Care and Feeding

It Would Be a Bad Idea to Do a Big Seventh Birthday Party at a Crowded Public Swimming Pool

… right?

A woman freaking out a public pool.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by drbimages/E+ via Getty Images and Thomas Barwick/Stone via 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,

My daughter wants to have her seventh birthday party at a local public pool. She specifically asked for this pool because she knows she is tall enough for the slide. The pool does party packages, but I have some concerns:

1. My daughter will barely see her friends because they will just drop their stuff off and hit the pool. With the pool being packed with lots of other kids, it would be hard for them to keep up with each other as a group.

2. With her turning 7, it would be nice to have a party where parents weren’t required to stay, but that wouldn’t work with this sort of event. There is no way I can keep my eye on that many kids in a packed pool, and I don’t how well her friends can swim. (Of course, there are lifeguards, but many pools state kids that young need to be accompanied by an adult.)

Would this be as chaotic as I’m imagining? Or is my kid old enough now that it’s OK that the guests don’t all stay in a group? Would you be annoyed if you had to accompany your child to a birthday party at this age, especially when it means having to be in the pool or at least close by? Am I totally overthinking this?

—Treading Water

Dear TW,

You are not overthinking this at all. Pools can be very dangerous places for kids, especially when, as you said, you don’t know anyone’s level of swimming skill. And as you also stated, allowing parents the ability to drop kids off and pick them up later is a great courtesy to offer but certainly not one that can be extended in this situation.

One option may be to explain your concerns to your daughter and present her with the option of a more intimate day at the public pool with three or four friends, plus an additional adult chaperone. However, the politics of birthday celebrations can be so complicated, which may make this difficult; for example, some schools have rules requiring that kids must invite all of their classmates if they wish to hand out invites at school. Your daughter might struggle with choosing just who her closest buddies are, and of course, some children may feel excluded. Plus, if your kid really wants a birthday party, or has already started “inviting” kids via word of mouth, the smaller celebration may be a big letdown to her by comparison.

So, if that doesn’t work, you’re entirely justified in letting your little one know that while you’re excited to celebrate her upcoming b-day, the pool isn’t the right place for her party. Offer to take her there to mark the height achievement another time, perhaps with one or two close buddies. Consider throwing her party at a park that has a sprinkler, or getting a bunch of water balloons and other toys that allow the kids to wear bathing suits and get soaked. Hopefully, she will be grateful to be having a party at all, even if it’s not at the water park of her dreams—and if she isn’t, this is an excellent time for a conversation about gratitude, the importance of water safety, and (a constant topic in my own house) perspective. Good luck!

Dear Care and Feeding, 

You’re my last hope. Please help. My 15-month-old daughter does not just refuse naps but becomes completely inconsolable when it is time to sleep. This is a recent development. She rejects bottles, pacifiers, snuggles, rocking, singing, being left alone, comfort objects, everything, even when I know she’s exhausted. She could be yawning, rubbing her eyes, and dead tired on her feet, but any time we do anything that might be slightly associated with getting ready for naps, she flips out. I can’t live like this anymore. My 4-year-old son is getting angry and resentful that all of my time and energy is devoted to getting her to sleep. If I leave her to cry, she cries and screams so hard she begins to gag. I’m out of ideas. Please throw me a lifeline.

—Why Does She Hate the Thing I Love Most?

Dear Nap Lover,

Youth is wasted on the young, and naps are wasted on ungrateful children who’d rather do anything but indulge in the sheer privilege that is being able to sleep midday. An injustice, truly.

Is her napping schedule regular? Has it changed recently? It’s possible that the hours that you are looking to have her lay down aren’t in alignment with her internal clock. Her bedtime may also be the culprit; if she’s not getting enough rest at night, or going to bed on an inconsistent schedule, she may be too exhausted to nap.

Check in with her pediatrician and ensure there aren’t any physical factors (allergies, breathing issues, indigestion) that are making her uncomfortable when she lies down. Diet could be a factor too. If she’s taking in a lot of sugar, she could be too wired to rest.

You mention that you’ve tried comfort objects, but if you haven’t already experimented with a fancy nightlight, it’s worth a shot. You can lie down together and count stars or make up stories about the moon as you look at the projection on the ceiling.

Since the prospect of naptime upsets her, make a point not to do a big announcement (“OK, kids! It’s time to sleep!”). Instead, subtly create the environment for rest: low-level lighting, quiet music or white noise, a space that is low on exciting visual stimuli. Turn the TV or tablet off well before it’s time for her to lie down.

When her brother goes down, stay in the room with her and do quiet activities that may encourage her to fall asleep without telling her “It’s time to take your nap.” Read a book to her as she sits in your arms or lays on her tummy. Sing songs to her. Allow her to play quietly on her own as you answer emails or pay bills. Make it clear that you are not leaving the room. Treat this (consistent) time of day as “quiet time” as opposed to naptime, and hopefully she will begin to wind down and sleep during this window on her own. Sending you peaceful thoughts!

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am mother to a wonderful 3-year-old daughter and soon to be mom to another girl (due in a month). Since getting pregnant the second time, I have essentially become a single mother, as my husband has been dealing with alcoholism. He’s sought professional treatment several times this year, both full-time inpatient care and part-time outpatient care. At the moment, he is finishing up another inpatient stay, after which he will move into a sober living home for 30 to 90 days.

My plan for the birth is to deliver with my mother in the room instead of my husband. I don’t know what the future holds for my marriage, but for the time being, I’m assuming he will be largely absent during the first several weeks (maybe months) of our second daughter’s life as he grapples with his recovery. 

My question is less about navigating the longer-term co-parenting relationship and more about managing the day-to-day after the birth of my daughter. I am lucky to have a great support network of friends and family, who have all offered to help. My older daughter will continue in full-time day care during my maternity leave. I’m not sure what exactly I’ll need, though. I totally forget what this was like the first time around and have never had to parent two kids, let alone on my own.

What should I ask for from friends and family? What do I need to prepare or have in place to get through this crazy, sleepless time, and how do I make sure that my oldest still feels loved and cared for when her mom is a sleep-deprived nut and her father is absent?

Any advice? How do single parents do this?

—Flying Solo

Dear FS,

We single parents do the same thing that partnered ones do: our very best. You’re fortunate to have loved ones who can help you out during this physically and emotionally taxing time, so please be sure to 1) lean on them and 2) plan out the support you will want from them, as opposed to waiting until you’re absolutely desperate for assistance.

You’ll need to be more deliberate about scheduling and routines this time around in order to create an environment for your older child that is as stable as possible. For example, put her to bed around the same time every night and perform some sort of comforting ritual that is focused around her and not the baby. Read her a story, or sing a special bedtime song to her. Be intentional about creating moments where your elder daughter has your undivided attention. If you are going to have a helper in your home, such as your mother, ask her to watch the baby while you bathe her sister, or get her dressed for day care.

Speaking of having folks around, while a rotating cast of characters might become overwhelming for you and your kids, it would be ideal to have a few trusted people that can provide consistent in-person support. I have been a single mother since the birth of my child and when she was an infant, her father came to my house for three hours every day after work and in longer stretches over the weekend to spend time with her—and to allow me to clean, bathe, nap, cry, etc. It was immensely helpful and critical to their bonding, but I definitely needed more support than I was willing to receive at the time. I was too prideful to let my mother come stay with me or ask friends to come by and spend the night. Don’t be like me. Let your village support you. I have blocked a lot of those tough times out of my head, but I definitely remember nights where I felt so alone with this tiny person—I could have benefited so much from simply having one of my homegirls watching Netflix with me.

Sign up for Meal Train, where friends and family can take turns preparing or ordering food for you and your toddler to eat. If you didn’t do a baby shower, create an online wish list where folks can purchase things you need, including housecleaning services.

If you are able to do so, obtain professional counseling services for your eldest and, ideally, yourself. This is a uniquely difficult and vulnerable time for you both, and when it comes to your daughter, it would be ideal for her to have someone else who is experienced with these matters to help her process the changes in her life and her father’s battles.

Another phenomenal option, if you have the resources, would be a postpartum doula: a post-birth worker who can assist with everything from feeding to babywearing, as well as helping you recover from the physical and emotional exertion present in even the most “ideal” birth.

It is most urgent that you identify ways to attend to your mind, body, and spirit. Do not abandon yourself in the process of taking care of your children (and to some extent, your husband). Read for pleasure while your infant naps in your arms. Get a postnatal massage when possible. Let a trusted loved one keep both children and take a long stroll. Even if the rest of your bedroom has gone to hell, let your bed be a clean, peaceful place to rest, clear of diapers and animal crackers. Invest in a new vibrator. Take care of your skin. Get a new, easy-to-maintain haircut that makes you feel good when you look in the mirror. Shower as often as you can.

For years, I’ve come across parenting blogs and books by overwhelmingly married, middle-class and upper-middle-class women, in which they lament being smelly and feeling tired and working so hard, how much of themselves they’ve lost to their role in their families. Many of them took extended maternity leaves or were stay-at-home moms. I long felt a sense of resentment toward them: How hard could their lives be? I’ve lived alone with my child pretty much the whole time. I went back to work after six weeks, and I brought her to the office with me every day for two months. How could women who had so many more resources act as if they were somehow victims of motherhood if I, a youngish baby mama, could master it—and so many other things?

I now realize that I didn’t give myself much space to be angry or exhausted. I felt like I had to prove to the world that I could be as good as any married mom, despite the fact that I had a kid under less-than-ideal circumstances. I sincerely hope that you will not feel compelled to compare yourself to friends or relatives who aren’t facing what you are going through. Take good care of yourself not as a middle finger to naysayers but because you deserve it.

You must also allow yourself to be vulnerable, to fall short, to be upset or scared, while still committing yourself to making things work for your family. Your children and husband need you to be strong, but that doesn’t mean that you are impervious to pain. The greatest lesson you can teach your daughters in this moment is that women have a responsibility to love, care for, and protect themselves—not just their families. You can and will succeed at this different version of new motherhood, and looking after yourself is no less critical to making that happen than coming up with ways to delight and tend to your babies. I wish you all the best, and you know how to reach me if you need an encouraging word.

—Jamilah

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