Care and Feeding

My Neighbor Keeps Complaining My Housebound Toddler Is Too Noisy

What should I do?

A toddler gleefully running around
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

A quarantine-specific query: We live on the third floor of an apartment building. Our genuinely nice neighbors below gently complain via text or note that our 3-year-old is making too much noise. I have lived below kids; I am sympathetic, but more and more they seem to note each time I let the kids dance around, be it 6 p.m. on a Sunday or 2 p.m. on a Tuesday.

My child is in bed by 8 and is typically quiet in the morning. We do take them out to run around the neighborhood, but they are 3 and get the urge to move even when it is raining or cold out. For the neighbors’ sake, I have been telling my kid “No more running!” several times a day even though I think they need to run a little and, maybe more importantly, need to feel like I am not on their case for normal childhood behavior.

I want to be a good neighbor, but I’m also trying to keep a kid suddenly shuttered from friends and playgrounds in good spirits. My partner asked downstairs to text us when they go out so our kid can run wild, but apparently they never do. Is this an important lesson my son needs to learn about being considerate? Should I cease to respond to neighborly requests or offer some compromise I haven’t thought of yet?

—Is a Little Running So Bad?

Dear IaLRSB,

Apartment life entails some noise, and your neighbors should probably try to be more accommodating of a little extra ruckus during these strange days. If this is weighing on you, a simple note might help:

Dear Apartment 2,
Sorry for all the noise lately. We’re housebound, just like you, and kids can’t understand sitting still. We are mindful of the inconvenience! If you send us a text when you’re headed out of the house, that could help—we can make extra noise then to get it out of our system. Our kiddo sleeps from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m., and we’ll do what we can to make the other 13 hours a day pleasant, but we hope you can understand it’ll be impossible to keep them silent.

I’m sure you’ve done the obvious (no shoes inside, no loud music, no jumping jacks). You can absolutely try to make this a lesson for your kid about being a considerate neighbor, but a 3-year-old needs to wiggle and make noise. We’re all just trying to get through this tough time, and it’s better if we manage expectations. I do not expect any 3-year-old alive to sit perfectly still, and neither you nor your neighbors should either.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have three children under age 6. My husband’s parents are not kind to him, me, or our children, so we limit contact with them. My father is not in the picture, so our children’s only real grandparent is my mom. She lives across the country but has never missed my kids’ birthdays and visits once every couple of months.

She’s also a workaholic RN who put off retirement for years. She recently took a desk job, but with the outbreak of COVID-19, she voluntarily transferred back to being a triage nurse in a COVID-specific clinic. She loves the work, though the hospital she works in, like many across the United States, is short on personal protective equipment. My mother is nearly 70 and has several medical conditions that leave her especially susceptible to this disease. She acknowledges this but hasn’t changed her mind. My mom has kept her job change a secret from everyone but me. She is committed to seeing this through to the end.

My husband thinks we should prepare our kids (at least our 6-year-old) for the possibility that their only grandparent may die soon. I don’t know if we should, and I don’t know how to do it. My mother has survived other epidemics, but not one that has been made so dangerous for health care providers by complete failures in hospital administration and by the state/federal governments. This feels like a suicide or a murder in progress, and I can’t think of how to prepare a child for it.

—TMI for a 6-Year-Old?

Dear TMI,

I admire your mother’s commitment to her profession; this current moment has laid bare the extent to which we all depend on the dedication of people like her. It’s a travesty that hospitals and governments are not better prepared to care for their personnel, but admirable that this has not stopped so many people like your mother from showing up in a moment of crisis.

Your mother knows the risks of her job and intends to do it nonetheless. I absolutely hope that she’s able to stay healthy during all of this, but sadly there is a chance she will not.

Still, I don’t think you need to talk to your children about the risks to their grandmother’s life any more than you’d tell them the odds she might die while riding a bicycle, or driving a car, or traveling by plane, or simply going to sleep at night. Sure, she’s at greater risk just going to work, but that’s an adult worry and not one for children, especially children as young as yours.

I don’t think your mother’s commitment to her job is akin to suicide or murder in progress. I think it’s brave, and you should talk about it as such, both now and in the future—one more great thing about a woman everyone in your family so loves.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter Marcie is 6. She and her best friend Lucy have been together since preschool and adore each other.

Lucy is OK (if a big influence on my daughter), but I can’t stand her mother, Megan. Megan tolerates me, but also doesn’t like me. Neither of us (especially her) is at the point where we will drop the kids off for play dates, so this will remain a problem for a while. The kids always want to play for the entire day, and it is awkward and uncomfortable for us to be together.

I dread their play dates, but for my daughter I’ll put up with it. This is affecting my mental health, though. Being around Megan instantly makes me much more unhappy and stressed.

Marcie is acting out a lot more right now because of the social isolation in general, but mostly because it means she can’t play with Lucy. We tried to have a couple of virtual play dates, but it wasn’t the same. It’s making this harder on us for her to be whining all of the time, but she’s not really old enough to understand the pandemic. Also, virtual play dates require more texting conversations with Megan, and she is crueler to me, often passive-aggressively belittling me and my family.

So what do I do about a best friendship that I can barely tolerate, and how do I deal with my daughter’s behavior in response to this friendship being temporarily put on hold? I ask because the only solution for me may be barring or seriously limiting Marcie’s time spent with Lucy, and by association my time with Megan, until both girls are old enough to be dropped off. Thank you!

—Like the Kid, Hate the Mom

Dear LtKHtM,

I think it’s fairly common to find friction between people with little in common save both being parents to kids in the same class. If Lucy is a bit domineering and her mother a lot unpleasant, I think it’s fine to encourage some distance between your kid and her pal. I should add I think most first graders are old enough for a drop-off play date, but if these outings are miserable for you, then just stop them! The girls see each other at school, and you’re the parent—you can fill your weekends with other engagements and let go of this particular stress. Your kid has other friends and can make still others, and she sees her good pal at school anyway. Don’t torture yourself.

I’m not sure what hurtful things Megan is saying to you while you try to organize a virtual hangout for your kids. Maybe it doesn’t matter. If coordinating schedules leaves you feeling bad, and the girls don’t enjoy the dates anyway (I don’t blame them! They’re not the same!), can’t you forget those too?

In these weird times, of course Marcie is especially missing Lucy, or perhaps her desire for her friend reflects her anxiety about everything else going on. If video chats aren’t helping, can you encourage Marcie to write Lucy a letter or make her a gift and send it by mail or drive by and leave it in their mailbox? Can you organize some kind of video chat happy hour and invite all the kids in the classroom? Again, it’s not the same but might be a nice reminder of normal life. Can you encourage her to work out her feelings in pictures or writing? Can you arrange phone calls or letters or virtual contact with extended family or other friends who might alleviate some of the loneliness?

I don’t think it’s only that Marcie misses Lucy; I think she misses normal life. I don’t blame her. You cannot give her that, not right now, and if dealing with your kid’s rude mom is hard on you, forget her. These are difficult times for everyone, but I’m confident you can help your daughter navigate this. Good luck.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My partner and I are both required to work online from home while day care is closed, which means keeping our 2½-year-old daughter busy all day, working insane hours, and still not meeting expectations. It’s been a week, and we’re both stressed and exhausted.

We’ve discussed packing up to move to my in-laws’ several states away, where my daughter’s grandparents would be thrilled to care for her all day while we work. I’m worried that this would just be a trade-off in terms of benefits. It could put all of us at greater health risk, leave us far from our regular resources—plus the stresses of living with one’s in-laws. However, neither of us is in the position to reduce our work hours more than we already have, and without day care we’re relying heavily on television and getting less sleep to cover all of our work and child care needs. I know you can’t make the decision for us, but it would be great to have an outsider’s take on all of this.

—Should We Stay, or Should We Go?

Dear SWSoSWG,

I’m so sorry. Households across the world are confronting similar scenarios. It’s a blessing to have the kind of work that can be done at home, but the logistics are complex.

My outsider’s take is that the doctors who know about such things don’t want us to be traveling and moving about. The risk—to yourself, to your in-laws, to the population of the place you’re headed and all the places you stop along the route—is what it is. Then there’s the fact that you yourself note: Home is where your resources are (even if you’re temporarily forbidden access to many of those). If nothing else, it’s where your kid’s toys and clothes and books are. It’s familiar and comforting, and uprooting a toddler might be yet another burdensome task for you to bear.

I don’t know whether you and your partner need to work the same hours or just each put in eight. If it’s the latter, could you devise a system of divide and conquer—giving one parent the bulk of the morning or afternoon/evening for work while the other handles child care, then switch? Presumably your kid’s naptime would afford the not-at-work parent a small window to get things done.

This isn’t that great a solution—you can’t just work or parent around the clock. Can you speak to your bosses and work out some kind of adjusted schedule, akin to what you’d work if you’d relocated across the country to another time zone? These are not circumstances unique to you and your partner; offices the world over are changing how they do business as usual. If your jobs can be performed remotely, maybe there’s a way to get still more creative so you can manage your professional obligations and your personal ones.

None of this is ideal! You should not feel guilty about screen time if it allows you some wiggle room. But I think you should get aggressive and creative about how to better divide all of this labor so that you’re not both burning the candle at both ends, in an endless loop of mom/dad work and then office work. I’m sorry you’re going through this, and I hope you can find a more sustainable balance soon.

—Rumaan

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