Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m a woman in my mid-30s and after several failed relationships, I have met the most wonderful man (Daniel) and we have been dating quite seriously for a few months now. He has a 10-year-old daughter (Hannah), and his ex-wife (Linda) is extremely supportive of our relationship and the bond I’ve formed with their daughter. I never wanted to birth children of my own because of my own childhood trauma. I didn’t necessarily envision being with someone who had a kid already, but Hannah’s truly fantastic and I just adore her. Daniel and Linda share equal custody (one week with mom, the next with dad) and have really made co-parenting work. Daniel is an awesome dad, and he and Hannah have an extremely close bond. Considering I never bonded with either of my parents (and do not speak to my biological family at all), I am so grateful they are thick as thieves.
Even though Hannah is just 10, she’s already going through puberty and has started her period. She has no problem talking to me or her dad about this kind of thing, which is great. Hannah has zero qualms about being naked around her dad, and he will sometimes walk around the house in his underwear (but usually he will have sleep shorts on when she’s home). I have no frame of reference for this because my parents were alcoholic drug addicts and I mostly took care of myself and my younger brother alone. Is this normal? I don’t think nudity in general is a big deal (bodies are bodies), but I was always so uncomfortable around my own father that I have no idea if this kind of thing is “normal.” Hannah also still sleeps in Daniel’s king-size bed, and the three of us have slept in the bed together when I have stayed over. I’m sure at some point she’ll want to sleep in her own bed, but she’s still a kid and Daniel thinks it’s sweet. Am I overthinking this? Should I just let Hannah decide when she’s no longer being comfortable being naked around her dad? Is there even anything weird about this at all to begin with?
—I Don’t Know What’s Normal
There’s really very little one can say about “normal.” Kids, to make a sweeping generalization, usually start to develop a sense of “privacy” around the age of 5. This can mean “I don’t want you to come in the bathroom with me” or “NO ONE CAN SEE MY VAGINA” or “just me in the shower now, mom.” This does not mean you will not be summoned for butt-wiping duty, but you start to see the general concept of personal privacy emerge.
I think that Hannah and her dad seem to have a warm and healthy relationship, and I am not getting any particular red flags. If I were Hannah’s dad, I would say that when we are not in our own room, we should really wear clothes, especially if there are nonfamily members visiting. I don’t think that’s quashing her comfort in her body, and I absolutely think it will increase the comfort of the refrigerator repairman.
Something doesn’t need to be objectively weird in order for you to be made uncomfortable by it. However, a few months into a relationship might be a little early to start throwing your weight around and asking for things to change when the status quo is fine for the other parties involved. I think it’s reasonable to say “Hey, now that she’s hit puberty, do you have a sense when Hannah will start wearing clothes in the house?” or “Maybe if I’m sleeping over, Hannah could sleep in her own bed?” (There are … other reasons to encourage this that you can consider making clear to Daniel as well.)
You may not get the answer you want, and you might be uncomfortable enough, eventually, to decide this isn’t the right situation for you. That’s fine! I guarantee your boyfriend will be asked these questions by anyone he winds up dating.
Right now you’re the rogue detective’s boss saying, “I don’t love your methods, but I love your results” (a secure, bonded child who is warm and smart). Just because you love the results doesn’t mean you have to live with the detective. It’s fine to say “This is normal-ish, but too out there for me.” But if you’re really happy with Daniel and Hannah, why not find the two things that make you the most uncomfortable and ask him nicely about them? Focus on your own issues and discomforts without implying there’s anything wrong with the situation itself.
I wish you all the very best of luck.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m a new mom, which means I’ve begun worrying about things that won’t be a problem for several years. Right now, I’m worried about racism. Specifically, my own. I’m a Liberal White Woman now, but I used to be a stupid child. I remember making overtly racist jokes well into high school. I thought they were funny, sometimes without understanding the implications. Sometimes I did understand, but didn’t think it was a problem. My friends laughed. No authority figure ever seemed to notice or correct me (I look back on that point a little horrified).
How can I make sure my child doesn’t make the same mistake? I don’t want him to hurt others’ feelings. I don’t want him to create memories he’ll look back on with shame. I don’t want him to think that making jokes at others’ expense is acceptable behavior, even if the people around him accept it. I can’t fix my own stupid mistakes, but I want him to do better.
Dear Old Wounds,
Ah, that part of being a new mom where you relitigate your entire life to date to ensure your child will be better than you. Gotta love it!
Just … parent. He’ll make plenty of mistakes either way. That’s how we learn. Every generation is like “Don’t do this ignorant-ass shit I did” and then the new one finds new ignorant-ass shit to do. He cannot really become a functioning person without creating “memories he’ll look back on in shame.” That’s the human condition.
Enjoy your baby. When your baby is older, don’t let him make racist jokes. Parent him like you wish you had been parented, and prepare at all times for the unexpected. It’s gonna be a hell of a trip.
• If you missed Thursday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My ex and I have been divorced for three years, and we are 50/50 co-parenting our 5-year-old daughter. One primary cause of the divorce was our deeply differing ideas of consequences and personal responsibility, thrust front and center once we had a baby and a house. He has made a really big deal about how I cannot say anything disparaging about him to our daughter, and I am bending over backward to be sure that I comply with that. However, now that she is older, some of my more deeply entrenched moral ideas of why responsibility matters are coming into direct conflict with what she’s learning when she’s with him, and I don’t really know how to teach her some of these things without inadvertently “disparaging” him.
One example: I am trying to teach her that we should try to be on time for things because it’s a way of showing the people waiting for us that we respect them and are looking forward to seeing them. She says, “Daddy says it’s OK to be late because people will always wait for you if they care about you.” He is routinely hours late for social engagements and outraged when medical or professional appointments aren’t honored when he is very late.
This comes up a lot with money, too. We are both relatively low-income, and in everyday life as we choose whether or not to buy whatever at the store, I’m trying to model and teach her that spending money on one thing means that same money can’t be spent on something else. I say no to the kinds of little treats that “Daddy buys,” but I can’t exactly tell a 5-year-old “Yes, but that’s because Daddy puts all of those on Grandpa’s credit card.” She often asks why I don’t take the toll road and I tell her it’s because I’d rather spend that money on something fun later because there are free roads that will take us to the same place. She sulks because Daddy always takes the toll road.
As she gets older and the questions get more profound, how do I handle explaining why I see something as a “good choice” without implying that its opposite is a poor one? Is implying that some of the choices he makes are “poor” considered to be “disparaging” the other parent? What approach should I take in this kind of situation to instill these values as she grows up?
Well, the good news is the rest of life for your daughter is going to involve going into the world and encountering people who disagree with one or both of her parents, or her, for their own reasons. The minute your child spends time with someone who isn’t you, they begin to learn that there are very different ways of living life, and different values, and it all slowly cobbles together into a constantly changing concept of living an ethical/sensible life that they will tinker with (ideally!) until they die.
Explain your choices and your values (you can only do the latter by actually living in accordance with said values). If your daughter wants to know why Daddy takes the toll road, tell her to ask Daddy. This is not going to end anytime soon, but I do believe that your job is to live a life consistent with how you believe you should be living your life, speaking openly to your child about why, and letting Daddy field any questions about why he, instead, conducts himself differently.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m weirded out by my 9-year-old daughter showering in the same stall as her friend. Please, please help me sort this out. My 9-year-old is already developing (training bras, some beginning pubic hair), as is her friend. They recently had a couple of swimming pool play dates (they also take a swim class together, by chance). The first play date was chaperoned by the dad of the friend, from the bleachers, and the second by me, the mom, from the bleachers. I went in to check on them in the locker room after the pool, as I knew they were planning on sharing shampoo. I found them showering together in the same shower stall. There were plenty of empty ones around. They were not at all taken aback by me finding them showering together and just said “Hi.”
I asked my daughter about it afterward, and she said the friend suggested it and that they also did it last time. I asked her if she wanted to do it, and she said yes (she tends to be more of a follower). I’m completely at a loss here. I feel it’s very strange, but also grew up in a very prudish household. We try not to be prudish about nakedness at home, and our kids still walk into the shower to ask us questions when we’re showering. We give our 9-year-old privacy when she showers. I know this feels wrong to me, but I don’t know why. And I don’t actually know that it’s wrong. I really, really, desperately need a neutral perspective here. I was thinking about talking to the other girl’s mom about it, to make sure she is OK with it, but I really want to sort out how I feel about it first, ideally before the next swim play date.
—Shower Stall Concerns
This is a real week for people worried about nudity! I think it’s fine for her and her little friend to share a shower stall. You don’t know how you feel, and are obviously uncomfortable about it, so it’s fine to tell your daughter you would rather she had her own shower stall. I don’t think you need to talk to the other girl’s mother to make decisions on your own child’s behalf.
I’m mostly just glad we have stalls now. Tell her about the Carrie days. Not now—when she’s older.
More Advice From Slate
We have three kids and a strict rule on birthdays. The kids get needed items (clothes, bikes, books, etc.) and $200 for the party or a big gift. We want to teach our kids the value of money and how to budget. So the kids can get a sleepover or blow-out water park trip. My eldest saved up to get a brand-new gaming system and TV, one that he doesn’t want to share with his little brothers. My husband just wants peace, and I am hesitant to push either way. Can you help?