Ask Scary Mommy: Everyone In My Family Favors My Son Over My Daughter

Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s new advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.

This week… How do you handle it when your entire family puts your son on a pedestal and lets him get away with murder, but treats your daughter way differently? Have your own questions? Email advice@scarymommy.com

Dear Scary Mommy,

My son is 9 and my daughter is 13. For whatever reason (and I’m sure there are many), my parents and my husband’s parents treat my son like he’s a total golden child. They overrule me about chores (he doesn’t have to do them, apparently) even when I ask him to do them, he can eat and drink whatever he wants, he’s fawned over constantly, and when they ask about my kids they only want “Josh stories” and always nag me to “send me a pic/video of Josh.” Sure, they ask about his sister, but not at all to the extent they’re all enthralled with every waking minute of my son’s life. I don’t know if it’s because he’s the “baby” (there are no other grandchildren on either side). I don’t know if it’s just ingrained sexism? But I know it deeply bothers my daughter — and it deeply bothers me. My husband shrugs it off most of the time, but acknowledges that there is favoritism at play. Of course, I am also charmed by my son and love him dearly, but this is ridiculous. My daughter feels left out, less loved, and it’s affecting their relationship as siblings. How do I call out this favoritism and put an end to it? When it comes to making their way in the world, it’s most likely not my son who’s going to have a harder time. I don’t want him to think he’s entitled like all white males seem to think. And I want my daughter to not be defeated about her place in the world before she’s even truly entered it. HALP.

Oy. All four grandparents? OY. If your daughter’s feelings are hurt and this is getting her down, then yes, this is a problem. You see it, she sees it (and feels it), and that’s a big nope. You and your husband are going to have to break it to Grandma and Grandpa squared that Operation: Fawn All Over Little Josh And No One Else has reached its end. Hopefully, they’ll be receptive to your concerns and feel just awful about neglecting his older sister in their admiration and immediately make amends to equally distribute their affection. It’s like Molly Ringwold’s brother says when the grandparents forget her birthday in Sixteen Candles: “They’re grandparents; they live for this shit.”

I’m sure your daughter has plenty of activities she likes to do, and while 13 is a hard age (she probably would rather die than admit she needs compliments and encouragement from Nana and Pop-Pop), that’s no reason to shelve her like a 21-year-old spinster in the Victorian age. Art, crafts, cooking, video games, sports, outdoor activities, creative writing, etc. — these are all things that they can either do with her or sit and engage with her about, rapt with love and excitement.

It also wouldn’t be a terrible idea to elaborate on why not giving boys chores is bad. Very bad. For the boy himself and all future roommates and romantic partners. Everyone who lives in a house should take responsibility for the maintenance of that house, period. Kids whose parents (or grandparents, in this case) do everything for them grow into adults who expect other people to keep doing those things for them. No one likes those adults. The world needs less of those adults. Your daughter doesn’t need to see her little brother being molded that way — you don’t say how often this happens, but I get the feeling it’s a lot.

I’m sure Josh, like many 9-year-old boys, is a top-notch cut up and a totally amazing kid. But so is his sister, even if she’s not at the “cute” stage anymore. 13-year-old girls do not always feel cute (despite what Tik-Tok would lead us to believe) and they’re so fragile because they’re still very much a child in some ways and very much not in others (periods and other body stuff and self-esteem and social cliques and crushes, oh my). She deserves just as much TLC from the people in her family as her little brother.

Tell them that. My guess is that they’ll be horrified their actions are causing this kind of destruction and will turn it around toot suite — they’re grandparents. They live for this shit. (If not, I recommend this book on boundaries.)

Have your own questions? Email advice@scarymommy.com

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Ask Scary Mommy: My Family Won’t Stop Badmouthing My Ex In Front Of My Kids

Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s new advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.

This week… What do you when you’re trying to co-parent peacefully and set a good example for your kids, but your family won’t stop talking sh*t on your ex in front of them? Have your own questions? Email advice@scarymommy.com

Dear Scary Mommy,

My ex-husband and I have two kids, 8 and 13, and we’ve been officially divorced for a little over a year. The divorce happened for a variety of reasons: infidelity on his part, way too much emotional and household labor on my part, and enough was enough. Regardless of what happened between us, I’m determined to co-parent as peacefully and functionally as possible, and I try my damndest to never speak negatively about my kids’ father in front of them. My own parents are divorced and I know how painful it is to hear that stuff — it still bothers me almost two decades later. Unfortunately, my mother and brother won’t receive the memo about that. When we’re together, they make lots of passive-aggressive comments about how lazy my ex is, how I’m still making up where he lacks, etc. Most recently, my 8-year-old daughter heard my stepdad say he wanted to “choke the life out of ___” in reference to my ex, for breaking up our family. While I suppose on some level I appreciate the intent behind the shit-talking (they’re hurt for me, of course, but they all loved him too and his betrayal hurt them), I can’t have my kids hear this stuff. If and when they find out/want to know all of the details someday, maybe we can have that talk. But that’s for me, my ex, and our kids — how do I politely tell my family to zip it? Regardless of my anger and hurt, I don’t want my kids to see their dad painted in that light.

Divorce is traumatizing for children, period. Your family shouldn’t be adding to it.  It’s so hard to navigate life after divorce for all involved, and I feel for you and your children and everyone else who is struggling to adapt to life after the divorce and how to process all the hurt.

The fact that you’re not the one doing the badmouthing, and you realize how detrimental it is to your kids — well, it sounds like you’re a really good mom. And you should know that. I’m so sorry for everything you’ve been through and I hope you’re taking care of yourself and doing things that bring you joy.

But your family really can’t talk shit on the father of your children in front of them, especially if they have a loving relationship with their dad and miss him in their home. Kids love their parents, no matter who did what. If your family is casting your ex in a bad light in front of your children, it might make them question their feelings about their dad or make them feel like they have to choose between you. When they hear bad things about their dad, they’re also hearing that there’s a part of them and their identity that’s bad. Your kids are also old enough to understand passive-aggressive comments, and you don’t want them to internalize that. Your family needs to let them love their parents and figure out how they feel about everything on their own without any outside influence.

You need to talk to your family — away from the kids — and tell them what’s up. If you can hold your head high and get past the sins of your ex for your children’s sake, so can they. If you’re hanging out with your mom one-on-one and you feel like venting to her or asking her advice, and the kids are nowhere around, then sure — she can respond however she sees fit. Your stepdad needs to stifle all threats of physical harm toward the father of your children, period, and if he can’t do that then he can’t see his grandchildren. That goes for everyone who can’t keep a lid on the trash talk around two sets of little ears who love their parents no matter what.

Divorce is so, so hard. Counseling can help you, your children, and even your extended family if they’re open to it. You’re doing a great job. Your kids are lucky to have you for a mother. And your ex should thank his lucky stars to have you for a co-parent, too, tbh. Keep me posted.

Have your own questions? Email advice@scarymommy.com

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Ask Scary Mommy: I’m Scared To Tell My Infertile BFF I’m Pregnant

Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s new advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.

This week… How do you tell your best friend the happy news of your pregnancy when she’s personally been struggling with infertility? Have your own questions? Email advice@scarymommy.com

Dear Scary Mommy,

I recently found out I’m pregnant, and my husband and I are thrilled. We’d kind of been “not not trying” and it happened sooner than we expected, but we’re happy just the same. My problem is that my best friend, who I have known and loved for over 20 years, has been struggling with infertility for the past three years. It’s heartbreaking. I’ve held her hand and dried her tears and taken her out for mental health drinks over it. I obviously can’t keep my pregnancy from her, but I want to know the best way to tell her so that this doesn’t drive a wedge between us. I’d never be upset if she’s upset, you know? She has every right to feel however she wants to feel. But I want her to be a part of my child’s life and I want her to know how important she is to me, but I don’t want to add to her heartache. 

You are a thoughtful, considerate, wonderful friend. Infertility affects so many of us, in various extremes, and it is such a sensitive subject. Your friend will likely need time to process the news that you’re expecting — not because she’s being selfish or unreasonable, but because as an infertile person, she’s in a constant state of hope and mourning. It can be draining.

This might sound odd, given that you guys have been super close for two decades, but I’d send her an email. Shoot her a text, maybe, and let her know you’re sending her something via email. But sending it in writing, when she doesn’t have to react right in front of you, is an example of showing someone grace.

You have every right to be ECSTATIC. And of course you want your BFF to be your baby’s favorite auntie! And you know what? She will, almost definitely, want to be that auntie. But eliminating the pressure to react to the news right in front of you, and feel what she’s feeling on the inside while putting on a brave face in your face, is a lot. Then she can compose herself and process the news on her time, and she won’t feel bad if she cries or has a less-than-stellar reaction to extremely celebratory news in her BFF’s life.

After that, social cues are in order. If she brings it up, great. Talk about it as much as she wants. If she wants to see ultrasound pics, great. If she wants to know all the non-glamorous details of pregnancy, great. But I wouldn’t initiate any talk of it, at least not at first, especially if you’re inclined to complain.

Remind her you love her, you want her to be a part of your growing family, but that you totally understand if this news is painful for her to hear right now. Congratulations on your pregnancy!

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Ask Scary Mommy: How Do I Tell People We’re ‘One And Done?’

Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s new advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.

This week… What do you do when your family and friends keep hounding you to have another baby? How do you tell them to f*ck off, because you’re perfectly content with one child? Have your own questions? Email advice@scarymommy.com

Dear Scary Mommy,

My husband and I have a brilliant, beautiful five-year-old girl. She’s happy, healthy, and we feel so lucky to be her parents. But she’s the only child we want to have — we’ve never felt the desire to have another since we became parents. I had severe PPD/PPA after giving birth and our finances are a rollercoaster, plus we’re really loving the independence that comes with a five-year-old with a full, vibrant personality and ability to entertain herself when needed. But literally ever since she was born, we’ve been burdened with “When are you guys having another?” and “She needs a sibling” kind of questions and commentary from all of our family members and friends. How can we politely tell them to fuck off, because we’re happy and it’s none of their business?

Congratulations on knowing what you want and being content, because that’s a true gift. Methinks your friends and family might not be, or know how to achieve that kind of mindset, which is why they’re offering this bewildered reaction to life choices that have nothing to do with them.

Less kids = less crap. Toys, clothes, diapers, high chairs, carriers, jumpers, baby baths, endless wipes — all the material objects that go with having another baby/toddler. It also means less crap in terms of health worries (having a baby is full of the unknown and that’s an extremely scary thing for anyone), sleepless nights, stubborn toddlers, meltdowns, issues with other kids, etc. You’ve found what works best for you and your family and now you get to just sit back and revel in the joy of it. That is an amazing thing.

Siblings are great! But having them isn’t a guarantee they’ll get along and be lifelong friends. For lots of siblings, it means the exact opposite. I was an only child until I was almost seven, and while I’m an introvert by nature, I am fully functional at socializing and never felt lonely. Your daughter will be perfectly fine.

You can tell people whatever you like — don’t feel like you owe anyone your postpartum story or your bank statement. You don’t. But if you want to share those things, go for it. We don’t talk about how expensive and mentally taxing it is to have children often enough with the people closest to us. They can always use a reminder that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Babies are cute as hell, but they are HARD WORK. I personally wish I could have given birth to two 9-month-olds myself — anything earlier is a blur, and honestly, tiny babies are also somehow difficult and boring AF.

One version of this can look something like this: “Well, Aunt Mildred, we aren’t having any more children. (Daughter) is all we could have ever hoped for, and we have her. May I suggest a rescue animal if you’re looking for more emotional support from a living creature?”

There are almost four years between my own two kids, and I used to haaaaate it when people would be like, “Oh, it’s just her?” in reference to my oldest. First of all, she’s not anyone’s “just” anything. Secondly, I struggled with infertility issues and had a miscarriage. Sometimes I would reveal that bit in an attempt for an authentic conversation, sometimes I’d just smile tartly and say “Yep. It’s her. And it might always be that way. Isn’t she wonderful?”

Disclose however much you wish to, and don’t feel bad about shutting the whole conversation down if you need to. They certainly didn’t feel bad bringing a guilt trip to your pot luck, now did they?

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Ask Scary Mommy: My Husband And I Are In A Heated Debate About Giving Our Kids Chores

Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s new advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.

This week… What do you do when you and your partner disagree on just how much your kids should pitch in around the house — if at all? Have your own questions? Email advice@scarymommy.com

Dear Scary Mommy,

My husband and I disagree about giving our children chores. He thinks that they will have their entire life to do chores, and right now their job is to ‘just be kids’ while we handle ‘all the adult stuff.’ For the most part, I agree. I don’t expect them to be our maids by any stretch, but I think contributing to the household (taking out trash, loading dishwasher, sweeping, etc) is an essential life skill that should be made into a habit now. I fear we are going to raise entitled, lazy humans if we let them assume that all of the working of running/maintaining a household will always be done by someone else. He’s adamant that they will figure it out, and for now we should just ‘let them be.’ Help! What do you think?

I mean with this attitude, I hope your husband is ready to tackle all of these chores that he thinks his kids shouldn’t have to do.

Oh, he’s not? Well then. Time to come back to Earth, dude.

I think you can find a middle ground here. I hope.

Asking kids to contribute to the upkeep of a household (that they actively help to mess up, and also benefit from) is not infringing on their childhood. The chores you listed above––taking out the trash, loading dishwasher, sweeping––are not going to send them to the therapist’s chair as adults waxing poetic about how they had to do everything and were unable to reap the benefits of ‘just being a kid.’

Like you noted above, as long as you are not asking them to be your literal maid, expecting them to pick up after themselves and tackle an age-appropriate household task is called…parenting.

I was raised by my grandparents, who for various reasons tried to compensate for my lack of traditional parental figures by just letting me be, similar to the stance your husband has taken. I wasn’t asked to take out the trash, or run the vacuum, or put dishes away. And then I moved into the dorm for college, and had to have my roommate show me how to do laundry because I had literally never once done a load of laundry before. When I was babysitting as a teenager, one of my much younger charges had to stop me from putting the wrong soap into the dishwasher to avoid an overflowing, bubbly disaster.

While my grandparents were (are) amazing, and I was lucky to have them guide me through my formative years, I really should have been held to a higher standard in terms of my contributions to the household. Clearly. So, feel free to use my embarrassing shortcomings as an example of why kids need to learn the basics of housekeeping, and doing their fair share, now.

Don’t just take it from me. Take it from the experts:

“When you break chores down, they are activities of daily living,” Danelle Fisher, M.D., a pediatrician and vice chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif. tells Parade. You as an adult need to tend to yourself, your home, and your family. It teaches you that responsibility as a child, that things don’t just come to you, but you have to work for it.”

Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford University and author of “How to Raise an Adult” puts it even more candidly for Tech Insider: ”By making them do chores — taking out the garbage, doing their own laundry — they realize I have to do the work of life in order to be part of life. It’s not just about me and what I need in this moment, but that I’m part of an ecosystem. I’m part of a family. I’m part of a workplace.”

And, the Harvard Grant Study. A longitudinal study that tracked over 250 Harvard sophomores (all men, blah) for over 75 years concluded that happiness and success seemed to stem from two elements: love (obviously) and work ethic (oh!). The latter part is where you should have your husband focus when having this discussion. Your kids are obviously loved, and now they need you to help them hone their work ethic, so they can be well-rounded adults. Their future partners, colleagues, and friends will thank you.

Have your own questions? Email advice@scarymommy.com

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Ask Scary Mommy: I Don’t Like Big Kids Around My Toddler At The Playground

Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s new advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.

This week… what do you do when you have a toddler at the playground while bigger kids are constantly whizzing by? Should big kids be in a separate play space? Have your own questions? Email advice@scarymommy.com

Dear Scary Mommy,

I’m curious how you feel about big kids and park etiquette. I don’t feel like I should have to hover over my toddler, so that she doesn’t get knocked over by bigger kids. There’s constantly kids I would assume to be aged 8-12 playing chasing games, tag, rough-housing, etc. on/near the equipment. It’s unnerving when she just wants to be able to play! Isn’t the playground meant for little kids? I feel like these big kids could easily take their games elsewhere, whereas the little kids don’t have this option. What do you think?

I think you’re probably not going to like my answer. 

But, I should point out that this is a topic that comes up in online parenting groups quite often. Not this exact scenario, per se, but playground dynamics and what is/isn’t appropriate “park” behavior is a hot topic.

I don’t appreciate or agree with the whole “toddlers/preschoolers own the playground” narrative. I think that is a sweeping generalization based off infrequent personal anecdotes. A small kid getting knocked over or having their finger stepped on (while frustrating) is NOT indicative of some widespread problem with tweens ruining the public playground experience for their younger peers.

A lot of playground equipment is rated for kids aged 5+. If your toddler is playing on equipment meant for those bigger kids, then you have to understand that they are sharing a cooperative environment that was literally intended for kids of an older peer group.

Some playgrounds have areas meant for the under-five set. As the parent of four kids, two who fall into the toddler category, I love this. If big kids are in these areas, then they should also be more mindful of the space they are in. Should they be doing parkour in the toddler area? No. Should they be allowed in to hang out with a parent or younger sibling who is also in the area? Yes.

Furthermore, kids with varying abilities may be need to use this equipment to be able to safely access and enjoy the playground. And we often can’t tell the age of a child by merely looking at them, and we need to remember that.

The bottom line? Kids that are 8-12+ still like to play. They still need exercise, fresh air, and open spaces. We are constantly shouting how we want our kids to spend more time outside, moving their bodies, playing and “being little” for longer, and not stuck in front of a screen, but then they get out there and play and they are suddenly “too big” and “too intense.”

Public parks and playgrounds exist for everyone’s general (safe, legal) use. No individual community member gets to be the gatekeeper of a public park. There’s middle ground, and we can find it.

Have your own question? Email advice@scarymommy.com

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Ask Scary Mommy: My Husband Won’t Put Down His F*cking Phone

Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s new advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s boggling you.

This week… what do you do when your spouse or partner is obsessed with scrolling through their phone and isn’t fully present for you or your kids? How can you constructively tell them they’re missing out on life in favor of YouTube videos and social media? Have your own question? Email advice@scarymommy.com

Dear Scary Mommy,

My husband comes home from work every day, gets changed, greets the kids, and then he spends most of the evening on his phone. He has it next to him at the dinner table. He brings it to the bathroom. He scrolls through it before he goes to bed. The limited time he has daily with the kids is spent with the kids trying to get his attention because he’s always looking at his phone.
I work too, and I understand having emails to tend to, but this is ridiculous. He also wears headphones, so I find myself screaming to get his attention because he never hears me. How in the hell do I get him to understand how damaging this is to our family? Am I being dramatic? It’s also hard to impose screentime with the kids when their father is literally constantly on the phone. I fantasize about throwing it against our brick walls. HELP.

First things first: please know that you are not alone. I’m starting to get a twitch every time I see my husband’s phone. We have every excuse in the world to have our phones on us at all times; we use them to pay bills, stay connected to the outside world, bond with our BFFs, and judge our acquaintances. As parents, we’re also using our phones to document (way too much) of our kid’s lives. We all have a phone addiction. But there has to be some boundaries — especially if you’re feeling totally neglected.

If your husband’s phone habits are, as you say, affecting his relationship with your children and yourself — things absolutely must change. Feeling engaged with the outside world and current events is one thing, doing that at the expense of connecting to your own family is unacceptable. Simply put, he’s gotta put down the f*cking phone. PERIOD.

Your frustration is completely valid. I don’t want you to end up running over any electronics with your car or smashing the phone into smithereens (yet), so let’s try attacking this issue constructively. Put the kids to bed, pour yourself a glass of wine, and sit his a*s down for a discussion about this.  A full eye contact, active listening, phone-out-of-sight, “come to Jesus” kind of talk. Tell him his phone use (especially while wearing headphones, dear LORD) makes you feel disconnected from him, and that you feel a.) he’s missing out on precious moments with his own children, and b.) trying to regulate their own screentime feels like a “do as I say, not as I do” situation.

Also, electronics for the children at a restaurant? Necessary for survival. Electronics for dad at the family dinner table? Absolutely not.

Our relationships with our kids are directly responsible for their social and emotional health, resilience, and life success. According to a study performed by Dr. Jenny Radesky, in the long run, parent technology use during parent-child activities leads to more difficult child behavior. Which then, more often than not, leads parents to escape that behavior by — you guessed it — distracting themselves with their phones. It’s a vicious cycle and it sucks! Luckily, it is extremely preventable.

Now comes the work. Come up with solutions that you both adhere to. When he comes home, you both put your phones in a drawer or in another room altogether — the volume can remain on, in case you’re worried about emergency calls. But the distraction has been removed, literally, from the room. If either of you feels it’s necessary to respond to work-related issues while at home in the evenings, you can make it a point to check your phone every hour or so IF NECESSARY. But do try to leave work issues for work hours, if you’re able to. Being part of our current hyper-connected, always “on” society makes it difficult to create boundaries for sure, but as an old supervisor of mine once said, “We’re not curing cancer here. You can wait to hear from me until 8 a.m.”

Additionally, try making it a “parent rule” that you’re only on your phones when the kids are in bed. Or, at the very least, busy doing other things that will not require your direct supervision or attention (hey, sometimes kids just want to play by themselves — and that’s a good thing!). No one is asking him to disconnect completely, but making strides to be present with his family is the priority here — full stop.

If he needs something to read on the john, he can grab a book or a magazine. Or go old school, and read the ingredients on the back of a shampoo bottle (if you know, you know). Both you and he will be amazed at how much faster those bathroom breaks go once the phone is out of the equation.

As parents, we have to be deliberate and intentional in everything we do when setting an example for our children. It will take a conscious effort on your husband’s part to leave the phone far away from the dinner table and be more hands-on in the evenings. Bottom line: he can get in his “phone zone” on his own time, not your family’s.

Have your own question? Email advice@scarymommy.com

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