Mon. Oct 18th, 2021

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 wonderful son will be entering high school next year, and this has sparked something of a debate between my husband and me as to whether this means he needs to start looking for an after-school job. I strongly value building work experience and instilling children with a strong work ethic, but I’m concerned about the impact a job might have on my son right now. After watching him struggle in a school that was rife with gang violence, drugs, and abysmal academics, he applied and earned a scholarship to a prestigious private school. In order to maintain his scholarship, he must keep an excellent GPA. He also swims and plays soccer for the school teams, and each student at the school is required to do community service hours, so while he’s thriving at his new school and enjoying it, he has little downtime to relax between his studies, service hours, and sports.

I think his primary focus should be on his academic work, his sports, and just enjoying a little time to be a teen. My husband, on the other hand, believes that making our son get a job is the most important lesson we can give him at this stage. He even wants to force him to work in a local factory to dissuade him from seeing jobs like that as a viable option as an adult. For what it’s worth, I grew up in a middle-class family, while my husband’s blue-collar family had to scramble to make ends meet. I worked a few hours a week as a teen, but it was just for a little extra cash. My husband worked almost full time as a teen to help support his family. Will adding a job to the equation be too much for an overscheduled kid, or is it an important opportunity that he’d miss out on?

—Help Wanted

Dear HW,

I am of the opinion that work ethic is not a character value. Forcing a child into a fucked-up capitalist labor market during the brief time in his life in which he can enjoy not having to work to eat might teach him about what it means to be an employee, but it isn’t necessarily a valuable use of a child’s time. Some kids must work because their families need additional income; aside from that, they should work only when they deeply want to and can maintain a good school schedule while doing so. You don’t have to take a job away from a blue-collar worker who needs it to prove to your son that those sorts of roles are both low-paid and difficult and that you wish for him to make his living in a more comfortable way as an adult; you can instead have him do some research on conditions for folks working the sort of job your husband had in mind.

You also don’t need to add the stress of labor to an already full plate. Explain to your husband that you respect his intentions, but part of the value of being in more comfortable circumstances than those in which he was raised is being able to shield your child from the working world while they are still children. Also, it’s worth pointing out that interrupting his current schedule with a (ridiculous) job might make it more difficult for him to have the résumé he needs to enter a college that may (or may not) protect him from the future his dad so badly wishes to save him from. Good luck!

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m writing in for advice about how to make amends with my younger brother. We were very close growing up, but when we were teenagers, my mental health collapsed, and my inability to control my symptoms and/or express that I needed help caused a lot of instability in our family. I made our house an unpleasant environment for him to be in, sucked up all our parents’ attention and time, and then mocked him when he spent time with people who could give him their full attention and acknowledge his accomplishments. To top it all off, I forbid my parents from telling him exactly what was happening, leaving him completely in the dark as to why I was behaving so badly. As you can imagine, this didn’t do a lot for our sibling relationship. Seven years or so down the line, I’ve gotten treatment for what was eventually diagnosed as bipolar disorder, and I want to own up to the harm I caused. I don’t want to expect forgiveness or demand a relationship with him, but I want him to know that I’m sorry. Where should I start with taking responsibility for what I put him through? Alternatively, if the best thing for me to do is to let him be, do you have any advice for how to let this go? The last thing I want to do is make his life harder.

—In Recovery and Regretful

Dear IRaR,

Congratulations on getting both a diagnosis and treatment that have helped you to understand, address, and work to avoid the behaviors of your youth! That is tremendous. I get why you are fearful about engaging your brother about what you feel like you put him through, but you must remember that your illness was not your choice and that it caused you to do things that you would not have done otherwise. It’s fair for you to consider that he may not be open to a full reconciliation, and it’s wise for you to prepare yourself for him to have any number of reactions to your news. However, you both deserve for him to have some important context about your actions back then. Mental illness makes people do unlikable things; you must forgive yourself for that. It would be great for your brother to forgive you, too, and I sure hope he does, but the only way that he can do so is if he knows how to view your past relationship through the proper lens. Speak to your therapist to develop a plan for how and when you hold this conversation, so that you are in a good place emotionally and can care for yourself, and him, accordingly. All the best to you.

• If you missed Thursday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I married a woman with a daughter, “C,” from a previous relationship, now 13. Sometimes, once C is ready for bed, she’ll come into our room and ask her mother to lie down with her before she goes to sleep. As far as I know, the two of them use this time to cuddle, chat, and watch a few videos on my wife’s phone. This used to happen every night, but over the years, it has gradually slowed to every few nights. It lasts half an hour at most before my wife returns to our bed. My wife has a demanding job, and C often has a lot of schoolwork, so I think they both value this, and I’ve never thought much of it. However, I was recently talking to an acquaintance, “R,” about parenting, and somehow this came up. R (who has three kids) was aghast—she called it codependent and insinuated that this practice was somehow sexual for my wife. I was stunned and furious and have completely cut contact with R.

However, R’s words have stuck with me for a while now. I’m not worried about her insinuation that my wife is a sexual predator, but it has made me wonder whether this time before bed is developmentally inappropriate for her daughter. In the past, my wife has sometimes babied C and done things for her that she could have done on her own, like clipping her nails or blow-drying her hair. Most of that has just been inertia combined with C’s lack of willingness to learn a new skill, but my wife does often fail to see these things before I or others point them out to her, so this history does affect my perspective. Is this something my wife and C should stop, or a sweet and harmless practice that can come to a close on its own time?

—R Is Wrong, Right?

Dear RIWR,

This question makes me so sad! I wonder what R experienced, witnessed, and/or read that would inspire such a deeply cynical take on a sweet ritual that I personally plan to do with my own daughter for the rest of my life! Perhaps the idea of cuddle time every night when she’s 13 may seem excessive to some—oh, wait, it’s only a few times a week now. Dude, R/you, WTF?!

As for your own concerns, I could see if you were talking about bathing or putting on clothes. Your wife grooms her daughter. People pay strangers to do their hair and nails. A mommy doing that for her baby, at any age, is so unbearably normal that I’m literally hanging up on you right now. Goodbye!

For more of Slate’s parenting coverage, listen to Mom and Dad Are Fighting

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m 12. I live with my dad and two brothers because my mom died last year. My dad is awesome, but he acts like I’m a boy. Recently, I got my period at school and panicked and left and then shoplifted the stuff I needed to take care of it. I didn’t get caught stealing. But I did get caught sneaking out of school to do it; my small private school noticed and called him right away. I feel awful because he was so disappointed and got sad, and I heard him say to my aunt that I wouldn’t have done this when Mom was alive. He doesn’t even know the worst of it! How do I tell him about the period thing, so I don’t have to steal each month? I dropped a hint about girls having more expenses than boys and needing a bigger allowance, and he gave me a lecture on being grateful for what I have. We never talk about private stuff, and he is pretty old-fashioned. I don’t know how to deal with this. I thought about telling my aunt, who is not like him and good at getting him to lighten up (she got him to go to her gay wedding and to let me and the boys go), so she could tell him, but I’m worried she will find out about the stealing and feel really disappointed in me too. Help!

—Help Me Tell Dad

Dear HMTD,

Thank you for trusting me with your question. I am so sorry for your loss and for the challenges you’ve been having with your new normal. Please let go of the idea that you did something wrong when you snuck out of school and got those period supplies. You are a very young girl experiencing a life-changing transition during a difficult time; society failed you by not making period supplies free and readily accessible, and while your dad and aunt may not have prepared for a day in which they’d be your go-to adult for period stuff, you are at an age in which it would have been ideal for one of them to make it available to you at home as well. You did what you had to do during a scary, physically taxing, and emotionally charged time. Forgive yourself!

I don’t think your family should be upset with you for the stealing, but you know them better than I do. If you don’t think they can handle that information without punishing you further or making you feel worse, then you don’t need to share it. However, you can tell your aunt, with the intention of having her help you have this conversation with your dad, that you skipped school because you got your first period. That information should make both of them do a full stop and consider that there are needs of yours that they have not addressed, and that they need to come up with a plan to do so immediately.

I say “should” because adults, even those who love us, sometimes have the wrong reaction to our actions and our challenges alike. I think your aunt is a good place to start because she is a woman and seemingly has experience with getting your dad to reconsider some of his thinking. If speaking to her and/or to him directly doesn’t lead you to get the sort of support you need with regard to your menstrual cycle or any other issues, please reach out to a guidance counselor, favorite teacher, or other trusted adult for help. Also, your school should have period supplies on hand in the office or with the nurse. It may not seem fun to ask, but just remember that the majority of the people in the building are having the same experience once a month or once did. Wishing you all the best, lots of love and good thoughts to you.

—Jamilah

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