Care and Feeding

Safety First?

My husband sometimes neglects to put our toddler in a car seat, and I’m livid. Am I overreacting?

Photo illustration of a child in a car seat
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? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I were lucky enough to find a great day care less than a mile from our house. I typically drop our 3-year old off on my way to work, and my husband picks him up on his way home.

My husband owns multiple cars and often rotates which he drives to work—but he only has one car seat. I assumed he moved the car seat in the morning when he chose what car to drive, but discovered he was not doing that. He admitted that if he happened to drive a car that didn’t have a car seat in it on a given day, he would simply buckle our son in normally (as if he were an adult).

I was livid and told him I felt like this was dangerous and really irresponsible. My husband responded by getting upset, then reminding me that the day care is close to our house, and that he was able to take a route home from the day care through a neighborhood (so no streets with a speed limit greater than 25), and that he made sure to drive slowly and pay attention to what was going on around him.

I told him he had to either change the car seat over or come home and get the car that had a car seat in it to get our son, or I would start picking our son up. He said he would start making sure he had a car seat, but when he discussed picking up a car he’s had in the shop, I had to make him agree he would stop by the house to get a car seat (along the lines of “so you’re going to come home and get a car seat before you get Son, right?” with an eye-roll, sigh, and eventual yes as a response). Am I overreacting? I can’t stop thinking about what would happen if they did get into an accident (even at a low speed) or if my husband happened to get pulled over while our son was improperly restrained.

—Safety Patrol

Dear Safety Patrol,

You are not overreacting. If anything, you’re underreacting. You don’t need to look far for anecdotal evidence here; I personally am acquainted with a family that lost three of their four children in a car accident. I understand what an absolute pain in the ass it is to deal with toddler car seats. If your husband feels some deep need to own 99 cars, then maybe he should think about buying 99 car seats and calling it a day. Him treating you like a nag, or shifting all the child chauffeuring onto you, is him being a jerk; him willing to risk the fines or, worse yet, his son’s safety, is him being wholly irresponsible.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I are a gay couple who welcomed a daughter via adoption several months ago. We are over the moon, as is everyone in our lives. But a few people (strangers and friends alike) have inquired, in various states of bluntness, about our daughter’s race. This throws me off in part because it’s such an odd question, in part because she clearly presents as white, and in part because it feels inappropriate for us to slap a label on her at 6 months. Her birth parents are of white European and Hispanic descent and identify as white. Obviously it’s uncomfortable to tell off well-meaning people (which accounts for most asking), but I’m really not sure how much information I want to divulge about her genetic background. On the other hand, when she’s old enough to understand the question, I don’t want her thinking she has any reason to feel like her heritage is a secret. What do you recommend?

—Indecisive About Indecorous Inquiries

Dear IAII,

Congratulations! A simple response that my husband and I have found helpful when dealing with nosey parkers is: “Why do you need to know?” Because of course, no one does. I admit I have a hard time saying this myself, because it inevitably leads to an awkward silence, but it’s a silence you can, if so generously inclined, rush to fill: “Isn’t she perfect?” Another thing that I say quite often with respect to inquiries about my sons is, “That’s information for him, and not mine to share,” which is also true and slightly less abrupt. Whatever you do, settle on something that works for you and clearly establishes boundaries that protect both you and your daughter.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

A parent emailed me to set up a play date for our kindergartners; she said her son talked about my daughter every day. I replied affirmatively and made some calendar suggestions. That evening, I told my daughter. I didn’t expect anything other than a positive reaction based on past experience.

My daughter, however, started crying. “No! I can’t go on a play date with him! He hits me with his water bottle! I won’t go!” My instinct is to string the other mom along and not force my daughter into anything against her will.

I am confident that had this other child hit my child, I would have been informed by the teacher. I know enough other parents in the class that if this child had a reputation as a bully, I’d know that too. I worry that he once did something slightly out of bounds—he’s 5!—and it got turned into a whole thing by some of the girls in my child’s friend group, and now she doesn’t want to be seen as supporting him.

At the same time, I’m very protective of my daughter and don’t want to force her into anything uncomfortable. My daughter is a child of extreme emotions, to the point that her teacher has mentioned that she cries more frequently than is developmentally appropriate. Our packed schedules will provide some cover for stalling on the play date. But: Do I owe this mom more honesty? I would want to know if adults saw my child behave inappropriately. I want to know if my children are acting out. But I don’t want to be told by another parent who has so little to go on. This parent seemed so happy her kid was talking about my kid positively at home, bursting that on the word of a tired 5-year old seems unkind, not helpful.

—Between a Rock and a Hard Play Space

Dear BaRaaHPS,

Scheduling play dates—or really anything—makes me think of that New Yorker cartoon: How about never—is never good for you? That’s what you mean; that this play date will never happen, but you can’t say that. So plead soccer practice and sniffles until the issue is forgotten.

As you allude to, I don’t think anything is gained by telling a mother you don’t know very well … what exactly? That your daughter, who you yourself say is an emotional creature, in addition to being, well, a 5-year-old, once said her son had done something bad to her, a thing that’s not all that bad (5-year-olds hit!) and possibly never happened (5-year-olds make shit up!).

This does not feel like a high-stakes problem to me, so I think you can just forget it and move on without feeling guilty or anything else.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My wife and I and our two kids live an hour-plus from my parents. After navigating work, activities, errands, and chores, we bring our boys to see their grandparents every four to six weeks.

My sister lives next door to my parents, who see my nephew every day. This is great for all involved, particularly my nephew, who gets to grow up with daily love from his grandparents. It’s natural that my parents will have a stronger bond with the grandchild they see every day, as opposed to my kids, whom they see less regularly. I appreciate that my parents are more sympathetic and accommodating to my sister; they live by her, whereas they experience ours in small doses and from afar.

The disparity in how my parents respond to our respective families has always bothered us, but now our children are starting to notice. Our kids ask why there are relatively few pictures of them up at their grandparents’ house in comparison to their cousin. My parents, understandably, are more tired and less apt to hit up a park or do activities outside the home when the boys visit. Most notably, my nephew is present at every visit, which always devolves into a toddler-watching session where my kids are expected to observe or entertain themselves.

Our goal is to let visits naturally wane as the boys age and get busier. But given my parents see my nephew every day, part of me thinks it not unreasonable for them to, once in a while, devote some time directly to our boys, who used to look forward to the undivided and relaxed adult attention they can’t always get from Mom and Dad. I understand that this issue is fairly benign—to be honest, I feel bad even writing in. Am I justified in approaching my parents about this, or am I just jealous?

—Don’t Want to be a Bean Counter

Dear DWtbaBC,

I don’t think it’s useful to feel badly about how you feel! I think you are a little jealous, or at least covetous, of the kind of close relationship you can’t provide unless you move in next door to your parents.

Your question isn’t about whether your parents love your kids, because you take it on faith that they do, as you should. My kids love to ask me which of them are my favorite; I always tell them that love isn’t like sugar or coffee beans—it’s impossible to run out of it. Maybe you’ll find that a little reassuring.

The challenge is how to create a scenario in which grandparents and grandkids get time together. Why then is it your goal to let your visits to them taper off naturally? Maybe you should instead resolve to continue to see your family, even if basketball games and band rehearsal complicate matters. Your kids will get bigger, your nephew will get bigger, you parents will get older; all the circumstances will change because that is how life works.

For the immediate future, I think you can talk to your parents. Just be sure it’s not to say “Why don’t you love Henry and Olivia as much as you love Hayden?” Instead, assume a more active role: bring the kids over and with a plan to go apple picking or to a movie, or invite your parents to spend the weekend at your place. Snap lots of photos, and let your kids choose some to frame as gifts for grandma and grandpa. Do all this because it brings you all joy, not because it’s about some imaginary ideal of what’s fair.

You can’t (or shouldn’t) leave your nephew out, but instead of thinking of him as detracting from the experience of your kids being with their family, maybe consider that he’s enriching it. Your kids get to have their grandparents love and bond with their cousin all at the same time. (He’s an annoying toddler now, but that will pass.) As you say, the issue is benign, but left untreated it will cease to be.

—Rumaan Alam

More Advice From Slate

I am the no-soda mom (diet or not, it’s all terrible for you.) I have been holding firm on this since our oldest was born. My daughter came back from a play date recently and told me she’d had Orange Crush. I immediately called the hosting parents and told them my children are never to be given soda, ever. Did I overreact?