Baby Care

I proposed a competition and it did not work out.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I are pregnant with our first child, and we’re thrilled. We’re trying to decide who to ask to be the baby’s godmother (my brother will be godfather,) and the only two real options are my husband’s two sisters, “Anne” and “Beth.” In order to help us decide who to pick, I suggested to Anne and Beth that we could have a fun “contest” to determine who would be godparent. I was thinking something along the lines of a quiz on babies and baby care, which we could record and share with family online. Anne seemed reluctant and Beth outright refused, so I dropped it. The problem now is that Anne and Beth are both being chilly to me; Anne is one of my best friends, and while we’re still talking, she’s been more distant in our chats. My MIL says it’s because Anne and Beth have not always had a great relationship and the idea of competing probably triggered something, but I didn’t think there would be an issue since they made up over a year ago. My husband says to just drop it and that Anne and Beth will warm up when it’s closer to my due date, but I’m kind of annoyed at both of them because I don’t think I did anything wrong. How should I approach this?

—Just Want the Best for the Baby

Dear Just Want the Best,

I’m not sure you did anything “wrong” per se, but perhaps you should have considered that a competition (even a light-hearted one) between two sisters who don’t get along super well might trigger some issues. Regardless, you don’t need to blame yourself for the tension between them. Let Anne and Beth know that you’re sorry if the contest idea was upsetting to them and that you only wanted to try and make the selection process a little fun. Tell them that you think they’d both be excellent godmothers and that you were trying to make a difficult decision a little easier. When you and your husband make your choice, be thoughtful about how you share the news with each of them, particularly the one you don’t select. In time, Anne and Beth will get over this and can get back to focusing on the exciting event at hand.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a 27-year-old woman who is struggling to build a relationship with my mother. Growing up, my mother relied on me for emotional support—slight changes in her mood triggered physical discomfort in me. At the same time, I had fewer needs relative to my siblings.
If I wasn’t being ignored, I was on the receiving end of criticism, the vilest of which was directed at my appearance. This was all made worse by financial infractions that ranged from emptying my bank account to using my SSN to secure a loan without my permission. I decided to cut off contact for a year, and I spent this time in therapy gaining emotional and financial independence.

Now we are in family therapy trying to rebuild our relationship. Outside of our sessions, she tells me that I disregard the positive things that she has done for me (e.g. years of organized sports, help with college tuition). She says that her peers have done “worse” things to their children, but that they still manage to have a close relationship. I feel guilty when she tells me this, and I’m wondering if she is right. To me, it’s possible for me to both feel grateful that my most of my basic needs were met and that there are still barriers to a closer relationship. Am I wrong for feeling this way?

—Sad Guilty Daughter

Dear Sad Guilty Daughter,

It is undoubtedly true that there are people who were “worse” parents than your mother who have closer relationships with their children than the two of you have now. However, that is no reason for you to feel that you are doing something wrong, or that you have to have a tighter bond with your mom. It’s great that you all are in family therapy, and hopefully it will provide the space for you to communicate your feelings with her about all the things that happened between you in the past. But remember this: There’s no reason for you to be close to your mother if you don’t want to be. Considering what’s transpired, she is fortunate that you are attempting to connect with her at all. You absolutely can feel grateful for the things she did right and resentful of the things she did wrong, and the latter can remain a barrier to the sort of relationship she may want to have with you. At this point in your life, you get to decide how much space your mother takes up. Time can heal wounds, and perhaps in the future you will feel warmer towards her. But if that’s not where you are now, there’s no need to fake it. Be honest with her in therapy (and bring up the comments she’s made outside of your sessions—which sure sound like a form of manipulation) and set boundaries as you see fit.

Catch Up on Care and Feeding

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

I am the oldest of my parents’ eight kids. (Yes, they’re religious; no, I am not.) It was clear to me early that if I wanted to have a life like my friends’ moms, or like my unmarried cousins, I would need to stop being in charge of my siblings and get my own opportunities. At 11, I vividly remember my 10-year-old brother got to go to after-school clubs and sports while I didn’t because I was “Mom’s helper” with the babies. I became a difficult kid—if I was told to help or care for my siblings, I would do the bare minimum and often wander off, and I was so insistent and bratty about doing exactly what my brother was allowed to do that I made it harder for my parents to come pull me out of activities than to just handle my siblings themselves. Understandably, both my siblings and my parents hated this, and I was “the selfish one” my entire childhood. I did make it to college, and to an independent, high-paying job afterwards, mostly with the help of great teachers, huge loans, and stubbornness. At 33, I’m on cool terms with my parents and siblings, especially my younger sister “Tricia,” who fell into the caretaker role I was too selfish to take. I watch my husband with his brothers, and I crave that closeness. His parents take care of me like I was their own, but my parents stay distant, and barely came to our wedding. How do I get closer with my siblings and parents as an adult, especially because I all but abandoned my younger siblings as a kid? I feel so guilty, especially about Tricia, who barely talks to me.

—Trying to Reconnect

Dear Trying to Reconnect,

All you can do is make your intentions known to your family and give them the opportunity to extend themselves back to you. You did what you had to do as a younger person to give yourself the sort of life you wanted, and you succeeded. Unfortunately, there may be family members who resent that. This may not be fair to you, but it isn’t for you to decide how they feel. Let them know that you love them, you’re here for them, and that you’d like to be closer. When it comes to Tricia, acknowledge how your choices may have made things more difficult for her, but remind her that it was your parents who forced her into a caretaker role, not you. Tell her that you wish things had been different for both of you and that you really want to know her better as an adult. Talk about how challenging things were for you as kids and why you made the decisions that you did. Speak to your brother about the privileges he was given and why you resented that. As far as your parents go, explain that your independence in your youth may have put a barrier between you, but that you want to have a better relationship with them at this stage in your lives. Be honest, be loving, and give them the chance to reciprocate. If they don’t, that doesn’t mean that you did anything wrong. You had the presence of mind to take care of yourself from a very young age, and you did. If your family can’t accept that, it’s truly their loss.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I are expecting our first child in December. When we shared the news with family, my mother’s immediate reaction was to say she would fly out to “help.” This is absolutely not acceptable to me. A little background: my mother was verbally abusive to me throughout my childhood and did not intervene against my father’s physical abuse. She lacks self-awareness more than anyone I have ever met and does not take responsibility for the past. She also makes every situation about her (the other half of the phone call was her telling me for the thousandth time about her pregnancy experience). I have a limited relationship with my parents and live 1500 miles away. I see them maybe once or twice a year. They tend to be the last to know important news about my life, and I am not close to them. I have been in therapy on and off for years and I have come to peace with the way our relationship is, but I need a script to basically say “I won’t bar you from limited, supervised visits to meet your grandchild, but you will not be helpful to me at any time, especially a vulnerable one, and if you show up without permission I will literally not open the door to you.” I’m worried that being that direct will only cause issues for me, and I just want to be left alone.

—Want to Be a Mom Without My Mom

Dear Without My Mom,

It sounds like you have a pretty clear and concise script for that conversation already. What you can’t plan for, of course, is how she is going to react to you setting those boundaries. It sounds like you’re anticipating her being upset. That’s unfortunate, but you have the right to decide who spends time with you during your pregnancy and who comes to help you with the baby. If you don’t want her to do those things, you have to tell her. Your mother may lack self-awareness and the ability to understand just why you don’t want her around, but she still needs to know the bare facts. The sooner you talk to her, the better. Decide upon a time in which you’d be willing to have her visit, let her know when that is and that you aren’t open to anything outside of that. If she has an outsized reaction, you can prohibit her from coming all together. What matters now is what you want for you and your child, not your mother’s feelings. Her actions in the past got you to the place where you are now. She will just have to accept that.


For More Parenting Advice, Listen to Mom and Dad Are Fighting

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