Dear Care and Feeding,
I have a 16-year-old daughter. She is great, smart, and funny, but she’s never really been very dedicated to any activity, whether music or dance or art or drama. This school year, she decided to try out for, and made, the school dance team. When she joined the team, I told her that she was not allowed to quit. For the past six months, that has been going well. It’s hard, but she’s been enjoying it.
Now, in the lead-up to the final competition, there is suddenly a lot more pressure on the team—more practices, more physically demanding activities, more focus on “perfection.” The coach is making the girls (even though they are already on the team!) “try out” again, to see if they are good enough to be in the final competition. Those who don’t make the cut still have to attend all the practices/competition but are not allowed to participate; they have to sit on the sidelines watching. But the lineup can change at a moment’s notice because of injury, etc. At the last competition, several girls who had been on the sidelines were allowed to perform because of other girls not being there. (Yes, I agree that this is a shitty system, and I feel that the coach is being unnecessarily cruel with this.)
Now my daughter is not enjoying dance anymore. She is asking me to let her quit the team. She says it’s too hard, it’s stressful, she’s not a good enough dancer to make the competition team, etc. I have two issues with this: One, we paid over $1,000 for her to be able to join this team—I want my money’s worth! And two, if she quits now, she will not letter in dance, something she has been looking forward to since she found out that she made the team. I want to make her stick it out until the end of the season—it’s only 2½ more months!—but she has been in a terrible mood for the past few days, telling me how much she hates it, and I don’t want her to be miserable either. But if I let her quit, I feel like she will regret that down the line. I understand not wanting to be miserable and hating to feel like you aren’t good enough, but shouldn’t she get a lesson in sticking with her commitments? Am I a terrible parent if I let her quit? Or if I don’t let her quit? What should I do?
—To Dance or Not to Dance?
Dear To Dance,
First of all, let’s put “terrible parent” out of the equation. That is not what’s at stake here, so you can let that go. Secondly, this thing about getting your money’s worth. Even though it’s your money, when you spend it on the kid, it becomes their money, and there’s no more you getting your money’s worth. You spent that money to support your daughter, who is a child and as such does not have an extra grand lying around for extracurriculars. You should not have spent that money so you, her mom, could get the dancer upgrade pack for your daughter. In other words, you can’t hold your kid hostage in something they hate because of money.
Your daughter may indeed regret quitting before lettering. So you should tell her, “You may regret quitting before lettering,” and explain to her why you think that. Then you should let her make her decision because it’s her regret, not yours. She sounds lovely. She’s doing a bunch of stuff, going to school, growing, learning about the world, and being a teenager, and I for one think she’s doing great. Let her quit dance if she wants to quit dance. She’s old enough to make this decision on her own, albeit with your suggestions and two cents. So give her your two cents—but let her decide how to spend it.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My daughter is 4½ and has been fully potty-trained for over a year. She still wears pull-ups at night, though, and I see no signs of that stopping. While my sister’s kids just woke up with dry diapers eventually, that’s not the case at all with us. Sometimes she asks to go without a pull-up, but that invariably leads to me waking at 2 a.m. to change sheets, which is miserable. Last time we tried, a handmade quilt got thrown in the wash and nearly ruined after an accident. Any ideas for transitioning out of them without ruining my sleep and bedding?
—Don’t Want to Be a Wet Blanket
Even though your sister’s kids apparently all went dry on their own by the time they were this age, you don’t need to treat that as some absolute marker of normalcy. Bed-wetting is considered by professionals to be a perfectly normal noncrisis issue up to age 6. Some kids take longer, and it’s fine. Some kids take really long, and it’s fine. (I … um … took r.e.a.l.l.y. long, and it was still fine.)
If you don’t want to be laundering sheets every day, then keep putting the kid in pull-ups. There’s really no shame in it, definitely not at 4 years old. If you want to start getting your kid ready to get through the night dry, one method my family used was the double-alarm strategy. We set an alarm at night (I think one at 11 and one at 2?) to wake the kid (me) up to go pee. I can’t vouch for what a sleep therapist would think of this method, but in my own experience it got little me used to waking up and emptying things out, and most importantly it saved my adults a ton of domestic labor. There are all the other methods: no drinks after a certain time; obviously no caffeine, which is a diuretic; and an earlier bedtime, which may limit the heaviness of sleep and make it easier for your daughter to hear the bladder-to-brain signals that wake us up to pee. But I would say that at this point, getting her off pull-ups is less urgent than keeping the sheets dry. Good luck!
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m a middle-aged woman who has very little experience with children. I don’t dislike children; it just never worked out for me to become a mother. Anyway, for the last couple of years, I’ve been trying to be supportive of a friend and her almost 5-year-old daughter, “Skylar.” The girl’s father is now out of the picture, and my friend is struggling to cope as a single mom. They previously went through a good deal of trauma with domestic violence issues, CPS involvement, and so on.
Skylar can be a really sweet child, but she is very demanding of constant attention. Also, she has unbelievable meltdowns if she doesn’t get her way. For example, the last time they were over for dinner, Skylar threw a complete fit when it was time for them to go home. I realize all kids have an occasional meltdown, but this didn’t seem normal. I don’t recall my nieces and nephews ever having full-on temper tantrums after the age of 3.
After the first few minutes, her crying seemed manipulative to me, even forced. For example, her cries would start to taper off as she wore out, but as soon as her mother looked over at her, she would immediately start up again as loud as she could. This went on for what seemed like forever, although it was probably more like 10 minutes. Finally I just grabbed Skylar’s shoes and told her that she was going home right now, whether she liked it or not. My friend literally dragged her out of the house kicking and screaming.
In retrospect, I think I did pretty much what my mom would have done in this situation, but my mom did a lot of things that I think would be frowned on now, like being mean and smacking us. I know that Skylar probably has some issues, although I also think that she is a bit spoiled and my friend is very passive with her behavior. (My friend’s response was to plead quietly for Skylar to stop crying and promising her things she could do when they got home.) But as I said at the beginning, I don’t have much experience with children, so I’m really clueless about the best approach here. I would greatly appreciate your advice and insight!
—Not How My Mom Would Have Done It
What you’re experiencing is an extremely common phenomenon. People without kids look at the parenting of others with kids and HAVE SOME OPINIONS. I say that not to diminish it, but to let you know that such opinions are natural and normal and not necessarily evidence of a problem. In other words, just because you feel like your friend should be parenting differently doesn’t mean that your friend should be parenting differently.
I will also tell you that almost all 5-year-olds can absolutely use crying and emotional blackmail to get what they want. They cannot, however, be “manipulative,” because that word implies a conscious willingness to harm another for personal gain. This, of course, is not what they’re doing. They’re just trying to do what works. And they know that sometimes crying works, so they cry. I would be careful to avoid assigning nefarious motives to the behavior of preschoolers.
This isn’t to say that your friend is the perfect parent and it’s all good. It’s more about how you can support her as a friend. Telling her how to parent is not it. She and her child have been through hell, it sounds like, and they don’t need judgmental adults adding to the weight of their experiences. Parenting is a long game, and a highly imperfect one, and I’m willing to bet that your friend is capable of raising a good child—of righting her own parenting wrongs and changing direction when necessary—even without your advice. I’m also willing to bet that her daughter is capable of becoming a perfectly fine person by overcoming her mom’s parenting mistakes. It’s what you did. It’s what we all do.
Support your friend. If you see her struggling with her daughter, take a step back. Feel free to ask her in a quiet, de-stressed moment if she needs help in tantrum situations and what kind. But try to avoid asserting your vision onto her family, as right and well-meaning as it may feel. Your pure, basic, and nonjudgmental love is more valuable to her right now than you know.
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