Care and Feeding

How Do I Stop This 4-Year-Old From Sending My Son Obsessive Love Letters?

Her infatuation is getting to be way too much.

A woman looks mortified by a lovey-dovey postcard.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Purestock and chaluk/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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 son, who just turned 5, has a friend from his previous school, who just turned 4. She’s cute, but demanding, spoiled, and hard to have around. The mom asks me for play dates regularly, and I typically say yes, because the mom is a lovely person who would give you the shirt off her back. This kid is obsessed with my son. When a play date ends at my house, she weeps, goes limp, kicks off her shoes, calls out to him, and has to be dragged out. When a play date ends at their house, she keens and wails and calls his name from the end of their driveway, sobbing, ready to rend her clothing, and I have to just drive away. At first I tried to make her feel better, but she’s not my kid, and the mother doesn’t seem to think there’s anything wrong with this. When it comes up, she says, “She loves A. so much! It’s like an adult kind of love!” Except they’re not adults. They’re 4 and 5.

Recently, they have gone on some family trips, and we have gotten three postcards from different places on the road that are worded increasingly like love letters. The mom is facilitating it. I don’t think it’s cute anymore, and it makes me uncomfortable. My son doesn’t seem too disturbed and isn’t obsessed with her in the same way, but something inarticulable feels wrong about the mother encouraging her 4-year-old to write love letters to my son. I don’t want to hurt her feelings, and I’ve been hoping I could just wait it out because they won’t be in school together next year. But it seems clear the mom doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with this, and is possibly putting ideas in the girl’s head, and is facilitating it.

—Am I Overreacting?

Dear AIO,

Had you not sent me a photo of one of the postcards, I might have thought you were overreacting, but you are … not. I am telling you this because I can tell this is one of these questions where you mostly need reassurance that a situation is weird and that you are not the weird one.

You are not the weird one. The mom and her daughter are the weird ones.

That being said, they will not be in school together next year. You just have to put your head down and push through the summer. The other good news is that your son is too young to be registering anything more about the situation than “Boy, this little girl loves to throw fits.” You don’t have to show him the postcards (I strongly recommend not showing him the postcards).

It doesn’t sound to me that your son is starting to ape her Gloria Swanson vibes about ending play dates, which is good. You can talk to him about how proud you are of his good behavior, without being like “That little girl is a real pill.”

Decide how many play dates you can stand (the answer can be zero; you cannot legally be press-ganged into play dates against your will) and hold the line.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am looking for some advice on what to do with my 2½-year-old. A few weeks ago, my husband asked my kiddo a question, to which he replied, “I don’t know.” My husband praised my son for admitting when he didn’t know the answer to something and said that it was OK not to know the answer all the time.

The problem is that now my son says “I don’t know” to absolutely everything we ask him. It’s like his brain has turned off and he no longer even strives to answer the most basic of questions. We’re trying things like “Well, think about it” or “Take a guess,” but it’s not helping. I miss the kid who would just take a guess no matter what the question was.

—I Don’t Know

Dear IDK,

I have a child who does not accept “I don’t know” as a valid answer from a grown-up, going so far as to claim it’s “rude.” This means we’ve been opting to add “… so let’s find out!” and doing our best to come up with an answer.

Sometimes, of course, it’s like “When will grandma die?” and I’m not going to yank out actuarial tables. But mostly, it’s been working rather well.

So, when you get a “I don’t know” from your son, keep in mind that he barely knows anything; he’s a toddler. But also work together to find an answer. If he knows that “I don’t know” will no longer end the conversation, I suspect you’ll see the behavior takes care of itself rather quickly.

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

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I got married this spring. He has two young children (5 and 3) who live with their mother in another state over a day’s drive away. My husband is in the military, which means we don’t have very much control over how often we can visit. We have a good relationship with the children’s mother, and any time we are able to visit we spend pretty much all our time there with the kids to give her and her husband a break.

When we can’t visit, my husband’s main contact with his kids is a weekly FaceTime. This may not seem like a lot, but their mother and my husband work long hours in different time zones, so this is what’s feasible right now. We are tentatively making plans for them to spend a week with us next summer.

What is the best way to be visible to my stepkids without interfering with my husband’s limited time with them? I want them to know who I am, and that I care for them deeply, but I just don’t know how to do that long distance, especially with them being so young. I know that the foundation of our relationship starts now, though, so what should I do?

—(Step)parenting From a Distance

Dear (S)pFaD,

You seem like a lovely person, and you are doing your best, as is your husband. I think that this would be a great opportunity to go analog! If you don’t want to hog his limited FaceTime, why not send letters and stickers and random trinkets as care packages? Kids love getting mail just for them, especially at this age, and you can be the cool stepmom who finds out what shows they like to watch and books they love being read aloud, and responds in kind.

You’re right that these are great foundational years to build a bond between you, and ideally that will become easier over time when you have a more stable schedule/location. In the meantime, kids love things, little crafts, and postcards.

I’m cheering for everyone in your family.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My friend has a 17-year-old (he’ll be a senior in the fall). I passed him today on the sidewalk, but he didn’t seem to see me. He was vaping.

Do I say something to my friend? If so, what do I say?

—To Narc or Not to Narc

Dear Narc,

Nah. I wouldn’t. He’s 17. They’re all vaping. If he was snorting meth, I would say something.

(Don’t vape.)

—Nicole

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Over the weekend, during a heated argument with my 15-year-old daughter, I found out that she and her boyfriend of a year have recently started having sex. I am devastated! I feel pained that she didn’t come to me first, sad that she made this choice so young, and afraid that something horrible will happen. I’m sure this is a normal reaction but how can I move on? Clearly lying in bed weeping is not the answer.