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,
What are your thoughts about dating a man who earns less money than I do? I’m dating a wonderful guy who is a teacher, and although I’m crazy about him, he does not earn enough to travel internationally (as I very much enjoy doing) or go to the nice (i.e. very expensive) restaurants I enjoy. Do you think having different financial situations is a deal-breaker for relationships? It’s been causing a lot of stress for us recently as we think seriously about our future, being parents together, etc.
—Is Love Enough?
Love is not enough—it’s not magic, you know—but love plus honest answers to the many questions this situation raises (honesty not only with each other but with yourselves), insight on both your parts into yourselves, and frank conversations about all this can certainly prevent this sort of thing from being a deal-breaker. Is he interested in foreign travel and fancy meals? If so, how does it make you feel when you think about paying for them for both of you? How does that make him feel? And if he has little to no interest in these luxuries that you enjoy, how would you feel about indulging in them without him? How would he?
If you marry and have children, will you pool your resources, so that the two of you see your combined income as “our money” (that’s what my husband and I have always done, and it’s worked very well for us)? If you keep your finances separate, as many couples I know do, how will you make decisions about who pays for what?
They say (although who “they” are has never been clear to me) that the two biggest sources of potential conflicts for couples are money and religion. Curiously enough, my own husband and I, who have had plenty of conflicts over the nearly 30 years of our marriage, have never argued about either of these hot-button topics, despite our lopsided earning power and our dramatically different religious backgrounds. At a fundamental level, we are well-matched—that is, we share the same values, we respect and support and help each other, and we have always been very good at letting each other be. If you and your gentleman friend are a good match in ways that really matter, a mismatch of salaries is no impediment.
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From this week’s letter, Our Preschooler’s Advanced Behavior Is Making Life Supremely Difficult: “We’re both getting sick of being 20 minutes late to everything.”
Dear Care and Feeding,
My child has had the same best friend since kindergarten. Now the kids are in fifth grade. Unfortunately, the other child’s mom and I do not get along at all. Since the start of the kids’ friendship, she has alternately given me the cold shoulder and blown up at me over something my child has said or done. Each time she has confronted me about my kid, I have tried to separate the message from the way the message is delivered and addressed the issue with my child. Any attempts at follow-up with the mom have consistently been met with silence or short passive-aggressive responses.
I didn’t need to worry about interacting with her when school was remote, but school is back in-person now, so it’s an issue again. Over the years, I have done my best not to let my kid know that there is a problem between the moms, because I have felt strongly that their friendship should not have to suffer because of it. (Our spouses get along pretty well, so they’re the ones who reach out to each other to schedule playdates when the kids ask to see each other.) The friend is a nice kid, and the two children are devoted to each other. Now that the vaccine has been approved for their age group, my child is excited about planning all sorts of in-person activities with all of their friends, including the one with “that mom.” Now that my kid is older, I am wondering whether it makes sense to have a conversation with them about the issues I’m having with the other mom. For example, if my child is over for a playdate and the other mom is unkind to them, I want them to know that it’s a reflection of the other mom’s opinion of me, and not of them. If my child is invited to sleep over, I want to be able to say no (obviously, I am not okay with the idea of them being in the care of someone who won’t even talk to me in a civil manner) and I want my child to understand why I’m saying no. What is a good way to approach this long-simmering situation with my kid?
—Tired of the Mama Drama
A good way to approach it, it seems to me, is not to approach it at all. I’m glad you haven’t let the weirdness between you and Other Mom interfere with the kids’ close relationship up to now. This is not the time to change that. Do you have any reason to believe that the best friend’s mom is being unkind to your child? If this hasn’t happened before, why would it begin now? (And if it does occur, if your fifth grader comes home in tears, shaken by an interaction they can’t make sense of—being scolded by their friend’s mother for something they haven’t done? being fed a crust of bread and water for breakfast after a sleepover, while Best Friend feasts on waffles and hot chocolate?—you can have a conversation then about how sometimes people take out their unhappiness on innocent bystanders.)
But I suspect this is an unlikely scenario. I’m guessing the mom just doesn’t like you, and in the same way that you have separated your feelings about Other Mom from her kid, she doesn’t confuse disliking you with disliking your child. It seems to me that telling your child that you and Other Mom have “issues” puts an unfair burden on both kids (when this is definitely not their problem!), and that the particular burden you’d be putting on yours might lead to some confusion about loyalty and taking sides (and guilt).
As to the sleepovers: it will not surprise you to hear that I don’t think OM’s incivility to you is a reason to forbid them. Again I’ll ask: what is it exactly you’re worried will happen under her roof? (If you’re not worried—you just don’t like the idea of your kid being in the overnight care of someone who doesn’t respect you—can you remind yourself that this is not about you, and be scrupulously careful not to be petulant?)
I know it’s not fun when someone dislikes us for no reason we can identify—or, frankly, even for reasons we can identify. But a sad fact of life is that not everybody is going to like us. Luckily, we don’t have to be friends with, or even friendly acquaintances with, the parents of our children’s friends. Lord knows, there were plenty of parents I had to tolerate when my daughter was young. I remember how deeply grateful I was once I had to deal with those parents only at dropoff and pickup times, or, better yet, with a wave through a car window. If these kids continue to be close as they get into their teens, your interactions with OM will dwindle to nothing at all (and I hope you’ll stop thinking about her, too). Till then, keep taking the high road.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I have a relatively low-stakes question for you. My mom is an excellent grandma to my two daughters (3 and 1), but her house is problematic. She lives by herself in a relatively small two-bedroom house in which every surface is covered with knickknacks. Her decorating style is obviously not my business, but whenever we visit, she firmly refuses to remove any breakable items, insisting that “there’s nothing here that would upset me if it were broken.” But I know that’s actually not true.
First, while some of her things are from thrift shops/cheap, she has lots of things out that I know have great sentimental value. Second, she will sometimes be dismayed after something has been broken (“Oh, no, that votive holder is part of a set of three—the two will look so odd without it!”). There’s also the concern of potential safety hazards if my kids break something made of glass, or if my 1-year-old puts something in her mouth that she shouldn’t. On the last trip, my daughter ate at least three googly eyes (my mother keeps her craft supplies on the floor) and broke the votive holder mentioned above. I don’t think my mom would ever hold a grudge against my kids or me if they broke something irreplaceable, but wouldn’t it be better not to be in that position to begin with? I’ve offered to grab a box and temporarily move some of the most breakable items and she refuses. I have a feeling that she is very tied to being the easygoing, laid-back grandma, as we live further from her than we do from (and my kids are consequently closer with) my husband’s parents, whom she knows are much stricter with them. How far do I push this? It’s her house and her stuff, but I know I’d feel terrible if the kids broke something that was really meaningful to her, and I know she would feel terrible too.
—Cluttered and Clueless
For one thing, I think you have to take your mother at her word. If she tells you she won’t be upset if her things are broken, pushing back and insisting she will—and reminding her of times in the past when she has—is counterproductive. Don’t be sarcastic either, if she gasps when a figurine’s head gets knocked off. Keep in mind, too, please, that you don’t know what your mother’s reasoning is here. Sure, maybe she’s trying to be the “good grandma” in the misguided way you suggest. But maybe it makes her anxious to have her belongings moved around. The level of clutter you describe makes me wonder if she doesn’t have a bit of a hoarding problem (if she does, then your offer to put things in a box during your visits would probably make her anxiety spike).
But there is a difference between taking her at her word about how much it matters to her whether her stuff remains intact and whether your small children are being put at risk. It may be tricky to pull this off, but you need to clearly distinguish between protecting your kids from harm (craft supplies on the floor when a 1-year-old is present? absolutely not!) and treating your mother with respect. “Mom, anything small enough to go into the baby’s mouth has to be put away, I’m sorry” is a reasonable thing to say—and I would say it over the phone, before you arrive for your next visit. As is, “I’m worried about those glass figurines—they’ll be dangerous if they’re knocked down and shatter.” If Mom pushes back on putting such things out of reach when appealed to in this precise way, maybe it’s time to stop visiting her at her home? Meet her elsewhere! That’s what parks, zoos, children’s museums, and kids’ indoor playgrounds are for. (And if you and your kids travel to see her, book a hotel room and invite her to visit you there. If that doesn’t get her attention, nothing will.) And second, because these requests would be reasonable under the circumstances, be aware that if she cannot agree to them, there is definitely a problem—and professional help might be in order.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
How do I let my child’s therapist know what is really going on without “tattling” on my daughter? My 9-year-old has generalized anxiety (apple didn’t fall far from the tree, alas). She started seeing a therapist in early October and she sees her once a week (virtually), the goal being to help figure out root causes and work on some coping mechanisms. The problem is that when the therapist asks how things are going (obviously, more directly and specifically), my daughter tells her that everything went well that week. I sat in on the first few sessions and would prod her a bit, saying, “Well, what about Wednesday morning?” or, “What about before karate class [or whatever]?” and she’d say, “Oh, right, that was a little rough” and then skim over the details when explaining what happened, like it wasn’t a big deal. So it seems the “incident,” which had seemed to upset her very much at the time, was no big deal, she got over it—which very well may be the case—but the same thing happens over and over again, so there has to be a bigger issue at play.
The therapist is doing a great job, but it’s hard for her to help when she doesn’t know what’s going on or how my daughter feels when these situations arise. I obviously can’t tell her how my daughter was feeling during those times, but I can tell her how she was acting and what was going on that seemed to have provoked it. I want the therapist to have the whole picture to work with! So I’ve emailed her a few times between sessions to tell her what I observed. But I totally feel like I’m tattling on her when I do this. What would you do? Would you leave it alone and not intervene? Would you email the therapist ahead of each appointment, with examples of recent anxious behavior? Remind the kid about the troubles (or successes) from the past week right before a session and hope she talks about them?
—Mom Who Just Wants Her Kid to Feel Better
You’re asking these questions of the wrong person. Ask the therapist! She’ll let you know whether the information you’ve provided over the last several weeks has been helpful or not, whether she considers your emailing her intrusive (or simply unnecessary), whether it’s a good idea or a bad one for you to be so involved in her therapeutic relationship with your daughter. You say she’s doing a great job, but I don’t know what that means. Is your daughter doing better since she started seeing her? Or do you mean that when you sat in on those first sessions, you were impressed by her warmth and insight and ability to connect with your child? Either way: you seem to have faith in her. So send her an email asking her what would be best for your daughter. Wait for her answer. Then do whatever she says to do.
More Advice From Slate
I can’t believe I’m asking this question, but I’ve become super-duper anxious all of a sudden. I was invited to a wedding of a longtime, but not close, friend. I was given a plus one, which just says “guest.” I want to bring a friend, one whom the couple has met a few times. The couple has no idea whether I’m dating anyone, they don’t know my orientation, and they gave me a plus one anyway. The internet seems dead set against bringing anyone other than a date, but I can’t imagine that these people, who are queer-friendly, are super into conventional, couple-centric etiquette. So, can I bring my friend? Should I calm down?