Care and Feeding

A Neighbor Complained That My 4-Week-Old’s Crying Is Ruining the Neighborhood

The anonymous letter even insinuated that the baby may be violating our city’s noise ordinance!

A woman holds a crying baby as they stand next to a mailbox with a letter in it.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Katsapura/iStock/Getty Images Plus and monkeybusinessimages/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 have a wonderful newborn baby boy in our house (we were asked to take guardianship of a family member’s son while she is in rehab), and he cries, like all babies. At night it is usually brief, as we’re up with him soon after it starts, but sometimes it will go on for a while because, well, he’s a baby.

It’s summertime, so our windows are open. We recently received an anonymous letter in the mailbox from a neighbor saying that the baby’s crying is “ruining the neighborhood” and “disturbing the peace.” It even insinuated that our 4-week-old may be violating a city noise ordinance!

My fiancé thinks we should just ignore it, but I can’t shake the feeling that maybe we are doing something wrong by leaving the windows open. I can try to keep a better handle on it during the day, but I worry about putting an air conditioner in his room at night, because I won’t hear him through the monitor over the A/C.

Although this arrangement is technically temporary, I have no idea what our end date is. Realistically it will be another few months before his mother is released from treatment and likely longer before she is given back custody.

What is your take? Can we leave the windows open so long as we’re quick about getting to him? Do I have to suck it up and install an A/C? I wonder if I’d be more accommodating if the note hadn’t been so outrageous.

—It’s a Baby

Dear IaB,

Your neighbors live in another house. We live in a society. They need to suck it up. I am quite confident they would be laughed out of the police station if they say their neighbor’s baby is crying and they wish you to be cited for it. If this really bothers you, you could move the baby to a different room whose windows don’t face your persnickety neighbors. But mostly, screw ‘em.

I do think you should install an A/C if you can afford one. I promise, if the crying is loud enough that the neighbors next door are perturbed by it, you will hear it over an A/C unit.

Thank you for what you are doing—it’s important and kind.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My wife and I are American expatriates and have been living in Sydney, Australia, for the last six years. We have four children, 6 to 14. My wife had a battle with cancer several years ago and recently had a recurrence with metastases to various inoperable internal organs. She has been assigned a regimen of palliative chemotherapy and statistically is unlikely to recover (though we hope that she will be a statistical outlier).

We are trying to decide whether to move back to the U.S., where we have a large and supportive extended family (we have no relatives in Australia) or stay in Sydney. We are considering a number of factors, like finding new jobs and comparing the quality of health care. However, we have difficulty weighing one of our most important considerations: what would be best for the kids. Is it better to be in Sydney, where they are thriving in school and have a stable routine, or is it better to go back to the U.S., where they would have the support of our wonderful family but would have to start new schools, settle into a new house, and be surrounded by grieving relatives? What is better for kids who are dealing with a terminally ill parent (or grieving for a parent)—routine or family?

—No One Expected This

Dear NOET,

My heart is broken for your entire family. What an unimaginable tragedy. There are no fantastic choices here, so here’s my suggestion:

It will cost a fortune to move yourself, your dying wife, and your four kids back to the United States. It will be considerably cheaper to fly family to you in Australia. Obviously not everyone can pick up and go, but it’s entirely possible that some subset of grandparents, aunts, or uncles can come stay with you during this time. This will offer both routine and comfort.

When you have four children in that age range, you have a family right where you are, and your chief comfort will be from one another during these last months or years. Though I too hope with all my heart that your wife will outlive us all.

While you are working this out, please make sure you’re regularly Skyping the kids with their American family members so they feel connected to family in a larger sense. And if you don’t already have the kids and yourself in counseling, please do not hesitate to go.

I’m so terribly sorry.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Our friends have three boys under age 5, with the youngest being a 1-year-old. With each kid, it’s gotten more difficult to do anything with them because they never get a babysitter. The weird thing is they send the kids to day care, and the husband has family close by who would watch them. They have brought the kids to many adult parties where kids were not invited. We recently had a mutual friend in town, and we went to their house one whole day but refused the other night because we and our guest wanted to have a nice dinner out. They were invited but wouldn’t come because it would be hard with the kids. We suggested they get a babysitter or one of them stay home and let the other go out. They’re still mad, but I feel like we are more than fair and willing to hang out at their place with the kids.

Is it really too much to ask that a few times a year they leave the kids with someone else? Not to mention they are pretty strict on language (can’t even say “dumb” or “beer”), so it takes a lot of restraint to respect their rules. Also, they can definitely afford to pay a babysitter.
Should we just find new friends?

—Just One Night? 

Dear Just One Night?

Sometimes, when our friends become parents, we become incompatible in ways we were not before. It’s no one’s fault—it just happens. I personally think they sound rude and unreasonable (no, you cannot bring your children to a party when the hosts have asked you not bring your children!), but they also just have a fundamentally different view of what they want to do in their spare time: be with their three sons.

I encourage you to make new friends but also to keep the lines of communication open here. Go to the zoo with them and their kids occasionally, go to the aquarium, etc. They may simply be friends that you can now only see in the context of time with their children. That’s their choice, but it doesn’t mean it has to be yours as well. It’s time to meet some new people who share your interests.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 1-year-old son loves my hair. His ideal night’s sleep is to twirl his fingers through my hair until he falls asleep, then hold a chunk of it until morning. (I do not let him do this, but I suspect we’d have fewer wake-ups if I did.) I love him, and it is sometimes cute, but other times it makes me want to shave my head just so he can’t touch it anymore. If I put my hair up, he tries to go for the small short hairs at the nape of my neck, which moves from annoying to painful.

I’ve put a small stuffed lion in his crib that has a sort of hairlike mane, which has sometimes worked when transferring him to the crib for the night, as his hand falls from holding my hair onto the lion’s mane.

I would like the hair obsession to stop before I become his full-time comfort object. I might already be too late! What do I do here? Should I make a creepy doll out of my hair and hand it to him? Staple some of my hair to the lion?

—Not Your Lovey

Dear NYL,

I know this is a huge pain, but I am also laughing hysterically at the horrible Annabelle-esque doll you are considering making for your son.

Look, he’s a year old. He’s just going to have to deal with it. I suggest you take him to a store with many dolls, let him touch them, buy the one he likes best, and then cut him off from your hair at night altogether. If you want to designate five minutes of cuddling and hair stroking before he and his doll go to bed, great.

If you do wind up gluing your hair to a doll or the lion, please send me a photo.


Classic Care and Feeding

My husband and I are expecting our first baby. My mother-in-law was originally going to be “Grandma” because all the grandparents on my husband’s side go by “Grandma” and “Grandpa.” Easy. Now, my MIL is adamant that she wants to go by “Nama.” It’s random, and I am not a fan. My husband absolutely hates it. He refuses to have our children call his mother “Nama.” My MIL told me that “he’ll just have to deal with it.” I’m just curious how this all works.