Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband is the kindest, sweetest man I have ever met. He’s the one who catches and releases spiders. He jumps out of the car to help strangers. My issue here is with his family, my in-laws. For lack of a better term, they do not “adult.” They are currently living in the second house that has literally rotted down around them due to lack of upkeep. There is a tremendous amount of unchecked mental and physical illness; while they’re kind and loving, they are also unable to hold jobs. They start food fights in restaurants because it doesn’t occur to them that their behavior is ridiculous. There is hoarding on a few levels, depression, you name it. My husband didn’t feel like he had a real home until we moved in together and he noticed that we suddenly lived like functioning adults, because he had never experienced it.
We are currently expecting our second baby. My husband does not want to share the news with his parents about our pregnancy for fear they will come visit. (Thankfully, we live far away from them.) He thinks about their situation and he cries. His frustration with seeing his family deteriorate, yet do nothing to get help or move forward, is very hard to watch. They have refused help every time we’ve offered, from helping put a new roof on their house or clean out the mess that the collapsed roof made. All to no avail.
Their life choices have given us so much anxiety over the last few years that I am not sure how to support him. Yes, I do hold them in contempt for a multitude of reasons, but they do deserve to know they will have another grandchild. They adore our child (even though we have strict boundaries when they do visit) and would be thrilled at this news. And we can’t hide it indefinitely … the holidays would get awkward.
—Parenting the Parents
Ugh, this is awful, and I feel for your husband. Still, I’m afraid that there is not much you can do from your position. He is clearly laboring under the weight of decades of trauma from dealing with these people, and whether or not they are objectively bad, they are certainly bad in your husband’s mind. Planning to never tell your family about the birth of a child is PRETTY EXTREME and a thing like that only comes as a response to something equally as extreme, at least in the mind of your husband. So, there are serious issues here that I’m sure need working out in therapy and over time.
Of course, we both know that it is patently absurd to hide a whole entire child from extended relatives and your husband is, quite frankly, tripping. And of course, you can tell him that. You can encourage him to be honest and you can let him know that there is no good ending to this plan. But if I were in your position, I would stop short of intervening on my own, outing the pregnancy myself, or otherwise taking control of the situation. The family relationships here are clearly messy enough that you would do well to avoid sticking your own foot any further into it than you have to.
Tell your husband that in every way you think this is a bad idea. But keep in mind that in order to survive, people from traumatic backgrounds often have to explore all manner of methods for differentiation. He may just need time to enjoy the feeling of freedom that comes with this misguided notion before seeing the futility of it in practice. So, one good way to support him is to give him that time.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I am very close to my aunt, who is closer in age to me than my dad (her brother). She was a teenager when I was born so I always knew she was the coolest and continue to admire her now that I’m in my 20s. Recently said aunt had an adorable and precious baby. I call this baby my niece and plan on spoiling her with everything from letters in the mail to presents and when she’s old enough time with me—just as my aunt did when I was a tot.
The baby has an older sister from her father’s previous marriage who lives with them most of the time. She is a smart, mature, and creative 9-year-old. While I am not genetically or legally related to the 9-year-old, I think she’s as great as a kid can be and glad my niece has an older sister in her life.
What is the correct way to spoil my niece while making sure the sister doesn’t feel neglected? When I took a long weekend to meet the baby I came with presents in hand for both sisters but have also mailed a couple of presents to my niece alone. Is it acceptable to send small gifts to my niece only but bring equal gifts when visiting in person?
I think the best way to make sure this 9-year-old doesn’t feel neglected by you is for you not to neglect her. I understand that you want to create an experience with your niece that echoes the relationship her aunt had with you. That’s a wonderful and sensible thing. But the difference between your childhood memory and the current situation is that in the current situation there is another child. And from her child-like perspective, it would suck to know that you are second fiddle to your little sister. If this were a biological sister you would love them both equally, so what you’re suggesting is that the only reason you would treat them differently is because one is a “real family member” and the other is something less than that. I believe that if you show up to a house treating one child as a precious loved one, you need to be prepared to treat all the children in that house as precious loved ones.
Send gifts to both of them. Send letters to both of them. Arrive, as you have, with presents for both of them. You lose nothing if you take the attitude that both children are your family, but the 9-year-old loses a great deal if you don’t.
Dear Care and Feeding,
How do I get my 13-month-old to eat healthy foods? She did great with purees but now refuses solid versions of the same foods she once loved. I’ve tried steaming, roasting, with dips, different presentation, as finger foods, on a spoon—all to no avail. She won’t even take a single bite and usually throws it on the floor. She currently eats pancakes, chicken nuggets, peanut butter, and bananas, and some days refuses even those. Her pediatrician said to just keep trying, which I am, but I am desperate for her to eat veggies and not lose my sanity in the process.
—No Green Giant
Keep trying and stop worrying. Your kid will eat everything she needs to eat by the time all is said and done. If you’re really worried about it (and I don’t think you need to be), mix the occasional spoonful of veggie puree into the menu. But this is more for your peace of mind than it is for your kid’s health. Continue to present her with a tray full of well-balanced options, and let her figure out what she wants to do with them.