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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,
My wife and I both work in well-paying, corporate jobs. My wife’s job is more stressful and demanding, which generally means that when our 3-year-old is finished with day care, I look after him, cook dinner, etc., while my wife does “a few more” emails. For the last couple of years, we have had it split where I would drop our child off at day care (usually around 8 or 8: 30), and she would collect him. Due to pandemic rule changes we had to collect him before 4: 30, and my wife would usually go and get him then resume work when she got back. Recently the day care has changed to picking up anytime up to 6. My wife immediately changed the schedule and now picks him up around 5: 30. This seems like a very long day for him when I am usually home and able to get him around 4 or 4: 30, but when I raise it with my wife she says that she likes collecting him from day care and wants to do it. It doesn’t seem fair to have him spend at least an hour extra at day care so my wife can have the experience of picking him up, when he could be at home. Should I push this point and insist I’ll get him early when I am able?
—Flexible yet Fearful
It’s hard to argue against your viewpoint. If you have the ability to pick up your son earlier than your wife, then you should do that. Not to mention, nine hours is a really long time away from home for a 3-year-old and he should be in your care for the maximum amount of time possible —even if that means an hour or two less at day care each day.
The issue at hand here is your wife’s feelings. Clearly she’s experiencing a severe case of mom guilt for working longer hours and not spending enough time with her son, and possibly the commute is a way for her to bond with him. A mom friend of mine insists on picking up her two young daughters from day care as a way to show to the day care providers that she’s “involved” in the process of raising her kids. It may sound strange to you and me, but this could be the case for your wife as well.
Speculation aside, I think your wife needs to feel as if she’s more involved in your son’s life, and it’s up to you to come up with something other than keeping him in day care longer than he needs to be. When I was working long hours in corporate America, I would host Daddy-Daughter dates with each of my daughters on weekends in an effort to create a strong bond with them. Sometimes I would open my “hair salon,” other times we would go out to a “fancy” dinner at Olive Garden. No matter what it was, it was always just me and my girls, and although I have more flexibility in my current schedule, we still enjoy Daddy-Daughter time together.
I hope your wife can find a way to bond with your son when she’s not on the clock, because it’s not reasonable for her to cut into the time you get to spend with him.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My mother has long had untreated anxiety (and potentially some OCD behaviors) that manifest in the form of obsessive cleanliness. As a child, I was verbally harangued if I ever accidentally spilled anything. Spilled oatmeal or cereal would ruin our family’s morning because of my mother’s outsize reaction. My father has sort of gone along to get along, choosing not to “pick the battle” as to not upset her further. In my own household we practice a calmer approach: When my 8-year-old spills something, I usually say something like, “Oh man. Let’s get this cleaned up quickly so it doesn’t sink into the carpet more.” We wipe it up and get on with our day. The past year in lockdown has only heightened my mother’s anxiety. When my two children went over to visit for the first time in over a year and a half, my 6-year-old spilled juice on the wood floor and my mother was quite upset—she spent at least 25 minutes obsessively cleaning up, and then was visibly distressed throughout the morning. Both my children picked up on this and came home from the visit concerned that they “made Grandma mad” and the visit “wasn’t fun.” I’m torn. On one hand, I remember how much my own anxiety spiked because I thought I had to manage my mom’s outsize reactions to literally spilled milk. On the other hand, I don’t know how to change my mom’s 30+-year behavioral pattern, and I don’t know that it’s fair for anyone if I ban my children from visiting Grandma’s house (plus, I could really use the free child care). Is there a way I can still maintain the visits, and help my children not take the reactions so personally when my mom does overreact?
—Spills in Seattle
I made the mistake of overlooking the seriousness of OCD in a previous column, and I’m not going to do it again. As much as it’s not fun to be on the business end of your mom’s outbursts, I’m sure it’s not fun for her, either. She’s suffering in a mental prison that has tormented her for decades, and she needs relief.
That said, I have high-functioning depression, which means I suffer from mental illness, but you’d never know it because everything looks normal from an outsider’s point of view. However, when my mental health impacts my family as it sometimes does, I always take the requisite action to address it. Having untreated mental illness for decades doesn’t absolve your mom from accountability for her behavior, especially if it affects your kids’ relationship with her.
For your mother’s sake, as well as for the sake of your children, you should encourage your mom to seek professional help for her potential anxiety or OCD, and you can frame it by mentioning how you and your kids feel uncomfortable visiting her because of it. Kids spill and break things regularly, and it’s unfair to expect them to be perfect at all times. I am not a therapist, but I would encourage you to take a firm approach here—let her know that it is time for her to take responsibility for this. You should take your cues from your children, but if they’re very disturbed by the way they’re being treated, it may be that you tell your mom that if she doesn’t go to therapy, you may have to limit her grandchildren’s time with her. If that doesn’t get her to set up a therapy appointment, then nothing will.
You didn’t mention the ages of your children, but if you feel that they’re old enough to understand mental illness, you can do your best to explain your mom’s behavior in kid-friendly terms—but like I said, this is your mom’s problem to handle, not your kids’.
Speaking from personal experience, one of the toughest things about mental illness is realizing you need help to manage it. Hopefully your mom will do whatever it takes to find peace for herself and build healthy relationships with your kids.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I need help parsing a conundrum; I recently hired a new neighborhood teen to watch my two small children while my husband and I had a short date. The girl, let’s call her L, is a fantastic sitter! She is a senior in high school who came with her own crafts to do with my kids (2 and 4). They made Kraft paper butterflies and planted pollinator seeds in an egg carton while we got sushi. The girls loved her and talked about when she could come back! We paid her handsomely and saved her number in our phones for future sitting!!!! Win, win, WIN!!! Except that her mom just sent me a lengthy message about the toys my kids have. For what it’s worth I am Korean, white and Black, but I am half-Korean passing (is that a thing?). My kids are white passing. They have some Asian, white, and Black dolls. They also have a Black Barbie they picked out of a thrift store, which is their only Barbie. We also have children’s books by Black authors … but we also have authors of all ethnicities. I know my kids have white privilege because of the way they look but this seems unfair to them.
L’s mother sent me a text message saying my “white” daughters had no business having Black toys and that I was perpetuating a white superiority complex by giving these dolls to my children and that I had made her daughter severely uncomfortable. She said “L” would never sit for us again. I apologized profusely for causing offense, and I truly feel awful for making L uncomfortable. I didn’t explain our family history. I thought having a wide variety of dolls and books on race and culture would help my kids in an age appropriate way. My oldest daughters’ best friend is Black and is coming for her birthday party in a few weeks. Now I’m anxious I will upset her mom and dad with these toys. Do I need to get rid of these toys and apologize to our sitter in a different way? Do I need to take these beloved dolls from my children? I want to do the right thing. The damage is done—this sitter won’t work with us now, but I really want to know if I screwed up badly by letting my white passing kids have these dolls and toys. And how do I fix it going forward to teach my children the diversity of their heritage and not offend people at the same time? Should I have told her my great, great, great, great … grandfather was a slave stolen from his homeland? Should I have told her my Korean grandma was segregated and considered “colored” too and remembered?
—Confused as Hell
As I’ve said in previous columns, some people are too woke for their own good. White kids (or white-passing kids, in your case) can’t play with Black dolls now? Good grief. If your children are pretending that the Black dolls are enslaved or subhuman animals, then we would have a problem—but I’d go out on a limb to guess that isn’t the case here. Children should play with a diverse group of dolls as they should play with a diverse group of kids. For the life of me, I can’t see what this lady’s problem is here other than trying to create a problem where there isn’t one.
You spent a good amount of your letter explaining why you aren’t racist, even pulling out the classic, “my daughter’s best friend is Black” line, but who cares? Why do you feel the need to explain yourself to someone who questioned your character for a silly reason? You did nothing wrong. If your ego won’t allow you to walk away with your head held high, then you can feel free to educate her on the errors of her ways. Just keep in mind that most people who feel the need to verbally attack you via text message instead of having an adult conversation aren’t likely to change their minds.
There are plenty of young people who can effectively babysit without having their parents lose their minds over the skin color of your kids’ dolls. Good riddance, I say.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m heading into my 20th year in the classroom, but because I’m immunocompromised, I taught the entire last year remotely. I was the only teacher in the district who received approval to do this with medical documentation, and had a small remote cohort of kids. I’m thrilled to have been vaccinated, and excited to return to in-person instruction in August, but I’m having trouble deciding how to approach masking. I am still high risk and live in one of the lowest-vaccination-rate states with the highest rates of community spread. My high school is not requiring proof of vaccination, and masking is now optional (and no one is wearing them). We had dozens of students and staff test positive over the course of the last year, even post-vaxx, and have weekly assemblies of 1,000 people. Am I being unreasonable to plan to mask up every day in the building? I know I’ll probably be the only teacher doing so. Will it make things tougher for the kids in my room if I still teach through a mask?
Dear More Masking,
Nothing in life is more important than your health. If I was in your situation, I’d talk to my doctor to get their perspective, and then I’d do whatever it took to keep myself safe—probably starting with moving to another part of the country. I’m assuming that isn’t in your immediate plans, so I know that in order to give myself peace of mind, I would wear a mask (or two) to school every day.
I wouldn’t worry about your effectiveness as a teacher—we’re all used to masks at this point, and I’m sure your abilities as a teacher will come through regardless. Stay strong in the face of any anti-vaxxers or COVID deniers who give you a hard time. Depending on how open you are with your health, you can share why you’re wearing a mask in hopes that it will give them a crash course on empathy.
Put your health first. Always.
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