Care and Feeding

My Daughter’s Little Friend Keeps Saying He’s Her Boyfriend

She wants to be kind, but his clinginess is annoying!

A girl looks annoyed with her hands on her cheeks and a younger boy looks on with hearts in his eyes.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

Nicole is out today, so we’re publishing a few of her classic Care and Feeding letters. Have a question? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Recently, I ran into another mother picking up her first-grade son from the after-school program he attends with my 10-year-old daughter, Jane. Her son (let’s call him Joe) seems to have some difficulty fitting in with other kids. The boy’s mom stopped me and thanked me for having such a kind daughter who was nice to her son when very few other kids had been, and always made him feel included. I was really proud of Jane when I heard that—I was a bullied kid and I’m glad to know that she has taken my lessons to heart about being kind.

However, a few days later Jane asked if she could talk to me in private and confessed that she was having some problems with Joe. Apparently in the after-school program he has been telling everyone that Jane is his “girlfriend” and basically won’t leave her side the whole time she is there, even sitting next to her and staring at her while she is working on her homework. She said that she knows it’s important to be kind and make people feel included, but he’s sort of driving her insane, and she doesn’t like him calling her his girlfriend. She said she had asked him directly to give her some space, told him that she doesn’t like being touched when he tries to hold her hand, and has asked the teachers to help her, all to no avail.

I want to raise a daughter who has a sense of her own worth and is willing to confront men behaving badly. I also feel a lot of sympathy for Joe, who sees a popular and (I may be biased) cute girl who is nice to him and has grabbed on for all he’s worth. How do I advise her in this situation? And is it worth me calling the after-school program and asking them to do better about enforcing my daughter’s boundaries?

— Where Do I Draw the Line?

Dear Where Do I Draw the Line,

This is so unfortunate. Joe is not being done any favors in this situation; learning how to hear and abide by social boundaries is as important a skill as any that we learn as children. He is, however, only in first grade, which means this is a great opportunity for him to work on this issue.

I would absolutely talk to the after-school program (be especially clear about the no-touching rule), and in the meantime, ask your daughter to treat him with the civility she would treat any other younger child in the program with, while also being extremely firm if he does something that makes her uncomfortable. If the people running the program continue to whiff on this issue, you’ll have to talk to Joe’s mother. “It’s so common for younger kids to get crushes on older kids,” you can say, “but Joe is getting a little too attached to Jane and we’d like him to back off.”

This doesn’t have to be about Joe being weird, or bad, or different. This is very standard kid stuff, everyone has to learn it, and you’ll get a lot further with Joe’s mother if you seem firm but unfazed by his behavior. Your daughter sounds like a lovely young woman, and very kind.
Well done!

Read the original column.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a mother of a 13-month-old girl, and another girl on the way! My daughter is sweet and lovely, and always smiling and laughing at everyone. She loves the attention. Ever since she has been able to smile back, people keep making the joke that she is “flirting” with the men. I know they are being harmless, and I am surely reading too much into it. But I am beyond weirded out. No one makes the joke when she smiles at my aunts or my girlfriends, just the men—why would people say this?! I want to be clear: I do not feel any discomfort or danger from these people. They are not inappropriate with my daughter. I just hate the joke.

She obviously does not understand what they are saying, so it’s no harm, no foul, right? I’ve never said anything about it before. I usually move the conversation along, but I leave these interactions feeling like I didn’t stand up for her. Isn’t it my job as her mother to feel this way? Should I say something when it happens? Is this no big deal?

— She’s a BABY

Dear She’s a BABY,

I think you are correct both that this is a weird, heteronormative thing people say to babies (along with “Is this your little boyfriend?” when your baby with a vagina is obliviously stacking blocks next to a baby with a penis) and also not a huge deal.

I think that you will not be failing your tiny blob by simply maintaining a neutral expression as though no joke had been made and then changing the subject. Calling people out will usually get you an extremely defensive “Are you saying I am sexualizing a baby?” and things will become worse than if they simply noted that their joke appears not to have landed and moved on.

If they push it, or are repeat offenders, you can get a bit crisper. “I don’t think Betsy is romantically interested in her Uncle Chad, no.” I predict a steep decline in these comments.

Read the original column.

• If you missed Thursday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

How do I get my daughter (22 months) to stop getting completely naked at night?

The first time it was funny. She’d waited till morning, had previously showed no skill or interest in taking her PJs off, and was really quite pleased with herself. The second time it was much less funny, as she’d smeared poop on pretty much every available surface. Another time recently, she’d done it early in the evening (we checked on her when we went to bed, and found her curled up completely asleep and completely naked) so we had to wake her up and put everything back on. She’s not doing it every night, but it’s often enough that it’s a problem. In addition to the potential mess, she wakes up pretty early in the mornings, probably because she’s naked and cold.

Most nights she’s wearing the basic Carter’s one-piece PJs, with a diagonal zipper and a snap at the top or something similar. (Also cloth diapers with snaps, but I think any diaper is probably easy to get off.) I know she can definitely get a shirt off and is getting good with pants, as well.

— Just … Keep Your Clothes On!

Dear JKYCO,

Hahahahahahahahaha. Well, yes, this is extremely common and also annoying as heck (especially when it gets messy). But marvel at her fine motor control!

My solution is actually pretty straightforward (and has been tested in the field): You gotta put the jammies on backward. Most of the time you can do it fairly easily (and I sense it’s worth it to you to acquire a few new PJs that can be worn backward with ease). Either that will hold her, or she will become a Cirque Du Soleil performer and you can be proud of her and tell all your friends.

One quick question, though: How’s the temperature in that room? She may wake up naked and cold, but is it warmer when she goes down at night? Just something to think about.

Read the original column.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I are expecting our first child, and we happen to live in a city where day care is extremely competitive. I’m talking two-plus-year waitlists everywhere we toured. I want to increase our chances of getting into one of these coveted programs any way I can. The majority of these great programs are run by churches. While we happen to be atheists, I’m not opposed to religion, and I think it’s good to expose our child to it as an option they may want.

My in-laws are super religious and will demand we get baby baptized in their religion. I’m fine with that. It’s just a little water, and they’re not trying to make me convert (yet).

Here’s the problem: In an effort to dramatically increase our chances of getting into a good day care, I want to join the church of my No. 1 pick. It’s not the religion of my in-laws. My husband thinks we should just hope for the best and let the chips fall where they may.

Is it ethical for me to join a church because I want the day care, given that I like the community aspects but don’t currently believe in God? My husband thinks this is a horrific abuse, since I am directly benefiting from a community I don’t belong in and would not be a part of without the day care.

He has no issue with the baptizing, since we get no benefit other than making his parents happy. I think they’re both on the same ground ethically, since I am not particularly fond of my in-laws’ religion and will never attend a service there or join that community.

— Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Dear Wolf,

I agree that both of these ideas are pretty much ethically equal, and that your husband obviously prefers the one that gets his parents off his back.

I myself am a practicing Christian, and let me tell you: All kinds of people show up. Cold people, hungry people, believers, immigrants seeking sanctuary, unbelievers praying to be freed from their unbelief, unbelievers who just want to get out of the rain, people who are mentally ill, unbelievers who have been showing up for 20 years to stay in Aunt Margo’s will, smug believers who are annoyed by the cold and hungry people, people who thought they were entering a museum, etc.

Is it a church whose values you think are appropriate for your child? This is what matters. I couldn’t enter a homophobic church if it meant my child ascending directly to the finest school in all the land, but could I hang out an hour a week with the Episcopalians and stand and sit when everyone else does and sort-of listen and then steal some cookies on my way out and say, “Great sermon, Pastor Tim”? Why not. If getting into this day care means enough to you to show up, go for it.

Also, they know your little game. Plenty of churches attached to day cares are keeping the lights on by contributions from uninterested parents hoping to get a leg up on the competition.

What’s ethically broken is the lack of universal day care in this country. What you’re proposing is up there with jaywalking. I am more comfortable with the idea of you showing up and being technically open to what this church is saying than I am with you verbally pledging to raise your child in your in-laws’ faith, knowing as you say so that it’s a lie. But, you know, that’s because I think God can hear you. If you don’t, why would you care? If it all turns out to be malarkey, I’ll see you in the great Void or in Valhalla or the afterlife of whoever’s right soon enough. But yeah, your husband is totally overplaying his hand.

Have a day with the exact amount of blessing you desire!

Read the original column.

— Nicole

More Advice From Slate:

On Mom and Dad Are Fighting, Slate’s parenting podcast, soccer legend Abby Wambach recently answered a question from the parent of a “weirdly athletic” 4-year-old who doesn’t know how to handle their child’s intense passion for sports.

“I think there are three things that we share with our kids when they walk off the soccer field. Number one: I love watching you play. Period. Number two: How did that feel? How did it feel out there? And number three: What was something that you learned today that you didn’t know before? And that’s it. That is all you need to say to your kids after soccer games, because anything more, and you are indirectly telling them that your love is conditioned on them being good or not messing up on the field. The whole thing with sports is making mistakes and dealing with it and making mistakes and dealing with it.”

For Wambach’s full answer, listen to the latest episode, and subscribe to Mom and Dad Are Fighting wherever you listen to podcasts.