Care and Feeding

Birthday Spoilsport

Our friends want to co-host a big party for our daughters. I don’t want to.

Photo of woman looking judgmentally at a large kids' party.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by VladimirFLoyd/iStock/Getty Images Plus and SerrNovik/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 daughter is turning 5 in a few months, and her best friend has her birthday the day before. We are good friends with her parents, who have suggested this year that we do a joint birthday party at a restaurant with a kids’ play area. I don’t want to!

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We tend toward low-key parties with about seven to 10 of my daughter’s friends, whereas last year their daughter’s party had something like 25 kids, with all the attendant parents and siblings. That’s like 50 people, most of whom I don’t know, to entertain! The cost aside, we also did “no gifts” at our daughter’s previous birthday parties (she gets plenty from us and our relatives) and I don’t think I can reasonably ask the other girl’s parents to follow suit if we go in together.

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I think us sharing the cost of the party would be a huge help to them, so I’m feeling guilty. How do I get out of this in the most face-saving manner possible? I feel like they’ll think it’s weird or unfriendly that I don’t want two best buddies with practically the same birthday to celebrate together.

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—Party Pooper

Dear Party Pooper,

If the Care and Feeding inbox is any indication, many parents share your stress about kids’ birthday parties.

Every family is different, and you have no responsibility to help some other family shoulder the cost of an elaborate party, even if your kids are best friends.

Just tell the parents you will be doing something else for your kid’s party and look forward to seeing them there, and let it go at that. They may indeed think you’re weird, but that’s their problem and not yours.

They might bring it up again, press on this a bit, or say something in an attempt to make you feel like you’re in the wrong. In that case, you can either be honest (“Our family prefers a smaller, intimate birthday celebration!”) or you can offer a harmless lie (“A big party just isn’t in our budget!”).

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I wouldn’t get into all the nitty-gritty—there might be bruised feelings, yes, but indicating that you fundamentally object to the way they celebrate birthdays might lead to the kind of hard feelings that make it difficult for the kids to remain pals.

Dear Care and Feeding,

We have a 5-year old daughter and a 3-year old son. Within the past month or so, our son in particular (though our daughter is also an occasional culprit) has started categorically ignoring specific instructions.

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I realize this is a predictable part of youth, but it is incredibly and increasingly frustrating. No matter what it is, no matter how directly we say, “Do not do X again, and if you do, the consequence will be Y,” he goes ahead for round two. Examples include (but are most certainly not limited to): drinking filthy bath water, circling around my legs when I am doing something potentially dangerous in the kitchen (using a large knife, cooking on the stove), entering his sister’s room when she’s still asleep and waking her up.

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Again, I know it’s an eye-roll as a problem because it’s such an obvious part of childhood, but my husband and I are slowly losing our last remaining marbles. He does not seem to be learning any lessons, so we’re hopeful you have some advice!

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—Know How to No

Dear Know How to No,

Congrats! Your little one is growing up. You didn’t spell out what consequences you’ve used, and that’s the key, I think: to show him that actions have consequences. Though he’s little, I think he’s demonstrated he’s mature enough to bear those.

Sometimes these are logical. If you don’t stop playing ball in the living room, the ball gets taken away. If you drink the bath water, bath time is over, immediately. Sometimes it’s less obvious what the punishment ought to be, though—for hitting, for waking up big sis—and in such cases my household has had decent luck with the naughty spot. That’s a terrible place (not really; in our house, it’s the bottom step or, sometimes, a little stool by the kitchen door) where kids are banished when they don’t heed specific warnings. He’s 3, so he can spend three minutes there, and as you probably already know, the cost of returning from the naughty spot is articulating what you’ve done to land yourself there: “I’m sorry I got too close to the stove.”

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The naughty spot sucks! It’s a fair amount of work, hauling the kid over there, getting them to sit for three consecutive minutes (or five, in your daughter’s case), then hashing out what went wrong: what you asked them not to do, why they did it, and ideally, their apology. Your daughter might be mature enough to understand different sorts of consequences—”no TV if you do that again”—but I suspect your son isn’t. This isn’t a perfect method, but it’s something I deployed when my kids were toddlers, and I do think it helps children understand more than just your repeated warnings or the abstract thought of missing screen time next weekend.

This isn’t an eye-roll of a problem! I don’t blame you for losing your marbles; 3-year-olds are very good at driving adults insane. I hope this helps a little.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a 7-year old son who is into Star Wars and superheroes. All of the Star Wars, Marvel, and DC movies are rated PG-13. He would like to see them, and I would like to take him. My wife feels that he is too young. It isn’t something I have felt the need to push for, and to be honest, our son is not pleading to see them, but it does come up every few months as these movies come out. Is there a good way to gauge if a child can handle more-intense movies? It seems like there is a dearth of PG movies, but he has watched PG movies without any issues.

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I’ve polled my friends, and all of them have allowed their kids to watch these movies. It seems the vast majority of my son’s friends have seen them as well. He doesn’t seem to feel left out or anything, but the norm appears to be that kids his age have seen them.

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—Ready to Do the Things That a Spider Can?

Dear Ready to Do the Things That a Spider Can,

Every kid is different, and you’re going to know what your kid can handle better than the Motion Picture Association of America. Movie ratings are silly and subjective. (Is a bare breast more damaging to a child than a bloodbath?)

I recommend talking to your wife in more detail—you want your kid to be conversant in the pop culture that his friends understand, or you want to share the experience of seeing certain films with him. Perhaps you can agree on you and your wife watching it together first to make sure it seems OK to you both, or watching one of the films in question with your son to see how you all react to the moments that require, well, parental guidance: acts of violence, or sex, or coarse language. (Some families also fast forward these parts.) Stress to your son that movies are pretend, or that the words or actions depicted therein are not always right for real life.

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See how this experience goes. Then the next time there’s a big new release you’d like to see with him, you can talk once more about whether it’s something you think he can handle. Your son will someday be 13, and technically ready for more mature fare. Being present now—offering that parental guidance—is the surest way to ensure that he’s actually ready for it.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Even though our 6-year-old daughter has her own room with a nice, big bed, she used to wake up around 3 a.m. and climb into bed with my hubby and me. I used to be a heavy sleeper, so I never noticed she was in the bed. I just thought hubby was cuddling with me.

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For the past two weeks now, whenever it’s time for her to go to bed, she’s been going straight into our bed to sleep. She says she likes to cuddle with Daddy. Even if I send her to her own bed, she continues to wind up in bed with us.

At first it was cute, but now it’s not. My husband can’t seem to tell her no, and I wind up looking like the mean mommy. He will even tell her, “Mommy doesn’t want you to sleep with us tonight.” He winds up with backaches since she is a wild sleeper, and since our bed is so small, I wind up sleeping on the couch. Enough is enough! How do I get my bed back without being a mean mommy? And how do I get my hubby on my side? I fear it’s just going to get worse.

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—Roll Over, I’m Crowded

Dear Roll Over,

I love my kids, but I hate sharing a bed with them. While I think 6 is a bit old to be sharing a bed with parents, my real objection here is to your husband’s handling of the situation.

Decisions should not made by one parent or the other, but by both parents, in consensus. Presenting anything less than a united front to the kids undermines the validity of parental authority.

Tell your husband how you feel. If how you feel is that your daughter can under no circumstances sleep in your bed, say as much. Stress that you need to explain this to her as something you both feel strongly about, and tell him that it is not fair for him to make you out to be some kind of villain on this or any other parental matter. Do not back down. If she comes to your room—which it sounds like she will—send her right back to hers immediately. Good luck.

—Rumaan

More Care and Feeding

My fiancé is Jewish, and I am not. We have mutually decided not to circumcise our forthcoming son. His family is, to put it lightly, up in arms about our not hosting a bris, and I’ve recently learned my mother-in-law is planning a “surprise bris.” I’m outraged. What do I do?

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