Dear Care and Feeding,
Several years ago, I bought my kids a pool. It is nothing fancy, just an aboveground pop-up pool. It gives them an outlet for active play, and I enjoy watching them swim. It is supposed to be a fun, fuss-free addition to the summer.
This summer, my neighbors have custody of their grandchild. They send the kid over early in the morning, in her swimsuit, and she starts asking if she can swim. I allowed her to hop in with my kids one day, and she used the potty in the pool. Since then, I have been firm that no one but our family can swim; but still they send her over, without invitation, for the day, everyday. My own kids have only been able to swim six times in six weeks at this point because this kid is always here. If I send her home, her grandparents sit on the porch with her and watch my kids swim.
My husband says I’m not being fair, and I should just include the kid. But I don’t want to clean poop from my pool again. I also feel that it is unfair of these virtual strangers to expect me to babysit, lifeguard, and clean up after their grandchild every day. If we are being honest, my own children have been home for well over 115 days in a row, and I am so over the constant child care that I don’t want to watch yet one more kid, swimming pool or not. Am I being unreasonable about this? Do I have a responsibility to open my pool to the neighbors’ grandkid?
—Pool Party Pooper
I mean, there are swim diapers that can deal with poop (not the poop germs and bacteria, of course, just … the materials), but I suspect that even if this kid were in an astronaut suit, you quite reasonably do not want to take on the responsibility of lifeguarding and monitoring someone else’s kid.
My sympathy for these grandparents, who I am sure did not envision having to take custody of a child during a pandemic, dried up very quickly when I read that they just keep sending her over every day, putting you in the position of being the bad guy for wanting to enjoy the quiet use of your own property. Be nice to her, walk her back, say you’re so sorry but the pool is not available. If they want to sit on their porch and guilt-trip you all day with their eyes, that’s on them. If your husband cannot bear to back you up on this, he can be the lifeguard, and he can disinfect your pool.
I also strongly urge you to get a locking pool cover, as pools are frequently considered “attractive nuisances” in many places, and no one wants the unfathomable tragedy of a neighbor’s child coming to harm on their property.
I am sorry this is happening. You are not an ogre for not wanting a kid who is not potty-trained using your pool, nor for not wanting to have to perp-walk some poor child off your property every morning.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
How much socializing do young children need? I have a 2.5-year-old and an 11-month-old. My husband and I have decided to hold off placing them in preschool and day care until next spring due to COVID-19 concerns, but both our mothers say we are doing a disservice to them making friends and learning to socialize in groups.
My oldest has two friends we see weekly each for outside play dates. My youngest happily toddles alongside them, though she has no friends closer to her own age. They are both happy children, are very good at sharing, and are hitting all their milestones, but tend to be introverted like their father and me. Do they need more time with friends and in groups settings?
—Is This Enough?
I answered this one in a recent live video, but I’ll expand on (or, rather, shorten) it here for a larger audience.
This is enough. You’re fine. Developmentally speaking, it’s after 3 years of age that peer interaction becomes more important, and if your child has friends they get to see twice a week and are happy and busy and hitting their milestones, I wouldn’t worry at all. The 11-month-old? Could not matter less.
I am happy to relieve you of one set of worries.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I am a professional horse trainer and did competitive show jumping and hunters as a teen, as well as some eventing and dressage. I own and run a riding school for competitive English equestrian events, but I also board and train horses on the side. Currently, we have several horses boarding during quarantine, and I am training a few as well. We live next to my school, and my teenage son and daughter have been helping me exercise the horses.
I’m getting very frustrated with them because they often forget important details about the horses’ temperament and exercise routine. My daughter hates going trail riding alone, so her brother will go with her. She does this every single time, even when she was riding a very bad-tempered and aggressive stallion who tried to bite and wanted to kick the younger mare her brother had. My son loves helping me train them, but he’s decided to just try and do it himself, undoing days or weeks of my training in the process and teaching them the wrong things. I can’t exercise and train 12 horses on my own every day, so I really need their help, and I understand being nervous to ride alone with a big horse and wanting to show off what you learned. And they’re teenagers—of course they’re a little forgetful. How can I get them to remember the rules for this?
—Grown-Up Horse Girl
Dear Horse Girl,
Ah, jeez. Look, free labor ain’t free. I don’t think your clients would be thrilled to know they are paying for professional care and training and instead getting two goofy-ass teenagers messing around on their expensive, fragile animals when and if the mood strikes them. All horse people (of which I am one, so I understand) know that the person mucking the stalls is highly likely to be a kid who just wants to partly subsidize the odd lesson or just get some bonding time in, but that’s very different from knowing their trainer’s son is trying to play Horse Whisperer on their easily messed-up prospect. Or that their trainer’s daughter is going to quite potentially cause a large claim on their liability insurance as the horse’s owner (if they are smart enough to have liability insurance) when that stallion knocks the teeth out of a mare on the trail.
If your children get injured on a horse they are not being formally contracted to train, as minors, your health insurance company will be trying to go after your clients for their medical bills. That’s just the reality of life.
You have a business problem and a parenting problem. Your business problem is that you’ve overextended yourself in terms of horses, and you have insufficient paid staff. I can’t fix that.
Your parenting problem is that your teenagers are teenagers, and they are not great at being detail-oriented and following your instructions. I can’t really fix that one either! You can’t use “firing” them as a threat, as they are not employees, and also they know damn well you can’t train and care for 12 horses on your own.
What you can do is bust them back to providing basic horse care, with color-coded charts about who can eat alfalfa and who needs a scoop of beet pulp and who absolutely cannot stand next to Seattle Stewface because he kicks, and know that if they throw up their hands because they’re bored to tears, you’re out of luck. You can sit down with them and lay out your concerns and explain that doing these jobs correctly helps keep the electricity on that they use to power their laptops and pay for their data plans and you need the whole family to pull together at this time. You can tell your son that if you catch him dicking around with a horse in active training again, he will grow old and die before he ever gets to use your car (I would lose my gotdamn mind if I walked into a barn and found my trainer’s fool son trying to teach my 3-year-old mare how to piaffe). You can forbid your daughter from taking a second, ill-suited horse out on a trail ride. You probably can’t force her to trail ride solo if she’s not comfortable with it. Frankly, I certainly would not be a huge fan of trail riding an aggressive stallion solo, so it may very well not be a question of just really enjoying getting in some extra time with her brother.
What this all comes down to is that if you can’t train the horses you’re being paid money to train, and you’re outsourcing it to your teenagers, and your teenagers are doing a bad job, you are fresh out of good options. Talk to the kids. Be real with them. Be appreciative of what they are doing, understand that everyone makes mistakes, try to find a solution that your whole family can sign on and comply with, and consider that you may have to call a few owners and say “I’m sorry, Less Winning Colors is going to have to go to a different facility, I’m overextended right now, and he deserves someone’s full attention.” Or hire a real employee. Training fees are not cheap; if you have 12 horses to work, you can pay someone minimum wage to work for you. Heck, you could see if paying your children results in a more businesslike situation on their end.
Family businesses are rough at the best of times, and these are not the best of times. I really feel for your situation, and all I have to offer are suggestions and a depressing reality check. I hope this gets better. This question might not seem like a widely applicable one, but it happens when people have farm kids who do chores and it happens when people have restaurants and their kids work in those restaurants and it happens all over the country.
You can lead a teenager to water, but you can’t make him remember to refill it, as the old saying goes. Thank you for asking me a question related to horses.
What’s the Best Way to Keep a Toddler From Escaping?
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 child to a mother who wanted many children. Sadly, her body couldn’t handle it, and she had multiple miscarriages after me. My whole life has been hearing her complain about the lack of children in her life and how she wanted more, more, more. I don’t. I don’t want any children. I may only be 22, but I haven’t wanted a child since I was 8. I never went hungry, but despite having both parents, we lived in poverty. In fact, things got so bad we’re currently in a homeless shelter in NYC. I can’t wish that on another child; even when this ends, I can’t see myself earning enough to care properly for a child. I have problems enough with my body and cannot fathom trying to live with it after a child ravages it.
My mother is disappointed and angry with my plans. She wants grandchildren, emphasis on multiple, and I’m the only option who can give them. I hate disappointing and upsetting her, but I just don’t want a child or children. She may have wanted a football team of children, but to me, the thought of one is nauseating. Should I just swallow my reasons, the ones listed and others, swallow my wants, and give her grandbabies? I don’t have a man, but it’s not hard to find one; I could do it, but I just don’t want to.
Essentially, my mother just wants grandchildren, and I fear my father does as well. He stays out of the arguments because he doesn’t want to put pressure on me. I don’t want to destroy my life for a child I don’t want, but I hate upsetting my parents, my mother in particular. What should I do?
—A Troubled Daughter
Absolutely do not have a child. You do not want a child. Your mother needs therapy, needed therapy a long time ago, and I have loads of sympathy for her many tragic losses, but you cannot possibly have a child in order to fix what’s wrong in her life, historically or today.
I am glad you know what you want. I’m so sorry for your current financial strictures and for your difficult childhood, and I hope things improve for you on all fronts. Do not have a baby. It wouldn’t be a drop in the ocean of your mother’s wants, and it’s the last thing you yourself want or need.
Hold firm. You only get one shot at this life.
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