May 25, 2018
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Picky playgroup: Are these organic mothers nuts?

Emily Yoffe
By Emily Yoffe, Slate

Dear Prudence,

My daughter Bella has a great playgroup that meets once a week after school. We were REALLY lucky to get into this group. The girls come from some of the wealthiest families at the school, and since our family is more working class, we love that Bella is able to see how the other side lives and maybe even look for something to aspire to one day.

So far Bella has had so much fun with all the girls. But last week I got a nasty email from one of the mothers. I sent some homemade cookies and store-bought veggies and dip for the snack last week, and apparently this was not up to snuff! The mothers said that my vegetables were clearly not homegrown and organic and that they could taste the pesticides and preservatives on them. They asked if I knew that ranch dip is high in cholesterol and saturated fat which leads to heart disease. I was in tears reading this email. Their assumption that I had no idea how to feed my daughter was so insulting. I emailed them back saying that I was unsure what particular brands of veggies, dip, and baking items to buy, and received another email suggesting I start a garden.

Prudie, we live in an apartment complex. I am unsure how to respond. I really, really want my daughter to be happy and have friends with the right values and aspirations. But I have no idea how to make these women happy. I went to the farmers market an hour away last weekend to look for some appropriate items to send for next week, but the market was so expensive.

I don’t want my daughter to get kicked out of this playgroup, especially now that she’s so happy. How can I handle these clean-food moms?

— Distraught Mom

Dear Mom,

These moms should register themselves with the FDA—just think, they have a bionic ability to detect chemicals at parts per billion! If you want to have your daughter hang out with friends with the right values, you should consider finding another playgroup. You simply want your daughter to get along with nice friends, so please stop injecting your own social anxiety into what should be a carefree time. The other mothers have demonstrated that their values include insults and superiority. Ignore their jibes and skip the farmers market—carrots are carrots. And if your vegetables aren’t good enough for them, their group isn’t good enough for you.

— Prudie

Dear Prudence,

My wife sets various clocks around the house to different times, some at the correct time, some five minutes ahead, some 10 minutes. For example, the clock in the bathroom is 10 minutes fast so she has “more time” when doing her hair and makeup. I like knowing what time it is when I look at a clock. I don’t want to have to remember to subtract five or 10 minutes depending on what room I’m in. The kicker is that she isn’t tricking herself because she knows that the clocks are set fast. Usually, I’m ready to go and she still hasn’t dressed. I don’t want to just deal with it because these are my clocks, too.

— What Time Is It Now?

Dear Time,

Darling, if you have a gripe with something I’m doing, please don’t write to Dear Prudence, just mention it to me over dinner. This letter is from my husband, right? Because I am exactly the woman you describe. And as with the woman you describe, none of it works. Because I know which clocks are five minutes fast and which are 10 minutes, I factor that in to my toilette and am always late anyway and loathe myself for it. The real issue is here your wife’s behavior, so don’t make the mismatched clocks a ticking time bomb in your marriage. I understand your annoyance, and maybe you need to give her a nonnegotiable deadline: You’ll leave without her if she’s running more than 15 minutes late. Otherwise, forget trying to synchronize the timepieces and keep peace in your home by wearing a watch.

— Prudie

Dear Prudence,

I am getting married next year and my fiancé and I both love children and see ourselves having kids. Recently, though, I have been concerned about what having children will mean for us. Both of us have been diagnosed with mental illness that we’ve dealt with throughout our lives.

My fiancé has social anxiety and is often reluctant to leave the house. He has turned to alcohol in order to cope with his anxiety, but he has rarely had an episode of binge drinking in our three years together.

I have obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, and was recently diagnosed with PTSD as the result of an abusive relationship in my teens. I’ve been hospitalized for depression and have attempted suicide.

I’m wondering if we are the sort of people who should not be having children. The rituals and compulsions I experience from my OCD are mostly linked to household activities, and I am frightened of what might happen if my child disturbs a routine. When that happens, I become agitated to the point of a panic attack or a verbal outburst. My fiancé knows there are things he can’t do because of this (open the curtains, take plates out of cupboards, etc.), but I don’t see how a child will comprehend this. I’m on medication, but nothing seems to stop it entirely. I work with children and would love kids of my own, but I don’t want to raise kids in an oppressive and possibly abusive household. Please help!

— Don’t Want to Be Mommie Dearest

Dear Don’t,

You should be praised for thinking through with the greatest gravity what it would mean for the two of you to have children. I hope both of you have real therapists, not just someone managing your medications. If not, as a couple you should engage someone, say a social worker, who can explore all the issues you raise. You both sound as if you’re generally stable, but also somewhat fragile. As you have acknowledged, dealing with mental illness, especially multiple conditions, is a lifetime struggle. Even with the greatest vigilance and compliance with medications, the course of an illness can be unpredictable.

You love kids and have been able to overcome tremendous obstacles to work with children. But while your job has time limits, you can’t clock out at the end of each day when you’re a parent. Because of your training and experience, you and your husband might want to consider becoming foster parents. You could start with short-term placements, which would allow you both to help kids in need and see how it feels to have children living in your home. If it turns out you aren’t approved to provide foster care, that’s not a final judgment, but it’s something serious to contemplate.

Additionally, you two should meet with a genetic counselor to talk about both your families’ medical histories. But you are asking for my opinion, and based on your description, I don’t think you two right now are candidates for taking on the overwhelming nature of child-rearing. I say this reluctantly and as someone who has mental illness in my family, so I wrestled with the question of my genetic legacy. Whether or not you decide to have children, you’ve already shown that those with serious mental illness can have productive lives filled with love.

— Prudie

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