Care and Feeding

My Friend Keeps Shoving a Pacifier in Her 4-Year-Old’s Mouth

Is there any way to criticize a friend’s parenting without ruining everything?

Collage of a child with pacifier in his mouth.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Hunter Johnson on Unsplash.

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,

Let me start out by saying I am not a parent. I generally believe that it is not OK to judge someone’s parenting methods. I realize that, barring neglect or abuse, I as a nonparent have no room to do so. But …

One of my friends drives me batty sometimes. She absolutely insists that her almost–4-year-old daughter will not give up her pacifier, and that it’s such a struggle. Mind you, I am not around them often. But when I am, I, no exaggeration, never, ever see the girl cry, or even ask, for the pacifier, yet my friend will just pop it her mouth, or call out, “Here honey, I have your passy!” while the girl is otherwise engaged. It’s not even like she is crying and can’t be calmed down. The girl accepts it, but was totally fine without it. It gets under my skin so much, because the girl is too old for a pacifier, and yet my friend is not only doing nothing about it but actually encouraging this habit. I pretty much know this is rhetorical, because my friend wouldn’t accept any advice from me anyway, since I’m not a parent, but is there anything I can say?

Biting My Tongue

Dear BMT,

Your friend has fashioned a rod for her own back. The next time she says something about her daughter not giving it up, say, “Really? I’ve never seen her ask for it. You usually just offer,” and then she’ll be annoyed with you and nothing will change.

Or say nothing. Probably that’s the answer. I want to validate your feelings while also agreeing that you can’t actually accomplish anything here. In a year this child will be in kindergarten and I will bet $1,000 she will no longer be using a pacifier.

Have a lovely week.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m expecting my first child at the end of May. Before I knew I was pregnant, I agreed to stand up as a groomsperson for my childhood friend. His wedding is scheduled for 10 days before my due date. Am I crazy to plan on being up for the rehearsal/dinner/morning activities/wedding/reception? I’ve had a relatively easy pregnancy, but my energy is pretty low these days.

My doctor said I should be fine to participate as long as I’m feeling up to it—but how do I know if I will feel up to it? Should I preemptively pull out and plan (hope) to attend as a guest? Or wait it out and play it by ear? I know he would be super understanding either way, but having not been pregnant before I don’t know how I’ll feel. Any thoughts as a previously pregnant person?

Wedding or Not

Dear WoN,

I would gracefully (and swiftly) tell your friend that you’re still planning on coming to the wedding, but that you think it would be best to bow out of any official responsibilities, in order to avoid leaving him in the lurch.

The end of the third trimester is a rough time, especially those last three or four weeks. It may very well be that you’ll sail though and be a charming wedding guest who could easily have stood up in the ceremony, or you may find yourself literally holding your newborn child in the hospital while, miles away, your friends announce your new arrival during the toasts.

If it turns out you can’t handle the wedding at all, that’s fine, it’s expected, just be responsible and make sure the news is delivered in a timely fashion.

Congratulations on your pregnancy.

• If you missed Friday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a college student, and I nanny part time for a family with three sweet elementary schoolers. I’m always happy to play with them, and we play a lot! Dress up, board games, outside. But oftentimes, they play happily by themselves, and I am at a loss of what to do with myself. Checking my phone seems inappropriate, but bringing homework or a book to read seems somehow worse! Even when they’re playing by themselves, I’m always in the room and keeping an eye on everything, but I am struggling to strike a balance between attentiveness and boredom. What do you think is OK for me to do while the kids are playing happily?

What to Do?

Dear What to Do,

I think a book is a fantastic choice. If you want, you can certainly ask the parents you nanny for if it would be OK with them for you to read a book while the children are happily occupying themselves, but I can’t imagine a normal human responding negatively. In your place, I would simply begin bringing a book (ideally not one you’d be horrified to have the kids ask questions about) and go for it.

Spending hours with small children is deeply tedious, and being paid for it only alleviates that a very little bit. I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to take periodic refuge in a book.

Dear Care and Feeding,

For the first time in my 10 years of being a parent, I am really struggling—for real. My husband and I have one son, Evan, and we both have excellent relationships with him, but I have reached a roadblock I am not sure how to get around. Without knowing us, you would never put my husband and me together—he is a jock, super social, loves and plays sports, a real “guys’ guy.” I am an introvert and artist and have never played or watched a sport in my life. But he’s my best friend, and we just get each other; I wouldn’t trade my relationship with him for anything. Our son is just like him, and I couldn’t be prouder.

But I struggle. I want to be involved in Evan’s life, and I try. When he was little, I loved taking him to his sports outings—they were so cute, the competition was minimal, and the emphasis was on having fun. But now Evan is involved in a lot of competitive sports; he plays everything—volleyball, hockey, soccer, basketball, and football. He is very athletic, works very hard, and is even the captain of a couple of teams.

I find the whole thing very stressful. I don’t understand what’s happening with any of it. Sports have a language I just don’t understand (I have tried), and I find the tension overwhelming. I am shocked at how animated the parents get and how obsessed they are with winning—it’s a game! Let them have fun! People actually get upset about this stuff?

My husband sees how stressed the whole environment makes me, and he encourages me to limit my involvement, but how can I do that? I only have the one child! It means so much to Evan that I watch him, and I want to, but I just don’t want to be in that world. My husband coaches most of the time, so I’m usually on my own in the stands, and the anxiety I experience attending these things is getting worse; I am starting to dread weekends because that’s when most games take place. I usually volunteer to help organize, make posters, or fundraise. It’s just the games I hate—which is kind of the point. I have a lot of years of this ahead of me—how am I going to get through this without medication? I am seriously heading in that direction.

—Dropping the Ball

Dear DtB,

You sound like an excellent and highly involved mom who just happens to have a lot of anxiety around competitive sports. You could certainly go to a therapist, or go whole-hog into the medication route, but what I would like you to try instead is this.

Get a pair of noise-canceling headphones (invest in the good ones, if you can), buy some audiobooks, go to the games, and zone the hell out. Stand-up comedy albums! Directed meditation! True crime podcasts! Just something to replace the frantic sounds and yells. You can tell your kid that the noise of the other parents makes your ears hurt, and this is helping you enjoy his games more. It’s not a lie.

You already know this, but you don’t have to go to every game. It sounds like his dad loves to be in it up to his eyeballs and is actively coaching, so I can pretty much promise you he’s not going to be sitting on a therapist’s couch in 20 years talking about how he can’t form lasting relationships because his mother only went to, say, one game a month. Pull back. Pull back, tune out, and take him for milkshakes after.