Dear Care and Feeding,
My partner and I are parents to a sensitive, clever, and very extroverted 6-year-old. She has the occasional sleepover with her godparents, Steve and Linda. They are two childless friends of ours who adore and love our daughter very much. Our daughter always seems to have a fantastic time. I’m grateful that they’re sharing their time with her, as my partner and I don’t come from large families and our daughter doesn’t have any local grandparents.
Linda has been a habitual cannabis smoker for as long as I’ve known her. I don’t judge or think less of her because of her drug use. But my partner and I have noticed that over the years, Linda’s use has increased to the point where it appears that she can’t go more than a few hours without smoking. The last time we visited, over the course of about 3–4 hours, Linda went off into another part of the house, presumably to smoke (you could smell it in the air when she came back).
Because of the frequency of Linda’s smoking, she doesn’t seem to be impaired or come across as high, but technically, she’s stoned all of the time. Since lockdown restrictions are easing in our state, Linda has been mentioning a sleepover, but my partner and I are apprehensive due to how often Linda went off to smoke the last time we visited. I don’t want to tell my friends how to behave in their own house, but I’m also not comfortable with my child spending extended periods of time there.
She’s old enough to notice that Linda intermittently disappears and comes back smelling funny, and I’m concerned about the risks of second- and third-hand smoke. But I don’t want for my daughter to lose the relationship she has with her godparents. How can I raise this issue with Linda and Steve without coming across as critical of their lifestyle choices or a helicopter parent?
—Grateful for Godparents
I’ll leave aside the question of whether it’s time for sleepovers outside our immediate household given everything else going on in the world. You value your relationship with Steve and Linda, so I think you should just approach them honestly! “We love you guys and especially love your special bond with our kid! But we’re a little concerned about Linda smoking while she comes over to stay. Do you think you can agree not to whenever she’s here?”
They might be taken aback, but if you say it gracefully, hopefully their feelings won’t be hurt. If they can make that promise, and you can trust them to honor it, the problem is truly solved! But I think you should leave them some wiggle room not to keep that promise. “It might seem a lot to ask. If it’s overstepping, or you’re unwilling, it’s not a big deal, and we’ll make sure to find other ways for you all to spend time together.”
I think this is an issue best dealt with directly; if you handle it straight and keep the focus on the question of your kid and these sleepovers, I think you’ll sort it out quickly. Also, I just want to note that acting like a parent doesn’t automatically make you a helicopter parent. It’s your job to protect your kid, and people who love your kid as Steve and Linda do will probably do a lot to honor your wishes when it comes to her care. Good luck.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I have been trying to work from home while simultaneously parenting our 5-year-old for over two months now. It has been a terrible, stressful disaster. My daughter has been unhappy as well (no friends, no school, it’s boring, etc.).
We decided that we would find some help. Her favorite caregiver from her after-school program was available, and after some discussion about protocols and exposure, we hired her part time. It has been magical!
But now my daughter complains constantly that she doesn’t like this babysitter and wants to spend all her time with us. We’ve tried to explain that we all have our jobs, and her job is to play with her babysitter. When they’re together they seem pretty happy (they’re in the house with us so we can hear), but every time the babysitter leaves, my daughter tells me she hopes that is the last day for the babysitter.
This sitter is delightful and patient with our sweet but stubborn child. How do I make this OK? This babysitter has transformed my day from crying in the bathroom with my laptop to some semblance of sanity. I can’t let her go. But how can I help my daughter understand how much better it is to have a playmate than spending every day lying on the ground at my feet while I’m on conference calls?
—Need a Break
Dear Need a Break,
Both parents balancing full-time work from home with young kids underfoot is utterly impossible, and it’s the situation in which so many families now find themselves. You’re lucky that you’ve been able to work out a child care scenario that works for everyone involved. I don’t blame you wanting to hold onto your sitter dearly.
What I can’t quite understand is why you’d even consider otherwise. Your daughter is only five, and surely if she complained about going off to school, you’d take her there nonetheless. You can hear that despite her complaints after the fact, your kid is happy enough with her new playmate, and you’re not worried about her safety.
If I were you, I’d simply redirect, or failing that, ignore your kid’s complaints. When she says, “I don’t like the sitter,” you say, “Hm, I do!” or “That’s strange, I heard you laughing like great friends!” or “That’s sad, because I know for a fact that she adores you!”
If she says, “It’s boring not being with you and Daddy,” you say, “Yes, it’s boring for us too, it’s too bad adults have to work!” or “It’s more boring being with Mommy and Daddy when we’re busy with our computers and phones, though!” or “I think being with the sitter sounds a lot less boring than being in my office!”
If your kid is stubborn and smart, she’s going to keep saying this because she can see it gets to you; if you have any sense, you’ll continue to redirect, ignore, and dance around the subject. You’ve got a good thing going here, and it would be madness to upend it because your 5-year-old asked you to.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’ve been fostering my nieces (my sister’s daughters, M, age 12, and L, age 6) for a year and a half. I am moving toward adoption. The transition has been as smooth as is possible. I love them to pieces.
As part of the adoption process, I was asked whether I’d want to change the girls’ names. My initial reaction was no, but M has her mother’s last name, while L has her father’s. He was abusive to my sister, and that was the major reason the kids were placed in my care; his parental rights have been terminated.
My mother suggested that L may want to share a surname with her mother and sister. We talked about it, and L did seem enthused.
Recently L asked if she could change her last name to mine. I don’t dislike the idea, but then L and I would share a name different from M and their mother. Another complication is the feelings of my sister. She continues to struggle with addiction, and I don’t want her to feel that we have moved on and that she is expendable.
But I don’t want to convey to L that other people’s feelings about her own name are more important than hers, or that I don’t love her like my own daughter. Is L too young to have a say in changing her name, and to what? Would this help her feel more certain that I’ll care for her forever, or be just another change? Am I overthinking?
—What’s in a Name?
Dear What’s in a Name,
While of course a name is neither here nor there, incidental to your bond as a family, I don’t think you’re overthinking this at all. I think your nieces/girls/almost daughters are lucky to have someone as thoughtful as you are in their lives.
It’s generous not to want to hurt your sister’s feelings inadvertently. It’s lovely to want to honor your younger niece’s feelings. But L is so very young to make a decision like this, far too young to appreciate the nuances that you articulate.
Your mother is onto something: There might be some particular magic to a surname shared by both girls. Theirs is a bond worth preserving, and yes, it might well matter to them later, if not now, that this is a name they share with the mother who gave birth to them.
If you worry that L might feel not sharing your name means you’re not going to be there for her forever, you can tell her that’s not the case. Both girls have been through a lot and reminding them you love them most certainly won’t hurt. But I have a feeling, based on this letter, that your girls already know this. Good luck to all of you!
Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m a stay at home mom to an awesome 2½-year-old. She’s currently still sleeping in her crib and I’m nervous to switch to a big-girl bed.
She was a terrible sleeper as a baby, up every hour for four hour stretches until she was 18 months but it’s been over a year now of sleeping at least 11 hours at night with an hour nap in the day. She’s totally potty trained during the day and at night I put her in a cloth diaper; she chats by herself in her crib for about a half-hour before falling asleep on her own.
I’m afraid once she’s able, she will be up out of bed and impossible to keep in. She likes it pitch black in her room, so I’m also afraid of her getting up at night and knocking into things. I know I’ve been dragging my feet with this, so I just need some tips on how to keep her in bed at night, and also how to potty-train her at night.
—Suffering From Sleep PTSD
I think you’re worrying over a problem you don’t yet have. I don’t blame you! It sounds as if your daughter’s terrible sleep habits as an infant still traumatize you. You’ve got a good thing going now, and you don’t want to ruin it.
So let me ask you this: Do you need to make this transition right now? Has your daughter physically outgrown the crib, or are you worried she might climb out and fall, or do you need to hand the crib off to a new baby, or what? There’s definitely no law that a 3-year-old must have a bed!
That said: It’s been over a year now of your kid sleeping 11 hours a night. You describe your daughter relaxing into slumber, not straining to climb out of the crib, realizing she can’t, then finally giving in. If your little girl has been asking for a big-girl bed and you think it’s time, that’s fine. Just know there’s no reason to believe that the upgrade to a bed will mean she’ll suddenly start tearing around the room before bed, or poking around in the middle of the night. For months after my older son made the leap from crib to bed, he would still call to us every morning to come get him—it never even occurred to him that he could just get up himself.
If your crib has removable sides, you could start there. Otherwise, get her a great bed, choose some bedding you think she’ll love, tuck her in at night, and assume her sleep will be as it has been for the past year. If she does start venturing out in the middle of the night, yes, that will be annoying, but I don’t think it’s guaranteed to happen. Also I wouldn’t worry about her tripping in the dark; I feel like kids can navigate their rooms by echolocation or something.
As for night potty training—if you think that’s too much to add into the mix of crib to bed transition, just let it go! Make one last visit to the potty part of the bedtime routine (you probably do this anyway), and I think over time you’ll find the diaper dry in the mornings until the point you can simply stop with it altogether. I think both of these are the kinds of steps that can feel so big and daunting in the moment, but six months on you’ll wonder what you were worried about. Good luck!
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