished for having a bunch of D on my report card. So I’m not saying that your soon to be step daughter isn’t, in fact, depressed.
S29: It’s entirely possible that she is. It’s possible that she is depressed and also decided to use this as an excuse to defend her bad behavior. But I think that there’s, again, a lot of common teenager things happening here that you have to be careful not to blame yourself for.
S6: This is an interesting situation because, you know, as Shimura sort of pointed out. Whatever these specific problems are she’s having with her mother. She’s going to have a completely different set of problems with her like one month from now. Yeah, the more that yours to be husband and you can be involved in her life on a face to face basis, whether it’s through a lot more face timing, whether it’s through as I still think is totally plausible, gassing up the car, filling it full of snacks and driving overnight there and like renting a house. I think that that’s not totally unreasonable or impossible. Maybe it isn’t possible. Maybe it’s actually a terrible idea. But one way or another, I think the more that you can be as present as possible in this child’s life and even more importantly, your husband can be as present as possible in this child’s life. The more you can start to have these conversations and make these decisions, especially right now as like everything is going to hell. We also, I think, would really like a follow up on this one, please. You know, in a couple of weeks after everyone has started to sort of talk this through, we’d really love to know what’s going on. So please do write us back and keep us posted. And thank you for writing in to mom and dad at Slate.com. The very email address that all of you could be writing into right now with your family conundrums. So that’s almost it for the show. We have one more thing to do, which is the part of the show where we all pick an item that we want to recommend to our listeners. We call this part of the show recomendations. Jameela. What do you have for us?
S30: I recommend staying in the fucking house. I don’t care where. I don’t care if there are zero cases of coronavirus that have been reported in your immediate area.
S40: Stay in the house. Pay attention to the news. The actual news. The news that is not being presented to the filter of. Someone who wants to make sure that we keep the economy going and just stay in the house. Look, if we’re wrong about this, we can laugh about it later. But if we’re not wrong about this, there may not be a later for you to laugh about it during. So please, I beg you, all of you just tell us. Just stay in the house. Just stay in the house.
S21: Good recommendation. Thank you, Elizabeth. You may not recommend staying in the house. You have to recommend something else.
S14: I’m going to recommend something to do with staying in the house.
S41: I am recommending a book of poetry called A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. The Poetry of Mr. Rogers. And I am recommending this because one of the things that we do is have what I call poetry tea time. I didn’t make up the name, but we sat down for afternoon snack once a week and we read some poetry. Yesterday, it was not tea and cakes, it was chips and salsa. But we pick some palms to read and read together as a family. It takes eight minutes, but is just really fun. And this particular poetry book is incredibly uplifting. It is sort of all the songs that you heard on Mr. Rogers. Their lyrics written out. It has a wonderful message. It is a way to engage my kids with a television show that they are not interested in, but has wonderful values and lessons.
S14: And I think particularly in this time, there is a poem for anxiety. There is a poem for fear. There is a poem for sort of all the things that we are going through. The words are simple.
S41: It’s a really lovely thing to do. And we have found that we have gained some time back in what would have been our commutes and driving to and from places. So we now have kind of these extra moments.
S24: And one of the things we’re doing with Jeff working mostly from home, is trying to use those times to have like a snack as a family and these meals as a family and eat that time together by doing things like that. So I’m recommending the book A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, The Poetry of Mr. Rogers and Poetry Tea Time at Your House.
S6: That is lovely. I actually have a similar recommendation after my bad day yesterday, which my children could not identify as a bad day.
S8: I felt like I needed to do something to like shake things up in the afternoon and evening. So I asked Harper if she felt that she was too old to be read to me. And she said no, she did not think she was too old, probably. So I started reading a book to her, which is something we’ve not done for several years. And it was funny, you know, and the whole days the mode would always be she would lie in bed and I would read to her. This time it was. I sat in a chair and she stood at the mirror and she played with makeup the whole time and listened. While I read the first two chapters of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, because I thought that she might enjoy something funny yet apocalyptic. It was really nice for me. And I I also think maybe it was really nice for her. I wasn’t really sure that she was into it. But then later last night she told me that she has an English assignment, an online English assignment to respond to a book. And this assignment is due in two weeks. And she wants to do the Checkers Guide at the galaxy. So can we please read enough each night to finish the book by then? And I said, sure. So that’s what we’re doing.
S21: Boy, was it great to be able to do that again. So I guess my recommendation is if you think your kid is too old to be read to, maybe right now in the year 2020, they’re actually not. So give it a shot.
S14: I love that my dad read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to me. Oh, really? Yeah. Yeah. Oh, like got an older age also. Just like he would read and I would do stuff. And it is like an amazing memory. And the inside jokes that he and my sister and I have that my mother has no idea what’s going on. It’s amazing.
S25: That’s great. I bet his British accents were better than mine. Questionable. All right. That’s our show.
S2: If you have a question, e-mail us at mom or dad at Slate.com. Join us on Facebook. Just search for slate parenting. We’ll be there. Lycan and L-O-L and everything you have to say, mom or dad or fighting is produced by Roseberry Bellson for Jamilah Lemieux and Elizabeth New Camp. I’m Dan Place. Thanks for listening. Hello.
S42: Slate Plus members. Thank you so much for joining Slate. Plus, whenever you did it, if you day yesterday, if you did it two years ago, if you did it way back when we started Slate plus I think four years ago now, we really appreciate all the support that you give Slate.com and the sport specifically that you give. Mom and dad are fighting. You help pay the bills and help keep the show running. Thank you so much. If you’re a longtime listener, you may have noticed that sometimes we use this podcast as an excuse to complain about our kids. Sometimes we talk about things they did really well. Sometimes we talk about our own failures, but really we’re talking about their failures. But we thought, you know what? We’re stuck in our house with these kids. They’re listening to us from another room record this podcast. It’s only fair that they get a turn on the mike. So today we are turning the plus segment over to the various kids of these three families. Elisabeth stimulas and mine, we are going to ask them what they like or don’t like about staying home with their families. And the result? We’re here for you to listen to take it away, kids.
S20: OK. Lyra, how are you feeling about being stuck at home with your parents so far? What are you liking her not liking about the experience?
S43: It’s so pretty interesting experience so far. I would say there are upsides and downsides. It feels like everyone’s getting a little cabin fever. Although that’s sort of inevitable given everything. Because we’re gonna be stuck in the same house together. Of course, you’re going to get a little bit bored. But essentially, I do sort of like get it all feels very secluded, very private. Sort of feels like a big family vacation, in a sense, but like a sort of weird, warped one, an alternate dimension where you don’t get to go outside or see your friends. It’s like, I don’t know, vacation in hell.
S44: What is your name? Campbell. And how old are you? And do you like staying at home with mommy and daddy? Yeah. I can pray with family. What kinds of things do you get to play with Daddy? I feel like. What? What’s your favorite thing? Break cookie. Debate. Cookie. Wah, wah, wah. Oh, cool. You have everything having to do with cookies. I want to know what is something that you don’t like about being stuck at home all the time? Oh, my God. Let me complete press. Oh, well, you can’t go to your friend’s house.
S3: Mama, what are some of your favorite things about being in the house with mommy in the last week?
S45: Wow. I really like your aunt, cause I know you’re having fun down there.
S46: Yeah. What else have you liked about being in the house?
S47: I like when you like doing those assignments. You like talk about purchases like make a new princess to tell her story. I thought we get some creative writing.
S3: Yeah. And what are some of your least favorite things about being in the house?
S48: Len, let’s go. Who is getting to educate you?
S3: Do you don’t feel like you’re getting an education from doing as little or only do like math and stuff?
S49: Frank Siy, we talk about what we learned in school. Writes Home hope we try, but we like make guestimate creative writing captions.
S46: This is different than what you see, right? OK. You think we’re trying our best?
S49: Yeah. OK.
S20: So, Harper, what are you liking and disliking about being stuck at home with your family all day long?
S50: Well, I like seeing them more and doing more things with them that we would normally not be able to do. I don’t like when my parents sometimes take advantage of the fact that me and Myra have nothing to do. And so they have us do all the chores.
S51: Hello, I’m 5 and I’m all for and I don’t like that the groom invites is here. I can not go to any more national parks.
S52: Is there anything you don’t like about staying home with mom and dad?
S17: My dad.
S52: You can say. What do you want to say? My dad not with me, but I don’t want him to know.
S53: But he goes to work in the night, and he doesn’t give it a night anymore. So I am. I am mad. I mean.
S28: So you liked it when daddy was working at night. And then there was no one sleeping in mommy’s bed. Just. Just me. Because what would you do?
S54: Okay. I know you for the snuggles.
S11: Have you done anything fun while we’re stuck in the house?
S52: I play with my friends all day, watch TV all day, and when my iPod play, I spend all day. Do you get to talk on face time with people? I make happen face time with my grandma and grandpa.
S55: And oh, my. No.
S20: Are you finding that you’re doing more things with Lyra than you would usually do?
S56: Yes, I am. We’re playing more games, which is good because he never wants to play games with me. Hi, my name’s Hender and I’m seven and I’m about to be eight.
S57: Can you name a few things that you are enjoying about being stuck?
S58: So Mom’s writing is he has a bunch of stuff every day. One, there is a board game and I made my own board game and it was called Super, Super Guck and we played with Lego figures. But you could also play different ones. It’s basically a giant piece of paper or a similar one, but long. Then you write some game stuff and then you can play. You can also do it at home while you’re stuck. If you ever wear a piece of paper or cardboard, you can use cardboard too. And then you could like keep it in folded up.
S59: What other things are you enjoying doing the Cincinnati Zoo program? Why are you on crack every day and we get to see animals?
S57: Yeah. Today was a lion. I like it. Are there other things that you like about just being stuck on? Like we don’t have to go anywhere? Yeah.
S59: I don’t have swimming or gymnastics inquirer. I miss those things.
S58: But it’s fun to stay home with mom and dad all day. And I get to play with everyone a little bit too, even more.
S57: And I usually do because there’s two cats in the house. Yeah, I know you don’t like about being second mom. I can’t rule my friends. What about is there any difference in home school? No, there is no difference. So if you’re home schooled, don’t worry. There’s no different.
S46: So there’s something we could do more of during the day. What would it be? More activity, more activities? Like what kind of activities?
S49: I don’t know. I activity some more art.
S46: Yes. OK. And more signs. And more signs. And your dancing right now. Do I do more dancing? Yes. OK. Well, shall we dance too? And say you want to dance? Symbionts. Absolutely.
S48: Comedy album. I found one less likely. She says kids who are just a block it off like break. That sounds good.
S19: Harper on the podcast I talk a lot about parenting fails that I make. Do you feel like you’ve seen any big dramatic parenting fails for me recently?
S50: Well, get annoyed with us a lot because we always want to do something with you because it’s very boring and like all activities are canceled. So.
S20: And that’s a fail. That’s a fail. Thank you very much.
S52: Thanks for listening. Henry signing act.
S48: Thank you.
S6: All right. That’s it for this week’s Slate Plus segment. Thank you so much once again for being a member. Talk to you next week.