Care and Feeding

I Do Not Want My Daughter Taking a Bath With Grandma

Am I overreacting?

An older woman taking a bath with a baby.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Tom Merton/Getty Images Plus.

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 husband and I have a 3½-year-old who is the only grandchild on his side of the family. My in-laws are very loving with her and want to see her constantly. Recently, after our daughter spent the night with her grandparents, she came home talking about taking a bath with Grandma. I asked a few questions to clarify, and it turns out that, yes, she and Grandma took a bath together. I am all about body positivity, and we use the anatomical names for body parts, but for some reason, this makes me feel icky. We used to take our daughter into the tub or shower with us when she was an infant, but we haven’t done that since she was about a year old. While we don’t hide our bodies from her, we don’t parade around naked in front of her either. We’re trying to get the point across now that some body parts are “private.”

When I brought this up with my husband, he thought it was a good thing because our daughter gets to see different types of bodies (his mom had a mastectomy a few years ago). Logically, I understand his point, but part of me still feels weird about it, and part of me is a little more than bothered that my in-laws never asked if this was OK.

As a side note, my in-laws have made well-meaning but somewhat damaging comments in the past around our daughter about women’s bodies (being “pretty,” staying thin), so I’m not always thrilled with having them be the messengers for her when it comes to talking about bodies.

My husband agreed to talk to his mom, but he hasn’t yet. I can tell he thinks I’m making a bigger deal about this than I need to. Is this weird, or do I need to relax a bit?

—Is This Normal?

Dear Is This Normal,

In many families, it’s very normal and healthy to bathe or be naked together with a small child. (Your 3½-year-old is still in that category; kids will usually let you know when they don’t want to anymore.) In other families, it’s more common to don a cardigan and a tie before firmly shaking hands with your equally fully dressed child. It varies by culture, by personal preference, and by familial tradition.

Your mother-in-law absolutely should have asked first, and if you decide you’d rather the adult remain on the sidelines of the tub during bath time, your husband needs to tell her that. It will help if he explains that you yourself don’t bathe with your kid; it’s not that you think there’s anything untrustworthy or wrong about her as a person or a caregiver.

I think it will be easier to discuss with your husband if you avoid suggesting it’s weird, gross, or inappropriate, which would certainly get the back up of anyone who was raised in a more Casually Naked family. Instead, focus on the fact it feels weird to you, because you come from a different background.

Please address any judgmental body comments as they come up. Honestly, I think that’s a more pressing issue, depending on how often and how pointed they are. There’s no major connection, in my mind, between the two situations, other than that people have bodies and sometimes we talk about them.

Dear Care and Feeding,

We have a sweet, spirited 6-year-old who loves music. He insisted he wanted to learn the violin, so we signed him up for lessons four months ago. Though he says he likes it, he won’t practice for more than a couple of minutes at a time, and his teacher has observed his fundamentals are not so great (not sitting still, playing around during the lesson, poor bow grip, etc.). He can’t move on to new music because the basics aren’t there, but he’s bored with his assignments. I never wanted to practice as a kid either but stayed in lessons forever and feel ambivalent about that. Now the shoe is on the other foot, and I don’t know what to do. My husband says our son needs to learn to practice something. I just know I don’t want to fight over the practicing. Most of all I don’t want to dampen our son’s love of music, but I don’t want to pay for endless lessons if he won’t play his part. Should I keep him in lessons? Or double down on the commitment?

—What Have I Done?

Dear What Have I Done,

He’s 6. He’s telling you with his entire body that he’s not ready for this nonsense yet. Quit the lessons and try again in three years if he wants to and if he makes a firm case that things will be different. If your husband is so desperate for your 6-year-old to “practice something,” I recommend reading, and your husband might consider taking the lead on facilitating that.

Set the money you’re spending on these lessons aside to save up for “next time,” if you can afford it, or relish adding it back into your family budget.

I would saw my foot off before I would give a violin to a 6-year-old who didn’t even want to practice the damn thing.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 2½-year-old has been going to day care/preschool since he was 3 months old. I have a career in higher education, and we cannot afford for me to stay home. (I’m also just not inclined to do so, if I’m being honest.) He goes to a wonderful preschool right now with a very engaging and structured curriculum, and he seems to be thriving. He’s learned an enormous amount in the six months he’s been there and has matured a lot, and every time I pick him up, he’s had a great time and tells me all about his day. His teachers are attentive and caring, we do parent-teacher “conferences” every six months to talk about his development, and we’ve been very happy with the decision to send him there.

My problem is that every morning, he complains about going and says he wants to stay home. He doesn’t cry, but he whines a lot and swings wildly between being upset that we’re going to school and seeming legitimately excited about the prospect. On mornings when he’s particularly difficult about it, I feel guilty for sending him. Some days I have even called out of work to stay home with him; he loves that for a few hours and then is promptly bored.

Is this normal? Does my child hate school, or does he just hate getting out of the house?

—Working Mom Guilt

Dear Guilty Working Mom,

It’s normal. He’s fine. If he’s coming home happy and thriving, all is well.

Don’t let him con you into taking days off unless you genuinely long to spend the day with him and have made plans accordingly in advance. What I think you’ve accidentally done by periodically letting him whine his way into keeping you with him is re-create those lab experiments where the rats get cocaine by pressing a little pedal.

If the rats get cocaine each time they press the pedal, and then the researcher turns off the cocaine, the rats figure it out quickly and stop trying. If the rats only occasionally get cocaine by pressing the pedal, why, they’ll keep trying a lot longer. Your son is an adorable, precious rat, the cocaine is you staying home with him, and the pedal is begging you to not make him go to school.

I think you have a lovely and normal toddler on your hands. To shake up the situation, I recommend reshuffling the morning routine a bit. See if that helps.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My children are thriving socially and academically at a private school. I wish they went to public school, but they don’t, and I deal with it. The issue is the fellow-mother snub. While I have made friends, there are also other mothers I am not particularly friendly with, though our kids are friends. Many of these mothers—who will happily make arrangements for their kids to spend time with mine, including hosting my kids—pretend they don’t see me at school-related social events or walking down the hall. It’s not my imagination, and I haven’t done anything to offend anyone. I usually walk around their school, when I have to be there, with a vague sort of pleasant expression. I say hi to anyone I recognize. I realize this is a minor problem, and I should rise above and not care, but I’ve been dealing with it for eight years, and I have another five to go until my kids are out of there, and I am so done with this absolute junior high bullshit. Of course it’s never the fathers, who happily acknowledge me wherever we meet, and if they’re with their wives, the usually unfriendly women are suddenly very friendly. Any witty advice or things I can keep in mind while this is happening?

—The Unseen

Dear Unseen,

Oooh, I am so suspicious of you! Are you not telling us something? Are you, perhaps, a Jolene-type siren who has already lured many of these husbands to a watery death? Are you wearing a shirt that says I HATE PRIVATE SCHOOLS AND AM HERE ONLY UNDER PROTEST?

I have to say, the combo of “when I have to be there” and “a vague sort of pleasant expression” are doing a lot of heavy lifting in how this letter comes off.

I suspect the other mothers are not giving this matter nearly as much thought as you are. If you genuinely do wish to improve matters, please set a bear trap for whichever mother seems the nicest and ask her if she wants to come over for a drink. It’s been eight years! Instead of delivering weird hallway half-smiles, start pretending you actually want to get to know these people and initiate some activities outside of the school.

Or, I guess, you can decide to highlight it and buy some statement jewelry and really get into sweeping past everyone like Blake Lively in A Simple Favor. In fact, I strongly recommend you watch A Simple Favor and report back to me about which character you feel you most resemble.


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