parenting advice 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 husband and I are having a (quite low stakes) disagreement about our son, and I’d love your input. The other day we were talking about mental health (I have bipolar disorder, along with my mother and her father). I said that I’d like to get our son into regular therapy from a young age because I think having an outlet would have been so helpful to me and would have raised some red flags a lot earlier. We are privileged to be in a position to afford ongoing costs relating to therapy long-term.

My husband balked at this idea—he says we don’t know if our son will have any issues and we would be jumping the gun. He feels that using a therapist was taking away from our responsibility as parents to support him emotionally, and would lead to him feeling like he couldn’t talk to us about his problems. My husband is also concerned that by making him talk to a professional, we could give him a complex and make him feel like something is wrong with him. I don’t think that you have to have “issues” to go to therapy. In fact, I think that if a lot more people (men especially) went to therapy before they’d reached a crisis point, we’d be a lot happier and healthier as a society. I feel like it takes a village to raise a child, and even though we are planning to be entirely present, available, and supportive in our son’s life, having someone independent there to catch anything else would not be a bad thing. I wish society didn’t have this stigma that you need to be mentally unwell to seek help. I think that if we approach it as a source of wellness rather than a “treatment,” our son will follow suit. I am keenly aware that my mental health experience may be causing me to intervene too early. On the other hand, I don’t think that talking to a professional (the right professional) is ever a bad decision. What do you think?

—Overparenting or Nah

Dear Overparenting,

I also have mental illness (clinical depression), but I’m completely on your husband’s side here. I’m a huge advocate for therapy, and I see a therapist regularly, but that’s because it’s necessary to keep my head above water these days. If I felt as if I didn’t need it, I wouldn’t go.

As your husband believes, it’s your responsibility as his parents to offer emotional support for your son, and you should do everything in your power to create an environment for him to want to discuss his issues with you instead of a stranger.

Your point is well taken about the stigma of mental illness and therapy in America, especially among men and boys—but I don’t see the benefit of sending your son to a therapist right now. Would you send him to his pediatrician for weekly or biweekly checkups if he didn’t display any signs of illness or injury? Probably not. And I think there’s something to the idea that it could make him believe there’s a problem when one doesn’t exist.

I do understand your perspective. Because of my own issues, I find myself being hyperaware of any signs of depression in my young daughters, but I’m not going to take them to therapy until or unless there’s a reason to. Teach your son to display healthy emotions and let him know that he can come to you for anything that upsets him or scares him. You can also teach him now that therapy is an option if there’s ever a time he wishes to speak to an expert about problems he doesn’t wish to discuss with you.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband, our two teens, and I are fully vaccinated and excited for an August beach vacation in Florida. We intend to eat most meals in the condo and only dine out in outdoor spaces. Our 13-year-old niece who lives in Florida is invited to stay with us for two weeks and is looking forward to spending time with her cousins. I just found out from my MIL that my niece hasn’t been vaccinated because her mother “has doubts about the vaccine.” Our family has been in lockdown for 1.5 years, working from home, remote schooling, and being very cautious. I have health issues that could make getting COVID a serious matter and my son had childhood asthma. My husband doesn’t want to disinvite her because she is his brother’s daughter and their family has economic struggles making it impossible for them to provide vacations for their children. Even though we are fully vaccinated there is still a possibility that we could contract the virus. I don’t know how to deal with this and would appreciate your advice!

—Fearful of Florida’s Unvaccinated

Dear Fearful,

I think you’re missing the main problem here. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t set foot in Florida right now if you paid me because that state’s mismanagement of COVID has reached catastrophic levels. Even if you declined to invite your niece to your vacation, you’d undoubtedly come into contact with other unmasked, unvaccinated Floridians around you who would pose a threat to you and your family.

I’m sure there’s someone reading this who thinks, “Well, if you’re vaccinated, then you have nothing to worry about!” This delta variant is highly contagious and isn’t something to be trifled with. Personally, I would reconsider this vacation. You and your son have underlying health issues, and it’s not worth risking your health for a few days at the beach. Instead, you should use this as an opportunity to talk to your niece (from a distance) about the importance of getting vaccinated so she doesn’t become a victim of this heinous illness.

There will be plenty of time in the future to enjoy a Florida vacation, but this is not it.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My older sister and I have different parenting styles, but for the most part I respect her decisions. She currently has a 1-year-old son. We are not close for a number of reasons, but as she nears 40, she has attempted to rebuild bridges with family. She is no longer the bully she once was, but because of a personality disorder, she plays power games, does not value my opinion, and is attention seeking. I try to stay out of her way, but recently I noticed a photo that she posted of her son in his new convertible car seat in a digital family photo album. I mentioned to her that the buckles of his car seat were installed incorrectly and that this was dangerous. I even offered to go over and fix the car seat for her or told her to refer to the manual. She said she’d discuss it with her husband. Several weeks later she posted another photo, again and the buckles are still all wrong. Am I obligated to mention something again? For what it’s worth, her husband, who is conservative and old-fashioned, does not value my opinion either, and he and I have no relationship.

—Concerned Aunt

Dear Concerned,

I’ve said this often in this column, but it’s worth repeating. You can’t put a cape on and save everyone as if you’re a superhero. All you can do is share your thoughts about car seat safety with your sister and her husband.

Talk to her again, and try to make your case as convincingly as possible without shaming your sister. If I were you, I would even try to do this by demonstrating in person how to install it. You can start off by saying something like, “I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I only want what’s best for you and your family, and I care about your safety—that’s why I keep bringing this up.”

Go in with your eyes open and know that since your relationship is somewhat strained, there’s a good chance she’ll be offended. But you can’t control that reaction. If you do your part to inform her as nicely as possible and she chooses to ignore you, then you’ll have to move on and hope for the best.

In the meantime, continue to make an effort to become closer to your sister. In doing so, she may be more willing to take your advice in the future.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I aren’t quite ready to have kids yet, but I know that within the next couple of years, the discussion will pick up. I want kids, but I have one giant fear that may seem absolutely ridiculous, but I can’t let it go: What if my kid sucks? As in, what if no matter what my husband and I do, they have a personality that really tests people’s nerves, or is a kid no one wants to be around? Like a super clingy kid that doesn’t want to ever leave our side no matter where we go; a loud, hyper kid; a constant whiner; or a kid who doesn’t understand boundaries (like always interrupts conversations to ask for something or demand attention) no matter how many times we try to enforce them. What if I can’t love my kid because they constantly annoy me? My husband responds to my fears with jokes (though, to be fair, I don’t think he’s trying to brush me off). I’ve thought about therapy, but then I think how awful I must be to need therapy to learn to love my [theoretical] child, and clearly that means I shouldn’t have kids. How do I handle this??

—Please Don’t Be *That* Kid

Dear Please,

Your post made me chuckle—but I’m not laughing at you. Every parent who ever raised tiny humans will say that each of their kids have quirks that drive them up the wall, but they still love them. A lot of the examples you mentioned here are things that can be corrected through parenting and by setting expectations/boundaries early and often. If you believe this is a serious enough issue to deter you from even trying for a baby, then yes, I suggest you seek therapy. It doesn’t make you “awful” for sorting out your feelings with an expert. As a matter of fact, it would be wonderful if all parents-to-be spoke to a family therapist prior to having babies.

But one thing I’ll mention is parents always view other kids as way more annoying than their own. Sure, if you walk around town, you may notice clingy, loud, whiny children, but it’s important to keep in mind that each of those children have parents who would take a bullet for them in a heartbeat. Trust me when I say that you would do the same for your future children, no matter how close they drive you to the brink of insanity. A parent’s love is unconditional.


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