Care and Feeding

Will Extra Quarantine Presents Spoil My Daughter?

We’re normally conservative with gifts, but these weekly “creative activities” are a lifesaver right now. Is there any way to go back?

Crayons strewn about a table.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by 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 husband and I are both attempting to work from home during the quarantine. My 3-year-old daughter wants constant attention, so it’s hard to get anything done. I started purchasing what I would call “creative activities” online (coloring books, sticker books, bracelet-making kits, etc.). I typically purchase a few cheap ones per week—it gives my daughter a fun, creative activity to occupy her for a little bit.

Since we started quarantining in mid-March, I have bought so many things my husband and I are now worried that we might be “spoiling” my daughter with new stuff all the time. For context, we don’t purchase many toys for her during the year (she gets a nice batch of new stuff at birthday and Christmas time), but we try to be careful about giving her lots of toys in an effort to not spoil her (she is an only child). My husband thinks we should scale back with the gifts, but I think, because the items are more activity-type and less plastic junk, that it’s less likely to spoil her? Once the quarantine is over, we fully intend to go back to our very infrequent purchasing of new toys, but I still wonder if this is a bad strategy?

—Quarantined and Confused,

Dear QaC,

This is fine. You’re fine. If you can afford it, don’t worry about it. Keep on keepin’ on, and be firm about scaling back when things get better.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 10-month-old baby has discovered the joy of touching his penis during diaper changes. I don’t care (and ignore) when he does it during his bath, but I really don’t want to deal with a bout of pediatric E. coli because he got poop on his hands and then put them in his mouth. I try to distract him by handing him toys, teethers, or honestly anything else in reach that isn’t a choking hazard, but he’s much more interested in what’s going on down below. I also tried a standing-up diaper change, but he’s an early walker and I ended up chasing down a half-naked baby and lying him down to get the clean diaper on. Is there a non-sex-shamey way of saying “eww, gross, that’s dirty, don’t touch that,” or am I overthinking this?

—Please Just Stop

Dear PJS,

I answered this question in last Tuesday’s live video, but I’m going to expand on it here for a larger audience.

They’re gonna touch their penises. It’s just what they do. It’s like being a human Transformer. It’s still very exciting to many adults.

I recommend the diaper tent, which is placing the clean diaper on top of the penis while you change the rest of their Situation. Keep giving him toys, place one hand on top of the diaper tent so he can’t rip it off, and wipe with the other. There’s no point to saying anything like “ew, gross, dirty” because he’s 10-months-old and will not understand it and also by the time he does understand it, that’s not really how you want him to feel about his penis.

I wish you all the best.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m about to get my first nibling and I don’t really care that much, I guess? People are like “AREN’T YOU EXCITED?” and … no? … I’m happy for my sibling but I have no anticipatory glee. I have always made the fake noises about being happy about my friends’ babies, and I apparently faked it enough that I have relationships with my friends’ kids, and I’m clearly not the bumbling moron with children I always thought I was. But my sibling lives halfway across the country, and I just don’t see myself being that involved—I don’t like visiting their town anyway, and they have visited me about twice in the last 20 years.

We are friendly and get along, we just don’t see each other that much. To clarify, I don’t have kids and have never really wanted them or been interested in them before they reach the age of reason. I was extremely precocious and could have a real conversation with you by the time I was 2, and while I realize every kid isn’t me, I am EAGERLY awaiting that stage of my friends’ kids’ lives (BFF’s kid is 7 and isn’t there yet, sigh; the 5-year-old whisper-talks, and I can’t even hear half of what they say).

I just feel like I’m being judged for not caring about babies, and I’m also sure no one would notice if I were a guy. Before the quarantine everyone was like “why don’t you visit to see the BAYBEEEEEEE” about my future nib when my plan was just to come home at Christmas like usual (six months after the birth). Am I a monster? I don’t care about babies. I don’t want to hold babies. I will die without changing a diaper, and I want that for myself. I realize the quarantine has simplified this somewhat for me but still.

—Not Into Babies

Dear NIB,

Lots of people don’t like babies. I think you’ll do a perfectly adequate job when they’re older, but you don’t ever have to be someone who gets excited about babies and small children. I do encourage you (and any people without kids who have nieces and nephews and close friends with kids) to pick up a book about basic developmental milestones, so you have an accurate picture of what, precisely, a “normal,” nonprecocious, garden-variety kid should be doing at a given time. With infants, just say, “Wow, her neck is so strong, look at her holding her head up”—parents love that. There’s honestly not much else you can say about newborns.

There’s nothing wrong with you. There’s a reason (well, a few reasons) that most adults, prior to having children, don’t spend all their free time hanging out with small kids. They have sticky hands and incomprehensible speech and want to do the same thing over and over and over again.

Be polite, fake a little interest, learn a little bit, compliment their neck strength and their ability to shovel Cheerios into their mouths. Watch this, it may resonate.

What Should You Do When Grandma Starts Playing Favorites

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 single mom with a toddler who is an absolute sweetheart, except for one developing problem. I’m still breastfeeding (in addition to a solid food diet) and neither my son or I is really ready to stop. I’m concerned about how COVID-19 might affect food supply chains, and since I’m pretty stressed out, I want to hang on to one of my son’s soothing techniques. He mostly nurses when he wakes up, when he gets home from day care, and right before bedtime.

But recently, he’s started waking up in the middle of the night (sleep regressions happen, I get it) and only wanting to nurse back to sleep. That wouldn’t be too big a problem, since we co-sleep, but since he isn’t totally awake, he frequently bites. Once or twice I could live with and call an accident, but it happens every night, and is less a single chomp than it is 10 to 15 minutes of a wriggling 18-month-old grinding his teeth on my nipples. No matter what I try, nursing is the only way he goes back to sleep, and nothing stops him biting. Is there a solution to this that doesn’t involve weaning?

—Nip It in the Bud

Dear NIitB,

I mean, you’re the one having your nips gnawed on every night, so it’s your call, but I think that you should likely start weaning (it was going to happen sooner or later) and then, once weaning is done, transition out of co-sleeping. At 18 months, you can reasonably say “last feed of the night!” at bedtime, and then hold the line. If he really won’t go back to sleep, even after a little crying, you could see if offering him a bottle of expressed milk or formula does the trick. It will make the eventual weaning easier.

I find that people too frequently describe other people nursing their toddlers as “it’s for you, not for him,” but in this case, I do think it’s a little bit about you. You’re “pretty stressed out,” not your son, and the release of soothing hormones via breastfeeding is very mutual. Weaning can also cause hormonal changes, so keep an eye on that and contact your doctor if you feel anxiety or despair during this time period (a lot of women do, and they don’t talk about it except with friends).

I think it’s time. I wish I had a solution that didn’t involve weaning, but I don’t. If you really aren’t comfortable weaning, then go ahead and unpop the suction seal with your pinkie finger the minute he starts biting, and say, “no no, that hurts Mommy,” and that might cut down on the gnawing some.

Good luck!

— Nicole

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