Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Care and Feeding,
Our 15-month-old son is generally a fun and easy kid. The only major problem is one for which his dad and I are basically to blame. We’ve ended up being accidental cosleepers and don’t know how to get ourselves out of it. We don’t have any theoretical or developmental problems with cosleeping, but we have all sorts of personal problems with it: being pushed off the bed; waking up every time he moves; being kicked in the stomach (his dad) or literally becoming our son’s pillow (me); and not being able to actually snuggle as adults.
We’ve halfheartedly tried some extinction methods, but we can’t seem to get them right, and his crying makes my head hurt so much. I know part of the problem is his crib, which still contains a rock-hard infant mattress. How can we remedy this situation before we wake up with a 12-year-old sleeping between us?
—A Bed of One’s Own
I’m honestly surprised it took me a whole two columns before we got to cosleeping. I’m sure you’ve already met, “I’m not dogmatic, but if your child sleeps quietly in another room it just means he’s gazing silently up at the ceiling as lonely tears stream down his face.” And its counterpart, “I did not have a child so my 10 hours of sleep would be interfered with just because someone has ‘night terrors.’ ”
Happily, we are not here today to hash any of this out! You are way ahead of the game, in that you know what’s happening (accidental cosleeping) and you know what you don’t want (accidental cosleeping). You can’t sleep. Your husband is getting kicked in the nuts hourly. (He says it’s his stomach to put a brave face on it, but it’s his nuts.) You are ready to rip this Band-Aid off. I’m here for you.
Your kid is 15 months old, so you’re way past the dicier ages for sleep training. Your 15-month-old is ready to enlist in the Sleep Marines. Which is not to say you need to be a real hard-ass about anything; this is just to emotionally buttress you against feeling like a monster.
I’m glad you zeroed in on the crib mattress. Those things are prison cots. Ditch it. Let’s get something on the floor next to the bed. Here’s where my choice diverges from the norm: I recommend an L.L. Bean memory foam dog bed (for larger breeds). I know. I know! But it’s great. Kids love to pretend to be puppies. The beds are comfy, close to the ground, and have very washable covers! Most kids will be into it, especially if the alternative is presented not as “climb back in with us” but “you’ll have to sleep in your own room.”
The hardest part is absolutely breaking them of their wish to be in physical contact with you at night, which this second sleeping surface is perfect for. Being in your room with you is a privilege! If the alternative is Brutal Extraction Into Solitary Confinement, most kids, however whiny, will decide to shut up and sleep in the dog bed.
Don’t worry, you will get to that beautiful solitary-confinement mode eventually. Let’s start there, without even trying to move him out of your room, and once he’s sleeping next to the bed, report back and we’ll get him the rest of the way. Good luck!
Dear Care and Feeding,
I think I remember Nicole tweeting something to the effect that only people who don’t have kids don’t believe in parental controls. Right now we mostly let our 4-year-old navigate to what she wants on specific streaming services with kid profiles, and we are in the room when she chooses what to watch. No YouTube. I can see this changing (and needing to change) as she gets older. What are your recommendations for using parental controls?
—What Happens When She Can Type
I feel so strongly about parental controls! Have you seen the internet? It’s The Entertainment from Infinite Jest mixed with poking a dead raccoon in the butt with a stick to see if anything oozes out of it mixed with the kind of pornography you used to only be able to find in the Combat Zone, and that’s just the stuff that gets smuggled into YouTube Kids.
You sound like you’re doing a great job with your 4-year-old and have clearly recognized there’s really no completely safe substitute for being in the room with her. And you’re right: Your attitude toward internet freedom does need to change as your child grows and craves (and needs!) more autonomy. Sometimes it’s helpful to think of this question as though it’s a timeline: On one end you have your 4-year-old, who deserves a very firmly controlled stream of hand-selected content (also one or two of those horrible shows she will insist on loving, like Daniel Tiger). At the other end of the timeline, regardless of what you do or say in the interim, your kid goes off into the world and you have literally no say over what she consumes online ever again. Nor should you! I watch such horrible things online, you don’t even want to know. If someone dies horribly in a movie, I’ve found it on LiveLeak within 20 minutes of it being uploaded.
Your job, then, as parent, is to carefully throttle back on the controls so that your child neither sees unbelievably inappropriate things before being a little more prepared for them nor dies from shock when she suddenly holds all the cards. A lot of that is going to be your call and your comfort level. Lock down the worst of it, and keep your child’s activity in as public a place in your home as possible until you have more confidence in their judgment. Phones and tablets are something to be particularly careful about, the ol’ family room desktop less so.
One more note on parental controls: Please assume children will crack them. They will. And if they don’t, they’re going to see it at their friend’s house or on their cousin’s Kindle Fire. Whatever your plan for curtailing their internet education, it needs to incorporate this reality: Make sure your kids know that if they see something they can’t handle, you want them to feel as though they can talk to you about it without you throwing a fit because you didn’t want them to know about, I don’t know, vore. They will find out about vore.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I have a 20-month-old girl, and she rocks our socks off. She’s also—since her 6-week checkup—been in the 99th percentile in weight for height. We’re doing our best to join our pediatricians in not being concerned about her weight. I know intellectually that we’re offering healthy foods, that it’s perfectly fine for her to have the body she has, and that the best we can do is teach her how much fun it is to challenge her palate and how good it feels to eat healthy, nourishing foods.
My emotions are more complicated. My husband and I both know from our own chubby childhoods how hard it is to be on the husky side of the—arbitrary, stupid, fascist, but omnipresent—attractiveness spectrum. Any words of advice about how to relax about her round little body? And how we can shut down the body-policing remarks of both strangers and friends/family alike? It makes me sick how early the comments are starting, and sicker that they’re in my head, too.
—Mom of a 99-Percenter
Let me first handle the obligatory “don’t worry so much” portion of my answer, which is to remind you that the percentiles definitionally exist to accommodate very different kids of a perfectly normal size. Your baby has been in the 99th percentile since she was 6 weeks old. You’ve just got a big baby. If she’d once been tiny and then, once you started having more control over her food intake, she suddenly jumped 50 points on the chart, maybe that would be a different story. At 20 months, your daughter is just on the threshold of some major locomotive milestones: running, climbing, jumping … your life is about to get considerably more exciting (and distracting, which, in your case, is solidly a good thing.)
And look: The vast majority of people who observe the size of a baby your daughter’s age are not thinking Hm, lifetime shopping in Husky Gal ahead for this kid. They are thinking, What a chunk-a-munk-a, I wanna press on her li’l tubby thighssssss. People go into a fugue state around chubby baby bellies. I am not suggesting that you are imagining comments from strangers and loved ones, nor that weirdos do not take it on themselves to make assertions about the weight of a 20-month-old, but in the context of the rest of your question, this is mostly about you. Which is great—that’s something you have control over.
Please enjoy your adorable baby. You are just getting to learn a little early a very important part of parenting: It makes you revisit your own childhood and its extraordinary sensitivities and vulnerabilities live and in color. Demons you had put to rest, insecurities you thought were behind you: Parenting a child will unearth them all. Call ahead before your next well-child visit and say you’d like to take some time to ask about your baby’s weight when you come in. This is a talk your pediatrician is very used to having, and unless you’re doing something very odd, it’s likely to be a reassuring one.
One final word of caution: Your planned strategy for talking and not talking about weight sounds great, but kids are way more perceptive to their parents’ actions than we think. Really watch how you react to your own weight, from grimaces to self-deprecation to what you say when your pants are tight. This is what kids see, not the goodthinkful monologuing about making smart choices and loving our bodies. It’ll be good for all of you to live your values in public for your child.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m hoping you can help me navigate a tricky extended-family situation. My sister and her wife are in the midst of a difficult divorce. As suggested by a therapist, to maintain a close relationship between both soon-to-be exes and their 6-year-old, their message to him has been unified—that this is a decision Mommy and Mommy have made together and that no one is to blame. But this isn’t true! My sister’s wife is to blame, for cheating on her and bailing on their marriage.
My children are older than hers, and it galls me to tell my teenagers some feel-good bullshit that suggests my sister is equally culpable. I think they’re old enough to handle hearing from their mom that their aunt screwed up. Even though my sister and her son live in our city, I think my kids can see their cousin without contradicting him if I explain the situation. Do I have to stick to the official story, or can I tell them the truth?
—Her Cheatin’ Heart
Tell them marriage is complicated and parenting is forever. “The truth” is something that will never be 100 percent in your reach. It is not acceptable for your kids to tell younger children potentially hurtful information against their parents’ wishes. Should you wish to tell your teens that you blame your sister’s wife, that’s your call, but you’d better be confident your teens are capable of more discretion than the average teen, who will spread hot goss with zero provocation. Or think of it this way: If your sister can rise above her wounded feelings to focus on the well-being of her kid, I think you need to rise above your less-wounded feelings to extend him the same courtesy.
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