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,
I am finding myself unable to let go of the past—when my first child, my daughter, was born. My mother-in-law came to help us during my delivery and recovery. I liked her and treated her like my own mother. But she owned the baby too much, and would not let the baby be in my arms. Every time I picked up my baby to hold her and love her, she would ask immediately if she could take her. I was unable to say no, and this kept repeating. My baby would be with me only while I fed her. After delivery I was physical and mentally very delicate and also experienced postpartum depression. Since my parents lived in a different country, I had no other option. I had to be nice to my mother-in-law. I didn’t talk about it to my husband either, fearing that he would take it in a wrong way. All this is long over now, and my daughter is 13. But these negative thoughts keep bothering me every now and then. How can I get rid of these thoughts?
—Let Go of the Past
Dear Let Go,
I’m not here to say what you should’ve done back then, because neither of us have access to a time machine. Instead, let’s focus on what you can do right now, and it should start by having a conversation with your husband. As your life partner and father to your daughter, he should display some empathy when you approach him about the emotional pain you endured 13 years ago. There’s a chance that he will respond in a way that will not validate your feelings, and you have to be ready for that. But in my opinion, saying nothing is worse than not confronting this.
Perhaps even more important, I highly recommend talking to a therapist if you need help navigating through this. Getting the assistance of a professional will help you to unpack the resentment, anger, and sadness you’ve experienced up until this point. You can also talk to the therapist about the possibility of talking to your mother-in-law about what happened. This may have implications for your marriage, and I would recommend talking to your husband about this idea first, but it may offer you a sense of closure you’re seeking. Therapy can help ensure nobody walks over you again in the future. In the meantime, don’t beat yourself up over this, because you did what you thought was best at the time.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My five-year-old has a vivid imagination. She also watches age-appropriate superhero shows (think Paw Patrol). Part of her imagining now includes superhero powers. For example, whenever we ask her to look for something she’ll say “eye powers on!” I think it’s cute and have even played along with her in the past. My in-laws were recently visiting after some time apart because of the pandemic and commented that they are not sure that she can distinguish between reality and her superhero imagination. They encouraged us to tell her that she doesn’t really have superhero powers when this comes up and that superheroes aren’t real, etc. They are concerned because they say there have been cases of children thinking they can fly and jumping out of windows. I have postpartum anxiety (which they don’t know about), and it’s mostly centered on things happening to the kids. Specifically, we live on the ninth floor and we have a balcony (which the kids know they are not allowed out on alone, and it does have a high safe fence), and it does cause a lot of anxiety for me. Moving isn’t really an option currently. How do I talk to my child about this? How seriously should I take this concern? What can I do to keep daughter as safe as possible?
—Hysterical About Heights
I’m sorry to hear about your postpartum anxiety—I hope you are getting some professional help for that. To your question: Yes, children have died from jumping from extreme heights, and I highly recommend that you continue to take every possible precaution to prevent that from happening to your daughter. However, I think it’s important to have some perspective here. Millions of kids live in high-rise buildings and there is hardly an epidemic of child deaths due to them pretending to be Superman.
The beauty of childhood is that kiddos can live through their vast imaginations. I played “Cops and Robbers” growing up, and I shot at my friends with my pretend gun, but that doesn’t mean that I wanted to grab a gun in real life. Kids can distinguish between fantasy and reality.
Again, you should absolutely talk to your child about being safe by simply saying (as many times as is necessary, or as many times as makes you feel better), “The balcony is not a place for active play. No jumping or running is allowed.” Even after that conversation you should never let her play out there alone and always monitor her behavior if she’s out on the balcony, just like any good parent would. But I think it would be a mistake to not let your daughter use her imagination in her own special way, as long as she’s not harming anyone or herself. Besides, the world needs more heroes, not less.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My brother and sister-in-law have always tended to be hypochondriacs. They have developed rigid rules for themselves based on isolated incidents (they no longer eat spinach because of a salmonella outbreak, for example) or bunk science that they seek out to confirm some worst-case suspicions. They ignore experts, including me, a biologist. COVID has, unsurprisingly, fed their worst impulses. They did not leave the house for nine months, even for walks. Now all of us except my niece are vaccinated, and the agreement was that I could visit, providing I only see my niece outside with masks on. I was taking a lot of precautions to make sure I met their rules, including driving across the country rather than flying. Now they’ve started to question whether it’s “really safe” for me to come, and have asked me to push back my trip indefinitely. I know their medical histories, and I know they are healthy. I am struggling with a feeling of betrayal. They are the only family I’m close to. I would move mountains to see them, and staying away from them was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. An incredible vaccine means there’s almost no risk to the adults, and my niece already had a vanishingly small chance of getting very sick. But when I brought up to my brother that I felt hurt that he wouldn’t take even the tiniest chance to see me, he immediately bulldozed me by talking about how some kids die of COVID. I know that’s true—but it’s extremely rare. We’re probably in for years of boosters and variants, and I feel like we’re going to have to live with a tiny bit of danger, the same way we still drive despite car crashes. This is compounding the fact that I’ve never felt like they really go out of their way to spend time with me. They’ve never visited me, for example. I am just not sure whether I’m being unreasonable. And even if I’m not being unreasonable, how do I get past this?
Dear Low-Risk Taker,
I agree with everything you’re saying in regard to COVID. Logically, you should be able to visit your family and friends without anyone being paralyzed by fear. Yes, there will always be some level of danger associated with this virus, even for those who are fully immunized, but as I’ve learned more about the virus, I agree that we’ve got to safely get back into as normal a life as we can at some point, right? Is your brother going to keep his daughter away from all human contact indefinitely? COVID is most likely here to stay for a while, but it shouldn’t prevent us from being around our loved ones.
Unfortunately, you can use all of the logic in the world to prove your case, but it probably won’t change his mind. Instead I would tug on his heartstrings by saying everything you mentioned here. Mention how staying away from his family is the hardest thing you’ve ever done, you would move mountains to see him, and how hurt you are that he doesn’t put forth the same effort you would to see him.
Maybe you’ve done all of that already. If so, do it again. Truly hammer home how much this means to you. Even the CDC says it’s safe to hang out if you’re vaccinated, so you’ve got science on your side.
Here’s the bad news: If pleading with him doesn’t work, then you’ll have to let this go until he’s ready. I know that will hurt you immensely, but you’ll have to pivot and connect through video calls until he finally comes around—and he will come around. There’s a whole world out there, and I doubt he’ll keep his daughter from it forever.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m a stay-at-home mom and now that playgrounds are starting to fill up again in my neighborhood, I’ve been taking my 3-year-old daughter there recently. Everything seems to be fine except for when one of my neighbors shows up with her 4-year-old son. Every now and then he’ll push her or pull her hair, and the mom does nothing to stop it. This weekend she said he’s doing it because he “likes her.” Even my husband brushed it off by saying that’s how boys play. I feel like I’m in some alternate universe. How should I handle this situation?
—Toxic Masculinity Isn’t Cool
Good grief, I don’t want to live anywhere near the alternate universe you found yourself in. I’ll never understand the mentality of assaulting someone to demonstrate that you like them, and that mom should be ashamed of herself for believing that nonsense. I was a boy once, and I was raised to treat my peers with respect. I was also taught that anyone who consistently makes me feel bad isn’t a friend. I pass those lessons along to my daughters.
The first thing you need to do is confront the mom since she’s the grownup in charge. If this kid lays a hand on your daughter again, you need to tell her firmly that he cannot touch her under any circumstances. Similarly, I would teach your daughter to stand up for herself by yelling, “No!” or “Don’t touch me!” as loud as she can in this boy’s face to let him know that it’s not OK to put his hands on her. If the behavior continues, I’d tell my daughters to stand up for themselves in the moment in whatever way they need to, even if it means popping him right in the nose. I’m not promoting violence; I’m promoting self-defense and boundaries.
You also need to have a heart-to-heart with your husband. I’d ask him at what point does it become problematic when boys hit girls. Obviously to him it’s not a big deal now, but when does he draw the line? Is it a problem in middle school when boys start snapping girls’ bras? Is it a problem when dinner isn’t on the table after a man comes home from work and he slaps her in the face because of it? Or is that just “boys being boys”? You need to tell him to stop being a damn Neanderthal and be an advocate for your daughter for crying out loud.
I hope you can get yourself out of this alternate universe for the sake of your daughter, your marriage, and your sanity.
Note to readers: Many have pointed out that the child in my column from last week column could be exhibiting symptoms of OCD. As someone who suffers from a mental illness myself, I know the importance of support and proper diagnosis, so I wanted to bring this to readers’ attention, and encourage the letter writer to seek professional help for their child.
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I’ve been married for a little under five years, and during that time I’ve found myself raising not only a child but also a husband. I have a lot of affection for him, and he is a great father. My problem is that over the years I have lost a lot of respect for him and have recently come to realize that I don’t love him at all. What should I do?