Care and Feeding

My Daughter Doesn’t Want to Give a Valentine to a Mean Kid

But a) I don’t know if he’s really mean and b) shouldn’t everyone get a valentine?

A girl frowning, with her hands on her hips, next to a crossed-out valentine heart.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Yasser Chalid/Getty Images.

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,

I’m looking for some advice about class valentines. My daughter is in kindergarten this year, and each student will be making a bag for collecting all their valentine cards, goodies, etc. I think the expectation is each child will bring in something for every other child—nothing unusual, and we’re used to it from her having been in day care the past four years as well.

But for the first time, she doesn’t want to give a valentine to one of her classmates, who she says calls her “annoying” all the time—to the point that she was crying about the possibility of having to give him one. I realize there are two sides to every story and there’s the chance she actually does annoy him, but the two of them were best buds the entire first semester of school, so I’m not sure exactly what happened. He’s a bit older and according to my daughter has made fun of some of her artwork and clothes as well.

Anyway, I don’t want to minimize my daughter’s feelings, and I want to be careful about giving her the message that she has to be friends with everyone, even if they’re not treating her nicely. On the other hand, I don’t want to make too big a deal of the situation.

I should add I do plan to email her teacher and ask whether she’s noticed the situation between the two of them, and I’ll also ask her if students have to give valentines to everyone else.

—Valentine Drama

Dear Valentine Drama,

Ugh, every single iteration of class valentine distribution is a scourge. I nearly kissed the mailing from our child’s Jewish preschool reminding everyone we would not be permitted Valentine’s Day exchanges of any kind.

As I think you understand, the main issue here is sorting out whatever went down between your daughter and her former friend and, if the answer turns out to be that they’re not friends anymore and now he’s sometimes mean about it, dealing with that. Not everyone will be friends, but everyone should be treated with respect.

You’re welcome to ask about the policy and being able to dodge it in this circumstance, but regardless I would simply just have her not give him a valentine and move on with my life. In the rare situation someone has enough time on their hands to count their child’s cards and notice a discrepancy, you can handle that, but I just wouldn’t bother. This isn’t the IRS. It’s a collection of little cards in construction-paper boxes taped to desks. Your daughter, in my final ruling, does not need to make a card for someone she is actively beefing with.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I always knew I would never be best friends with my in-laws after years of vaguely snarky comments from my mother-in-law, mostly disguised with a smile. Pretty normal criticism about my house being too messy or her being upset and claiming it was my fault my husband lost his job years ago. I just ignored it, but recently (after having our child and their first grandchild) it got much worse. Some of the comments are really hurtful and damaging. They told my husband his dead grandfather would be disappointed in him for the (perfectly normal) church we joined because he “hated [insert descriptive word for people of that religion].” They would have preferred we had a boy and make it obvious whenever they can. I was told how happy they were when a cousin adopted a sweet little boy into her family and they finally “have an heir to carry on the family name even if he is a little [blank] and [blank]” (insert words to describe child’s skin color and physical disability).

My mother-in-law will openly tag me and comment on social media posts to hurtfully draw attention to the fact that I only have one child, knowing after a horrible loss I decided to not try to carry another child to term. I am sickened to be around them but feel I should keep communication open for the sake of my child and husband—while at the same time protecting my child from their bigotry and patriarchal prejudice. My husband is no help; he is generally very supportive of me, but in terms of his family he thinks they don’t really mean what they say and we (I) should just not be so sensitive since they say dumb things all the time. I don’t want our daughter thinking there is something wrong with her church or her because she lacks a penis and so is unworthy to carry their family name.

—Happy Middle Ground?

Dear HMG,

Oh, boy, I do not think there is a happy middle ground here. Your in-laws are extremely racist and sexist and otherwise bigoted in about four different directions, and if your husband is content to let his wife’s infertility struggles be a fun punchline on social media, he doesn’t seem that fantastic to me either.

Step 1: Block your mother-in-law on Facebook.

Step 2: Couples counseling.

I think you need to come up with some absolute scraping-bottom baseline standards for in-law behavior toward you and your family and discuss with your husband how to enforce them. There are no easy solutions here, but the current situation is untenable and you need to stop it before your daughter starts picking up even more of what she’s hearing. (I guarantee she’s already internalized more than you think she has.)

An extremely low level of contact (Christmas cards, perhaps) is absolutely the most that I personally could put up with from these people. You and your husband will have to make your own calls. If he won’t defend you, maybe he’ll be moved to defend his child. I’m unimpressed.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

We have three children all under the age of 6, and my husband works 80-plus hours a week in a very demanding job. We belong to a church with several families with children the same age as ours. The mother of one of those families, Brenda, frequently asks to come over for play dates on the weekend, often as early as 8 a.m. I have said yes a few times, but when she comes over she is a hard conversationalist, is a bit rude, and stays way later than a normal play date. She frequently invites us to her house too, but I’ve always said no. If I had to give up precious weekend time, I would so much rather spend it on someone with whom I enjoy spending time. My family is very busy with extracurricular activities during the week, so we’d prefer to use our weekend for relaxing family time (especially considering how much my husband works).

Brenda works during the week and is only interested in weekend play dates. I’ve told Brenda several times that our weekends are reserved for family, but she continues to ask to come over. She has a lot of other friends with small children and spends plenty of time with them, so ditching our friendship couldn’t be a huge loss. I don’t enjoy spending time with her, so I would be tempted to just ignore her texts if it wasn’t for the fact that we belong to the same small church and so we see each other weekly. How do I navigate this?

—Just Not Interested

Dear JNI,

Since Brenda is not, in fact, hard up for play dates, she’s gonna have to deal with your lack of interest like a big girl. I would cheerfully stick to “No weekend play dates for us, remember?” with an increasingly confused expression until a) the heat death of the universe or b) she stops asking. If you want to toss her a bone once a month, offer a third-party outing invitation, like going to a kids movie or a deadly trampoline park or something.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My son is a second-grader and an extremely picky eater. He was a micro-preemie, born extremely early, and had a severe brain hemorrhage as a result of his early birth. As a result, he has some mild motor deficiencies and some mild sensory issues, the biggest of which seems to be eating-related. When he was younger, the early-intervention occupational therapist he saw helped us get him to eat solid food (which was a bit of a struggle, so I was thankful for the expert assistance), and he was a decent eater for about a year, though he always had some texture issues. Then, after his first stomach bug when he was 3, he got extremely picky about what he would eat.

He eats three kinds of fruit, one vegetable, one type of cheese, nuts occasionally, no meat, and several types of bread, crackers, pancakes, and French fries. We no longer have access to any therapy now that he has aged out of early-intervention (insurance won’t pay for it, and it is prohibitively expensive—plus I don’t really know if he needs it anyway). He is very sensitive even to small changes in his food, so trying to mix or hide things in foods he likes has been unsuccessful. If there isn’t a food he likes available, he just won’t eat, no matter how many people claim that if we are strict about it, he will get hungry and eat eventually.

Whenever he goes anywhere (a birthday party, a friend’s house, etc.), I have to pack him a meal or snacks. His pediatrician is not concerned because he seems to be very healthy and is growing and gaining weight at the rate they would like to see. The pediatrician’s advice is just to continue encouraging him to try new foods and to give him a multivitamin, which we have been doing, but I worry that this is not enough. I know I tend to worry a lot about my son because of his early birth and past medical issues. Is this something I should stop worrying about, or is this a real problem?

—I Feel Like I’m Failing

Dear I Feel Like I’m Failing,

You’re doing amazing, sweetie. Oh, my gosh, you really are! You have busted your butt for your kid, you’re doing everything possible for him, and your pediatrician is correctly looking at your actual child and not at the pickiness and seeing the truth: He’s doing OK.

Gummy vitamins have kept a lot of kids with sensory issues alive and oddly thriving. Try a few variants on milkshakes (not to hide anything in them—ice cream is really pretty good for a kid who needs some good ol’ calories and fat and calcium). And please pester your doctor for a referral to a developmental pediatrician who might have some better ideas for here and now.

So many people have toddlers who seem to (at best) photosynthesize all their nutrients and nonetheless grow up to be as “normal” as any of us. Keep tracking, keep trying, and cut yourself some slack: He’s on the charts and he’s OK and you’ve come so far.

Good job!

—Nicole

Ask a Teacher

Our oldest daughter is in kindergarten at our local public school. Her teacher has been on extended leave since about a month after school started this year. The long-term substitute is a perfectly nice woman, but she does not have an education degree. I fully appreciate that my daughter’s teacher may have a medical condition that prevents her from returning to work, and I certainly don’t begrudge her that, but I’m left thinking that my daughter and the other students in her class deserve a trained teacher, especially in kindergarten. If I have a conversation with the principal about my concerns, what is reasonable to ask for?