Dear Care and Feeding,
I have two daughters. “Allie” is 28 and “Grace” is 26. Allie met her fiancé in college and they’ve dated continuously since then. They got engaged three years ago, planned a much-later wedding so they could save money, and have since set their wedding date for summer 2023. Grace met her fiancé last year and they had a whirlwind romance. They have set their wedding for fall 2022. Allie has always been very clear that she wants her wedding to be a big affair (about 150 guests) including many extended family members whom we haven’t seen in a while because of COVID. She and her fiancé are paying for it entirely on their own, and my husband and I have been excited about the de facto family reunion in summer 2023. However, Grace just announced that her wedding will also be large (and self-paid) and she will be inviting the exact same set of family members. I’ve been fielding calls from many of these family members who are geographically/financially limited and can only attend one wedding in this time frame, wanting to know whose would be more appropriate for them to go to. Allie is livid. She feels that Grace is forcing people to choose between them. Grace contends she did nothing wrong. The tension between the two of them boiled over at Christmas and now they aren’t speaking. My husband and I are at a loss, as we aren’t financing either wedding, so we feel we have little room to adjudicate this. I know we should just let the two of them work it out … but in the meantime, is there anything we can do to help? What should we say to the family members who keep calling us? How do we keep this from causing a permanent rift between our daughters?
—Mama in Matrimony Mayhem
There is nothing you can do to “adjudicate” this. I will say that I am getting a whiff of your opinion—that you believe Allie is right and Grace is wrong—and that if I can sense that, just by reading between the lines of this letter, your daughters surely can too. And the family members who are calling you and expecting you to tell them what to do (why on earth are they doing that?) may be able to as well. Just so you know.
Look, I get that you’re disappointed by the way this has worked out, that it seems to you that your younger daughter, with her whirlwind romance, has thrown a monkey wrench into your dream of a big (and “perfect”) family reunion, and that you’re distressed by your daughters’ anger at each other. But planning when and how they are going host their weddings is no one’s business but theirs and their fiancés’. Stay out of it. When relatives call to demand to know whose wedding they should go to (again: Why are they asking? Do they really think you are going to choose for them between your two daughters? And can it be true that many people are asking you to make this choice for them?), why not say, “Goodness, I don’t know!” and change the subject?
I guarantee you can do nothing to keep this from causing a permanent rift between Allie and Grace. I’d hazard to say that if this argument about their weddings is not a straw breaking the poor camel’s back on a long-simmering conflict between them, it absolutely will not drive a lifelong wedge between them—and if their relationship wasn’t solid, it may turn out to be the excuse they’ve been looking for. (And who knows? At the rate things are going, they both may have to postpone their large weddings for the sake of everyone’s safety.)
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From this week’s letter, I Have No Idea How to Parent My Toddler Through This New Phase of the Pandemic: “I feel like my risk-assessment software is broken after two years of this.”
Dear Care and Feeding,
My stepson’s wife is about to have a baby. Although (obviously) I am not my stepson’s biological mother, I did help raise him (for many years, he lived exactly half the time with my husband and me; as he got older, it was more like 80 percent of the time with us). Now that he is about to be a father, both my stepson’s mother—let’s call her Kathy—and I would like the baby to call us Nana. I have no problem sharing the name and even having the child call me Nana . My reasons for wanting to be called Nana are deep: for generations of my family, as far back as we know, all the women have been called Nana by their grandchildren. Kathy’s reason for wanting to be called Nana? She likes the name. Her parents are Grammy and Grandpa; her grandparents were also Grammy and Grandpa and that’s why her son calls her parents Grammy and Grandpa.
My stepson and his wife are fine with us both being Nana, but they are being pressured into making me feel like I need to give up the name because the child will be Kathy’s first biological grandchild. I’m on the brink of giving up on being Nana for all of my future grandchildren (I have two children of my own, and I want all the grandchildren to use the same name for me! I don’t want my stepson’s future child[ren] to feel singled out or lesser than my blood relations), even though that would mean giving up on a tradition that has meant a great deal to me all my life. Should I give up on it, or should I hold my ground?
I’m sorry the rivalry between you and your stepson’s mother is spilling over into your soon-to-be grandson’s generation, but I wearily and grudgingly accept that this seems to be a fact of life in many families after (even long after) a divorce. Here is my verdict.
First: Kathy’s reason for wanting to be called Nana doesn’t matter. She is entitled, as we all are, to request to be called whatever she wants to be called. Second: I am delighted that you are willing to share the name with her—good for you! Her refusal to accept this perfectly nice compromise (hardly even a compromise, since lots of people call both sets of grandparents by the same honorific, with or without the addition of the proper name) is churlish—or at least childish—but so is your petulance, as is the drama of your posing this as a question of giving up a cherished, long-held family tradition. It would be nice if your stepson and his pregnant wife were able to say, kindly and warmly, “So you shall both be Nana! Excellent!” but if they can’t (again, I call your attention to the rivalry between the two moms in your beleaguered stepson’s life, and what I imagine is his wish not to disappoint his mother, even if—or especially if—as a teenager he spent only 20 percent of his time with her), why not just stop talking about this? The expectant parents have bigger fish to fry. Don’t get involved in your co-grandmother’s drama. (I find myself wondering, I admit, what the child’s other grandmother[s?] hope to be called. Maybe you can all be Nanas.)
If you want the child to call you Nana, refer to yourself as Nana when you are in the baby/toddler/preschool/etc. grandchild’s presence. “Oh, hello, sweetheart—come to Nana!” and “Look what Nana brought you!” I shall assume you will be spending sufficient time with the child to imprint the chosen name on their little developing brain—and that your co-Nana, if the two of you are ever in the same room at the same time, will not freak out over this and yell at her grandchild: “THAT is not Nana! I am Nana! I am the only Nana!” (If she does, you will win the prize for who-is-the-nicer-Nana.)
And a P.S. verdict: If your stepson actually tells you, now or later, “I’m sorry, but your grandchild cannot call you Nana. It means too much to my mother,” then you must gracefully go along with it, for his sake, and offer a reasonably palatable alternative. This would not mean that you have to give up the title (that is so important to you) for all your future grandchildren. I promise that this particular grandchild will not feel singled out or lesser because of using a different name for you than the others do. The name by which grandchildren address their grandmother, I feel obliged to tell you, is not an important part of their relationship with her. It matters, pretty much universally, only to her.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My 16-year-old daughter, “Claire,” is gradually turning into a snob. While we used to be able to bond over a mutual appreciation of music, food, art, travel, and other areas of culture, lately any discussions around those topics seem to end with her treating me as stupid and unsophisticated. For example: like many people, I was excited when Adele released her new album. But Claire belittles me for being “basic” and having “mainstream taste.” God forbid I ever mention that I enjoy songs from Taylor Swift’s recent re-release. Claire herself used to love a lot of popular music, but now she views any musician who’s been able to generate a real following—and pay the bills—as an artistic traitor. She’s become similarly pretentious about food. Now everything that isn’t Michelin-starred is “inauthentic,” “low-quality,” and “unhealthy.” She refuses to dine at a number of wonderful little mom-and-pop restaurants that she used to adore; now she says they aren’t innovative enough. And she will not eat anything I cook! She has been trying to push me to shop at grocery stores that I cannot afford and buy products that are exorbitantly priced. I refuse to give in (she can either eat what we eat or get a job and pay for her own food). Also, the way she talks about our past trips saddens me. Prior to the pandemic, I tried to take the family on an annual vacation to a different destination every year. We went to New York City, Hawaii, national parks, Canada, and various cities in Europe. Which the old Claire enjoyed! But 16-year-old Claire claims that her biggest source of embarrassment in her life is the fact that she’s been to “tourist traps” like the Statue of Liberty and Buckingham Palace—never mind that my husband and I saved up for those trips and that many kids never have the privilege to travel. I know it’s common for teens to go through phases, but I really hate this one, especially since so much of what she says and does seems to be pointedly against me. Is it possible to get her back on track? She was brought up to respect other people’s preferences and tastes and to be kind! And if I can’t fix this, then what can I do to maintain my sanity when Claire’s snobbery rears its head?
Brace yourself: It is pointedly against you. And trying to get her “back on track” will only prolong this obnoxious phase. She’s 16! It is pretty much her job to reject everything you stand for and everything she used to enjoy that was a shared pleasure with you and the rest of the family. (I am only surprised it took her till 16. For lots of kids, this kicks in closer to 14.) Don’t think for a moment that I am unsympathetic—I am totally sympathetic. The I-hate-everything-you-love, I’m-cooler-and-wiser-than-you phase is my least favorite of all the phases (I’d take a tantrum over this meanness any day). But like all phases, it will pass.
I don’t know if this will help you keep your sanity while you wait, but try to keep in mind that the reason this is happening is that she’s individuating from you, and that it’s as essential now as it was when she was an infant and first beginning to understand that she and you were not in fact one person. It would be nice if she could do this without lashing out at you, but that probably feels impossible for her. Still, that doesn’t mean you have to take it lying down. My telling you that what she’s going through is natural and inevitable doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t tell her when she hurts your feelings; it certainly doesn’t mean that you should accede to her wishes about the food you prepare and serve in your home, or where you go out to eat as a family (but don’t insist that she join you, either—let her stay home and forage). My advice for how to deal with her when she mocks your taste in music is to casually shrug it off (“Really? You think so? To each her own”), not to remind her that she used to like it too (this will do you as much good as it does a spurned lover who reminds the person who has just dumped her of the love they used to profess). When she badmouths the vacations you took together, likewise shrug: “I had fun.” And move on.
The less you engage, the faster she’ll move through this. And if she comes out the other end as an adult with tastes that are permanently different from yours—well, she isn’t you, after all. There’s no reason to suppose that the two of you will share the same tastes, distastes, preferences, and interests—right?
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My in-laws are currently named in our will as our preschooler’s designated guardians. This seemed only logical, as they absolutely adore him and he is very comfortable with them and in their home. They are the obvious choice for a whole host of other reasons, too: age, location, parenting approach, etc. However, over the past year they have become vehemently anti-vax and are deeply entrenched in a whole slew of COVID conspiracies; they are making life choices based on those beliefs that we definitely do not agree with. Now the question is: do we leave them as the guardians and hope that this all blows over eventually, or should we act now and change our will in response to the behavior we’re seeing from them? We have already added a line in our will indicating our wish for our son to be vaccinated according to the usual childhood schedule, but we’re afraid that’s not going to be enough. We do have another option in my dad and his spouse, but choosing them as guardians would cause significant hurt to my mom, who is not in the running for the job and is still reeling from her and my dad’s nasty divorce a few years ago. It feels like we have no good options. What should we do?
—Vaxed and Vexed
I’ve addressed the vexing question of naming guardians before, so for a fuller treatment of the issue, you might take a look at that two-year-old column. The short answer, though, is that you should not name anyone as a guardian whom you don’t trust to raise your child. If you were hit by a bus tomorrow, and vaccinations were to become available to preschoolers a few months from now, these “guardians” would refuse to vaccinate him—but of course this is only one piece of the disturbing picture. Your in-laws have shown their true colors. If you don’t want your child to be raised by crackpot conspiracy-theorists, you must change your will. Period.
The fact is, it’s quite common for parents’ choice of guardian to change as the years pass (mine did). And while it’s natural to worry about whose feelings will be hurt when you designate the people you believe will best serve the needs of your child if you are not there to take care of him yourself (I worried too), that should not stop you from making the best choice that’s available.
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I’m guessing our 5-year-old is celebrating Black History Month at school because the other day in the bathtub he blurted out “Who is Barack Obama? Tell me about him.” It was cute. But I’m struggling with how to explain Obama’s historical significance in an age-appropriate way. My son has no racial consciousness. He’s biracial himself and we live in a very mixed neighborhood where whites are the minority. What should I say?