Advice, Family, Parenting

Advice, Family

Dear Care and Feeding: I Found Out the Horrible Secret Behind Why My Parents and Sister Aren’t Speaking

How can I keep living with them knowing what they did?

9/25/2021 6:13:00 PM

How can I keep living with them knowing what they did?

Parenting advice on estranged family, sibling relationships, and rent role play.

Dear Care and Feeding,I volunteer with a church youth program, and one of the ways I often connect with the kids is over a shared love of popular media (e.g., Marvel movies, fantasy novels, etc.). What I would like your advice on is how to evaluate or make possible recommendations to them, if they ask me. There are many novels/movies/comic books/TV shows etc. that I enjoyed at that age—12 and older—that I still have tremendous affection for into my adulthood, or else that I enjoy now and think someone that age might enjoy, too. But in reappraising some of these items with an eye toward recommending them, there are elements that give me pause! For reference, I am a White man and the majority of the kids are girls, some of them girls of color. While we may share a lot of common interests, I am also aware that there are differences of perspective and life experience I must keep my eyes wide open to, and that media I might otherwise find worthwhile and enjoyable may also promulgate or reinforce harmful messages.

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AdvertisementOf course, I would only recommend material I thought was age-appropriate, and I wouldn’t share material I’ve come to realize is intrinsically racist, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, or otherwise anti-inclusive. It’s when I’ve pushed past these initial checks that I start feeling the need to tread carefully, and I’m not sure what the right approach is. Should I cultivate a very strict mental filter, only sharing things I’m highly certain will be broadly acceptable (only recommend the equivalent of Disney movies and nothing else)? Is it appropriate to discuss this with the kids themselves (i.e., “I think you would like X for Y reason, but it has ABC in it, are you/your parents cool with that?”)? Should I run recommendations by other relevantly responsible adults first, to get some sanity checks?

AdvertisementAdvertisementAdvertisementI realize that I am probably overthinking this, and the actual answer is that it should be a mixture of all of these; that it depends on the context of the kid, the adults, and the media itself; and that, as with everything involving kids, it should be approached with thoughtfulness and care. At the same time, I’d appreciate hearing the thoughts of someone else on navigating the space in between pretending that the only TV show I know of is “Happy Bunny and His Joyful Friends” and inadvertently being the reason a 12-year-old traumatized themselves with “Chainsaw Splatter-Gore Sex Romp VI.”

—Nervous-but-Eager FanboyDear Nervous,I think you have all the healthy anxieties necessary to make good decisions with regard to what you recommend to your young mentees, so kudos to you for that. I’ll just add a few things: Consider that it isn’t just offensive depictions or references to women and/or people of color that can be harmful, it is also the absence of representation that can do great harm to the population you’re working with. For example, you should notice that girls of color are often less visible in so-called kids’ programming, particularly dark-complexioned girls and, thus, avoid recommending content that may seem “perfect” for their age group but that instead reinforces screwed up notions about their own identities by either relegating them to trite, stereotypical roles or erasing them all together.

AdvertisementAdvertisementAlso, even if a film or TV show is widely consumed by kids younger than recommended, you could easily find yourself in an awkward position if you are sharing this suggestion with a kid whonevergets to watch things like that. Their parents may object to the notion, and/or, as you worried, they may be ill-prepared for the content. Plus, just because a parent lets her child watch the new

Candymanreboot, that doesnotmean that she’d want her kid to get hyped up over the original by “a stranger” (Be clear: If you aren’t family, you’re likely coded as a stranger by many parents, no matter how much they like you.)AdvertisementThis sounds ridiculous, perhaps—parenting sometimes is, by necessity. But there is a vast difference between a parent allowing their child to do something “inappropriate” and a (stranger) adult endorsing such a thing. If there is a conversation going on about a big R-rated movie, it’s OK to participate; just don’t get into any dialogue about any adult themes that shouldn’t be discussed between a grown-up and children who are not his own (i.e., sex, or anything else that their parents wouldn’t expect you to discuss with the youth they entrust to you at church). Just tread thoughtfully, as you already seem apt to do.

AdvertisementView TranscriptDear Care and Feeding,Not wanting to freeload, I suggested that my mom charge me rent. She seemed surprised, and said she’d get back to me on that. Sometime later, she appeared in a rather formal outfit, and said she was now my landlady. She spelled out my rental rate and terms that were higher than I had planned on, but she conveyed such an air of authority that I didn’t argue. Later, when she was back to her normal self, I told her the rate was too high. She stepped out and returned as the “landlady” and asked what the problem was. I explained that the rate was more than I could afford; she told me I could either pay it or find somewhere else to live. I decided to forget about rent and hope my mom would also. However, I have now received notices of late rent and eviction. Not caring to interact with her alter-ego, I haven’t tried to talk with my mom about this. She is normally loving and supportive, but I’m afraid she will transform into the “landlady” and kick me out, or possibly sue me for the rent and late fees I already owe. Should I pass my mom a note explaining that I love her but I don’t like her alter-ego, I can’t afford the rate she is trying to charge me, I would have trouble finding another place to live, and I regret ever mentioning rent? Anything else I should include?

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