Dear Ms. Behavior:
We are lesbian moms who have formed a group with other lesbian moms and gay dads.
The problem is that one couple (I’ll call them June and April) seem to be a little lax with their child. For instance, they wipe their little girl baby from back to front when cleaning during a diaper change. And they literally will pop a pacifier that has dropped on the floor right back in the kid’s mouth without even wiping it clean, let alone washing it off. They carry her all slumped over, without sling or other device. They don’t have her on any kind of a schedule.
This upsets the other mothers and dads, who want to have an intervention to give these women a clue. My partner thinks we shouldn’t impose our parenting on them, but I don’t feel good about doing nothing.
What’s the right way to handle the situation?
Dear Sammy’s Mommy:
It may be tempting to intervene formally, or to at least say, “Yo, your kid is slumpy and germy, and probably at risk for a vaginal plague.” Unfortunately, an attempt to educate June and April about how to care for their bacterially challenged charge may backfire. You could end up alienating them, and making them feel defensive enough to leave the group.
Instead, try initiating show-and-tell sessions, where members share information about baby care and products. Then, you’ll be free to whip out a baby sling, and show it to the whole group, without calling attention to April and June’s misshapen, undersupported baby. You can demonstrate front-to-back wiping, or do a power point presentation about floor germs on pacifiers, without alienating the Dirty Mommies.
If, however, April and June remain stuck in their nasty ways, don’t despair. Living in a bit of filth apparently isn’t all bad.
According to the “Hygiene Hypothesis,” the growing rate of allergies and asthma in babies and children actually may be the result of too much cleansing and sanitizing. This comforting theory suggests that the presence of germs helps children’s immune systems to develop properly. If parents overuse antibacterial soap, and push antibiotics at the first sign of infection, the kids aren’t exposed to enough germs. Consequently, the immune system can become overly sensitive, resulting in increased risk of asthma and allergies.
Also, antibiotics and hand sanitizers may kill off weaker germs, but aid in the development of resistant strains of bacteria. The stronger germs may become “supergerms,” tough enough to resist the effects of stronger antibiotics.
So, instead of worrying about April and June’s mothering skills, try to remember that their poor bacteria-ridden little critter may be healthier than her gleaming peers.
Dear Ms. Behavior:
After having escaped a hellish childhood, I have chosen to live far from home and family. I’m fortunate to have a secure job for a big company in a gay-friendly environment.
I learned recently that my stepbrother, Eric, is moving to my town, and applying to work for my company. We were close as kids, but in his late teens, he became an angry, homophobic person, and we’ve avoided contact for years. Now, he says he wants us to be friends again, and wants to have lunch. Part of me is curious, and another part wants to stay away.
I have an acquaintance in Human Resources who probably will ask my opinion about Eric. I think he is messed up, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable if he were around.
Would it be wrong for me to say this? Is it unethical for me to wreck his chances at employment?
Dear Homo Bro:
Sharing your negative opinion of Eric with your acquaintance in Human Resources may be slightly mean-spirited, but it’s not unethical. Like it or not, jobs are frequently attained or not attained based on personality and connections. If your opinion is solicited and valued, it’s not wrong to answer honestly.
However, you may want to check out how you feel about Eric in the present by having lunch with him before offering an opinion. It makes sense that you feel conflicted about seeing him, because you cared for each other before he developed into a full-size homophobe.
But contact with him doesn’t have to be a black-or-white decision. Lunch doesn’t mean that you’re committed to being “friends” again, or that you need to help him to get a job at your workplace.
On the other hand, reconnecting with Eric may be of emotional value to you. It could be an opportunity for you to reframe your past, or to grow beyond some painful memories and heal.
© 2008 Meryl Cohen. Address questions and correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org. She is the author of Do What I Say: Ms. Behavior’s Guide to Gay and Lesbian Etiquette (Houghton Mifflin). Signed copies are available directly from the author.