Care and Feeding

They Call the Little One Bitey

Advice for a parent whose child gets chomped at day care.

A mother comforts a wailing child.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Thinkstock.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email

Dear Care and Feeding,

My son, almost 3, goes to a day care, and has always been happy to attend—he’s never even cried when I leave him there. The problem is there is one girl in his class who keeps biting him! It has happened three to four times in the last three months. Each time I get a note from his teacher that he was bitten (they don’t say by who, but my son tells me and it’s always her) and that they have counseled the biter, applied antiseptic, etc. But now my son is scared of going to day care. He actually didn’t want to let go of me today when he saw her.

I’ve been keeping quiet because I understand this girl has issues (she is slightly developmentally challenged) and that toddlers, in general, bite and stuff. But seeing my son behave like he did today worried me. Should I be speaking up for him with the day care manager, asking them to keep that child away from her, if possible?

—Stop Biting My Kid

Dear SBMK,

Oh, good gravy, what day care is this? Parents usually bemoan the existence of zero-tolerance policies that fire a child into the sun with a cannon after the first offense, and here you are with a son being used as a chew toy with no formal recourse.

I absolutely understand wanting to be more sensitive to the situation because the biter has developmental issues. Your day care, however, is not doing this child any favors by failing to keep her from biting other kids! The world she ideally is being prepared to step into is the same one inhabited by the rest of us: a world full of people who do not tolerate being bitten.

I do not in the least blame this girl. I fault your day care for failing to adequately supervise her and failing to protect the other children. If it’s not within the school’s ability to keep other children safe, that’s a conversation they need to be having with the girl’s parents. Perhaps the school cannot meet her needs; perhaps they will require the parents to pay for an in-classroom aide; perhaps she needs more specific coaching on this point … none of that is your problem.

Please set up a meeting with your child’s caregivers and tell them you will not tolerate your child being bitten any more, and ask what their policies are to prevent this from happening again. If you get a shrug, this may be a sign you need to find new child care (which is THE WORST), but, honestly, you cannot keep dragging your terrified son to a place where he gets bitten on the regular.

Please keep me posted!

Dear Care and Feeding,

My ex had an affair when our kids were 6 and 4. When I found out about it, she chose to be with him, and still is. Our kids are 13 and 11 now. A few weeks ago, my daughter asked me, “Why did you and mom get divorced?” My son looked intently at me when she asked.

I probably should have been prepared for this question, but I wasn’t. I froze for a few seconds and then said it wasn’t any of their business.

Since then I’ve been torn. Do I tell them the whole truth, parts of it, or nothing? Do I discuss it with my ex first? (We co-parent fine, but that’s it.) Is it their business?

—Nothing but the Truth?

Dear NbtT,

First of all, I’m terribly sorry about the affair and your divorce. This is obviously still extremely painful for you, so I am prepared to cut you a lot of slack for your awkward “not any of your business.” It isn’t necessarily any of their business, but it still wasn’t an ideal response in that it was unnecessarily rude and closed off the possibility of a real conversation.

When your children are minors, I think it’s your responsibility as a parent to hold the time-honored line: “Marriage is really complicated, your mom and I couldn’t live together anymore, but we love being your parents,” etc., etc. Thirteen- and 11-year-olds are a lot older than 6- and 4-year-olds, but they’re also entering a notoriously combative time in their lives, and giving them an excuse to be horrible to their mom does not seem wise.

I would tell your ex-wife that you plan on sticking to the above answer (which I imagine she will prefer to “Your mom slept with someone else and left me for him”), and then find time to sit down with your kids and apologize for having been short with them earlier. It’ll be easy enough to explain that it’s a painful topic and their question just took you by surprise.

More Care and Feeding:

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a person who protects her personal space. I don’t like to be squashed in bed—my tolerance for cuddling is about three minutes—or have a lot of physical contact for very long. I prefer quiet to conversation, sense to nonsense, being to interacting. Classic introvert stuff.

My problem is interacting with my elementary school–aged son. I love him dearly—he’s bright, funny, engaged, kind, thoughtful, all the things every parent wants their child to be. He also loves hugs and other physical contact, especially from Mommy. He’s also a little chatterbox, full of what ifs and questions and jokes and silly songs and random kid noises. None of that is wrong; he’s not in any way a problem child. The problem is me—I very quickly start getting agitated and impatient, or start disengaging with him, especially when I’m tired. I can’t refuse him the hugs he loves—what kind of mother doesn’t hug her child? But as my personal space collapses in on me, I just want to retreat. I do my best not to let on—I don’t want him to feel rejected or as if he’s done something wrong. My husband helps, providing distractions and activities, but he’s not always around. How do I do this? How do I address the conflicting needs of my son and my own psyche? Or am I just a selfish, horrible mother for not wanting to spend every moment in communion with my child?

—Need My Space

Dear NMS,

This question comes up quite frequently from parents with sensory issues raising neurotypical kids. (I am not assuming that describes you in the least, just reassuring you that it happens to other people and does not make you Lucille Bluth.) Little kids are so noisy and sticky and they knee you in the crotch and never pay attention to where they swing their massive melon heads. It’s a lot, even if you’re not by nature someone who needs a lot of personal space. When you do, that’s really hard!

I think you know already that you’re not a selfish, horrible mother, so I will not waste time trying to disabuse you of that notion. The good news here is that you are running out the clock every day: As time wears on, an elementary school kid will become significantly less interested in being up in your business, until you’re down to a fist bump and a tight smile circa age 14. It sounds like your husband is providing the necessary Human Jungle Gym function for your son, and the boy will not be damaged by the fact you can only put up with small amounts of active hugging, etc.

Generally speaking, try not regret or overthink anything that teaches your child there are different kinds of people in the world. In this case, some people enjoy being glommed on to, and some people do not. Next week, some people believe in God, some people hate birds, some people enjoy camping. As your son knows you love him very much, he’ll be just fine, and he’s learning a lesson that we modify our behavior to be respectful of others, or respect their wish to disentangle themselves.

I will not tell you that you’ll miss these days when they’re gone, which I am sure you are hearing from other people. Even if that turns out to be true (and who knows?), it’s extremely unhelpful to you at the current time.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have been together for 10 years. I have two grown sons, and he has two grown daughters and one grown son. His oldest daughter has recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She is a very intelligent woman but also a very angry one. Two years ago, she sat me down and basically told me that she wants nothing to do with me. She would like nothing better than for me to stay out of her life. Her comments stunned me. I have tried over the last 10 years to get to know all three of my stepchildren. I’ve invited them out for coffee and other activities, but they have always refused. At certain times during our relationship, I thought we’ve actually gotten along really well. I am the one who buys their birthday and Christmas presents, and I used to cook dinner for them every time they came to our house for a visit.

Her words angered me and saddened me, but I decided that if that’s what she needed that’s what I would give her. So every time she comes to the house, unless I am ill, I leave and go someplace else. She sees her father regularly so this is very inconvenient for me. Last year on my birthday, my husband suggested that his children come to the house for dinner.
He also suggested it would be really nice if they brought a birthday card. Well this set off a chain reaction of anger like I have never seen, and she told her father that while I might be his family, I am not her family. I told him it’s OK, but I could tell he was as genuinely hurt as I was that she was unwilling even to consider something as small as celebrating my birthday. Yet she comes to our house every year for hers. This whole situation hurts me tremendously, and I have put up with a lot of verbal abuse in the last 10 years.

So yesterday I did something really stupid. I cannot keep a journal in the house because it would be read by my husband. So I write my feelings out in a stepmother’s group on Facebook. I posted about how upset my stepchildren’s treatment made me, and I am sad to say that in my anger I posted that I don’t like my stepchildren. I also said some things that were bothering me about my husband. Unfortunately, I accidentally posted this to my personal Facebook page, not the group page. As soon as I realized what I had done, I took it down. But my husband’s cousin’s daughter saw the post, took a screenshot of it, and sent it to my stepdaughter. I felt very sad and sorry as soon as I realized what had happened; my intention was not to hurt my stepchildren or my husband but to get support from this group.

Later that night, my stepdaughter texted the post to the entire family. She called me a bunch of names, which I won’t go into. I apologized and apologized and said how sorry I was that she saw it. I tried to explain to her that I can love her and also really dislike her sometimes. She refused to let me speak and basically told me how horrible she thought I was and to get out of her life. And she spent the rest of the evening calling and texting her father and telling him to break up with me. She said I was duplicitous and a bitch.

I don’t know what to do now. I want to talk to her and apologize face to face for the accidental posting, but other than that I honestly don’t feel as if I’ve done anything wrong. I have a right to my emotions, and she has a right to hers. Should I write her a letter? Should I drop it? The one thing I am unwilling to do is sit there and let her curse at me like she did the last time we met and talked. Please help me!

—Wayward Status Update

Dear WSU,

Oh, my word, this letter kept building! Several times I began to formulate my answer, only to scrap it after reading the next paragraph. How on earth have you been putting up with this nonsense for so long? How on earth has your husband allowed this to go on?

(Rolls up sleeves:)

Just to be Capt. Hindsight here, this letter is filled with record-scratch moments, but here was the first one: So every time she comes to the house, unless I am ill, I will leave and go someplace else.”

Hell, no. No. People will not magically respect you more if you let them walk around on your spleen. If your husband’s shitty grown children can’t handle spending time with you, your damn husband can march himself to Arby’s to meet them. No one is kicking you out of your house.

Speaking of your damn husband, 75 percent of this is his fault. It’s his responsibility to insist his children respect his wife if they want to have a relationship with him. This doesn’t mean they have to like you, but it does mean they have to muster some common civility. Personally, I think the birthday invite was likely him overcompensating for having dropped the ball on this so thoroughly in the past, and was too much of an ask considering the existing, terrible relationship.

Now we come to the Facebook incident. I died for you, I honestly did. It could happen to anyone. Everyone, delete your Facebook immediately, it will bring you nothing but misery and also it steals your information. You have apologized. You have tried to smooth it over. Now your husband needs to pull his head out of his ass and have a come-to-Jesus talk with his kids about how they’ve treated you terribly and bear some responsibility for the current state of affairs.

I want you to pull back completely from your involvement with these “kids” and insist he start pulling his weight. He can visit them outside your home, he can buy his own dang Christmas and birthday presents for them, and he can learn the phrase “Please do not speak about my wife like that.”

Courage, friend.


Nicole Cliffe lives with her husband and three children in Sandy, Utah. She is the co-founder of the Toast and has written for the Guardian, Christianity Today, New York, and the Morning News.