Care and Feeding

My Handsy Toddler Keeps Pawing at My Chest

This kid has been all over me since he stopped breastfeeding.

Hands grabbing a woman with crossed arms.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by 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 2½-year-old nursed for about 18 months. Since weaning a year ago, he has gotten into the habit of touching my chest and reaching under my shirt. At first he would go straight for the boob, but now he at least keeps it around the top edge of my shirt. However, this entails little squeezes, stretching out my collars, and generally driving me up the wall. The worst is at bedtime or when he gets in bed with us after waking up; when half-asleep it’s like he has no control over his hands flying all over me, reaching around my neck when I roll away from him, and climbing around to get access however he can. It’s to the point where I absolutely can’t stand bedtime cuddles, which makes me feel terrible.

I’ve tried moving his hands away every time, telling him no, getting up and walking away, and more. Getting up every time seems like the answer, but in practice I would never get to sit near him. He knows now that I don’t like it, but he just can’t stop. If he just set his little paw on my chest and left it, still I wouldn’t mind. He has never attached to any other “lovey,” so I’m pretty sure my chest fills that role for him.

The crowdsourced advice I’ve found on parenting forums seems to take the position of “Aww! Cherish these cuddle times before he grows out of them completely!” But I’m sitting here feeling like I’m under assault. How can I fix this behavior without damaging our physical bond or alienating him? We’re an affectionate family, but this is too much!

—All Touched Out

Dear ATO,

Those fucking forums! You’re not going to be 90 and thinking, “If only I had surrendered my physical autonomy to the point of nausea, I would now be a truly self-actualized person and my children would not be lobbyists for the coal industry.”

I recommend instituting a daily cuddle time, when you and your toddler have snuggles and wrestles and smooches, and then feeling better emotionally equipped to redirect and walk away when he randomly starts trying to stretch out your shirts. He’s not doing anything wrong, but that doesn’t mean you have to be in a constant state of discomfort.

It sounds as though you have a partner who is also capable of holding a child. Develop a signal (ideally not “oh my GOD, take him!”) for when your toddler gets too handsy, and let them come over and scoop him up onto their own lap. It’s also not going to last forever! I say this reassuringly, not in a “THESE MOMENTS ARE FLEETING” way.

In the meantime, he’s going to get a little less time with your chest than he wants, and you’re probably going to give him a little more time with your chest than you want, and eventually it will even out in your favor.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a 41-year-old woman married to another woman whom I’ve been with for about three years. I have a tween stepson. I have always wanted children of my own. In my mid-30s, when I was single, I thought I would have to go it alone and tried but wasn’t successful. I decided to pause and let my body recuperate from all the fertility drugs—and met my now-wife. I was delighted to learn she had always wanted more kids too. But, we’re both now in our 40s … and it’s expensive.

We decided to not even try with our own eggs. After waiting an entire year, we were thrilled when we matched with a donor embryo at a local clinic. We implanted in my wife, and I couldn’t believe that my dreams were coming true: She was pregnant. I was elated. It was a high-quality embryo from a young woman, so we really thought we had a great chance. We took out a loan to pay for it, but it was a doable amount for us. Fast forward three weeks—and we found out it was nonviable. We were both heartbroken, but I immediately did something I thought I wouldn’t do: I sought out a clinic that would cost three times what we had just spent but would give us more chances with more embryos and almost no wait. But I can’t help but feel incredibly guilty. The first loan was doable, but the new loan is … well, it’s a lot. Yes, we can pay for it now, but I am nervous about paying for it after we have all the expenses of a child, especially day care. And yet I can’t let go of this dream. I’ve never wanted anything more, and after coming so close to almost having it—I feel like I can’t stop.

My wife says she doesn’t want to stop either, that she’s 100 percent on board. But I can’t help but feel incredibly guilty; I’m putting her in debt and essentially taking away money that she could have used for her son. And then of course the dreaded looming question: What if it doesn’t work this next time? Even with more tries, it isn’t guaranteed. I’m at a loss. I feel so confused and overwhelmed and helpless. Should we go forward, spending so much more? How do I let go of my guilt?

—Not Yet a Mom but Already Feel Like a Bad One

Dear NYaMbAFLaBO,

All you and your wife can truly offer each other through this extremely challenging time is absolute transparency and honesty, as well as trust.

I will not patronize you by inquiring if you have considered adoption; as you are well aware, two fortysomething lesbians face as many (if not more) hurdles going down that road as you do on your present one, and I hope you have a good reproductive endocrinologist and feel confident in the advice they are providing you.

The desire to have children is not universal, but those of us who possess it should acknowledge that it can’t be placed tidily on a shelf because it’s inconvenient. There may be a time when financial concerns or exhaustion—or a simple inability to continue living in a state of suspended animation—come to outweigh that desire, and what matters most is trusting that you and your wife will tell each other at once if and when that moment comes.

Sit down together and say, “This is so much money. If all we have after it’s spent is two adorably lazy rescue greyhounds and the knowledge that we did all we could, is that something we can live with?” You are incredibly unlikely to genuinely regret spending that money if you emerge out the other side with a baby, but you already know keenly that there are no guarantees.

If the answer is yes, I think you should push on. Trust also means believing your wife when she says this is her dream as well. Give her that respect. You are very much in my thoughts.

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 partner and I had our first child 13 months ago. It’s been a wild ride, and we were planning on having another one in the near future. Throughout the pregnancy and first year of my son’s life, I stayed at a job that I had outgrown, and that made me quite miserable, to hold onto the benefits and security of a familiar workplace that granted me a lot of flexibility and understanding. As soon as our son approached the 1-year-old mark, I felt comfortable enough to seek out something new. A few weeks ago, I was offered a dream job: great salary, benefits, and a huge promotion. It will require a lot of work and travel as well as a substantially more challenging commute. I accepted it gladly and start tomorrow.

The only issue is, a few days ago I realized that I was late for my period, and I have since found out that I am pregnant. This is great news, albeit not great timing (I know, I know, there is no perfect timing), but I was hoping to at least establish myself at the new job before trying for baby No. 2. I have so much guilt and frustration about the timing and failing to responsibly family-plan for the first time in my adult life.

My question is: How and when do I tell my new job that I am pregnant? I know generally that workplaces can’t discriminate against pregnant women, and I have confirmed that my state requires employers to provide leave if mothers have been at the company for at least six months, so I am safe in that regard. I am so afraid that I will be violently nauseous and exhausted every day for the first four months (like I was with my first) in a room of people who don’t really know me, or I haven’t “proved” myself to yet. My new boss has a young son, and I have already confirmed that she is very flexible and understanding of parents in the workplace. I just feel like I’ve already let her down by not being able to be 100 percent going into this new job.

—Pregnant New Hire

Dear Pregnant New Hire,

I feel so protective of you! You have done nothing wrong. It’s not your fault you live in essentially the only (somewhat) functioning country in the world that fails to recognize the value of supporting parental leave and makes you feel that you’re doing something unspeakable by proceeding with the natural progress of your life and growing your wanted family.

Will it be a challenge for your boss to have to move things around to accommodate this pregnancy? Probably. Life is full of challenges. Timing is always bad. Tell your boss when you are ready to tell her, which is likely the point at which you would tell the people in your life who are not your innermost circle. Do it earlier if you are, indeed, rushing to the toilet constantly or falling asleep in meetings.

Babies happen. Life goes on. You’ll tell her, you won’t apologize, you’ll simply say that you are three or four months pregnant, that you wanted her to have plenty of time for planning purposes, and that you will be happy to work with her on a plan for making the transition to parental leave as smooth as possible.

Congratulations!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a Gen Xer and the youngest in my family. My parents were the younger children in their large families, and they had me when they were much older. That means that, by the time I was born, all my grandparents were dead, my far-flung aunts and uncles were much older and started having grandchildren a few years after, and my cousins range from 15 to 30 years older than I am. Even if we did see extended family, which we rarely did because my parents thought vacations were self-indulgent, there was literally no one in my family who was my age. My relatives can’t pick me out of a lineup—then or now.

Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of adult attention. My siblings were also off doing their own things and weren’t interested in reliving any of their milestones when it came to mine. My mom was the only parent who regularly showed up to my events because my dad simply didn’t want to go, but by the time I hit high school, she quit. My wedding was the first event of mine where every immediate family member attended. (I was 35.)

Honestly, I was OK with not having a lot of adult or sibling attention, because I made my own way with my friends and had far more intense relationships with them than I ever did with anyone who shared DNA with me. The only annoying thing was that I couldn’t participate in family-themed events at school (both parents didn’t believe in taking time off work, and I had no living relatives around), so I would go to the library instead. I dreaded the questions the other kids would ask.

Fast forward to now. My in-laws have an extremely intense relationship with my son. They see him multiple times a week. They want as many overnights as they can get. They want us to pull him out of day care so they can care for him during the day. (We repeatedly shut that down.) They want to vacation with us. (We shut that down too.) When we said no to joint vacations, they doubled up their time with him to “make up” what they’d lost. They can never seem to get enough time with him. They claim they never had similar adult relatives in their lives, so they definitely want my son to have those relationships and experiences. Well, I didn’t either, yet I don’t feel that same compulsion. My husband had relationships with his grandparents and extended family but nothing like this. Compare that with my parents who are alive but got tired of being grandparents by the time my kid came around, so they’ve only met him twice. They claim not to be able to travel due to health reasons, but they do visit my other siblings and take vacations by themselves. I’m not going to beg them to care. I already had enough of that when I was a kid.

I feel annoyed, because I’m caught between two extremes. No adults EVER fought with each other to spend time with me as a child, and I turned out OK because, as a therapist pointed out, children are a lot more resilient than people give them credit for and they adapt very well. I do think a grandparent relationship is important—just not to this degree. But I don’t know what I want, either. How do I balance all of this out? Forget asking other people for advice. Everyone seems to think this arrangement is normal, and I don’t understand because I never had grandparents.

—Chill Out, Already!

Dear COA,

What weirdos think this is normal? Well, I guess that “normal” is a construct, but I can tell you right now that you are not some damaged and broken waif incapable of recognizing the benefits of a close grandparent relationship. They are asking for too much, and you and your husband seem to be doing a great job of protecting your own time with your child and holding the line. (I am proud of both of you for that, by the way.)

You are right, and they are wrong. I am sure that is nice to hear. I do, however, feel so much residual childhood pain coming from this letter. You’re a tough cookie, and I love that about you, but you got hosed by your parents and their failure to be meaningfully present in your life. If you haven’t already done so, I would absolutely recommend a little therapy. A soupçon of therapy. You’ve built a good and healthy life for yourself and your little family, which is fantastic, but that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t still benefit from processing the past and how it affects your present.

Give it a thought.

—Nicole

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