Care and Feeding

Let’s Not Get This Party Started

We want to scale down our daughter’s birthday celebration, even if it means leaving people out. Is that OK?

A girl in a party hat blows out candles on a cake.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Image Source/iStock/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,

Our 6-year-old’s birthday is on the horizon. Last year we held a combined party with another kid in her class and invited the entire pre-K and then some. The combined thing was great—half the price, half the planning, the birthday kids were as happy if not more so, and the attendees had one less party to schlep their kids to.

This year we have neither the budget nor the desire to do even that. What she and we would like is a princess party in our small NYC apartment with 10 girls, no parents, the highlight of which will be a drag queen princess leading the festivities. But alas! What about the 35 other kids? All the boys and the girls she doesn’t consider good friends; the kids whose parties she was invited to but who won’t get an invite to hers? Even though we’ve told her not to talk about the party in front of people, especially people who aren’t invited, she’s bound to let it slip.

Do I say something to the families we’re friendly with but whom she doesn’t want to invite? Is it tackier to say something or nothing? Or do I have to rent out a big space, make the invite list bigger, not leave anyone out, and spend money I don’t really have for a party none of us want, just to assuage my guilt?

—Don’t Wanna Be a Drag

Dear DWBaD,

I understand the importance of inviting the whole class—it’s lovely to avoid hurt feelings. But I also empathize with your predicament as a fellow New Yorker. Forget about the expense, it’s not like you can just unleash 35 kindergartners in the basement and be done with it.

I say you should leave the guilt aside! Give your kid the birthday you all want. Don’t feel you need to explain this to everyone not invited; adult parties don’t work that way. I’m not saying you won’t have some hurt feelings, but if they do come up, you can be honest—“We didn’t have the space or budget for a blowout party this year, I hope you and Hazel can understand.”

One thing you could do (with the teacher’s permission) is show up at school with cupcakes for all (store bought, go easy on yourself) and spread the joy that way. Everyone loves a treat and it might sufficiently muddy the waters so that kids who didn’t get an invite to the party won’t realize they missed something.

Dear Care and Feeding,

We have a 14-month-old son. Last year, some friends approached us about sharing the cost of a nanny with their then 2-year old. We met with the nanny, had several discussions with our friends, and decided to go for it. We love the nanny and our son has developed a deep bond with her. Our friends’ son is a nice little boy and is kind and gentle with our son.

There have been some annoying aspects of the arrangement. For example, our friends renovated their house, and the first months of the arrangement were spent in a dark and cramped apartment next to a large highway. Though we had just bought a new home, our friends refused to have their son come to our place because of the potential disruption for their son. But we saw the long-term benefits of the situation and decided the good outweighed the bad.

About a month after we began the nanny share arrangement, our friends announced they were expecting. We were excited for them, as I know they had been experiencing some difficulty in getting pregnant. I waited a couple of weeks and texted them about discussing how the new baby would impact our situation. I had a long discussion with the nanny, who was on board with looking after all three children. However, our friends kept putting off our request to discuss the matter, claiming that they were stressed out from work and the renovation.

Then, five months later, they called my husband and informed us that they wanted to end the arrangement because they felt that three children would be too much for our nanny to handle (they had not discussed this decision with her).

They, thankfully, did give us time to locate another arrangement, and for the sake of keeping things cordial, we said nothing while we tried to find child care. We have since located a wonderful day care that will give my child exposure to other children and different experiences. However, I still feel angry about the situation.

I feel that our friends used us to help finance their home renovation. It makes me so mad that they care so little about the impact of this change on my child. The question now is: What should we do? Is it worth saying something to these friends now? Should we continue to be friends with them? My husband wants to say nothing, but I must admit I would love to give them a piece of my mind. Am I out of line here?

—Broken Nanny Share

Dear BNS,

I’m sorry for this whole situation, but it ended happily enough; you’ve found a day care you love and are excited about. I’m sure it was stressful, and I understand why you’d have some hurt feelings. But your letter confirms what I’ve long suspected: A nanny share is as fraught as a threesome.

I do see how the arrangement of keeping the kids at their place so as not to upset their son’s routine was a little selfish. But you determined that this concession was fine in the moment—better to keep the peace in a generally happy situation.

I don’t know if your friends set out to exploit you—to save some cash when they were deeply invested in the renovation—but I do think that probably helped them out a bit.

The whole arrangement was probably always more temporary than you realized. Things change a lot when kids are that young. And that family is right—even for the most adept nanny, one person overseeing a newborn and two toddlers is a tall order; even if she was willing to give it a shot, do you really think it would have been the right solution for your family?

Nanny shares require negotiating two different family’s schedules and parenting philosophies, and a million associated logistics. It’s a wonder that any of them endure. Yours didn’t, and that sucks, and you’re allowed to be irritated, but I’m not sure you’ll gain anything by confronting your friends except, possibly, the end of that friendship. Only you can decide if that’s worth it.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I recently gave birth to a baby. It’s cold and flu season and I have a 3½ -year-old who is relentless with his affection. I have tried to redirect his touch to the baby’s feet and back of head for kissing. I’ve tried finding ways for him to help instead of cuddling with the baby. I try to let him hold the baby in a controlled fashion, but if I let my guard down for a second, my toddler is touching the baby’s face all over, and kissing him on the lips.

Compounding the issue, my son has hit a rebellious phase. I have to push with getting dressed and hand-washing. He fights me on everything. He loves his baby brother, and I don’t want to turn showing affection into a bad thing, but nothing I try seems to work. I’m only a little over two weeks out from surgery, my husband is back to work, and I can’t stay on top of it all. What can I do to stop toddler from kissing baby’s face?

—Germaphobe

Dear Germaphobe,

Congratulations! It’s an overwhelming time, adjusting to life with a toddler and a newborn. I have faith that you’ll come up with ways to juggle it all, but let’s focus for now on the two specific problems you’ve written about.

First, your older son is feeling rebellious—typical of 3-year olds, I think? And to further complicate matters he’s got a new baby brother, the kind of disruption that could cause even the most obedient toddler to act out. I assume you and your husband tried to prepare him for his promotion to older bro. There are tons of great storybooks on the matter (ask your local librarian for more). Instituting an easy-to-maintain ritual that’s just for big boys—even a stroll to check the mail might do the job—could remind him that he’s still your baby, too.

I’m not saying these will ameliorate all the stubbornness around getting dressed or washing hands. But it’s possible that transforming those tasks from something he *must* do to something *only* he can do—because he’s a big kid!—might prove persuasive. You’re still going to have to nag and remind him and occasionally fight (he is 3), but presenting his responsibilities as perks of being big could work.

This takes us to your second problem; instead of teaching him not to kiss the baby too much, perhaps you need to enlist him in the project of appropriately caring for baby. Tell your older son he’s going to be in charge of the baby’s socks, helping put them on his feet. Tell him he’s going to be in charge of putting extra diapers in the diaper bag, or making sure the baby’s favorite books are in the living room.

You could make the simple task of washing up more appealing by letting your older son choose an antibacterial soap at the store, or buying him a special new step ladder for the bathroom and even a cute hand towel that’s just for him. You could get him his very own hand sanitizer to keep by the door for when he comes inside and develop a whole ritual around cleaning hands before doing anything else.

I can’t promise you won’t have a cold on your hands at some point this winter (hopefully you and your older son both got a flu shot and that will keep that at bay), but I can promise you’ll weather it. I completely understand your desire to keep the baby healthy—and you will have your work cut out for you as the older one tracks in germs from day care or the playground. But at the same time, you have a big brother who so loves his little brother he just wants to kiss him; it could be so much worse. Good luck!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a mom of two kids (9 months and 30 months). I am juggling so much between the two and trying hard every day to stay sane and understanding. One of the main issues that’s making life hard is that I still have to feed my toddler.

He would maybe take two bites on his own during his mealtime. Then he becomes frustrated and annoyed throughout the day due to hunger, so I end up feeding him myself. No matter what food I’m offering, he would still take a few bites or not touch it at all. Even when I feed him myself I have to distract him, play with him, or play Peppa Pig on my iPad for him to eat.

He’s a happy toddler with no motor issues and very active, but I need him to feed himself. What can I do to help him transition and hopefully fully feed himself and keep my sanity?

—Seeking Food for Thought

Dear Food for Thought,

You’ve got your hands full! I know mealtimes with kids can be fraught but important—after all, nothing is worse than a hangry toddler.

I wonder if it might help to make lunch not about distractions like the iPad; I think those sometimes interfere with the task at hand. Treat it like a ritual: You could set a special alarm that indicates that it’s big kid lunch time, then sit at the table with him, with his special plate (or maybe a grown-up one, if he’s that kind of kid). Plan meals that are toddler-friendly: meatballs that you get to finger paint red and yellow (ketchup and honey mustard), or faces made of banana and apple slices, or feasts that are all one color (cheddar cubes, cantaloupe, carrot sticks).

Play restaurant and let him order his lunch from you. Take him grocery shopping and let him choose things to try. You could listen to an audiobook or a special album that’s for lunchtime only, or serve water out of a toy teapot, or make lunch into a picnic on the kitchen floor; some of these might work and some might not, it kind of depends on your kid’s personality. But by making the meal the focus rather than something you have to sneak in behind Peppa Pig’s back might make this easier for you.

Another thing to consider is whether your son is hungry come lunchtime. If he’s got a midmorning snack or cup of milk, it’s possible that he’s not. If that sort of thing is routine, try skipping it (you can move lunchtime up 30 minutes if crabbiness sets in early) and see how attentive he is to his meal. You might find that he’s much more motivated to feed himself if he’s starving. If he doesn’t feed himself, let it be, and move onto the next meal: Remember that no kid will go hungry if he misses one lunch (or dinner).

I get that you have an infant around and not a ton of time to invest in tricking him to eat. I’ve just cautioned you against snack time, but you could also give yourself a little break by skipping a sit-down lunch in favor of some early-afternoon grazing. (Just be careful not to push it too late—if my kids snack after 3 p.m., they are very picky about dinner; if they don’t, they eat everything they’re served, and quickly too). Some well-timed snacks might keep the crabbiness at bay and not ruin your evening meal plan. I hope some of these little tricks help out a little. Good luck!

—Rumaan

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