Care and Feeding

I’m Ready to Break Up With My Former Best Friend

But I hate the thought of losing her daughter.

A white woman holds her hands up to her face.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Smithore/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,

My former best friend of many decades and I have gone our separate ways. There are many reasons this has happened, and it’s honestly long overdue because it’s a toxic relationship that involves a fair amount of codependency. The question I have is what to do about the fact that our children are also friends. My child is 5 and hers is 6. And I love her child. But after the shelter in place restrictions have been relaxed, I do not want my child to be at my former friend’s house unsupervised (one reason is that the last time I was at her house, she was vaping marijuana while sitting next to her child, who was playing a video game) and obviously I don’t want to have to be there supervising myself. Even hosting play dates at my place would mean a certain amount of contact with her. I really don’t want to see her at all anymore, but since our children are so young, it would be unavoidable if they continued to interact. How does one handle a friend breakup when there are young children involved?

—Kids Caught Up in Mama Trouble

Dear KCUiMT,

There are two factors working in your favor here as you distance yourself from a relationship that wasn’t healthy for you. One is the age of the kids, because as hard as it may be for them in the (very) short term, they will get over it and move on to other friendships. This would be much more difficult in a few years, so good for you for extricating yourself now. (The matter of how much, and for how long, you will miss your ex-friend’s child is a whole other thing. You may find this to be much more painful than you are allowing yourself to imagine.) In the meantime—and perhaps this can go without saying—do not facilitate any virtual play between the two. If your child is craving virtual play dates, arrange them with other friends.

And of course this brings me to the other factor. Since your child isn’t visiting anyone’s house, meeting any friends for fun outings, or having anyone over right now, the timing is particularly good for what would otherwise be much rougher going for a while. I think you can let the relationship between the children come to an end “naturally.”

And I must say this, too. I suspect you are projecting a bit—that you are understandably anxious and sad about the end of your friendship. Ending a friendship as an adult, no matter how codependent or otherwise toxic it was, can be very painful and the grief can hang on for a long time. Let yourself feel your feelings. The kids will be all right.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I were having a discussion tonight regarding what to do when one of us is out with our toddler and need to run into Target, etc. Previously we would have brought our child in with us, but in the age of coronavirus and during a phase when this toddler thinks it’s hilarious to lick things, it seems safer to leave them in the car with a toy, phone, or something else to entertain them. Mainly we are concerned someone will call CPS. We do not live in a warm climate and would not consider doing this on a warm day. What do you think?

—#PandemicLife

Dear #PandemicLife,

I think when you are out with your toddler, there is no need to run into “Target, etc.” Go shopping when the child is at home with your husband, or vice versa. And be aware that people call CPS for good reason when they see a small child left alone in a car, whatever the weather.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

We have a wonderful 21-month-old son, whom I will refer to as Lennon, who has shown a keen interest in music since he was an infant. We listen to all kinds of music with him. In addition to the ubiquitous “Baby Shark” and “Baa-Baa Black Sheep,” he also enjoys Bach and Ella Fitzgerald. When he was 10 months old, we started taking him to weekly Music Together classes—group singing and instrument sessions for babies. He loved them! There was, however, a song that was part of the Music Together playlist that, from the very first time he heard it, made him burst out crying. The song is called “All the Ponies”:

All the ponies galloping, galloping down the country lane

All the ponies galloping, galloping down the country lane

All the ponies coming home

All tired out

All tired out

When the ponies come home, the song slows down and takes on a sadder hue than the earlier refrain, when it is bright and cheery. My wife and I think that Lennon’s emotional reaction comes from something to do with the tired ponies and the cadence of the outro. He’s now heard the song multiple times, and he has cried inconsolably every time. Ten days ago, at home, he requested a song he called “Otyta.” When we couldn’t figure out what he was talking about, he added, “All Ponies!”  So, with a little trepidation, we sang the song for him. And he burst out crying—even harder than when he was younger and first heard it at Music Together.

Since then, whenever Lennon has asked for “Otyta,” we would just sing or play other music and he would forget about his original request. But today he asked for it again, and very insistently. We asked him to tell us more about the song, and he talked about the ponies. We explained that whenever he’s heard the song before, he hasn’t enjoyed it, and asked if perhaps he’d like to hear another song? But he wasn’t having it. So my wife began to whistle the tune, and as soon as she got to the “all tired out” bit, he started crying again.

For the most part, our son is a well-behaved, bubbly, and goofy little fellow. But “Otyta” really brings something out in him, and I’m not sure what it is or what it means. What do you think is going on? It feels like he’s being a bit masochistic in seeking out what seems to be emotionally traumatic music. Is that possible? Am I reading too much into the situation? Should we always redirect his attention when he asks for “Otyta”? Or should we play or sing it when he asks for it?

—Confused Parents

Dear Confused,

Small children are weird and much of what they do and say is inexplicable. But if I had to guess (and I guess I have to guess), I would say that Lennon is doing something like what we (also weird) adults do when we choose to watch a movie we know is going to make us cry. We like the way that feels. It’s cathartic. It’s strangely soothing, even, to cry about something that isn’t your own personal sadness (maybe even especially right now) and yet helps to release some pent-up sad feelings—or fear or grief or any other hard feeling that we’re on the brink of, or otherwise suppressing, or just need to experience in a safe way.

If I’m right about this in Lennon’s case, he doesn’t know that’s what he’s doing. But I do think he wants to experience this feeling. His crying when he hears the sad-sounding part of this song doesn’t seem like an unanticipated effect, a bad moment in an otherwise pleasurable experience (as if he were seeking the pleasurable part and then was surprised anew, each time, by his own tears). I think he’s working something out in his own weird little toddler way. And because music is his thing, it’s unsurprising that he would be working it out through a musical experience.

I think you should play or sing “Otyta” whenever he asks for it. Until you get sick of it. (When you can’t bear another repetition of “Otyta,” I recommend “The Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell. I’m betting that would give Lennon the good cry he’s seeking too.) And for a good read on the subject of why and how songs make people cry—along with a list of some tried-and-true ones that do—check out this piece in the Atlantic.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband, son, and I have been isolated since March 16. I am 31 with pretty well-controlled type 1 diabetes. I am currently on unpaid leave from a retail job in the cellphone industry (because of being high risk they allowed me a leave of absence). However, I am due back June 1 or I forfeit my job. I am concerned I could get sick working in a public-facing environment touching cellphones, and given that my immune system is less than perfect, I am very fearful about what this could mean. Plus, our 3-year-old son would have to go back to day care (in a place that also serves health care workers’ children) because my husband is working 55 hours a week. We’ve agreed that my returning to my job is not worth the risk and that it is in the best interests of our family for me to quit my job. We have some savings and his job seems to be secure. But I’m worried. We can’t afford for him to be the only wager-earner indefinitely and I’m afraid that giving up my job now, when so many people are being forced out of work, is a terrible decision. I know it will not be easy to get a new job later when things are safe, because so many other people will be looking for work too. I have an associate’s degree and a history of retail jobs only, so I am not the most alluring candidate, and if I quit this job I will also have a large gap in employment on my resume. I am scared to work and I am scared to quit! What would you do?

—Scared of Dying

Dear Scared,

Because these are both entirely legitimate fears, I would weigh them carefully. And I would come to the conclusion that staying alive and healthy—for your sake, and for your child’s sake—trumps going back to work in a risky environment at this horribly uncertain time. Do you need my blessing (or rather the blessing of anyone who’s “objective”)? You have it. I’ll go so far as to urge you to stay home. When the moment is at hand to deal with what comes next, you will. One hard thing at a time—that’s all any of us can do right now.

—Michelle

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