Care and Feeding

Go to Hell, Elf on a Shelf

My daughter wants one, though. Do I have to do it?

Shrieking woman surrounded by Elf on the Shelf dolls.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus and Elf on the Shelf.

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 7-year-old daughter loves Christmas. She’s been looking forward to it all year, it seems. I love to do Christmas things as well—we decorate the house, we go to holiday events each weekend. The one thing I can’t embrace? Elf on the Shelf. I curse the folks who came up with this stupid tradition. We’ve avoided it for such a long time, but last year, my daughter said she felt left out because apparently, kids in school discuss where their elves appeared each morning and what they were doing. Now that this holiday season is upon us, my daughter again asked, “Is the Elf going to visit our house this year?”

Do you have any good answers as to why the Elf doesn’t visit certain households, or do I just suck it up and get the stupid elf and hopefully remember to move it around before I go to bed each night or wake up at three in the morning and move it in the dark? I certainly cannot do the Pinterest creative ideas, so moving Elf is about all I could do.

—I Curse You, Stupid Elf


Ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Look, I’m not going to make a call on whether or not the Elf is good or bad (it’s bad). But if kids from non-Santa cultures and/or religious backgrounds have to cope with everyone else talking incessantly about Santa, a kid who doesn’t have Elf on the Shelf can manage to rise above it.

Personally, I would tell my kids the Elf is a cute thing parents do for fun, but he is a corporate product who does not actually have a direct line to Santa or the North Pole, please don’t spoil it for the other kids.

Hold the line, Mama. Fight the power.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am losing my mind over this. For the last three years, Christmas has been at my house as my parents have downsized into a condo. Because my mom misses getting to host, she has not been great about sticking to her role as a guest and instead brings everything with her when she arrives. “Everything” = cookies, decorations, icicle lights, comically oversized nutcrackers, and…

Amaryllis plants. Real ones. For every room.

Nicole, I have cats! I have told her a billion times that amaryllis plants kill cats (aren’t poinsettias more canonically Christmas-y anyway?), and it’s like talking to a wall.

I know I should have put my foot down earlier (obviously each year I have told her not to bring them but have not actually frisked her at the door), but I’m tired of making sticky-tape and foil boundaries around these death-plants and still fretting that a cat will manage to gorge herself on one.

I know I’m a daughter but I feel like this is a parenting situation. Please help.

—Stop Trying to Kill Bootsie and Captain Jack

Dear Bootsie and Captain Jack’s Mom,

What the Sam Hell is wrong with your mother?

OK, I get the sense that ultimately you want her to stop bringing about 90 things but that for now, we’re defending Death Plants hill, which seems …extremely reasonable to me. I want you to enlist your dad and any other family members in assisting you in communicating to your mother that she cannot bring a cat-killing plant into your home, however seasonal it may be. In writing, on the phone, through messages written on the wall in Sharpie, etc.

You have been reasonable, but she’s not a reasonable person. Time to throw your weight around some. If you are feeling extremely generous, you can offer to leave the Death Plants on your porch. But my suggestion is the minute you see one of those damn things exit her car, you take it and say “Oh, gosh, sorry, this can’t come in the house, like I mentioned,” and drop it upside down into a trash can filled with used kitty litter (thanks, Bootsie!) so it cannot be retrieved. No mercy. No regrets.

Now, as for next year, let’s find a different daughter or son or cousin to host, OK?

Dear Care and Feeding,

My kid doesn’t do a great job brushing his teeth. Now that he’s 6, it feels silly to keep doing it for him, and I worry he’s never going to learn if I don’t back off. That being said, I have lots of dental work in my mouth that I am positive wouldn’t be there if my parents had been more diligent about keeping up with my toothbrushing as a kid.

I guess what I’m asking is, how do you balance getting a kid to do something well, and getting them to do it independently?

—The Big Book of British Smiles

Dear Simpsons Fan,

Oh, buddy, I feel you here. It’s a trade-off that you’re going to run up against a thousand times before you shove that boy out the door. Chores, personal hygiene, being responsible for their own homework … it never ends until it does.

With teeth, I recommend the following: Your kid brushes their own teeth first thing in the morning, under your supervision. You can do sticker charts or whatever floats your boat. This ensures he keeps building the skills to do a decent job on his own. At night? At night you go ahead and brush those teeth like they’re your own. That way he’s going to bed with the cleanest mouth possible. Once he can impress you consistently with his morning work, you can fade out.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My mom wants to give my daughters Barbies. I have really mixed feelings about them and their weird bodies and regressive politics. Can I put my foot down and say she needs to find a more feminist alternative, like, I don’t know, Legos?

—The Pointy Boobs Alone!

Dear Pointy Boobs,

Barring live snakes and grenades, I generally think it’s better not to police what people are allowed to give your children. You can say “only one gift per holiday,” but you can’t say “we prefer our daughters’ dolls to be more Karen Silkwood inspired, please hand-knit their union billboards.”

The solution here is to make sure your daughters have access to images and playthings that present a wide and fascinating number of depictions of what it means to be a woman, a man, a person in this world. Make sure you buy kids’ books with black people in them! Have some fat dolls! Lego models of the Death Star! Chemistry sets! One Barbie a year will not ruin your kid: Society will ruin your kid, so fight society to the death.