The Family Weekly: The Inner Lives of Middle Schoolers

Plus: the legal realities of reuniting immigrant families, and the struggle to connect with stepkids

A woman hugs a small boy
In this July 26, 2018 photo, Evelyn Zepeda cares for a four-year-old boy at her home in Austin, Texas. The boy's adoptive mother and Zepeda's biological mother, Josefina Ortiz Corrales, remains in an immigration detention center in south Texas, while Zepeda cares for her adopted son. (Stephen Spillman / AP)

This Week in Family

Sometimes, helping families can require teamwork between unlikely bedfellows, as two of our stories this week illustrated.

Pregnancy discrimination has been rampant in workplaces since women started entering the workforce, despite legislation drafted to crack down on it. Ashley Fetters, an Atlantic staff writer, examined the uneasy coalition, forged in the 1970s, between anti-abortion groups and progressive feminists in advocating for laws that won’t push women out of their jobs.

Meanwhile, foster-care systems nationwide have struggled to find enough families to take on the growing number of children in their care. In the past decade, however, state governments have received invaluable help from outside partners: Naomi Riley wrote about the religious groups in Arkansas and around the country that have stepped in to help train future foster parents and care for children in the foster system.

Other Highlights

Middle schoolers can be a bundle of paradoxes. In his new movie, Eighth Grade, Bo Burnham wanted to show preteens being their complicated, earnest selves—for instance, simultaneously asking their parents to leave them alone but also to drive them to the mall. As Burnham told Julie Beck, a senior editor at The Atlantic, a lot of middle school is “trying to build a parachute as you’re falling” and figuring out how to navigate the frequently overlapping arenas of social media and school.

Hundreds of immigration lawyers have recently traveled to the U.S.’s southern border, trying to help reunite families separated by the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy. Ashley Fetters talked to one such attorney, Morgan Weibel of the nonprofit Tahirih Justice Center, about the challenges of helping immigrants navigate their legal rights—especially language barriers and confusion about enforcing court orders.

Dear Therapist

Every Monday, the psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb answers readers’ questions about life’s trials and tribulations, big or small, in The Atlantic’s “Dear Therapist” column.

This week, a reader asked Lori about the difficulties she’s having connecting with her fiancé’s teenage stepkids. The reader thinks that he’s too lax on them, but he thinks that she’s being too harsh. She wants to get along with the boys, but she also doesn’t want to clean up after them all the time.

Lori’s advice? Meet in the middle, and think about how to compromise on discipline:

It would be helpful for you and your fiancé to talk more openly about your respective struggles not just with the household chores, but with the blending of the family. Can you talk together about what might be helpful in forging a friendship between you and his sons? Can you be more understanding of how upsetting he finds it when you communicate your disdain for the two people he loves most in this world? Can you give him space to talk about why he might be so lax with the boys—does he feel guilty about the family’s breakup, and/or feel a need to be liked by them?

Send Lori your questions at