Care and Feeding

Do Not Pierce My 5-Month-Old’s Ears!

Her mom really wants her to wear earrings. I don’t. How do we decide?

A father wincing at the sight of his daughter's pierced ears.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by fizkes/iStock and veronicagomepola/iStock.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email careandfeeding@gmail.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My wife is from a cultural background in which piercing baby girls’ ears is totally expected and standard, and she would like to get it done with our 5-month-old daughter. This seems weird and freaky to me, and I am uncomfortable with it. She would never do it unless I agreed, but I can tell it really bums her out, especially when she’s home visiting her family, surrounded by her cousins and their pierced-ear babies. Our pediatrician is willing to pierce ears in-office with numbing for babies older than 4 months. Is this something worth holding firm about, or should I relent?

—She’s a Baby!

Dear SaB,

So, this is a really common conundrum for parents from different cultures, and I can promise you that you are not even the first person who has written to me about this issue. I have personally mellowed a bunch about it from my initial intense knee-jerk discomfort at the prospect. Yeah, it’s purely decorative and gender-normative as heck and involves body modification of a minor. It’s also usually reversible in time and reasonably safe when done by a doctor. (I asked my own pediatrician and she says that 4 months is also her threshold, and she greatly prefers doing it herself rather than having parents attempt at-home jobs.) Getting your child’s ears pierced as a baby also allows parents to do the required post-spinning and daily sterilizing that tweens are apt to botch rather spectacularly when it’s up to them to do their own aftercare.

Have another talk with your wife. There are plenty of things people do for cultural reasons that seem deeply strange and off-putting to people with a different background, from circumcision to ranch dressing to wearing shoes in the house. Only the two of you can decide if this is something to budge on or not. There’s no pressing timeline at play, and no right answer that I can give you. What I can say is that both of your positions are defensible ones, and neither would automatically render you a Bad Parent.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Timeouts have been working well for my 5-year-old in terms of eventually curbing the bad behavior in question, but I feel like we spend the entire timeout period (a couple of minutes) arguing and negotiating. Am I doing something wrong?

—It’s Like 12 Angry Men in Here

Dear IL12AMiH,

Ah, yes. I too spent a number of timeouts with our oldest child engaged in conversation with a delightfully tenacious little sea lawyer. Timeouts are supposed to be a break for both of you from the conflict at hand! (I know some people are now trying to claim that timeouts are bad/abusive/alienating and what kids really need is more time-ins, whatever the hell exhausting form of engagement that might be, but f’chrissakes we gotta have something left to us as parents.)

Yeah, don’t argue with a kid in timeout. Find a boring, safe location, pop them into it, set the phone timer, and go somewhere where you can spot them leave but are not in their direct eye line. If they’re negotiating, you’re studiously not listening. If they take off, you’re putting them back and adding another minute to the timeout with a stony expression. You need the personality of George C. Scott’s Gen. Patton (as opposed to the personality of the actual Patton) to make this effective.

Tilting at windmills only goes on for so long; your child will not eternally try to keep bargaining if you never provide them the satisfaction of engagement. If you want, preface the first New Regime timeout with “timeouts are not for talking, only thinking,” but don’t get after them for talking, just police your own reactions.

Dear Care and Feeding,

The kids (6 and 9) want to get a puppy. They talk about it constantly. I’m not a big dog person myself, and my wife is neutral. She’s at home during the day, and I’m not. The usual promises to walk, feed, and scoop are in place, but I think we’re all clear as a society that those are likely to fizzle out. Should we get them a puppy?

—So It Begins

Dear SIB,

Yes. Absolutely. Getting a family dog is almost always a no-brainer for forming pleasant childhood memories, offsetting the fact that your kids will invariably remember basically nothing from their youth except the four times you messed up as a parent. There are people who grew up in the prison pit that spawned Bane, and they’ll be like, “I did have great times with my dog, Bertha, though.”

You are correct that the kids will lose interest in the work over time, so what a blessing that you are an adult and will get to make them do it anyway, just as you make them go to school even on days when they do not wish to.

Taking this question more seriously for a moment (though I am 100 percent sincere about the sentiments expressed above), I think you’re better off with a young dog who is already a solid citizen than a puppy. Puppies are a ton of work, 24 hours a day, and there are loads of pleasant 1-year-old dogs who are already housebroken and leash-trained clogging our nation’s shelters. I’m not a no-exceptions adopt-don’t-shop zealot, but I think your needs will be best suited by not-a-puppy and there’s no reason a carefully vetted young shelter mutt wouldn’t be a great choice for you.

Keep me posted, ideally with pictures. And don’t get a herding breed unless you are ready to commit to running them into the ground every day.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am pretty sure that I already know what you’re going to say, but a neighbor has offered me their old car seat that their kid grew out of a few years back. It’s just been cluttering their garage, and it would be really convenient to have one in each of our two family cars instead of constantly transferring the stupid car seat multiple times a week. Obviously I can’t know it hasn’t been in an accident, etc., but would it be the worst thing in the world to take it?

—Please Let Me Take the Car Seat

Dear PLMTtCS,

It would not be the worst thing in the world. Also, don’t do it. If you can afford two cars, you can afford two car seats. Besides the undisclosed-accident possibility (which I agree is slim), a car seat their kid grew out of “a few years back” and which has been sitting in a garage ever since is as likely to have a small family of mice living in it as not. Recalls, invisible internal damage, less than a five-point harness, earwigs … just get a new car seat (for less than a hundred bucks from several reputable brands!) or continue swapping your current one between cars.

If, like me, you are Canadian or just naturally passive, tell your neighbor that your parents just got you a new one for a present, so you’re incredibly grateful for their kind offer but do not need it.

—Nicole