Care and Feeding

Our Beloved Day Care Teacher Quit

Is it weird to keep her involved in my son’s life?

A blond woman hugging a blond toddler.
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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,

We’ve been very lucky to have a wonderful relationship with our day care provider ever since I went back to work when my son was 12 weeks old. The whole organization takes wonderful care of him and he has thrived, but he’s had a particularly special relationship with one of his teachers. He loves her like she’s family, and she loves him, too. Fast forward to him at 18 months, and she just resigned due to interpersonal conflicts with the director of the day care. I’m absolutely crushed. She reached out to me on Facebook because she wasn’t going to be able to say goodbye and talked about how much she misses our son and how she hopes to be able to hear how he is doing.

We’ve been texting, and honestly I’m having such a hard time. My image of our day care provider is damaged from hearing what it’s like to be an employee there, but I am also finding myself grieving the loss of this extraordinarily special relationship my child had with a really wonderful woman. I’m also grieving someone I have viewed as a valuable ally while I was a new parent (she helped me fix nap problems! She’s a saint!!). It’s been an extremely emotional time, and I find that I want to try to find a way to keep her in our lives. Is that weird? She is very attached to my kid, and I feel like I’m supposed to be concerned about that? But instead I just feel grateful to have someone in my life who also loves my child and has been so important to him. All the information I can find about children having strong relationships with caregivers is about parental jealousy, and this is just the opposite. If I had the money to pull him out of day care and hire her as a full-time nanny, I would not bat an eye before doing it. I feel like the world has taught me to be skeptical of this kind of relationship, but I feel like I want to stay connected to her, and she’s expressed that she would like that too. How do I navigate this? Do I need to buckle down and encourage us all to move on, or is it possible to maintain a relationship with our beloved teacher?

—Not Jealous

Dear NJ,

If she wants to continue to be a part of your son’s (and your) life, and if you like her and trust her, who says she can’t be? Why “move on” from a relationship that’s meaningful to all three of you? You’re allowed to be friends. And a child can only benefit from having additional loving adults in their life.

I understand why you feel pressured to give her up, though. Aside from the anxiety she’s stirred up in you by talking about the director of the day care program (that you’ve had no problems with!), there’s considerable societal expectation at work here, telling you you’re supposed to move on. When it comes to the former, be honest with her (“It’s hard for me to hear this since my son is still attending the day care. I know you need to talk about it, but maybe I’m not the best person for you to confide in about this”), and remind yourself that this program has been working out well for you. Unless what your child’s former teacher has told you about her “interpersonal conflicts” with the program’s director undermines your faith in the program and the care that the employees can give your child, I would do my best to forget about it.

As to the latter—societal pressure—I would remind you that it’s never a good idea to ignore your own instincts in favor of what “everybody says” or does. And for what it’s worth, I know people who’ve been in a variation of this former day care teacher’s position, who were very sad to lose contact with a child to whom they’d grown close, the parents of whom made it pretty clear that they wanted the child to move on to a new teacher/babysitter/nanny (as if the position of “family friend” was nonexistent). Also for what it’s worth, when my daughter was a toddler, her favorite assistant teacher at my university’s day care quit for a better-paying job, and we shifted to calling her for occasional babysitting as well as inviting her to join us for lunch or dinner from time to time. She was one of my daughter’s favorite people, and they adored each other—so why wouldn’t I have?

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Before we adopted our marvelous toddler as a newborn, their birthparents told us that both of them had families with alcohol dependency, and asked us to be watchful for symptoms. We know alcohol dependency is a function of both hereditary and environmental factors. What can we do, even at this early age, as preventive measures that will help our child live a life free of alcoholism? I don’t drink (not out of moral reprobation—because I simply dislike the taste and the effects) and my partner drinks moderately and responsibly (an occasional beer with dinner). Specifically, we wonder about the merits and drawbacks of no exposure to alcohol at all vs. seeing parents drink in moderation at the table.

—18th Amendment Mom

Dear 18th Amendment,

I asked a recovering alcoholic for his opinion on this subject, and he said, “I can only tell you what doesn’t work: not acknowledging that drinking is something people do.” He grew up in a family that not only didn’t drink but avoided restaurants where alcohol was served and was so grimly tight-lipped on the subject of alcohol drinking, he learned to think of it as an unmentionable sin—so when he was first introduced to alcohol as a severely depressed teenager, the combination of the opportunity to do something that was forbidden at home and that temporarily made him feel much better was irresistible to him. He recognizes now that the intersection of a genetic predisposition toward alcohol dependency and untreated depression was a powder keg.

I would say that you need to keep an eye out as your child grows up. Parents who remain blissfully unaware of their children’s troubles, struggles, and unhappiness—whether there is alcohol or drug dependency in the bio family or not—endanger their children’s mental health. It’s clear from your concern at this early stage that you mean to keep an eye out, and I would suggest that this itself will go a long way toward keeping your child healthy. Make sure they have plenty of resources—open channels of communication and multiple sources of support. This is good advice for all parents, of course. Beyond that, I vote for you to do exactly what you are already doing, and being open and matter of fact about it: letting your child see that one of their parents drinks in moderation at the table and the other doesn’t drink at all. I think that gives you your best shot. And as your child grows up—say, by age 12 or 13 (or when they ask, if that happens before this)—I would introduce the subject of alcoholism, its genetic component, and your child’s own biological background. (I will tell you from my own experience that my daughter brought it up before I did—because at age 10 she read Black Beauty and noticed that all the mistreatment of horses occurred at the hands of men who were drunk.) More generally I would say that the fact that you are thinking about this is itself the single best preventive measure. The alcoholic I consulted—whose life skirted perilously close to ruin before he quit drinking in his mid-30s—mentioned this too, noting that if anyone had ever talked about it when he was growing up, he might have been spared many years of misery and chaos.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a 9-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter. They get along incredibly well and our time together during the pandemic has strengthened their friendship. However, during this time of isolation from same-age peers, they’ve also started playing much more physically than they used to. Sure, there were always some puppy piles, but now they are constantly pushing/hugging/jumping/tackling/etc. It’s mutual, a game, and they seem to enjoy it most of the time. Clearly they are itching for physicality (playgrounds are closed, remote PE is a joke, and we live in a city). So if one of them is sitting on one corner of the (sectional! huge!) couch, the other will go sit on top of him/her rather than somewhere else.

I have tried exceptionally hard their whole lives to model consent, and to teach them to get informed consent before physical interaction. But this all falls apart, naturally, when they are playing “tackle.” And so one or the other will scream something like, “GET OFF ME! MY BODY, MY RULES!” and then the other won’t move and it will escalate until they’re both mad and one of them is crying (and then 30 seconds later they are friends again). It makes me insane. But … maybe only when it’s my daughter screaming. When she is telling my (older, bigger) son to get off her, I can hear it from the opposite end of the house and have raced over to the scene of the crime, pulled them apart, and enforced a consequence for breaking a fundamental household rule. Apparently, when she is the aggressor, I don’t hear it. Or don’t react as quickly, or as dramatically. At least, this is what my son tells me.

My husband thinks I am only slightly biased this way, my daughter naturally would never point it out since the bias is in her favor. But emotionally I know it is probably true. Because it is absolutely true that all these rules about consent are not really meant to be taken the same way by these two children. I want my son to learn it’s not OK to be the aggressor, and I want my daughter to learn that it’s OK to say no and have bodily autonomy and to fight back. And of course I know that some women are the aggressor and some men are the victim. But as a woman in America, that’s not my lived experience. And my ballerina-physique daughter is not aggressive with anyone other than her brother, and my athletic son has always wanted to play rough and tumble games and sports.

Is it important that I be as scrupulously fair with this as I strive to be in nearly every other aspect of parenting? At 6 and 9, they seem too little to learn WHY their parents have been droning on about informed consent (not in those words) their whole lives. I can’t possibly tell my sweet-if-sometimes-rough son that I am trying to make sure he doesn’t grow up to be a rapist. I can’t possibly tell my daughter I am terrified of the inevitability that someone will at least try to assault her. So I guess the answer is that I should listen harder for when she is the aggressor? Give it a half beat longer than I do now when she is telling him to get off?

—Stop Means Stop

Dear SMS,

I think that what you have taught both children is crucial, and it will make a great difference in both their lives as they grow up. And if I were you, I would calmly explain to your son that while the family rule applies to both of them, of course you react as you do because he’s older, bigger, and stronger. I understand where you’re coming from—and I admire your efforts toward gender equity—but I think that also teaching children to be gentler with smaller, younger ones is not the least bit unreasonable (even when there is no one their own size to pick on instead, thanks to the pandemic).

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m pregnant with my first child and am due in three months. I know that picking out potential names for the baby should be fun, but I am having a really hard time with it! I am picky, so every beautiful name I discover ultimately seems to have something wrong with it. Do you have any advice on picking a baby name?

—Their Name Is Baby

Dear TNIB,

Well, start by going easy on yourself. As soon as you tell yourself that something should be fun, it stops being fun. Also: Do yourself a favor and recognize that there is no such thing as a perfect name (or a perfect anything). It’s easy to find imperfections when you stare at something long enough. Finally, keep in mind that although picking a name feels momentous, in reality it’s not that big a deal. It’s just a name, not the child’s fate—not their personality, not the central fact about them, not a destiny to fulfill. It behooves me to direct your attention to what I told a woman who wrote to Care and Feeding because she feared she’d given her baby the wrong name. There’s no wrong name.

When I was pregnant, I made a list of names I liked. Then I went back and put asterisks next to the ones I really liked. And double asterisks next to the ones I decided I really, really liked. And then I showed my husband the list, and he crossed out all but one (for various reasons that made perfect sense to him). Write down every name you come across or that pops into your head that appeals to you. Keep adding to the list. Try to focus on what you like about those names instead of what’s “wrong” with them. If you have a partner you’re having this child with, let them weigh in—or bring their own list to the table, so that you can trade (my husband had no interest in list-making, which happens to be one of my favorite things to do) and cross names off each other’s lists. If you’re having this baby on your own, you can go back through your list yourself at the eleventh hour and find the name you like best by the process of elimination. But whatever you do, try to keep in mind that it’s not a life-or-death decision. Even if it never ends up feeling like fun to you (for some people it is, for others—I can assure you based on the letters we get about this—it’s the opposite of fun), remember that it is not the most consequential decision you’ll be making about your child’s life.

And if you are really stuck, when push comes to shove, pick a name that has lots of built-in opportunities for nicknaming and shape shifting—you know, like good old-fashioned Elizabeth (Beth, Betsy, Liz, Lizzie, Liza, etc.), Alexander (Alex, Al, Zander, Sasha, etc.), or Margaret (Margie, Maggie, Peggy, Meg, etc.).

—Michelle

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