Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.
Dear Care and Feeding,
We’ve been at home together with our three kids (ages 10, 12, and 16) for nine weeks now. Things are actually going really well, except that we can’t find any time to be romantic without the minions walking in on us!
The younger guys are in the habit of using our bathroom since it’s closest to their room. They come stumbling through, half-asleep, around 10 to 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.—practical lovemaking times for many couples.
No nooners cause they’re all home all day. It is not legal to park somewhere and do it in the car. And we’re such old middle-aged people that we can’t stay up till the teenager is asleep. The one time we tried just locking the door at 10 p.m. and being quiet, the teen tried the door to just ask about something ordinary, figured out why it was locked, and raged for over a week about how we had no regard for her feelings! Pre-quarantine, we’d usually get busy when the teen was out and the younger ones were asleep. Now, somebody’s always in our space. I think they’d be horrified if we just said it straight out, “leave us alone so we can make out.”
Ah, what a refreshing question. I salute you, horny parents.
Horrify them, then lock your door. They’ll live.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My college-age daughter went to Europe on spring break. Medical experts that my ex-wife, daughter, and I consulted prior to the trip all gave the okay, considering the countries were ones with much fewer cases of coronavirus. I didn’t tell my 80-year-old mother (who lives in another state), as she’s a worrier and germaphobe and would have lectured me and my daughter to no end. I never told my daughter to withhold the info from my mother. They just don’t talk that often, and my mother leans towards being the “mean grandma” type.
Well, my ex-mother-in-law, who hasn’t spoken with my mother in years, contacted my mother, worried about the decision my ex and I made. My mother then contacted me, angry that I would withhold the travel info from her, saying it was disrespectful and demanding an apology. To be clear, my mother had previously asked that no one visit her for fear of catching the virus, so she was never in danger. The plan was to tell her after the fact. Do I owe her an apology?
— She Doesn’t Even Go Here
I answered this question during my live video on Tuesday, but am going to cover it here as well for a larger audience. I think you made a ridiculous choice, as a European spring break is the definition of inessential travel and a country with fewer cases doesn’t need a college-age student from the country with the most cases getting on a plane with recirculated air and then wandering around touching surfaces and breathing on people. But that really doesn’t matter at this point.
No, you do not need to apologize to your mother. This has nothing to do with her. Feel free to not apologize.
Should your daughter wish to attend Oktoberfest in Bavaria this year, I encourage you to suggest reading a nice book and drinking at home instead.
I did not make up this question, but I did create the sign-off.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
Although I am still a teenager, I have often contemplated one day having kids or adopting, even if I was not in a relationship (in hindsight that seems a little naive especially since I know raising kids takes a lot of work). However, as someone with three younger siblings, I have found that I have a temper and short patience. Before this whole quarantine thing I would volunteer with kids at my church and would do fine with them, but my siblings tend to get on my nerves. My family is in no way “soft,” and we all tend to be rough with each from time to time (mainly my siblings and I).
How do I start addressing my temper now? Does that make me unfit to be a parent in the future? I see my parents parent in a way that I dislike sometimes, especially as I get older, and I worry about parenting just like them (I don’t want to spank my kids or anything, but I do sometimes end up physical with my siblings, usually my younger brother who is only 2 years younger than me). How do I address this?
— A Troubled Teen
I’m so glad you wrote to me! I am always heartened when anyone wants to work on themselves before becoming parents, even if they are a decade away from becoming parents (you have a lot of time to mature and figure out who you are, which is fantastic).
A great start is to rigorously fight the urge to “get physical” with your siblings. I know siblings are aggravating, but breaking the reaction loop between irritation and making physical contact is extremely important. I know you’re all on top of each other right now, and tensions are high, but the sooner you can practice leaving a tension-filled situation and taking some deep breaths, the better. The more consistently you start working on de-escalating a moment when you feel yourself getting angry, the easier it gets. Leave the room. Don’t fight so hard to get the last word in that you wind up shoving your brother.
You will almost certainly find that as you get older, you’ll have an easier time handling your emotions. You’ll meet people who parent in a way that makes more sense to you than the way you were parented. Ask them about it! Read parenting books. Download free meditation apps. If you still find you have a hair-trigger temper as an adult, look for a therapist. I think you’re perfectly capable of being a great parent one day. That day is a long way off. Use the time wisely, and work on being the best person you can be. It’ll pay off.
Should Parents Force Their Seniors to Celebrate Graduation?
Dan Kois, Jamilah Lemieux, and Elizabeth Newcamp host this week’s episode of Slate’s parenting podcast, Mom and Dad Are Fighting.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My in-laws are retired and watch my 2-year-old daughter about once a week, so I can have a little time off or to go to any appointments. We are a close family and visit often, as we do not live far away, and we have always got along really well, even for the many years my husband and I were together dating and later married, but with no children yet.
My husband works full-time, and I have been a stay-at-home mother since our daughter was born. She is the only grandchild on my husband’s side and is doted over by everyone, especially her “Granny and Grandpa.” My husband’s parents are divorced, and his mother remarried while he was still young, so “Bob” is his stepfather. Bob has one biological son, but they are estranged. Bob has always wanted a little girl, but never had one until Ada was born.
The other night my husband and I went to pick her up from her day with them, and as we all sat chatting, we witnessed a rather strange interaction between Ada and Grandpa. Bob (a.k.a. Grandpa) asked for a kiss, which isn’t out of the ordinary because we are a very affectionate southern family, and she ran over to him and stuck her tongue out. The strange part is that he proceeded to put his lips around her tongue and then, as she was laughing, he stuck his tongue into her open mouth.
My husband, myself, and Granny all looked at each other with the same surprised and disturbed look on our faces. Later the same evening, it happened again, and still no one said anything, just looked astonished and possibly waiting for someone else to speak up. To be clear, I don’t think Grandpa has sexually abused our daughter, but I just didn’t like how seeing that made me feel. It felt wrong.
The next day, I discussed this with my husband, and he confirmed that he too thought it was strange and awkward, and that I wasn’t imaging the look of disgust on everyone’s faces. I asked him if he would speak to his mother and ask her to correct Bob if he ever does this again. I think when he did, my husband tried to frame it as something he wouldn’t want our daughter to repeat with someone else in public (as to not embarrass his mother further for having to talk about it at all).
His mom did not react well to this at all. She got defensive immediately, and told us never to mention this to Bob or anyone else. Later when we texted her a cute story about how Ada was picking berries, she messaged back that their talk had bothered her more than she anticipated and had written and deleted several messages already. She asked for a few days before we spoke again. Bob does not know any of this took place, and we plan to keep it that way. Ada is unaware anything is wrong either and keeps asking to video chat with her grandparents.
Now, I feel as though I did something wrong by bringing this up with Granny in the first place. I am split between thinking that I shouldn’t be ashamed to have brought it up, because this is my daughter, and I have a right to protect her from anything I see as inappropriate. On the other hand, I’m worried that I alienated us from my husband’s mother.
If we are to keep up the charade that nothing is wrong, for Bob and Ada’s sake, we will have to see them again soon. I’ve tried reaching out to Granny myself, but I have to be careful not to text anything that Bob might see as strange. I don’t know what to do or feel. Please help.
— Don’t French My Toddler
I don’t give a shit if you have alienated your husband’s mother! How are you the problem? Why is protecting Bob’s feelings what we’re huddling around? To hell with Bob! Bob, in your physical presence, “French-kissed” your child twice. Bob is out of the band.
They do not get to watch your child anymore. This is not normal. This is very bad. I was going to write “I am not trying to alarm you” but, frankly, I am trying to alarm you. At the very, very minimum, Bob lacks the judgment required to take care of your daughter. I would be interested in knowing why he’s estranged from his son. Bob also seems to be a real whiz at getting people to avoid upsetting him. This is how people groom not just minors, but the family as a whole. The fact he did this in front of you does not soften the impact to me. This can be a way to make you question your own basic parental instinct of what’s acceptable behavior. You’re already questioning it.
I am sure there are people who will read this letter and think it’s possible (and it is!) that Bob is just clueless and was mimicking your daughter’s natural, affectionate behavior. I sat with this letter for a long time, and for me, the worst-case scenario of overreacting (losing this relationship) is a lot more palatable to me than the worst-case scenario of underreacting (unthinkable).
I would not be reaching out to anyone. I would not be trying to woo back Granny and Bob. If they texted to ask if you need them to watch Ada this week, I would respond “we’ve made other arrangements.” I would also encourage you to pick up a copy of Gavin de Becker’s Protecting the Gift.
It felt wrong because it was wrong. You were disgusted because it was disgusting. Every adult in that room shared your initial gut instinct, except for Bob. The intensity of your husband’s mother’s subsequent reaction to a very mild, carefully-couched request (that Bob not do this again) is worrisome to me as well. Sit down with your husband and get on the same page and figure out your next steps, none of which are placating Bob or Granny. I’m not glad this happened, but I’m glad that it happened in front of you and that you wrote to me and that I can tell you plainly: I do not believe this man is a safe caregiver for your child.
More Advice From Slate
My daughter has always been an independent soul, from the time she was a tiny baby. In grade school she loved to sneak out and sleep in her treehouse, and she’s done every Outward Bound–style activity she can get her hands on. Now she’s in her last year of high school and has just presented me with an extremely detailed plan she has concocted to spend the summer planting trees in the Canadian wilderness, which is apparently a thing you can do? For money? I’m worried that this is a terrible idea and she’s more likely to fall out of a tree than arrive at university intact. Should I shut this plan down?
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