Dear Care and Feeding,
My little boy is 2 years old. He’s lovely, chatty, generally sweet, and caring. He loves nature, and we are spending lots of time in our garden while in lockdown, collecting leaves, looking at insects, etc. He also loves looking at animals on TV and in pictures and books. However, he’s driving me crazy with one thing: He’ll find a tiny insect like an ant or caterpillar or snail, look at it for ages, completely fascinated … and then stomp on it.
I don’t think he understands that he’s killing it or even fully that he’s hurting it. I’ve tried gently explaining, I’ve tried consequences: We go inside straight away. I’ve chatted about insects and animals having moms and dads, etc. He’ll be lovely and sweet and gentle and talk about their families and … STOMP. It’s really upsetting me seeing insects die, and I’m also worried about those psychopaths you read about who start off killing animals.
A bit more context: We have a cat who generally avoids him because he’s rough and a baby who adores him whom he tries to be gentle with. He was in day care before COVID-19 and in 18 months we had two reports about him being a little rough but more in the sense of overexcited than deliberately hitting, etc.
—Mom of a Caterpillar Killer
At 2, I am really not concerned about bug-squashing. This is exactly the expected age at which a kid parrots back whatever you have said about “They have families!” and then proceeds to do exactly what he wants, which, at this stage, is step on bugs.
It’s upsetting for you. Keep bringing him back inside if he stomps on insects, keep telling him they’re harmless and alive, etc. He sounds like a busy, physical toddler who is cooped up in lockdown and amusing himself in a way he will likely shake on his own within the next year, especially if you keep up having consequences for it. Most 2-year-olds are too rough to play well enough with cats to have unfettered access to them, even if you have a much more tolerant cat than I, and two write-ups for excitability in 18 months of day care is … nothing. It’s nothing.
I would, in your place, also be a little bummed out about this, and if he were 5, I would be more concerned than just bummed, but he’s 2 and there is no reason to think there is anything more to it than “I AM A GIANT! WAHHHH!” toddler behavior. I’m glad he works on being gentle with his little sister; try to get him more physical exercise, and I wish you both (and the wee bugs) the very best.
Dear Care and Feeding,
About 15 years ago, my closest college friend, “Joe,” and I made an agreement that we’d godparent each others’ children. We’ve referenced this dozens of times in the intervening years. However, my wife is now pregnant, and we are thinking more carefully about who we want to select as godparents. Joe has a mental illness that he’s always been open about. It does not at all diminish my love for him or my gratitude for his friendship—but he’d be the first to say that this mental illness has made it difficult for him to build the kind of life he’d wanted to.
Meanwhile, through Joe, my wife and I met “Ken” and “Kathy.” Both are living much more stable lives that align more closely with the household we’d want our children growing up in. They are the obvious choice for godparents. But Joe has always compared himself with Ken and been sensitive about the role of mental illness in destabilizing his own life. I worry that though Joe would be sad about not being a godparent, he’d be absolutely devastated to know we chose Ken over him. It would be a broken promise on my part, not to mention confirm some of his own negative beliefs about his mental illness. I fear this would ruin one of the most treasured friendships in my life. What should we do?
I answered this question during my live video on Tuesday, but am going to cover it here as well for a larger audience.
Don’t do this to Joe.
Let’s talk a little about what godparents are and aren’t, then discuss your options. There are formal Catholic godparents, who are people who physically stand there and promise to help raise your child to be Catholic. You have not indicated this is your situation, but if it is, there is no reason you can’t have Joe stand as godparent and then ask Ken and Kathy to have a strong spiritual role in your child’s life.
There is the common misapprehension that “godparent” means “the people who will raise my child if something happens to me and my spouse.” This can be the same person or persons, but it does not have to be, and also you do not have the legal ability to formally “leave” your children to a third party. Your wishes will be taken into consideration, but a judge will always make the final decision after delving into the suitability of that home and those caregivers. You can have Joe as “godparent” and, in your will, strongly request that Ken and Kathy be the people who raise your children in the event of your untimely death, if that is what you want (you may have family members you would prefer to fill that role).
Then there is the most common notion of “godparent,” which is saying to someone, “Hey, you’re their godparent. How cool is that?” This is not a legally binding document. It means whatever you want it to mean. You can have three godparents—lots of people do. You can make Joe and Ken and Kathy all godparents. You can make just Joe the godparent and then spend loads of time exposing your children to Ken and Kathy and holding them up as a shining example of whatever kind of people you hope your children will be. These are all fine, fine options.
What you can’t do, in my opinion, is tell Joe that after 15 years of promising he will be the godparent to your kids, you have swapped him out for people he introduced you to that you think would be better godparents. You say that this would devastate Joe and also ruin your friendship and be detrimental to his mental health. I think it would, at least, be deeply unkind, and also unnecessary.
Make Joe the godparent. Consider also making Ken and Kathy godparents. In your wills, think carefully about whom you might want to raise your children and talk to them about it. Let your kids spend a tremendous amount of time around Ken and Kathy.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My parents were desperately unhappy people who were violent toward me and my sibling when we were children. Five years ago I made the painful decision to cut contact from my father and sibling (my mother died some years ago).
My husband’s parents, by his and his sister’s own individual accounts, were loving and attentive throughout his childhood. They were also warm and welcoming to me, and we enjoyed a great relationship until about two years ago, when I was diagnosed with cancer a week after discovering an early-stage pregnancy. It was a stressful time; lots of tears were shed, wills hastily drafted, major surgery commenced, followed by a long chemotherapy course that took place during what became a high-risk pregnancy.
During this time, the in-laws simply … dropped off. They then proceeded to further distance themselves from us. Examples of this distancing include skipping my eldest’s birthday party and opting to hold celebrations at their house without us instead of traveling to us at Christmas (we live three hours away from each other, and I needed to continue chemo and be close to the obstetrician). They have spent perhaps a grand total of four hours with the baby spread across three visits since she was born over a year ago, and each time she was frightened of them because she didn’t know them.
In the meantime, my sister-in-law enjoys a close and supportive relationship with them. Her children spend far more quality time with them than we could ever hope to get them to consider doing with ours. During times of her crises, they were there for her the way they weren’t for my husband.
I’ve grown used to having no expectation of support or any kind of warmth from parental figures, but my husband was deeply hurt by their indifference. And I have no idea how to support him in this, due to our very different childhoods and respective relationships with our families. Right now he simply pulls away from them, I keep track of and buy presents for the birthdays and holidays for his family, they contact me instead when they can’t get a hold of him—and I get Chidi Anagonye–style stomachaches while I try to come up with a white lie to them as to why he can’t come to the phone and why we haven’t been visiting.
I love my husband and children very much. I can’t see my in-laws changing their ways. I want to make this better for everyone and I’m not sure how. There is no way in hell our children would not notice or feel slighted by the way their grandparents relate to their cousins relative to how they are treated.
—Is It Because I Had Cancer?
Oh, man. I’m very sorry. People do frequently handle serious illness very, very badly. Sometimes because they do not like being around sick people, or think it would be traumatizing to their kids; sometimes because it is an unwanted reminder of our mortality; and sometimes it’s because they are so desperately afraid of saying The Wrong Thing that they instead say nothing at all. It can be deeply hurtful. I’m sorry for you, and I’m sorry for your husband.
They are just not people to be relied upon for emotional support at the current time, I fear, whatever the reason is. Your husband will have to be the one who pushes for a stronger relationship, and I encourage him to do so. You’re not going to forget they went radio silent suddenly during your worst health crisis, and you do not have to. I suspect that sheepishness and guilt are what have maintained the subsequent distance between you. It sucks.
You want things to improve, and I think it sounds as though it’s very important to you that your kids build a strong relationship with their grandparents. You are not holding the kids hostage because you are angry, although you are certainly justified in being angry and disappointed. I think your husband should sit down with his parents and say, “We’d love to see you more. How can we make sure our kids have a closer relationship with you?” and move forward accordingly. It will be hard to not castigate them for dropping you like a hot potato during your illness, and you also have no guarantees that they’ll do the necessary work (or that if, heaven forbid, you should become sick again, that they’ll behave any differently). But I would give them a chance to fix it. If they have no interest in fixing it, you’ll know. Declining the generous offer of a clean slate is a fairly definitive answer. If your husband is still sufficiently hurt by their indifference to continue pulling away despite your encouragement, that’s an answer as well.
I hope they mend their ways, and I’m very sorry for your troubles.
Should Parents Force Their Seniors to Celebrate Graduation?
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,
Our 11-year-old daughter just got her first period (during stay-at-home orders too, ugh). Here’s the problem: She refuses to talk about it. She texted me (from her room) the day it happened and asked me not to talk to her about it (I quote: “Do not mention this ever again!”). A while later, I went to her and hugged her. She was teary. I said, “We don’t have to talk about it, but I just want to know if you have what you need (in the way of products) and have any questions.” She screamed over me the entire time (“No! No! Noooooo!”). I wish she felt like talking to me about it, but I get that she needs her space. I just want to give her the basic info: product options, how to track it on a calendar, how it might change in timing and flow over the first few months, what to do if you feel bad, etc. But she loses her mind when I try. She said she “got what she needed” from my bathroom, then shut down.
She has known about the birds and bees and puberty for years, so she’s not clueless, but she always hated and avoided the topic. She has always run from the room at the slightest hint of sex/puberty coming up in conversation. Her dad and I have been open about these topics, answered any questions our kids had, used medically correct terminology for body parts, etc. Nothing about this topic makes us uncomfortable. Our daughter is sensitive and gets embarrassed very easily (gets angry and hides) and has been like that since she was a toddler, so I imagine this situation is the ultimate humiliation for her. She also didn’t get sex education in fifth grade this year since school closed early due to COVID-19. I bought her a couple books about puberty several months ago, gave them to her, asked her to look through them and ask me any questions. She flipped out and threw them out of her room. So now I leave them on the coffee table, and she periodically stuffs the books behind the couch, in a closet, etc.
So! She doesn’t want to talk about this. I get it! I’ll leave her alone. But this is a big change to be navigating at a young age, and I feel like I’m leaving her ill-equipped. I’m not sure she even knows the basics of self-care! She’s very private, and I doubt she talks to her friends about this stuff either. Please help.
—I’m Stuck. Period.
You’ve done all the right things. I don’t think it was unreasonable to hug her and ask if she had what she needed and say you were available to answer questions! You have given her the books. You have used the correct words and tried to emphasize that bodily functions and puberty are normal and expected.
And now you have to let her be. You know that. This is an outsize reaction, absolutely, and I would be on the alert for signs of anxiety in other aspects of her life. If there is any possibility whatsoever that she has had a traumatic experience with another person, I would do my best to eliminate that as an explanation. But since she has always been this way about body stuff, I think the most likely thing is that she is going through puberty on the young side and just … hates it.
She has what she needs. She is better equipped than kids in many, many earlier generations were, who unfortunately often got “there are rags under the sink, never mention this again, it’s a shameful secret.” I do not think you are being the mom who freaked out about her kids not wanting to be naked, and you know it’s time to step back. This would upset me too. But our children are who they are, and your daughter is not someone who is going to give you the warm, mutual, supportive “let’s talk about periods” experience you had hoped for.
If the situation worsens, if she begins wearing soiled clothes, if every month she has a total breakdown, you’re going to have to try to get her to talk to someone who isn’t you. But I hope that is not the case and this is just a massive “I’m in lockdown and this thing I hate is happening and I don’t want anyone to know about it” outburst that will fade.
Please keep me posted on this. I am not unconcerned about her, despite prescribing no more than waiting and monitoring her emotional health at this time.
More Advice From Slate
I was recently asked by a professional acquaintance to be the best man at his wedding. I’m very surprised by the request, as he and I only talk once or twice per year about work, and I do not consider him to be a personal friend. I would feel gross while pretending my way through a wedding I have zero personal investment in. But I also wonder if this person had no one else to ask. I think of how awful that must feel and wonder if going might be a random act of kindness for a relative stranger. And to a lesser extent, I worry about burning a bridge that could be useful for me professionally in the future. Can I say no? And if so, how?