Care and Feeding

Should I Cave on My “No Toy Guns” Policy?

I always thought I’d hold firm on it, but my son is begging for a water gun.

Collage of a boy playing with a water gun in the water.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Kleem26/iStock/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,

We are the parents of a 6-year-old boy. As a family we are very anti-gun and, frankly, anti–weapons of any kind. Since our son was little, our philosophy has been to avoid any toy weapons. However, our son always sees kids at the park with water guns and it’s become a bit of an obsession for him. If someone offers to let him play with a water gun, I let him. But now he’s been begging for a water gun. The problem is all the water guns I find are very gunlike. I’ve found myself wondering if we need to let go of our “no toy weapons” policy. How do we let him be a kid but also balance our desire to avoid fighting and violence-oriented toys?

—Don’t Shoot

Dear Don’t Shoot,

I hate guns, and I think it’s a symptom of a broken society that we have turned them into toys. You don’t see candy cigarettes around anymore. I suppose we’re at peace with teaching kids that violence is part of our character.

You’re right that toy water guns look quite a bit like actual guns. Indeed, when the police kill brown children holding such toys, they’re quick to point that out. That’s why I cannot bear to buy a toy gun for my household. But every family is different.

I don’t think playing with a water gun will warp your son or really have any effect beyond helping him stay cool this summer. You could buy him a water gun and tell him it’s the only one he’ll ever get, so enjoy it. Also: There are animal-shaped toys that spray water. I get that they’re a pale substitute. Kids want to cool off but they also want to fit in. I’ve bought those for my own children, my own way of splitting the difference: letting them play in a way I feel I can sanction.

Parenthood—and life generally, I guess—means constantly trying to figure out what you truly believe and how to live accordingly. This is one of those moments.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My boyfriend and I plan to have children in the next few years—we both agree that our early 30s is the right age to do it. During a recent conversation, he told me that since he’ll be in the middle of medical residency when we are both 30, working 80 hours a week, I should expect to take on a greater share of child care duties. We could wait until after he is out of residency (he’d also be making a lot more money then), but that means waiting five extra years to have a kid.

Prior to this conversation, I assumed that child care duties would be shared as close to 50-50 as possible. That now seems unrealistic. I don’t think my boyfriend said this due to any internalized belief that it’s the woman’s job to take care of kids. I have never had any issues with him when it comes to equally sharing housework like laundry and doing the dishes.

What are the best strategies to navigate parenting if one parent works 80 hours a week? I still want him to take on a fair amount of child care duty, but how do we determine a fair amount? I will be working full time as well. He will try to apply for residency in a city where we have family members who can help us out.

—Worrying About That Second Shift


You sound like someone who likes to plan. You also sound like someone confronting the fact that some things are difficult to plan.

I don’t think family life ends up being about equal share; I think it is more a matter of equitable share. If one parent is working 80 hours a week, it stands to reason that the parent who works 40 hours will end up picking up some slack. I’m not saying this is fair—it’s merely a fact.

It’s easy to feel irritated about always being the one to pay the electric bill or schedule the dentist appointments, and it’s fine to feel cautious about such a lopsided division of labor. But I think it’s also important to remember that it might feel quite different than it sounds to you now. You’ll be older, in a different place in your life, hopefully happily ensconced in a relationship strong enough that you’re not worried about keeping score, and conscious of the fact that family life is always shared endeavor.

No one can determine what “fair” means in the theoretical scenario you describe, because life isn’t a happy ending but an ongoing negotiation. It takes communication and compromise to get to the point where family life feels happy and satisfying, and that point shifts every so often, just to make things more interesting. The fact that you’re talking about this now, before you’re actually parents, is a good sign, I think! Keep talking candidly. He’ll probably be frustrated about being pulled away by his job, and you’ll probably be frustrated about being on kid duty. Keeping those lines of communication open ensures neither one of you slips into resentment. Good luck!

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a thirtysomething American married to an Argentine, and we live in Mexico City. We are Caucasian and bilingual, and we do not have children. I am interested in knowing what you think of international or interracial adoption, and if it is possible/positive with the right approach.

My sister-in-law is Haitian, and my mother goes to Haiti annually to do service work there. They have both talked to me about the possibility of adopting from Haiti, and I am interested. Given my family connection to Haiti, I envision being able to give at least sporadic cultural context to the child. I would also make an effort to expose the child to French and Creole, as well as Spanish and English.

My husband and I strive to be open and sincere people, and we are cognizant of white privilege and racism and try to combat them where possible. We are cross-cultural nomads and the product of a globalized world, so we tend to think our dream of adopting internationally/interracially and raising the child to be a good and well-adjusted citizen of the world is a feasible one, but then doubts creep in about this just being pie-in-the-sky, about confusing the hell out of a child with exposure to four languages and four cultures, and about ruining their sense of identity and belonging.

—Adoption Options?

Dear Adoption,

You’re framing a very specific question (“Can I adopt a child from a different race and culture?”) as a very general one (“Is it OK to adopt a child from a different race and culture?”).

You declare yourself a cross-cultural nomad, just another citizen of the new globalized order, but surely you understand how even that declaration is one of privilege.

Because the fact is that the old order is very much with us. That is not to say that no one can parent and love and nurture a child of a different race, color, background, what have you; many people do this everyday. Nor is it to say that no child could manage thinking of herself as belonging both to her race and culture and her immediate family; many people do this, too, everyday. It is simply to say that the child in question will likely experience a world her parents can only guess at.

There is no governing body to weigh your intention and judge you fit or unfit. There’s no particular badge you earn for being conscious of racism. You’re not accountable to some advice columnist, or racist distant relatives, or the meddling passerby on the street. You’re accountable, only, to your child. Being a parent—whether by adoption or by biology—means there are many, many ways to mess the whole thing up.

We definitely need more good and well-adjusted citizens of the world. Whether you can raise one is a question only you can answer.

Dear Care and Feeding,

If you discovered a neighbor (with whom you’ve had successful play dates in the past) had a radically different political philosophy from you, would you allow the play dates to continue?

I believe our political philosophy, on some level, shows who we truly are deep down. The person we are when no one is looking—and that is what gives me pause. I know that this mother would never hurt my child deliberately, and she is a sweet person, but I just can’t seem to reconcile who I thought she was and what she stood for with this recent discovery. What are your thoughts?

—Politics as a Window to the Soul?

Dear PaaWttS,

We term our politics a “philosophy” when we need to establish distance between our immediate, everyday life and the things we sanction with our vote. Some things are not philosophy but pathology, and I have a feeling you’re not talking about someone with whom you disagree on, say, interstate commerce.

I’m sure you’re right that this neighbor would never hurt your child. And I don’t think you need to make a scene or some big point: “Jenna can’t come over to play because we disagree about the Affordable Care Act.”

Personally, I would not have a play date with someone I believed was racist, sexist, homophobic, or any variation of intolerant. There are those who would claim this is merely “political philosophy” (and decry me as intolerant for rejecting them), but as you yourself said, what we believe politically shows who we are deep down. You’re allowed to choose with whom you and your child spend time according to whatever metric you like.


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