My Parents Refuse to Understand My Perspective on Family Visits

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My Parents Refuse to Understand My Perspective on Family Visits

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 husband and I live a long and expensive plane ride from my childhood hometown. My parents have only been out to visit three times since we moved here almost 10 years ago—once each for the birth of our two kids, and the third time during the pandemic when they drove across the country to see us. They have made it very clear that they are never coming back; they dislike flying and they don’t want to leave their dog with anyone while they are away. This leaves me to do all the traveling to see them, which I do because they are elderly, and I want my kids to know their grandparents. My parents are wonderful about paying our airfare, which helps, but I can’t seem to get them to understand that it’s very hard on us to do all the traveling all the time.

Plus, we really want to share the life we’ve built out here with them. We want them to see all of the places and people we tell them about. My husband and I now have a routine where we each take a kid for spring break back to our respective hometowns (my husband is from another country), and I’ve just returned from the latest trip exhausted and upset at yet again having to be the one to do all the traveling. I understand that they are old and travel is exhausting but they just don’t seem to understand. Fortunately, my mom finally stopped saying how “easy” it was for us to come visit after I blew up at her for saying it—it’s not easy at all! Is there anything else I can do other than suck it up every year and go on the trip? To make it a bit worse, I don’t think they are all that excited about the time with the grandkids, as they have often commented that they adore spending time with me specifically.

— Always the Visitor, Never the Host

Dear Visitor,

Having traveled with young kids, I can attest to its difficulty with even the easiest kids. I can also remember my childhood and how much fun it was for my out-of-state grandma to travel to my house, in addition to us going out to see her. It would make birthdays, band concerts and other events that much more special to have her present.

Since you have the feeling that your parents’ focus is more on spending time with you than your kids, is there a bargain you can strike? If it’s logistically feasible for you, maybe you could offer them a few trips to visit them on your own, in exchange for them coming to your town once or twice a year? Of course, even if this nets them more time with you, they still might be unwilling to make the deal. At that point, you will have to decide whether the hassle of the trip is worth what you get from it. If the trip gave you, your kids, and your parents joy, despite the headaches, it might be worth it. On the other hand, if grandparents and kids are just going through the motions, it might be time to admit that the return on investment simply isn’t there when it comes to family travel, and rethink your goals for your family.

As you weigh the options, just remember that traveling with your kids will get easier. (I get the feeling your kids are still pretty young.) It won’t be long before they can pack themselves, carry their own luggage and entertain themselves with fewer toys and trappings—in which case the travel might not be as cumbersome as now. So, whatever decision you make, leave open the possibility that you could change your mind in the future.

Catch Up on Care and Feeding

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Dear Care and Feeding,

We’re leaving for a week-long beach vacation the day after the last day of school in May. My brother-in-law and his family are renting the cabin next door, and everyone is very excited. While it might seem a bit early to be preparing, my wife and I are both traveling for work in the weeks leading up to our trip, so we are getting things ready now.

My daughter is 7 years old. She’s had a series of frustrating experiences recently when getting ready for our trip, ranging from trouble with her eyeglasses to shopping for bathing suits. Because of these experiences, she’s now saying she doesn’t want to do anything summer related, just spend our beach vacation in the cabin on her tablet. She keeps going on about how important it is that she stays indoors to stay safe from cancer. She’s heard that exposure to sunlight can cause cancer and her friend’s mom is currently fighting cancer. My daughter doesn’t know most of the details, but she does know that it’s very scary and life-threatening.

Our whole family burns easily (Irish heritage) and we take sun safety seriously. In the past few days, whenever she brings up her fears, we explain all the ways that we’re staying safe from the sun: applying sunscreen, drinking lots of water, wearing hats, etc. It’s not helping; she’s just getting more and more stressed about the whole idea of the vacation, and I’m not really sure how to soothe her worries.

— Here Comes the Sun

Dear HCtS,

I might appeal to a higher power and set up an appointment or zoom with your pediatrician. Maybe your daughter would be more assured if she heard from an expert that there was a way to play safely in the sun and had an opportunity to ask questions about cancer, etc. My gut is that you are just not enough of an authority to make your daughter feel comfortable on this subject, but that she might listen to someone else who gives her facts and reassurance from an informed point of view.

You might also try to strike a compromise, buying a big beach umbrella and a long-sleeved rash guard for her, promising that she can stay in the shade, but that she’s coming to the beach. That way she can feel protected, but no adult is missing out on the trip’s main activity by staying indoors with her.

Finally, give the subject a rest. The more you try to probe and fix her anxiety, the more you might inadvertently build it up. Instead, watch her to see if her concerns grow or dissipate over time. That will let you know whether you need to take further steps towards therapy or other solutions.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have two children, a 10-year-old daughter “Cara” and a 6-year-old son “Rick.” They get along very well and often play together after school. Cara really takes to the big sister role and often tries to teach and guide Rick, which is cute. However, the other day, I witnessed a not so cute exchange between the two when Rick asked her where babies came from. I’ve always tried to keep my kids educated in an age-appropriate way about sex, but Rick is quite young and hadn’t expressed much interest, so it hadn’t come up. Cara, however, was quick to answer.

She said that the man sticks his “dick” into a woman’s “front hole,” and then it falls off and stays inside the woman. That grows into the baby, and it takes the man 9 months to grow his “dick” back. Rick nodded along very attentively, like he was taking mental notes.

I moved in at that point, separating the children. I did my best to correct Cara’s misinformation for Rick, although he very much looks up to his sister and I’m not 100 percent sure he believed me. (I will keep an eye on that though.) My bigger worry is Cara herself. In a separate conversation, I asked her where she got her silly ideas about sex, and her only response was to give me one of those patient looks tweens are so good at and say that she’s not a baby anymore, she knows about things like this.

Well, clearly she doesn’t. I can inform her about the realities of sex until I’m blue in the face, but I’m not sure how to combat the misinformation she’s got, especially since I don’t know where it’s coming from.  How do I get rid of the wrong so I can leave her with what’s right?

— Combatting Misinformation

Dear Misinformation,

At the risk of repeating myself from the letter above, appeal to a higher power and buy some books you can read together. I really like It’s Not the Stork by Robie H. Harris, which uses matter-of-fact language paired with graphic novel-esque illustrations. Maybe she doesn’t believe you, but she would probably believe the authority of the written word. After you read the book(s), you can decide whether to suggest she go back and correct her mis-informed friend (because a friend is almost certainly where she got her information from), or let it lie and trust that she’ll take it from there. She sounds like she enjoys being “in the know” and might be eager all on her own to report back to her peers.

For what it’s worth, there are some animal species —sea slugs, and a particular type of octopus called an argonaut—whose penises detach during mating. So, it’s possible that your daughter, or one of her friends, heard some fascinating animal fact and incorrectly filled in some blanks. If that’s the case, you can give her or her friends partial credit for their “knowledge.” And then later on, go look up strange animal sex facts, because I promise you will not be disappointed!

Dear Care and Feeding,

The members of my family all have larger bodies, and when I met and eventually married my husband “Carl,” he was, too. We’re happy and have an 8-year-old daughter. About a year ago, my husband embarked on a weight loss journey. He’s spending a lot of his free time away from us in the gym, and while he eats with us, he prepares his own meals and doesn’t eat what my daughter and I do.

I support him in his attempt to change himself, if that’s what he really wants to do, but I would be lying if I didn’t have reservations. In my personal experience, the most fatphobic people are the ones who have lost weight and managed to keep it off for a while. I wouldn’t want that to happen to my husband, especially with a child in the mix. I worry that he’ll say or do things that will make her think her body type isn’t valid. So far, he hasn’t said anything too destructive, at least not that I’ve heard, but I know he’s tried to coax her into eating his sort of food and going to the gym with him, so I think he’s trying to stealth change her.

I’ve been trying to provide an example of body acceptance, but I worry about what will happen to her with two parents giving two different examples like we are. Will this work out? Will it damage our daughter?

— Preemptive Protection

Dear PP,

I do think it can work out to have two parents who take different approaches to their weight, but I think the more you can get on the same page regarding how you talk about your bodies, the better. For example, a lot of parents choose to emphasize to their kids how their body functions as opposed to how it looks. If you and your husband use this kind of language, I can see a future where he talks about having fewer aches when he works out (or whatever his examples may be) and that not conflicting with how you manage or talk about your own body. That said, it could be easy for either of you to accidentally or intentionally shift into proscriptive language when talking to your daughter about her own body. You need a plan for how to avoid that shift and what to do when it inevitably happens.

I think at this early stage, it would be a great idea to work with a couples’ counselor who can help you (together) articulate and write down a parenting agreement around weight and body image. It would give you an opportunity to discuss each other’s boundaries, agree to the kinds of language and parenting techniques you’ll use, and give you a foundation you can return to when conflicts or curveballs arise. After all, someone is bound to say or do something that they thought was in-bounds, only to learn their partner felt otherwise; having an articulated plan to refer back to can help you face your different approaches to weight more productively.

Additionally, I love the podcast Maintenance Phase, hosted by Aubrey Gordon and Michael Hobbes, which explores myths and bad science surrounding nutrition and wellness. On a recent episode, Gordon recommended the book Fat Talk: Parenting in the Age of Diet Culture by Virginia Sole Smith. I haven’t read it, but based on Gordon’s recommendation, it might be something you and your husband choose to read and discuss, given its focus on the parenting aspects of weight and body image. I think the more you both can communicate about how you want to parent while making space for each other’s personal decisions about your own bodies/weight, the higher chances you’ll have of coexisting and coparenting successfully.

—Allison

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My first grader is bright and imaginative, and he seems to be well-liked by his peers. Despite this, he often comes home from school dejected because no one wants to create imaginary play productions during recess. I have encouraged him to join the others and let go of his determination to put on pretend Broadway productions, but this goes in one ear and out the other. Should I say anything else, or let him work these playground politics out on his own?

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