Care and Feeding

A Word About Vomit

My 18-year-old stepdaughter may have had a pregnancy scare. Should I talk to her about birth control?

A woman places her hands on her stomach like she could have indigestion—or be pregnant.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Thinkstock.

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

How do I go about teaching my daughter what to do in an emergency without a landline? We live in a rural area with no neighbors within yelling distance, and if something were to happen to one or both of the adults in our household, I’m not at all sure how she would manage to call 911. What if she can’t find our cellphones? And if she DID find them, how does she deal with unlocking them (they both have to be pass-coded for work)?

—Borrowing Trouble

Dear BT,

I have such a nice, easy answer for the second half of your question! You can call 911 from pretty much any cellphone, be it locked or belonging to the president or having had its service shut off for nonpayment. Take a minute to show your kids how. (Just pick up the locked phone and look for the “Emergency” option, or Google how it works for your particular provider.)

As for the first part of your question, you really do need to make sure your 5-year-old has access to some means of finding a device on which to make that call. If you have any kind of cable bundle, you likely have the option to toss a landline in there for basically nothing, or you can get a basic dumbphone/burner to leave, charged, in an easily accessible location. Practice is what matters, so periodically talk to your daughter about what to do if something happens necessitating that call (something non-terrifying, ideally, like “panda bears are trying to get into the hot tub”) and have her walk you through what she would do next. The dispatcher may not be able to pinpoint your address from a defunct cellphone, or one in an area with sparser tower coverage, so your daughter will still need to be able to tell them your address.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Help! I have 18-year-old twin stepdaughters. They have lived mostly out of state with their mother but have spent a considerable amount of time with us, and now they are preparing to go away to college. They are currently staying with us. This morning, one of them told me she threw up last night and wasn’t sure why. She said the nausea came on her unexpectedly. I jokingly said, “You’re not pregnant, are you?” and she said “no, no” followed by “I don’t think so?” and “I hope not!” I choked out a “Good Lord!” before she walked away.

I know I have to have a follow-up conversation with her about this, regardless of whether she just ate something bad. But I don’t know how! We have a good relationship, and I’ve always told her she can come to me about anything—specifically if there’s anything she’s afraid to talk to her mom about. I don’t want to tell her dad about this because I don’t know how he’ll react.

How would you start this conversation? I’d like to offer her birth control help, but I don’t even know how it works. She isn’t covered by our insurance, so can we just walk into a Planned Parenthood and get birth control for her? What would you do next?

—Too Young to Be a Stepgrandmother!

Dear TYtBaS,

So, my immediate read is “girl, she’s probably just messing with you” (successfully, too!), but since no action is required for that eventuality, let’s instead proceed with the idea she might not be. She’s an adult (a new one, but an adult), which in my opinion allows you more flexibility to be like “Hi, fellow adult! Are you feeling better today? I know you probably have all this sorted, but if not, I’d be happy to help you look into getting on more reliable birth control.” You can indeed just go to Planned Parenthood (and she can go without you).

Her reaction will likely tell you if you need to probe a bit further or move on blissfully with your lives as independent grown women. Generally, I do not encourage “please, tell me things you don’t want to tell your parents!” if you’re not prepared to be told things she does not wish to tell her parents, but I definitely don’t think “your 18-year-old daughter may be sexually active” is in the realm of things you are obliged to tell your husband.

This is probably not a big deal. On the off-chance it is a big deal, just stick with warm/welcoming/kind/informative, and let her make the next move after that.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I just left work to pick up my 1-year-old son from day care (this time, it’s hand-foot-and-mouth, eurghh). In the four months he’s been going to day care, he’s gotten sick what feels like a TON, maybe five or six times already? I know every child is different and all sorts of bugs spread around day cares and schools, but does this happen to other kids this often? It feels like we’re an infinite loop of germs! His health is our main concern, of course, but it’s also super frustrating that we pay every week no matter what! I guess I just want a reality check?

—Why Is He So Sick All the Time?

Dear WIHSSAtT,

I’m so sorry. The first year in preschool (especially the first cold and flu season), most kids are sick constantly. See also: doctors in their first year of residency, preschool teachers in their first year, and so on. The good news is that next year will be better! You may even get a whole month in between sick days.

This is just how it is. Kids are gross, and they’re always sticky and damp and they touch and lick things and have no sense of personal space, they are perfect little disease vectors. Good hand-washing habits and a school that sterilizes toys every day will only go so far: You’re going to be sick a lot.

It’s awful! And schools that have the (reasonable!) policy that you can’t bring your kid back within 48 hours of a mild fever have the effect of burning through your time off like a wildfire.

You just need to get through this, ideally with some of your sense of humor intact.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 15-year-old son asks me every so often if he can attend a coed sleepover at a friend’s house. I consistently say “no” and explain my position, he huffs about it, and then we go on with life until the next time he asks.

I consider myself to be a pretty liberal person, and it’s not that I don’t trust my son and his friends. I just think it’s inappropriate for them to be having coed sleepovers at this age. I don’t know why, it just sits in my gut and won’t change.

Am I being unreasonable? Should I reach out to the mother that’s hosting and say something? At this point I’d just like them to stop inviting him so we can avoid the repeated disagreements. Or, should I let him go and get over this purist idea that high school coed sleepovers are inappropriate?

—Mostly Liberal Mom

Dear MLM,

I mean, first of all, I wouldn’t worry that your Liberal Credentials are at risk in this scenario. Do you still feel terrible fast-forwarding through Pledge Drive Week on PBS? Routinely overthink minor interactions with panhandlers? Yes? You’re fine.

Calling this kid’s mother to ask that she stop inviting your son to these parties is a great threat, like “If you don’t stop asking me if you can attend these coed sleepovers, I will call Dylan’s mom and cut off this problem at the head.” There is a nonzero chance that Dylan’s mom is not aware she is hosting frequent coed sleepovers, and is in fact just in Duluth on those evenings for work, and if that’s the case, your son will definitely stop nagging you to acquiesce.

I doubt that this scenario is coming up more than once every couple of months, and if you’re not comfortable dramatically saying “over my dead body” to your 15-year-old with that kind of frequency, you need to lean in to your authority a touch more.

Best of luck being the Meanest Mother in the Whole World! You’ll be in great company.

—Nicole