Dear Care and Feeding,
We recently left town for a month due to a death in the family and hired a recent college graduate who lives down the street (and has been our go-to babysitter for the past year) to house-sit and care for our dog. Due both to current “stay home” restrictions and our dog’s unpredictable behavior around strangers, we clearly established that we expected her to be the only person in our house while we were gone. Unfortunately, when we returned, we fairly quickly discovered evidence that she had someone else staying with her, which she quickly admitted when we asked. (While we were gone, she had at various points lied both affirmatively and by omission to conceal this other person, including by temporarily disabling our exterior security cameras.) Clearly, this was a massive violation of our trust as well as our privacy, security, and current public health best practices. We have already expressed to her our hurt and disappointment, and we’ve told her that we can no longer hire her for anything going forward, or recommend her to anyone else.
My question is, should we actively tell other parents in our neighborhood network what happened, or should we keep it to ourselves? On the one hand, it speaks to the sitter’s character, and I think I would want to know if I were hiring her as a sitter. On the other, I’m willing to accept that she made a series of bad and compounding decisions in the context of house sitting for us that don’t necessarily mean she is not generally a good babysitter. And it seems potentially vindictive to preemptively condemn her to others (though we would only be sharing the facts about her conduct). We’d appreciate an outside perspective!
—Not Mad, Just Disappointed
Ordinarily, I think firing a house/dog/babysitter, being extremely clear about why, and refusing to serve as a reference is a perfectly adequate response to a major fuck-up on their part. If a teenager snuck her boyfriend over after the kids were asleep, while babysitting, a year ago, that would be more than sufficient, and if she was remorseful when caught I would probably not even have fired her.
She turned off your external security cameras in order to do a thing you specifically told her absolutely not to do? During a pandemic?
That’s wild. That’s wild behavior. Even considering that the person she brought over is clearly in close proximity to her and is unlikely to be carrying anything she doesn’t already have. I would indeed have sufficient concerns about her character that I would feel comfortable warning neighbors I actually know. I would not be out there taping flyers to lamp posts! But if I knew Jean and Doug next door were looking for a babysitter, I would absolutely tell them. You’re not going to ruin her life, but this is the kind of behavior that will cost her opportunities, and the low-grade consequences of “You’ll never work for certain families on Lawrence Avenue again!” are well within the bounds of acceptable reactions to this.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I have three daughters. They are 8, 5, and 1. They are all very sweet and kind kids. They play well together, and although there is an occasional fight, they make up quickly.
My oldest is the leader of the group. She is generally sweet and loving; however, she takes the leadership role. She likes things her way, but she is generally pretty good at sharing and doing things that her sisters want to do.
My middle daughter is kind and funny. If we were to ask for the perfect middle child, she would be it. She loves playing with her older sister and loves playing with her little sister as well. She speaks her mind, but she generally goes along with whatever they want to do. I think it is because she is just an easy-going kid. She speaks up, but she isn’t demanding and generally goes with the flow.
My youngest daughter is pretty demanding, and since she is the baby, everyone wants to please her. However, if anyone gets lost in the crowd it is probably her. She gets shuffled around to all the older kids’ events.
My middle daughter is incredibly generous. She will give her sisters a bite of whatever she is eating if they ask and play whatever they want to play. However, she cannot stand it when they get something that she doesn’t get. She cries, which she rarely does, and can be inconsolable if her sisters get anything. For example, our youngest daughter outgrew her baby tub, and she is not big enough for the real bathtub, so we got her an inflatable one. The tub helps her if she falls and saves us some water since we don’t have to fill up the big tub for her. In any event, this was sort of a supply purchase and not a gift.
My middle daughter cried and cried over it. She can’t even use the tub! She’s too big! My wife and I are both professionals, so our kids are not without things. I don’t think we spoil them, but if they ever need anything, they get it. We generally pay for experiences rather than toys. If they get something from us, it is usually a craft, art supplies, books, puzzles, or games, but they do get toys—mostly from their grandparents.
—Dad to a Material Girl
I wouldn’t overthink this at all. You sound like you have very normal children. Let your middle daughter cry over the tub. She’s being a 5-year-old jerk. It doesn’t mean anything about her life or her future or her character, so long as you don’t get in the habit of giving in to this sort of nonsense tantrum.
I am delighted to tell you that I see no signs of deep-seated dysfunction here, and I wish you all the best.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I are living alone in NYC due to my work relocation. I am in tech and have always worked long hours. My husband is a mathematics graduate who had a hard time finding himself here, and as a result became the stay-at-home husband, taking care of the home, cooking, etc.
Recently, (9.5 months ago to be precise) we had twin girls. It was clear to us from the outset that our roles would remain in place. My husband would stay home with our daughters, while I would return to work after my maternity leave ran out. We would hire a sitter occasionally for date night, or to ease my husband’s life a bit. Then COVID-19 happened.
I was already plagued by mom guilt from the start. I had a terrible time breastfeeding, despite living among women who did it without a hitch. Going back to work made me very depressed, and I felt like I was “wrong”—wrong as in dysfunctional, unfit to be a parent at all, which meant that my work took a minor hit. After the shutdown, I was blessed to be able to work from home, the trouble being that “home” is a one-bedroom prison, occupied by the twins, us, and two feline gentlemen.
My husband arranged a work corner in our bedroom, telling me to just close the door and work as much as I needed to, and he would call me only if he needs help urgently. And he stuck to his guns. But I hear everything. The babies are too big for most contraptions that distract smaller infants (swings and jumperoos and the like). They can obviously be in a baby carrier one at a time, and even then, we have to keep moving. If we stand around—or heaven forbid, sit down with the carrier on—they wriggle and scream. My husband puts them in a big playpen he built them in the living room and plays in there with them, but he obviously needs to do other stuff, like wash dishes, eat and cook, and take care of the cats. When he leaves the babies in the playpen alone, even with a direct line of sight to him, they scream and cry. Not out of hunger or pain or cold, but (seemingly) out of boredom. I can’t sit in the room and listen to that, so the result is that I shirk my paying work even more to help my husband out.
My husband constantly tells me that I just need to put on noise-canceling headphones and let him do his thing, and that they need to learn to play alone, otherwise we’ll be stuck with spoiled toddlers and that will be tougher. But knowing that they’re crying and I can’t hear them and am actively ignoring them just sends me over the edge, depression-wise. I just stare forward. I can’t concentrate on work. I can’t arrive at any solution. If I only knew that letting babies cry for 20 minutes will not mean they’ll grow up depressed/emotionally unstable/psychotic I would probably have an easier time of it. My husband seems to really believe it. Should I?
Oh, you are in it. Even under the best of circumstances, twins wind up having to deal with less than your absolute best parenting game, and these are truly wretched circumstances indeed. I’m so sorry.
They should not be crying for 20 minutes at a time. That’s too much. Of course you cannot work while hearing that. Your particular visceral reaction is a little worrisome, and because of your mental health issues as a new mother, I encourage you to seek out some telemedicine therapy and work on your feelings of failure and also your situational depression. That will help, as will noise-canceling headphones, but, again, 20 minutes is too much crying for a 9.5-month-old baby (a colicky newborn? That would be a different situation).
I do not at all get the impression your husband is playing video games while the twins vainly shriek at him for attention, but I suspect you’re going to need to reshuffle some household tasks. I think you would be happier taking a break from work to feed the cats and make him a snack while he hangs out with the kids than you currently are, still not able to work, but hearing them shriek. He absolutely needs breaks as well, and deserves them (I absolutely could not be the main care provider to twins all day), but I believe that the current situation needs tweaking.
Being with the twins yourself, engaging with the twins more during the day, dividing your work up a bit … all of these things will help. You are not going to really get over feeling like you are incapable of mothering until you get into the mix and see that you can mother. Time is going to be the biggest helper: Twin parents, who are just absolutely white-knuckling it during the baby phase, often experience a lot of relief when their babies are just a little older than yours and magically discover they can entertain each other, and stop needing adult attention every waking minute to be content. It will get better.
When Is It Time to Finally Attempt That At-Home Haircut?
Dan Kois, Jamilah Lemieux, and Elizabeth Newcamp host this week’s episode of Slate’s parenting podcast, Mom and Dad Are Fighting.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m a teenager whose state is currently in semi-lockdown (I’m not sure exactly what it’s categorized as but we can leave for exercise, use parks, etc.). I was wondering how safe interacting from a distance is. While on bike rides, typically I’ll stop in front of a friend’s house, they’ll come outside (more than 6 feet) and we’ll talk for a bit before I leave. I am wearing a mask while riding, if that detail is important. My parents are fine with this, and actively encourage it, because they know I follow distancing rules and do not lie to them. They are also very concerned about the impact social distancing is having on me, so that may contribute to why they are accepting of this.
I’ve seen conflicting information about the safety of interaction from a distance, and I wanted to get your take on it. I have also gone for bike rides with friends (also 6 feet or more apart) and my parents have also encouraged that. I really don’t want to put my parents and brother in unnecessary danger, so if I need to stop I will. Thank you in advance for your advice!
I want to clone you. You are doing great. Keep it up. Stay safe, stay emotionally healthy, continue doing what you are doing, and tell your parents a professional advice columnist said they raised a great kid.
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My son attends an economically diverse school where more than half of students receive free or reduced lunch. During the book fair, one of his friends told him that he was sad because he would never get a book (we bought one for my son). We are comfortable and, while we won’t go crazy at the book fair, one book will not cause undue hardship. My son wanted to buy his friend a book, but I don’t know if that’s the best solution. When I was growing up, I was that kid never able to get things at the book fair, so I know how that feels. How do teachers handle disparity in incomes between students—both talking about it honestly, and helping to remedy it? Are there things parents can or should do to directly help our children’s classmates without insulting their families?
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