Care and Feeding

Who the Heck Is Patrick?

My 13-year-old wrote that she’ll “be with Patrick soon” … in a letter I shouldn’t have read. What now?

A mom aghast while reading a letter.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by fizkes/iStock/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 have a 13-year-old daughter (J) who is bright, funny, and compassionate. She identifies as pansexual, although she has never mentioned any crushes or the like to me. She has a female friend with whom she is very close and I always sort of assumed that this friend was possibly her first crush, although J has never said this. In fact, she seems rather dismissive and bemused by her peers’ crushes and relationships. She’s mentioned some schoolmates who have sexually experimented—with an air of disapproval. I replied that I agreed sexual experience at age 13 was not a fantastic idea, but that safety was my primary concern, and we’ve discussed birth control and the like before.

All this is well and good. But recently I was driving her father’s car and found an envelope in the center console. It was addressed to J, and I opened it. I know this is wrong and bad, but J often gets notes of encouragement from her church confirmation instructor and some of her teachers, and I figured it was one of those.

It wasn’t. It was a note J wrote to herself. In it, she encouraged herself to work hard in school and love herself and love God. It also said that she is “so close to 18” and hopefully will be able to “be with Patrick soon.” Initially I was surprised that the note referenced a boy instead of a girl … but quickly I became concerned with the references to turning 18 and “being with.” Is she planning to run off? Who the heck is Patrick?? I’ve literally never heard her mention the name. I’m halfway worried he’s some online predator.

Normally, if I had found this information via honest means, I would just ask her. We’ve talked about online safety before. But I don’t know how to ask who Patrick is, if she’s planning anything about “being with him,” etc., without explaining that I found, opened, and read her note. We have a very open line of communication, and I could see something like this blowing that up. I hate to destroy our mutual trust over (possibly) a harmless crush, but I would hate it worse if I ignored something that became dangerous. Please help!

—Who the Heck Is Patrick??

Dear WtHIP,

I think the best way through this is to sit down with your lovely daughter, look her straight in the eyes, and apologize sincerely and truly for having invaded her privacy. Kids never forget the moments when their parents apologize to them, and I think this will be a completely necessary forerunner to any real conversation.

Then you need to tell her what you read and ask who Patrick is. I’m hoping Patrick is a sweet kid from school/church whom she has dippy 13-year-old dreams of being with once she’s grown. I am also concerned he’s an online creeper. Tell her that she is not in trouble, either way, but you need to know who he is (and ideally, meet him). Follow your instincts from there.

The worst-case result of telling her about the privacy invasion is that she loses her trust in you for a prolonged period of time (that’s bad). The worst-case result of pretending you saw nothing is that some 40-year-old from Des Moines is catfishing her for nudes and possibly more.

One other thing that occurs to me is that she left this note in the console of her dad’s car, a place it would almost certainly be found. I am not entirely clear that this was not, on some level, a cry for help. Which makes it all the more important to take it seriously.

I think you know what to do here.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My (male) partner and I are a heterosexual couple who have not yet had kids, but we plan to start trying for a baby soon and we’ve been talking a lot about preparations for this new addition to our family. One thing that has come up is the dilemma around parental leave. We are fortunate to live in a country that offers 18 months of paid parental leave. A certain amount of the leave (approximately three months) is reserved exclusively for the birthmother, however the remaining 15 months can be divided between the two parents as they see fit.

My partner and I have a generally egalitarian relationship and would like to approach parenting the same way. So far, our thought has been that I, as the birthmother, would take the first nine months of leave, and then he would take the remaining nine months. When we have mentioned this plan to friends and family, they have been generally open to the idea but many people have warned me that I need to be prepared that the baby will need its mother more than its father. My brother-in-law even said to me, “Talk about gender equality all you want, babies don’t care. They need their mother and most of the time won’t settle for anyone else.” This strikes me as just gender essentialism, but I could be wrong. All of the people we have discussed this with have children, and the mother has either taken 100 percent of the parental leave themselves or been a stay-at-home mom since the birth.

I recognize that as the mother I’ll be doing a lot of the heavy lifting throughout the pregnancy, delivery, and while breastfeeding, but to me there is no reason why my partner would not be a perfectly capable primary caregiver when the time comes. Ultimately, we are prepared to be flexible since babies tend to send your well-laid plans straight out the window. But these comments have put seeds of doubt in my mind about whether this plan is even realistic. Could having their dad takeover primary caregiving at nine months cause serious issues for the baby’s attachment, development, etc.? Should we realistically plan for him to take less or minimal leave? Is it possible to have egalitarian parenting during infancy? Your thoughts would be most appreciated.

—To Split Time or Not to Split Time

Dear TSToNtST,

Split the time. It’s a wonderful thing. It’s good for your career, it’s good for your partner (and helps normalize men taking their leave, which is really important), and it’s good for your baby to form that close and early bond. Nine months is a tremendously wonderful amount of time for you to have devoted to him. (I will save my rant about the U.S.’ lack of paid maternity leave for another day.)

I am Canadian, and we have a very similar system, and all my male relatives and friends have broken up their leave in this fashion. It’s been wonderful for all concerned.

Tell your brother-in-law to shut his damn mouth.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’ve got a great 11-month-old, Eddie: cheerful, energetic, just a real peach of a kid. My question is about developmental delays. When we meet with Eddie’s pediatrician, she seems to think he’s progressing well. But I’ve got this app that I use to track his feeding and sleep, and it has a milestone tracker too. And according to it and other milestone lists around the internet, Eddie’s got at least a couple of delays in several developmental categories.

Now, I’m inclined to just trust his pediatrician because she has actually met my kid and she’s not a random app I found on the App Store. Also, I’m of the mind that because Eddie is wonderful, progressing on Eddie Time must be wonderful as well. But why do these lists exist if they don’t mean anything? And if they do mean something, isn’t there something I could be doing to help him out?

Developmental delays are absolutely not the end of the world, but when I try to talk with my mom and mother-in-law about this, they act like I’m insulting their grandson’s intelligence. I don’t mean to! I just want to help him if I can.

—App Store or Pediatrician?

Dear ASoP,

Go see your pediatrician, show her the app, ask her opinion on what’s specifically troubling you, and if you do not feel intuitively reassured by what she’s telling you, ask for a referral to a developmental pediatrician. A developmental pediatrician is a gift from the universe. After you talk to that person, delete the app.

Also, most parents of kids with developmental delays wind up going several rounds with the grandparents over it. “Little Joshie is progressing BEAUTIFULLY! He’s bright as a new penny! Why, he’s perfect.” All of those things can be true, but he can still be developmentally delayed, and 11 months is a great time to get the ball rolling on various interventions, should your developmental ped tell you it’s time.

Cheering for you. I’ve been there.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My son is 2 years old and wants (and demands) his pacifier when at home. When we are out and about, we leave it at home and he seems fine, but at home he must have it. Also, interestingly, we seemed to have weaned him off from needing a pacifier at night. But when we are at home he demands his pacifier and gets extremely upset when we try to withhold. My husband is very much against the pacifier. While I philosophically agree with him, I don’t approve of how he’s going about it. He constantly nags our son about it—“Why do you need a pacifier?”—and by constantly, I mean this can go on for almost the entire day. He takes it away from him, throwing our son into a state of extreme agitation. When he comes home from work, instead of greeting our son he gets on him about his pacifier. I’ve tried telling my husband that our son is still young, but he is not convinced. This is creating tension between us as I am getting increasingly annoyed at his obsession over our son’s pacifier habit. Is it still OK for our son to have a pacifier at this age? What gentle methods can you suggest to wean him off the pacifier for good? Thanks!

—Nagging Can’t Be the Solution

Dear NCBtS,

So, here’s the thing: Your husband is fucking this up. Therefore, I think you need to break the pacifier habit in a swift and non-traumatic way before he continues turning your son into a mess.

This is an old, old parenting trick, which I will now pass on to you. It involves lying to your child, which, well, he’s 2, you know? I recommend telling him that there is a Pacifier Fairy who loves to give pacifiers to little babies who need them, and she relies on big boys like him to return the pacifiers to her once they’re big enough to not need them anymore. Then the two of you search the house for all remaining pacifiers, run them through the dishwasher, put them in a nice gift bag, and leave them on your front step.

Then throw them out when he’s asleep, and replace the gift bag with a stuffed animal as a transitional object.

Another method I have found useful for other parents is even sneakier: Take scissors, snip the part they suck on, and the kid will cease getting the same pleasant soothing sensation and eventually just discard them.

Ordinarily I would say, “He’s 2, just let him give it up when he’s ready,” but your husband is being a jackass, and this will ultimately cut down on the trauma.

—Nicole

Ask a Teacher

I work as a music-teaching artist for a major symphony orchestra. In this job, I visit a school intermittently throughout the year (roughly every other week). There is one student in this class who is especially disruptive. He often makes homophobic remarks directed at me (such as f—t and “gay” in a derogatory way). I’m a gay man, and I am much more flamboyant than any of the other male teachers, though I’ve never spoken about this to the students. Ack! I feel so ill-prepared to handle something like this.