Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My darling, lovely 8-year-old son has discovered girls in a big way and has begun smooching them. Over the summer, he had several instances of being called out in camp for kissing girls. This past weekend, his dad told me he caught him kissing a girl on the playground. He has kissed girls his age and younger, all quick pecks on the lips. He likes girls as friends and tends to gravitate toward them. He doesn’t have a lot of boy friends and finds them hard to get along with. He’s a very smart, socially awkward kid.
I have spoken to him as clearly as I can about consent—making sure he is asking girls if they are OK with kissing, explaining what coercion is and also that kissing is something we don’t do casually. It’s not appropriate at school or camp, and it’s really not something children should be doing. I’m trying to give him boundaries while also recognizing that kissing is something natural that kids want to explore.
I have asked my husband to talk to my son about this more explicitly “man to man” (personal space, responsibility, feelings, respect, etc.). I don’t want my son feeling like (or being called out as) a predator. I want him to have clear ideas about consent and boundaries and appropriate behavior. At the same time, wanting to kiss someone you like is very normal and natural and beautiful, and I don’t want him to feel shame for discovering the pleasure of kissing.
Where do I go here? Am I missing something? I want to make sure the girls he’s kissing are also okay. Should I ban this behavior? Is there an age restriction for kissing?
—In Summer, a Young Man’s Thoughts Turn to Love
This is … adorable? Your son sounds charming. It’s also time to cut this off at the knees. I think you’re slightly overromanticizing the emotional importance of childhood kissing. The school doesn’t want him kissing girls. His camp doesn’t want him kissing girls. Back them up.
If he wants to ask girls to kiss him on his own time, God bless. But I think reinforcing that he cannot go around making out with his little school friends will solve much of the issue. And if you want to make sure he has fond kissing memories, he’s got more than his share salted away, having already kissed more people at the age of 8 than I, a grown lady, have in my life.
I would like to see you probe his social issues a bit more fully: Does he think that kissing is how we make friends? Would he like more male friends? There’s more going on here than just a Pepé Le Pew–esque obsession with the opposite sex.
Please keep me posted!
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Dear Care and Feeding,
Today, some of my work colleagues got into a heated discussion over lunch: One person knew two different police families whose little kids discovered their guns out in the open, and is now totally freaked out about ever letting her kid go to someone’s house who owns a gun, even if they say they’re locked up, stored well, etc. The fur was flying.
Her question was: How do you find out if a family has a gun and then say, “Oh, sorry, my kid can’t come over” without alienating your kid to the whole neighborhood? I didn’t have a good answer and was hoping you might have one.
—No Guns, Please
Let me first offer a very solid piece of workplace advice, as opposed to parenting advice: Guns and the operation or storage thereof are unwise topics for lunchtime debate in your place of business. Don’t start it, don’t engage with it, and if someone else starts it, smilingly excuse yourself. You are not going to solve one of the most contentious issues in American politics with a spirited battle at work, and you will get in over your head, fast.
My advice for any parent in this situation? If your deal-breaker is truly “I do not want my child in a house with guns, regardless of their storage practices,” then I honestly don’t think you have anything to lose by being upfront about that. Will many people find it rude? Sure. That’s OK! That’s a goal that will not always be compatible with smoothing the social climate of your neighborhood. There are gun owners who bristle at merely being asked about how guns in their home are stored (it is more useful, by the way, to ask, “How are your guns stored?” as opposed to, “Are your guns secure?” as the answer to the latter is really quite subjective), and that’s a data point in and of itself.
I come from hunting stock and enjoy recreational target shooting (we do not have guns in the house) but would never be offended if asked about gun ownership when setting up a play date, just as I myself like to play 20 Safety Questions when I find out someone has a swimming pool. This is not a situation where brandishing statistics and getting defensive or aggressive will work: Your colleague knows what her boundary is and that it’s of primary importance to her. So she should be crystal-clear about that boundary and not worry if she offends other parents. Depending on where she lives, it’s entirely possible that she will have dozens of compatible homes for her child to visit.
Go forth and do not argue about guns at work.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I feel silly that this is bugging me so much, but here goes: My darling 1-year-old daughter has the same fine, straight blond hair as her parents. It grows slowly and stubbornly forward over her forehead and is not quite long enough to stay in little alligator clips if we try to sweep it to the side. I don’t put it in ponytails or pigtails all that often because a) it’s a wrestling match, and b) her hair breaks very easily and I want it to grow.
At this point it’s at her eyebrows, but it doesn’t seem to bother her. However, one of her day care teachers almost always puts it up, after she’s dropped off, in very tight rubber bands. I feel like I’m being mildly judged and also that it’s making her hair break and therefore extending the awkward stage. Should I say something and risk damaging the relationship with this otherwise sweet lady? Do my husband and I need to stop being slackers and get better about doing her hair ourselves? Do I just stop worrying about her possible judgment and live with the status quo for a few more months before she moves into a new room?
What I can tell you is that you’re absolutely within your rights to ask your child’s teacher not to put rubber bands in her hair! It doesn’t sound like you’ve yet taken the first logical step and asked her about it, or requested that she stop.
If she tells you that your daughter’s hair is a real problem and gets into everything, you can present her with softer hair ties or headbands (there are some fantastic options out there that really limit breakage) and request she use them instead of rubber bands. She appears to be able to accomplish ponytails without a battle, so why not make use of her skills?
This is a Just Use Your Words situation for sure, but I think you’ll have an easier time sorting this out once you stop feeling like this is a personal failing. I too am bad at doing hair, and practically own stock in leave-in conditioner, and the sooner you can think of this without this degree of emotional attachment, the better. You’re busy! Kids hate having their hair messed with. You’re a great mom. Don’t sweat it.
Dear Care and Feeding,
Twice yearly my parents visit from out of state and stay with us for about 10 days at a time. It can be cramped and awkward (especially since we all have to share one tiny bathroom), but generally it seems worth it in order to have them visit and spend quality time with their granddaughter. That is, until the most recent visit.
On the last weekend of their visit, my spouse was working and I was at home with my daughter and my parents. On this one evening, my parents were in the living room reading at opposite ends of the room while my daughter was running around naked. I decided to go into the bathroom to prepare her bath. When I came out to get her minutes later, there were three small piles of poop on the living room floor, right next to where my dad was sitting. He said, “I told her to go into her room and sit on her potty.” I looked down the short hallway to the bedroom to verify that she was, indeed, sitting on her potty. I proceeded to quickly clean up the mess in the living room.
Then, I went to her bedroom and realized that she had not taken a direct path to the potty by any means. In fact, she had tracked poop all over the place, including on the bed where all three of us would be sleeping and on basically every rug in the apartment (including the rug directly by my mother). There was also poop smeared all over my daughter’s chest and legs. I was so upset I couldn’t even speak. My parents continued to sit silently in the living room and read while I was struggling to accomplish the rest of the bedtime routine while simultaneously trying to ensure that there wasn’t poop everywhere.
After my daughter was bathed and asleep, I did several loads of laundry and mopped and basically sanitized the whole apartment. Before going to bed (around midnight) I broke my angry silence and asked my parents why they hadn’t done anything. My mother responded, “We didn’t want to intrude.”
My father responded, “I guess I could have stopped her from running everywhere … ”
At any rate, I was hurt, frustrated and perplexed as to why they did nothing to help in this situation—not even simply calling out to me.
So what happened here? Is it time for them to stay elsewhere in the future? And if so, how do we break that news to them?
—The Poop Has Hit the Fan
H O T E L
H O T E L
H O T E L
I JUST! I mean! They just … sat there? And watched their grandchild poop on the floor? And then track it around the apartment? And said, “We didn’t want to intrude?” UPON WHAT WOULD THEY HAVE INTRUDED?!
If I were at a bowling alley and saw a stranger’s kid start to pop a squat, I would alert the parents to it. I am dumbfounded. Could you have been supervising more closely? Yes. Could you have more formally asked them to monitor the situation? Sure. But that’s like saying, “Perhaps the Hindenburg should have had more prominently posted exit signs.” We’re well past that. We are in the desert of the real.
This isn’t working. “We love having you visit, but hosting you in our small apartment isn’t working, so we’ll need you to stay in a hotel for your next visit. Here’s a list; we’re happy to split the cost.” (You may not be happy to split the cost; please edit as necessary.)
If they argue, then deliver “This isn’t working” or “That won’t be possible” or “This is what’s best for our family” until the message gets across. If they ask if they can stay with you for three days of the 10, go for it.
You’ve learned a valuable lesson here; don’t undervalue that: Your parents are not appropriate caregivers for your small child. This isn’t a situation where you can simply say, “Next time, we would like it if you called me over to tell me my toddler was treating the apartment like a latrine.”
You are in my prayers.