parenting recommendation from Care and Feeding.
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 partner and I recently got engaged. As part of our conversations about the future, we have naturally gotten into the topic of having children. He has been back and forth on whether he wants kids over the course of his life (sometimes strongly wanting one child, sometimes feeling lukewarm, and at one time definitively not wanting kids when he was with a bad partner), whereas I sort of always vaguely envisioned myself having a kid or two but realistically being on the fence. As of now, I think both of our stances are “if you really want a kid I would be willing to go for it,” which is fine for this point in our relationship—we’re not getting married for more than a year, so it’s still mostly theoretical.
However, the issue is that I am absolutely terrified of pregnancy and childbirth. I know that my body is made for this and that generations of women have given birth over millions of years and especially in this day and age complications are pretty rare, but I find the entire thing totally disgusting. In college I had to read a book that included a long chapter solely about the details of a character’s childbirth process, and I literally sobbed through the whole thing and considered asking my professor if I could read something else instead because it upset me so much. More recently I was listening to an audiobook that described a woman’s tragic miscarriage and I had to fast forward through that section—I’m a bit squeamish in general about anything medical, but I managed to tolerate the book’s other medical horror stories without conjuring a lingering feeling of total disgust. Sometimes I think that I’d be capable of carrying a child and giving birth, that my motherly instincts would kick in, and that it would be different when it’s my own pregnancy and my own child being brought into the world, but any time I think about the whole thing too deeply my skin starts to crawl.
How much of this is normal? Does this just mean I shouldn’t plan to put myself through the pregnancy and childbirth process? Or will I be okay if I do decide to conceive because it’ll be different when I’m personally experiencing it? I know there are alternative methods to starting a family (adoption and surrogacy being the most obvious) but they tend to be expensive and may not be right for us.
— How Scared Is Normal?
You’re right to suspect that your revulsion towards birth is on the extreme side. It can’t be easy to experience this amount of anxiety and disgust around something that’s a big part of the human experience. There’s something more going on here, and I don’t have enough information to get to the bottom of it, but I think that exploring this phobia could be revelatory and interesting for you, regardless of the decisions you ultimately end up making about reproduction. Find someone impartial and experienced to talk to about these feelings, and try to be nonjudgmental about what comes up for you. I don’t have any ideas about what that might be, but if you approach your fears with friendly curiosity, you can often learn a lot.
Meanwhile, with your partner, table the discussions of future kids as much as possible. If you decide much later on that you are interested in having a family, you will be in a much better place to contemplate the myriad ways you could potentially get there that don’t involve pregnancy and birth.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I really need some help with my daughter, who is almost 5 years old. She has a strong aversion to clothing, of any kind, to varying extents. I have given up on trying to get her to wear underwear, but pants and shoes particularly have become a daily screaming battle. I have tried pants with tags, with no tags, with elastic or with bottoms, but they are all “weird.” She can’t come up with any other reason besides being “weird,” or I would try to work within her requests and boundaries, but she has no feedback to give me! I feel like this is a sensory issue, and I feel for her—though we’ve spoken to her pediatrician and have been assured several times that she’s just a normal kid, I do suspect some neurodivergence. I have undiagnosed ADHD, I work in childcare and have other children, so I feel like I have a good baseline for what “normal” looks like.
Either way, she has to wear pants and shoes to go to school or be out in public (it’s not just a school issue, or I would suspect she didn’t enjoy it; it’s anytime we have to get dressed). I want to handle this with empathy, but eventually she has to wear the clothes. We are pretty low-income, and I can’t afford more than the five pairs of shoes we’ve already bought this year to try and help. How do I help her with this without ignoring her feelings and just telling her to get over it and put them on? I’m literally having nightmares about fall, when she will need to start wearing socks again!
— Frazzled Mom to a Nudist
Getting dressed is a huge challenge for many kids around your daughter’s age. Whether it’s about following directions, flexing autonomy over outfit choices, or the kind of discomfort your daughter is expressing, this can be one of the toughest issues for parents and little kids because it’s so black and white. You can, in a pinch, let a kid get away with refusing dinner or bedtime, but wearing shoes and pants is never really optional. While her aversion to clothes doesn’t necessarily reflect a more global issue, interventions that are usually recommended for kids with sensory processing disorders could still be helpful. Maybe it would be useful to do some sessions with an occupational therapist, if it’s not too expensive or could be covered by insurance? Another option is to wait until the school year starts and get referred to a therapist who works with the school system, depending on which appeals less to you, waiting or paying out of pocket. Good luck!
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My mother lives several states away from my family, and has only seen my kids in person three or four times since the beginning of the pandemic. She has always been very sensitive, but seems to have become even more so over the past two years. My in-laws live within walking distance, and have become our kids’ regular after-school caregivers, and have been taking care of them over the summer as well. My mother-in-law has been posting lots of pictures of them having fun at parks or the zoo, and my mom, who really misses her only grandkids, has started calling me multiple times a week crying about how sad it makes her feel that my kids won’t remember her (even though they talk on the phone all the time) or how she’s “their least-favorite grandparent.”
I try to be sympathetic and have asked her many times if she’d like us to come visit or if she wants to come and stay with us, but then she gets worried about the possibility of contracting a new COVID variant while traveling (despite the fact that our states have high vaccination rates and few cases), so it feels like I’m caught in an endless cycle of my mom crying, me placating her, and then a few days later she looks at my mother-in-law’s posts about spending time with my kids and starts crying again. I don’t know what to do here: I can’t ask my mother-in-law to not post photos of my kids to her private Instagram account, especially since I actually enjoy seeing what my kids are doing while my husband and I are at work, and I really appreciate my in-laws’ help. So how do I break this cycle of tearful phone calls I’m trapped in?
— Grandma’s Therapist
Oy, this is a tough one. You can’t ask your mother-in-law not to post photos, but I think you’re well within your rights to ask your mom not to look at them! She’s experiencing a kind of FOMO that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, and even though I very much appreciate that she’s working your nerves, it’s also hard not to feel some compassion for her. She misses her grandkids, and it’s understandable that she’s still worried about COVID. However, since you’re all vaccinated and the people around you mostly are too, maybe the next time she gets upset, you could suggest taking some proactive steps to break the cycle. “I feel for you but I can’t keep comforting you about this; it’s hard on both of us. You need to mute [mother-in-law] on Instagram and plan a visit with your grandkids—we can come to you, or you can come to us, whichever you feel most comfortable with.” Hold your ground and see if you can keep her from spinning out about unlikely negative outcomes. You’re her daughter, not her therapist, and you both need a break from that relationship dynamic.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My 16-year-old says I’m failing her. She says I’m a horrible person. She yells at me constantly for making her do things like pull her hair out of the shower drain when she’s done and bring her dirty dishes to the kitchen. She has ADHD, but she refuses to take her medication, refuses to see her therapist, and refuses to use the systems I’ve set up to help her (chore chart by day, week, and month; special place for keys and phones, etc.) She graduated high school early thanks to online schooling but she can’t start college until next year. She got a job at a nearby mall, and I told her I would give her a ride only for early starts and late nights, and she needs to put her schedule on our family calendar so I would know when she needs a ride. She keeps calls me at 3 p.m. wondering where I am; I’m at work! She screams at me the whole evening because I “forgot about her” and “made her” take the bus home.
Recently, we moved and she claimed the big bedroom with the good view. We had a family meeting about it and her younger sisters agreed to share the smaller bedroom if we set up the TV and sofa/lounger in the big room. (I sleep in the living/dining area.) She agreed with this arrangement, but now she kicks them out or doesn’t let them in at all, in the name of privacy. She wants to get her driver’s license before she goes to college; I told her that she needs to show me first that she can be responsible. I’m trying to keep in mind that she lost a lot of friends who moved away in the pandemic, and she’s probably anxious about college, and all that. But I’m doing everything I know how to do (and consulting my own therapist and other experts when I’m not sure of what to do) and she’s just being a bitch to me and her sisters all the time. How do I keep from strangling her in her sleep before she leaves for college?
— Sixteen is So Much Harder Than Six!
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Ha! I feel you. This phase is so rough. I’m probably echoing what your therapist and others have already said, but this bears repeating: A lot of the things you’re doing to appease your daughter or smooth her path in the short term are keeping her dependent on you, and she’s resenting you for it. Let her get her driver’s license so you won’t be on the hook for those pickups and drop-offs! Stop it with the reminders and chore charts, and let her experience the natural consequences of her actions (to a point, and the point is when it becomes too disruptive for the rest of the family). You can’t punt her out of the nest a year early, but you can make it clear that if she wants adult-style responsibility like driving and a master bedroom all to herself, she will have to figure out how to run her own life, take her medication, and be in charge of her own schedule. It’s also not unreasonable to have another family meeting about the room situation, because it’s not working out. If privacy is more important to her than having the bigger room, she needs to move out of it so that her sisters can have access to the couch/tv again.
Meanwhile, insofar as this is possible, see what you can do to take care of yourself. It sounds like you’re stretched thin, and it can’t be fun not to have a bedroom in your own home. You deserve privacy and time to yourself, too, and while it might feel selfish in the moment to demand this of your kids and get it by whatever means are necessary, you also are modeling healthy behavior when you honor your own needs.
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I’ve been happily married for more than 10 years to a great woman, and we have two amazing kids. I still find my wife very attractive, and I enjoy our intimate sessions. There’s one thing that I don’t know how to address. My wife works out frequently and has a great body for a mom of two. However, she has a significant amount of cellulite in her thighs, mostly in the back and some on her buttocks. I know she’s got an issue with it. If she’s undressing in front of me or is in the bathroom naked, she always turns to make sure I’m not seeing her thighs. When swimming she wears a towel and takes it off just before she enters the water. We have never discussed this in all our years together. Her thighs are a bit of a turnoff, but not a deal killer. We can afford treatment to remove the cellulite, but I’m unsure how to best approach this option or create a space for her to come to the conclusion on her own. Or should I just ignore it?