Parenting advice from Care and Feeding. | #parenting

Dear Care and Feeding,

If you ask my friend “Tom” how many children he has, he’ll say two. If you ask me, he has one child and one dog. I feel very uncomfortable about this, and I want to know if my concerns are justified. Tom and his partner adopted an adorable child three years ago, whom I’ll call “Maya,” who is now 6 years old. A few months ago, they added a puppy, Daisy, and Tom is absolutely enamored of that dog. I haven’t had a conversation with him since Daisy arrived in which Tom didn’t talk about her. He refers to Daisy as Maya’s sister. I’m no monster—I like dogs as much as anyone—but it seems wrong to refer to your dog as your adopted daughter’s sister. Adopted children already tend to have a difficult time feeling at home in their families, so to call both Daisy and Maya “daughters” seems a terrible idea. It’s like Tom is saying, “Maya is as much my daughter as Daisy is, i.e., not ACTUALLY my daughter.” I haven’t spoken to him about this because I don’t know if it’s worth it. On the one hand, I might be making a mountain out of a molehill. On the other, he might end up alienating Maya and making her feel like Tom doesn’t fully view her as his daughter. Should I bring up my concerns to Tom?

—Dog or Daughter?

Dear DoD,

It’s dumb, for sure, but it’s also none of your business. As a general rule, unless a child is in danger, one is wise to keep one’s opinions to oneself. If your friend ever asks for you advice in this matter, then go ahead and knock yourself out. (I doubt he will. And I also doubt that this dopey but not really that uncommon practice—which plenty of biological parents indulge in too—will have a lasting effect on the actual human child, as long as she loved.)

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From this week’s letter, I Can’t Believe How My Friend Is Treating Me After Her Baby Shower: “I spent a lot of time picking out a thoughtful gift. I’d like that to be appreciated!”

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am 49 and stepmother to a woman I’ve known since she was 16. She’s now 32. Her mother kept my husband away from her (and her brother too) until the kids were teenagers, and as a result, the father/daughter relationship has been rocky. I think it’s tough adapting to grown children who were raised differently than you’d raise them. In any case, my stepdaughter now has a 3-year-old son who is awesome. Unfortunately, she has been living with a terminal cancer diagnosis for the past year. Her father and I have been assigned as guardians for her son in the event of her death.

Because the cancer has spread to her bones, she is often in significant pain and is not able to work, so she stays home with her son and lives off support from a combination of sources—welfare/Medicaid for her and her son, plus her father and I pay 100 percent of her rent and utilities and have furnished her apartment. We moved her into this apartment, five minutes from us, so that we could be there to help with our grandson whenever she needs it. We are now renovating our home to accommodate her and our grandson. But lately things are falling apart. For example: once, after our grandson spent the night with us, his mother called in in the morning to let me know that she had been drinking that night and “was not ready” for us to bring him back yet. (She has had issues with alcohol and substances in the past.) She was devastated and remorseful about the slip off the wagon, but I felt a loss of trust in her. We also argued via text the rest of that day, which only made matters worse. She complained that no one was “there for” her, that no one cares, that we don’t regularly check in with her with calls or messages. My husband and I are extremely busy. We never “check in” with anyone, but all our friends and family know that if they reach out and ask for help, we’ll be there without delay. She knows this too! I feel unappreciated, to say the least. Since she has no job or income, I find it particularly outrageous that she is not properly grateful for all we have given her (not only the apartment, but also her internet, cell phone plan and her fancy iphone. I even built her bed with my own hands, hung her blinds, etc. I cannot be expected to be there for every need she has. Her dad and I run our own business, and we work hard to be able to afford the kind of life we have (one where we can afford to help her as we do without batting an eye!). Are we really expected to be there to provide 100 percent of her emotional support as well? She’s a grown woman. Shouldn’t she be finding this support from friends? (She even has a therapist, with whom it seems she is not very open.)

These last few months things have been even more challenging. On Halloween, she didn’t tell us until the last minute that her son was not going to wear the costume we’d bought him but a different one that she’d picked out—and then they didn’t show up to our house for trick-or-treating as we had expected. I was very sad but told myself, “Hey, it’s her son, she has the right to do her own thing, no big deal.” But the next month, when we wanted to celebrate our grandson’s birthday (which fell this year on Thanksgiving day) early, because were going out of town for Thanksgiving, she said no, insisting on having his birthday party while we were away. Then came Christmas. We always celebrate on Christmas day—which she knows—but this year when we saw them briefly on Christmas Eve at a whole-family gathering, she told us they were going to “someone else’s” house for Christmas day. I was hurt and angry and told her they could just drop by sometime to pick up their presents, and we quickly left.

My husband feels disrespected, and I am trying to figure out how to keep this relationship afloat. I am considering not having them move in when our home construction is complete. I think keeping that five-minute distance between us is important to the long-term health of our relationship. My husband is so angry, however, he wants to cut her off completely and not even pay her rent. I don’t want to throw the baby out with the proverbial bathwater, but I need advice on whether or not we should continue to support her and/or move forward with her moving in with us. She has cancer, for crying out loud, so I don’t want to be cruel, but I feel taken advantage of and I don’t see things getting any better between us.

—Lost in L.A.

Dear Lost,

Financial support, no matter how generous, isn’t everything. And if you and your husband can provide it “without batting an eye,” it doesn’t sound like much of a sacrifice, either. Your stepdaughter is going to die young, leaving behind her son. If you cannot find it in your hearts to do whatever is necessary to help her—which includes seeing past your own needs and expectations, and your own demands for what you consider appropriate behavior around holidays and celebrations—then so be it. She may be ungrateful, but you and your husband are being heartless. I hope your stepdaughter has another option for guardianship, because this one does not bode well for her son.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 80-year-old parents live in another state. When I learned they had COVID, I checked in regularly to see how they were feeling (thankfully, they are fully vaccinated), and they were not too sick and were on the mend before New Year’s. I relayed that good news to my two children (20 and 24), who had asked to be kept up to date. I received an angry text from my father on New Year’s Day, saying how hurt he and my mother were that my kids hadn’t called or texted to see how they were doing and to wish them a happy new year. I relayed this info to both of my kids and told my dad he should have let the kids know how he felt, not me. The 20-year-old texted them, apologizing for not contacting them and said she hopes they are feeling well. My father didn’t thank her for checking in or accept her apology and responded that he was hurt because they felt “alone and abandoned.” (My mother had already told me how much their neighbors were helping out, checking in, leaving groceries, etc., and she explicitly said I shouldn’t worry because they were not alone.) The 20-year-old is very upset. I want to tell my dad to grow up and accept her apology, and to point out that he’s being petty, but I did tell him myself to let the kids (who are adults, right?) know if he is hurt. Still, I never expected him to lash out that way. What, if anything, is my ongoing role here as an intermediary?

—Part of A New Sandwich Generation

Dear Part,

You have no role as an intermediary. If your 20-year-old daughter is upset, she should talk to her grandfather about it. The two of them can work out their relationship without your help. (I wouldn’t have relayed his message to your grown children in the first place: I would have left it at “Tell them, not me.”)

And for what it’s worth, good luck to your parents if they expect their 20-something grandchildren to check in with them, COVID or not. I mean, yes, it would be nice—oh, it would be great!—if they did. But in my experience (and my memory of my own long ago youth), American “children” that age are so focused on their own lives, friends, school, work, romances, and day-to-day young-person struggles, their elders tend to get short shrift. (And if those elders give them too hard a time about it, good luck having a relationship with them when those young people pass through that blessedly temporary phase and come out the other end. I’m just saying.) In any case: stay out of it.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a beautiful granddaughter by my eldest daughter. At this time she is my only grandchild, but my younger daughter has been talking more and more about kids with her husband, and recently my granddaughter (whom I love to death) overheard them talking about this. Now she has announced that she doesn’t want her aunt’s future children to call me Grammy! She says that is her name for me and she doesn’t want to share it. We spend a lot of time together, just the two of us (I often pick her up from school and don’t take her home till after dinner, and sometimes she even spends the night; we spend most weekends and holidays together). I am also involved in her afterschool activities and know her friends and their parents. Needless to say, then, we are extremely close. I do not want to damage our relationship over my younger daughter’s “imaginary” kids and what they will call me.

—Helpless Grammy

Dear Helpless,

I’m glad you have such a close, loving relationship with your granddaughter. It will not suffer if you have other grandchildren later, and those potential (maybe don’t call them imaginary?) children will take nothing from your first and eldest grandchild if you are Grammy to them too. Just last week I came at this question from the other side—grandmothers tussling over the same name—but it’s worth revisiting the gist of my answer: It doesn’t matter what name you’re called; what matters is the relationship itself.

Having a conversation with your beloved granddaughter about this would be an opportunity to talk about how relationships work, to reaffirm for her that you will love her with all your heart whatever (and whomever) comes along, and to set some boundaries about control while it’s still early enough to make a difference. It’s not too early for her to learn that she doesn’t get to dictate the terms of her relationships with other people, no matter how close these relationships are. You will not “damage” your relationship with her over this; you may however, help to dismantle an illusion about it that should be dismantled.


More Advice From Slate

My daughter has a friend I’ll call Rebecca. Rebecca has been a problem for us for years—in third grade she routinely had my daughter in tears with socially aggressive behavior. Now they are in sixth grade, and since they live on neighboring streets, they often walk home together from the bus stop. Rebecca still is often cruel to my daughter, and I feel my daughter needs to stand up for herself. What should I do?

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