Care and Feeding

My New-Mom Friend Says She Can’t Do Dinner Anymore Because of “Bedtime”

I get wanting to be with your kids, but they have a great dad, too! Does she really have to be there every night?

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,

I have a question about a friend who is a stay-at-home mom with two kids under 3 (both daughters). With the first kid, and now the second, she says she can’t go out “late” (e.g., meet me for dinner and a movie that ends at 9 p.m.) because her 1-year-old daughter can’t handle her being away during bedtime. Her husband is an active, eager father. But the one time she tried leaving her older daughter alone, the baby cried incessantly, and her husband was miserable.

My attitude (that I only hinted at gently once) is this problem means she needs to leave dad and baby alone more often, not less, until they both get used to it. Ignoring any ego issues (“the baby needs me!” must feel wonderful in some ways), it just seems kinda crazy to allow yourself to be attached at the hip to your kid.

I don’t have kids, so I’m asking for your opinion. I’m not going to say anything to my friend; she’s a good mom, and we get together with her whole family when possible, so I do still get to see her. It’s just the principle—even if her kid is at the attachment stage (and before and after said stage), shouldn’t she allow herself to go out, even if her kid’s not happy about it? It seems like a bad precedent to set, both with the kid and the husband (parents are often miserable, such as when kid is sick and puking).

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—You Can You Leave Your Baby, Right?

Dear YCLYBR,

Thank you for writing to me and not bugging your friend. You are basically correct. It will absolutely be good for the 1-year-old to have the ability to cope with her father putting her to bed. A good start would be remaining physically present in the house but out of sight (just playing on your phone in a bathroom is a positive joy when you have two babies) in case things go royally tits-up. Then you just keep trading off until your kids are fine with either parent doing bedtime.

That being said, I don’t know if she’s still breastfeeding and doesn’t want to be uncomfortably full or locking herself in a movie bathroom to pump, etc. When you have two kids under the age of 3, sometimes going out sounds like just more hassle. You have to put on a bra, find real clothes, leave the house, worry about whether your partner will remember nine pointless things, etc. So I want you to stay open to the idea that she may just not … want … to go out. She may just want to collapse on the couch.

I would mention that you would love to see her more and offer to come watch a movie (more likely a half-hour TV episode) on the couch with a glass of wine (you’re bringing!) once the kids are in bed. I would not be surprised if she perked right up at that suggestion. The SAHM isolation is a real thing, and solving it can seem impossible when you are in it. Make it as easy as possible for her to spend time with you. Dinner and a movie can wait. I remember after my last baby my friend came over with a thermos of homemade Mexican hot chocolate and just hung out with me for an hour and then drove an hour home, and I will literally never forget it.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

About a year and a half ago my brother-in-law, my husband’s only sibling, killed himself. We were, and remain, devastated. We have tried to keep his memory alive and have pictures of him up with the rest of our family members. We have two boys, a 3-year-old and a 4-month-old. All of our family live far away, and my eldest is used to not seeing family members for a long time, so we haven’t really addressed the fact that his uncle died. He died right when my eldest turned 2, so he was too young to comprehend at the time. I don’t avoid talking about his uncle, but I do find myself using a mix of the past and present tense to talk about him: “That’s dad’s brother.” “He’s your uncle.” “He gave you that cement mixer truck.” “He loved you.”

Now that my eldest has a brother of his own and is becoming more aware of family ties (he’ll ask to FaceTime his grandparents and his aunts), I feel the question about where his uncle is and why can’t he FaceTime him is going to come sooner rather than later. He is a very smart and sensitive kid (I know every parent thinks that, but he really is) and so I feel like whatever we say to him, he’ll spend a lot of time thinking about by himself, so I want to make sure we get it right.

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Also I am concerned for what this all means for both my boys as they get older. I myself struggled with depression and suicidal ideation in my teens and early 20s, and I worry that they are destined to struggle with it themselves as they have a genetic predisposition on both sides. I know the risk of suicide increases if you know somebody who has died that way. I don’t want to lie to them, but I want to protect him.

—Lost for Words

Dear LfW,

When your son asks why he can’t FaceTime his uncle, you can gently tell him that his uncle is dead. I recommend having a death conversation for the first time (leaves! hamsters!) before he gets around to asking, so you’re not explaining death and that his uncle is dead at the same time. You can, very accurately, say that his uncle was very, very sick.

I think that when your child is a tween or young teen, if they haven’t yet asked for more detail, it would be very wise to talk about depression as the sickness and explain what happened. It can be a place from which to begin the first of several conversations about mental illness and how important it is to talk about our emotions, good and bad, and as your kids become older teenagers, to be very clear about your familial predisposition to depression and anxiety.

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Parents often make the mistake of thinking there’s a “the talk” for each high-ticket concept (sex, drugs, death, prog rock music) and are frantic to get it right and fit everything into one go. It’s always a series of conversations that ramp up with time. Ideally, each conversation is truthful but limited. I sometimes compare it to how you learn about genetics by way of Mendel and his peas and then the next year your teacher is like “well, that was sort of right, now you have the necessary base to learn about the greater complexity.” Take your time. Answer the questions he asks, don’t worry about skipping ahead to the ones you’re afraid he’ll ask.

I’m so sorry for your family’s tragic loss.

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

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I own and run a restaurant in a resort area that has become a place known to be good for families and good for large groups (we have a section with large communal tables). This means that we often get groups of eight to 16 people, sometimes half of which are children. We are often very busy, and we have two floors, which means a very busy staircase with food and drinks going up and down.

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Truthfully, I’m not a kid person—I never wanted to have any of my own, so I don’t. But I understand how important it is for families to go out and have fun together, and I remember loving going out to a restaurant when I was a kid. And obviously families are important for business in the area I am in. I provide crayons and paper and playing cards for families who don’t bring their own. I try to create a great experience for all of my patrons.

My issue isn’t really with the kids—it’s with PARENTS not watching their kids. I’ve had kids running up and down the stairs, sticking their legs and arms between the mezzanine railings, standing on chairs looking over the railing, playing in the middle of the aisle between tables, carving things with a knife into the wooden tables, sitting in the swivel bar stools and twirling them around, banging them into the bar and counter, and sitting in a group playing on the stairs. All of this and the parents doing NOTHING to stop them.

Yesterday, a guy was letting his 3-year-old CRAWL ACROSS THE BAR! He was half holding her, and when I politely pointed out to him that she was reaching for a glass sitting on the bar, he gave me a dirty look and took her down off the bar. Then he left her alone playing under one of the bar stools, she fell, got hurt, and started crying.

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Being that these aren’t MY kids, what are some polite ways of asking parents to do what they are supposed to do: Namely, watch their kids and keep them out of harm’s way? I’ve thought about putting up signs—something like “Please mind your children” or “Please don’t allow children to play on the stairs,” but if parents aren’t watching their own kids, I don’t think they will read a sign.

Besides the potential liability of a kid getting hot food spilled on them or getting stepped on by a patron or a server, I find this very annoying and disrespectful. How are kids ever going to learn how to behave respectfully in a public space if they are allowed to do whatever they want without any supervision?

—My Restaurant Is Not a Day Care

Dear MRINaDC,

Thank you for your tireless work on the frontlines of food service. You seem like a very sensible and reasonable person who is being driven around the bend by parents who see a cup of crayons and assume they are in a Charles E. Fromage.

These parents are wrong. You are right. I think the value of a sign is less that parents will read and obey the sign so much as you being able to point at the sign as you (gently!) drag their child back to them from where they are hanging off the bannister. I would put a sign by the stairs, but not an all purpose “watch your godforsaken children, you hyenas” sign, which will indeed get people’s backs up.

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You cannot make these people see reason; you can only make them respect your authority and use that authority to protect your servers. Make sure your servers know you’ll back them up if a patron flips out on them for, say, telling their child to go back to their table. Use your power for good.

And, of course, this is indeed part of the bargain you have made by encouraging large groups and families. You know that. I think you just want some reassurance that the general public is indeed this bad (they are) and that parents should not allow their child to crawl on the bar (they should not). I am glad to provide this reassurance.

When Parents Don’t Share a Last Name, Whose Should Their Child Get?

Dan Kois is joined by Elizabeth Newcamp and Gabriel Roth on this week’s episode of Slate’s parenting podcast, Mom and Dad Are Fighting.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 13-year-old daughter recently started a new school. She has been lucky enough to fit in quite well relatively quickly and has made some good new friends. One of these friends that my kid became especially good friends with is “Melissa.” A few weeks ago my daughter started to make comments like “I gave my school snacks to Melissa today because she was hungry,” or “Melissa didn’t have anything to eat today and was in a bad mood.”

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The other day when my daughter and I were alone in the car, she told me that Melissa never brings food with her to school but is always really hungry. I tried asking some careful questions, but she didn’t really know what was going on. She only told me that she never has food with her or money to buy any. I asked if she wanted me to pack some extra food in her lunch so she could give it to Melissa, and she said yes. I’ve been doing this for a week. We live in a mostly middle class suburb, and the one time I drove Melissa home, she lives in a big single family house. I know looks can be deceiving and sometimes families go through hardship that we know nothing of. However, I also know that being a 13-year-old girl is difficult and issues surrounding food and weight can happen.

If Melissa’s family is going through a rough patch, and I can help by packing extra food for her, I will absolutely do that; however, if this is a teenage girl with food issues, then I should talk to her mom … no? Melissa looks really well taken care of and healthy in every way, so perhaps I should just butt out, leave it alone, and not meddle? However, it kills me that a child is going hungry! Should I just continue to pack extra food in my kid’s lunch? I don’t know Melissa’s parents at all, but should I talk to her mom? I’m at a loss on how to navigate this situation. Some advice and perspective would be greatly appreciated!

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— Meddling Mom

Dear MM,

This is a good kind of meddling. I also think this is a situation in which your relationship with Melissa’s parents is sufficiently non-existent that talking directly to them is a bad idea. You also just don’t have enough information. It’s possible Melissa leaves home each morning with a lovingly packed lunch of bean sprouts and hummus and crackers and she chucks it immediately because she prefers your daughter’s Thai curry leftovers. Unlikely, but possible.

I hate to overburden the teachers of America with these tasks, but I would absolutely take a moment to tell their teacher that Melissa does not seem to come to school with a lunch or money to buy any, and that you’ve been supplementing your own child’s lunch accordingly. That’s a situation that teachers are used to tentatively probing. In the meantime, yes, if your budget allows, keep packing extra food for Melissa.

And then, well, we’ll have to wait and see. Keep us posted.

—Nicole

More Advice From Slate

Our 8-year-old daughter hates movies. She will watch all sorts of television for longer than the length of a film, but getting her to watch a movie takes guilt, cajoling, and outright bribery—and even that fails more than it succeeds. At first, we blamed ourselves for showing her movies that may have been a little scary or too old for her, but what we have figured out is that she avoids emotional stakes. I don’t want her to be someone who suppresses or runs away from conflict in her life. She is a happy, well-adjusted kid in all other respects. I think she should go to therapy, but my husband, who admits to being conflict-averse himself, thinks I’m jumping the gun. What do you guys think?


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