Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here.
Dear Care and Feeding,
A few weeks ago, my 16-year-old daughter was invited to spend the night at the home of her friend “Ella.” Ella’s mom is a teacher at the school my daughter attends, so I see the mom a few times a week when I’m picking Ella up from school. We’re generally friendly but have never had explicit conversations around expectations for the kids regarding drinking, curfew, etc. Well, the sleepover did not go well. It appears Ella’s parents weren’t home, and the kids hosted a party. One attendee, who goes to a different high school, drove drunk on the way back from the party and smashed someone’s mailbox. My own daughter came back around 3 a.m.; she seemed sober but tired, and said things at the party “got weird” and she just wanted to come home.
I am reeling from these events. I don’t know whether it’s fair to be mad at Ella’s mom, but I am. I’m livid at the lack of supervision/availability of alcohol for the kids, and I’m so sad my daughter was in a situation where she had to drive home at 3 a.m. because the party was so out of control. I would like to have a conversation with Ella’s mom to better understand what happened. Would this be out of line? Could doing so affect my daughter’s grade in her class someday? Ella’s mom teaches all seniors at school, so my daughter will definitely be in her class at some point. Please help me figure out how to proceed from here.
— Miffed Mom
Dear Miffed Mom,
You have every right to be mad! You entrusted your child’s safety to Ella’s mom, and even without a big long discussion, you had the right to expect that all the kids at the party would be supervised and sober. It’s one thing for kids to sneak some booze at a sleepover when the parents in charge are asleep; it’s another for the parents to be out of the house! And not just out of the house, but gone long enough for the kids to host a party. A child left this woman’s home drunk and crashed her car—thank goodness she only destroyed a mailbox! If Ella’s mom would have a negative reaction to you asking what any parent of a child present should want to know (“WTF?” essentially), that would be (another) poor reflection on her and her parenting, not evidence that you’d overstepped.
Give this woman a call and let her know that you were surprised and concerned that your child came home at 3 a.m. (ostensibly a time she wouldn’t be permitted to be outside on her own), as well as upset by the news of the car accident. Ask what took place at the party, and when she left.
Let her know that you wouldn’t have allowed your kid to stay the night if you’d know she wouldn’t be there and that this whole situation was upsetting, and then leave it there. You don’t have to chew this woman out; I’m surmising that isn’t your nature, and you do have to think about your daughter having to survive in her class eventually. And, of course, you’ll never let your kid spend the night in her care again. Politely remind her, as I’m sure other parents have, that what she did was fucked up, irresponsible, and could have been tragic, and then move on.
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This week’s letter: My Daughter Is Barely Attending Her College Classes.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My 16-year-old daughter is an academically gifted sophomore at a private school that follows the International Baccalaureate (I.B.) curriculum. We are moving after this school year, and we’ll need to find a school for her to complete her junior and senior years. Our daughter has told us that she doesn’t really want to continue in another I.B. curriculum. She says that it’s already quite challenging and is worried that the extra workload of pursuing the degree will be more than she can handle. My daughter is ambitious. She wants to be a doctor or a marine veterinarian. I know that completing her current curriculum will help her achieve those goals. At the same time, I don’t want her to burn out because of the strain. The I.B. curriculum essentially combines junior and senior years into one continuous program, at the end of which those students who do well earn an I.B. degree. Its whole purpose is to prepare students for the rigors of a college experience. Should I encourage her to stay in this style of school? If so, how?
— Concerned about College
According to International Baccalaureate, only two-thirds of the students who attempt to obtain the IB degree do so. That alone makes me feel like it is a path that should be chartered enthusiastically, not to please one’s parents, nor because it is seen as the only means to a good career. Considering that the vast majority of American schools do not have an I.B. program—only about 1,200 institutions here do—you can rest assured that most doctors and marine veterinarians made it into their fields without having completed one.
This is an interesting look at I.B. life from a student who is enthusiastic about participating; she is both honest about how rigorous it and clear about where it fits into her personal journey. As a family, it may be worth it to look at her take, as well as online threads featuring current and former students debating the merits of participation. However, I would imagine that after two years of high school, your daughter has experienced enough of the program to feel confident in saying that it doesn’t inspire her, and she doesn’t want to be a part of it anymore. Perhaps instead of focusing your search on an I.B. school, you should focus on identifying other institutions where kids are graduating and going off to the sort of school your child (not you) dream of and focus on getting her in to one of those. Best of luck to you.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My brother and I have never gotten along. There are two sides to everything, but I am not verbally abusive and cruel to him in the way he has been to me in my life. A few years ago, we clashed over the care of my elderly mother, who was already suffering from memory loss when she broke her hip and lost the ability to walk. I have been able to care for her in her home, which was her wish. My brother said and did things as a result that made me feel so much anger. His adult son, in his mid-30s, came to me and shared with me his own issues with his dad, and they were similar to what I was going through. I then opened up to him about my brother, and I regret this. I wish I had just listened. The boundary is a little murky. My nephew is a grown adult, and his experiences with my brother are so much like my own. But I still feel like I did the wrong thing. I would appreciate an outside perspective.
— Sister and Aunt
Dear Sister and Aunt,
I understand why you, as the eldest person in this situation, feel that you might have done better by your nephew to simply hear him out instead of commiserating with him about how awful your brother can be. However, consider what it may have meant to your nephew to find out that he isn’t alone in experiencing his dad’s cruelty; if he treats you this way, that might make it even more clear to him that there isn’t anything he’s done to earn or cause this behavior. I don’t know if you feel that you two may speak about these things again, but you may be a source of insight into his father’s actions that could be useful for his healing. Has your brother always been this way? Is there anything you can point to in his life that may be a source of his tensions with the world around him? Also, you’re a member of this young man’s family who is his father’s peer (I’m assuming), which means you could also represent the ability to provide some of the familial love and care that he isn’t getting from your brother. Instead of guilting yourself for opening up about something that is clearly painful to you, think about how you and your nephew can build a meaningful relationship that goes beyond your shared trauma at the hands of your brother, yet allows the two of you a space to connect with someone who understands that trauma firsthand. Wishing you all the best.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I know it is normal behavior for teenagers to slack on their chores. However, I am in a situation where I need my teenager to step it up. I am divorced, and he recently decided he did not want to interact with his dad or stepmom any longer because of some emotional abuse and medical neglect. Over the last six months, I have been getting him appropriate medical attention and therapy, and we are exploring medicines for his ADHD as well. All this on top of the pandemic, which means he is likely burnt out.
I recently got a new and better job, but it has increased my daily commute by two hours; also, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness, which means I need to physically slow down and listen to my body. My capacity to do housework has decreased which means I am way more impatient about when my son slacks! He has gotten a job, which is great. He has said he would pay me to do his chores. I wonder if I should accept or put the funds towards finding some outside help. I’ve tried setting boundaries about taking him to work unless chores got done but I don’t have the energy for the negotiating! How does one get a burnt-out teenager to contribute to the housework?
— Exhausted and Exasperated
I can imagine that your son may be dealing with some burn-out, or other difficult feelings, with regard to all that has transpired in the past few years. However, I’m also curious to know what he does at that part-time job; he’s got energy to work, but not for chores? I understand why a kid would have enthusiasm for one and not the other, and just how important having something like a gig to look forward to might be for a young person who’s been through a tough season or two. Do you think he’s failing to contribute around the house because he’s too “exhausted” himself? Or is he simply choosing not to because he doesn’t want to and you aren’t going to make him? Getting someone else to clean the house once a month or so could be a tremendous help to you both; perhaps with a contribution from your son you can hire that outside help. You and your son won’t have to do the heavy lifting, but he can (and should) be expected to do his part to keep the place in order, and his ability to keep his job should, perhaps, hinge on his ability to make a reasonable contribution to household cleanliness. At the very least, he absolutely must maintain his own space, clean up behind himself wherever he goes, and take on physical duties, such as trash removal, that you cannot handle. A teenager can handle that, even a “burnt-out” one. Remind your son of your personhood and your limitations; we don’t often want to talk about those things with our children but we must. Good luck to you, and I hope you can get to a place of agreement with him soon.
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