Care and Feeding

How Do I Tell My Mother-in-Law to Keep Her Smoky Hands off My Newborn?

Thirdhand smoke is real. But will she be offended when I ask her to shower and change before touching her grandchild?

A pregnant woman with another person's hand holding a cigarette in the foreground.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by 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,

I am expecting my first baby soon. When the baby is born, my in-laws will be coming for a visit. My mother-in-law is a heavy smoker. I’m not worried about her smoking in front of my child, but after researching thirdhand smoke, I am very concerned about her holding the baby after she has had a cigarette. My husband and I have decided that after she smokes, she needs to shower and change her clothes before she can pick up the baby.

We don’t want my mother-in-law to feel ostracized, and we don’t want to hurt her feelings, but obviously, those are likely potential outcomes. How can we still be welcoming and let her know we are excited to have her around while still setting these boundaries? Also, how long should we remain this strict about the issue? How should we handle this when we are visiting my in-laws?

—Worried Daughter-in-Law

Dear WDiL,

I’ve never heard of thirdhand smoke, and while my first impulse as a Gen Xer is to be like “Are you fucking kidding me? I used to light cigarettes for the elders in my family!” I realize this response is neither helpful nor relevant. Thirdhand smoke is a real thing apparently, so kudos to you for taking it seriously.

I know you don’t want your mother-in-law to feel ostracized, and I know that’s a likely outcome of stating what your needs are here, but I would take this opportunity to remind you that you are perfectly within your rights to ask for what you want; her response to that is her business, not yours.

When she’s visiting you, I think you can be strict about this. When you are visiting them, I think you have to, for necessity’s sake, be less so. It’s not possible for them to clear all residual smoke and nicotine off of everything in their home. You may want to stay in a hotel for that reason.

It’s important for her to know that you welcome her and love her as part of your family, so be sure to say in clear and explicit language that you welcome her and love her. Her hurt feelings may interfere with her ability to hear it, but that’s fine. She can just deal with it. With any luck, this will spur her to take a second look at her relationship to smoking and maybe even cause her to let go of something that is clearly standing in the way of being with her grandbaby.

Dear Care and Feeding, 

I babysit for an adorable and sweet toddler. She’s very chatty and loves to play, but whenever I walk in to watch her for the evening, she bursts into tears.

I understand that it’s nothing personal, and she just doesn’t want her mom to leave, but I want her to enjoy our time together and see it as something fun rather than a punishment. Is there anything I can do to make her happy to see me rather than sink into despair? As soon as her mom is out the door, the tears stop immediately, and she’s chipper and ready to play together.

Any advice, or should I just wait this out until her slight separation anxiety lessens?

—I Promise We’re Gonna Have Fun!

Dear Promise,

I wish, from the bottom of my heart, that all parenting problems were this simple. This kid loves you, loves being a kid, and is happy. I don’t even know if this is separation anxiety as much as transition anxiety. Maybe one of the most underrated pieces of toddler parenting knowledge is that transitions mean a lot to kids. Even if kids don’t burst into tears whenever something changes, the change itself takes up a lot of space in the child psyche.

Just as she gets over these little crying sessions on her own and in short order, she will get over this whole thing on her own. You needn’t do a thing when she’s upset other than let her know you care, let her know you’re there, agree that it’s upsetting, be sympathetic, and ride it out.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 3-year-old is completely potty-trained—naps, overnights, long car rides—but he has started doing this thing lately where he waits until he can barely hold his pee before rushing to the potty, often leaking a little in his underwear and sometimes having full-on accidents as a result. Asking him if he has to go or casually reminding him does not help and occasionally we have full-on standoffs/meltdowns because he refuses to pee before leaving the house when he clearly needs to go. He does this at day care and at home. What gives?

—Tired of Pee Standoffs

Dear ToPS,

The good news is that the pee standoffs will be over soon. Their cause could be related to any number of things that go on in the very odd and rapidly developing mind of a toddler—anything from a fight over control, to a game he’s playing with himself, to a fundamental misunderstanding about how bladders work.

However, it was once pointed out to me that if an adult is fighting with a child, then it is the adult who needs to re-evaluate. As a parent, I wish this wasn’t as true as it frequently turns out to be. If you want to stop having standoffs with your child, then I would suggest you stop standing off with him. If he doesn’t want to pee, you can certainly make a case, or try to entice him into it, but I would stay away from letting it turn into a fight. It is not worth tears. Ask him if he wants to go, but if he doesn’t, don’t make him. Eventually he will put two and two together. In the meantime, just accept that his bladder will be an inconvenience to you for the time being. This, too, shall pass.

That said, I would keep an eye on whether he seems to avoid peeing in other situations, or if it’s just the pre-emptive potty to which he objects. He may be experiencing some kind of discomfort with it, in which case you’d definitely want to run that by your pediatrician.