Dear Care and Feeding,
My question is extremely embarrassing to me, but here goes: I am a stay-at-home dad to a pair of 14-month-old twin girls. Most of their first year of life was happening during the pandemic quarantine, so my wife was working from home. This made my life easier since she was around to ask to watch our daughters whenever nature called. Now she is starting to go to the office a couple of times a week, since restrictions in our area are lifting. She asked me after her first day at the office how I handled bathroom breaks. I said that I put the girls in their baby proof room (all sockets plugged up, all furniture anchored, no electronic devices, no food) for up to 10 minutes, so that I can do my business and come back. She made a face, and has since been asking me if I look at the nursery camera output? If I can hear them? Wouldn’t it be better to take them to the bathroom with me? My answers were yes, yes, and heck no!
For one thing, they are girls, and I am a man, and I do not feel that this would be appropriate. For another, they are fully mobile, walking, but nonverbal. They treat the word “no” as a fun game, the sterner the tone, the funnier the game. I can’t protect them from themselves in a marble room full of soaps and shampoos they would most definitely try to reach and eat, and a bathtub into which they would try to climb (and fall and hurt themselves), when I am not fully mobile myself. Is my wife right? Is there a third option I haven’t considered? Apologies again for the very awkward question.
—Papa Privacy Time
What are you doing in the bathroom that takes up to 10 minutes, my guy? If you’re going No. 1, it’s literally 10–20 seconds of drizzling, followed by two shakes of the snake, a thorough washing of your hands, and you’re out in under two minutes. If it’s No. 2, then just add a couple of minutes to your time. Either way, you should be done in under five minutes, tops.
I agree that having two tiny humans in a bathroom is pretty risky, so if you can keep them in a confined area (a crib, a play area, etc.) where you can see/hear them, they should be fine for the short amount of time that you’re away. But I gotta question you on one thing: Why is it inappropriate for your girls to be in the bathroom with you because you’re a man? You’re their DAD, not some truck stop stripper who’s twirling his junk around like a lasso. Going to the bathroom is completely normal, and it’s something you’ll want to model for them as they begin potty training. As a dad with two daughters myself, I’ve peed and pooped in front of them so often when they were toddlers that it was like second nature. They’ll be fine if they happen to see you handling your bodily business, trust me.
Dear Care and Feeding,
How do you talk to your parents about Trump and white supremacy when you are dependent on them? I know this isn’t a good reason not to battle systematic oppression, but I also deal with a lot of anxiety disagreeing with them because they have always hit me and locked me in my room for days until I apologize when I disagree with them. I always thought I would cut ties with them when I came of age, but I see now it’s so much bigger than me. I am white, so I can’t just look away, and I need a script and a strategy to make my point without losing my voice like an idiot, or making them mad and miss the point.
What is a good way to express what needs to be said to make them begin to understand how impactful their actions and prejudices are? They always say it is just their opinion and they are allowed to think for themselves, but people are suffering and even losing their lives for them to be allowed to have hateful opinions. I lose track of my thoughts when I am scared around them, but if I have a script, then I would have something to say even when I cannot think. I apologize, but I have been reading a lot and seen lots about needing to speak to Trump supporters, but not much on how to do it when they don’t have to listen to you because they are the parents in charge. Any suggestions will help!
—Make America Not Racist
First off, I have to commend you. It’s hard to fight against racism when you live in a racist household—especially as a minor. But my main concern is for your safety. Please, find a trusted adult—a teacher, a school counselor, another relative—you can talk to about your parents’ abuse. If you don’t have one in your life, please call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline. You don’t need to face this alone.
Obviously, your relationship with your parents from here will depend on what happens after you get some help. But I want to address your questions, too, about what you should say to your racist parents. Sadly, the perfect script does not exist. Let me explain.
Everyone in America falls into one of three buckets: Those who are actively anti-racist, those who are racist, and then those people in the middle who quietly move through life ambivalent about racism. If your parents are going to hit you for denouncing racism, you probably know what bucket they fall into. The key to creating an anti-racist society is not trying to move the folks in the racist bucket into the anti-racist bucket, as that has an extremely low success rate. Instead, we have to move as many people in the ambivalent bucket into the anti-racist one—which is much easier to do.
When it comes to your parents, I would suggest following the “do not engage” plan. Don’t engage them in conversations about race or white supremacy, because quite often people in the racist bucket are too far gone to make such a radical change. BUT, that doesn’t mean you sit around and do nothing. You can use your influence to fight against racism in other places outside of your home.
One way to do that is to realize that racism isn’t just the shark, it’s also the ocean. Think of it in terms of our current president. He’s a shark. Your parents are sharks. All people in the racist bucket are sharks. When we’re in the ocean, we all pay attention to (and fear) sharks, because they’re scary. But we need to consider that there are many other dangers in the water that you may not even perceive as a threat. With that in mind, we have to forget the sharks and focus on the ocean (the non-overt versions of racism).
What do I mean by this? Call out your friends who make racist jokes and tell them to knock it off. See if your school addresses racism in its curriculum or policies. If it does, make sure teachers are following it. If it doesn’t, see what you might be able to do to change that.
Find people in the ambivalent bucket (you know who they are) and explain to them that being quietly not racist doesn’t help BIPOC at all—they must learn to actively fight against racism as well. Remind your white friends that white privilege doesn’t mean that their lives can’t be difficult, it means that their lives aren’t difficult due to the color of their skin. Proudly state on social media or otherwise that Black Lives Matter isn’t a political statement, but a human rights statement.
I know it must be heavy for you to live in your household right now, but I strongly advise you not to ruffle your parents’ feathers about racism. You can make a much bigger impact outside of your household, and we need you and other white people to do that. Because as a young Peter Parker heard from his Uncle Ben before he became Spider-Man, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Stay strong, my friend. We need all of the superheroes we can find to fight against racism.
Help! How can I support Slate so I can keep reading all the advice from Dear Prudence, Care and Feeding, Ask a Teacher, and How to Do It? Answer: Join Slate Plus.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband comes from Europe, and I’m American. We have different attitudes when it comes to our bodies and how we approach handling our son’s body. When I ask my son if he wants to be tickled, I will tickle everywhere but his genitalia, and I will stop when he pulls away or says no. My husband also respects his boundaries and nonverbal cues, but will tickle everywhere including genitalia (over the clothes). Am I setting up the idea that the genitals are something bad? Or is my husband accidentally opening the door for our son to be groomed? I would love to know if there are places an adult, even a parent, should not touch while playing.
—Finding Healthy Playtime
I’m not going to tell you how to raise your kid, but tickling your kid’s junk is a little strange. Yes, I know that Europeans may view things differently in that regard, but I certainly wouldn’t think about tickling my daughters between their legs—clothes on or not. It’s important to model that nobody should touch him in his private area without permission. That’s a good thing, by the way—because I’m sure you don’t want him growing up thinking it’s OK to touch other kids in those places, right? You’re not setting him up to believe that his penis is bad—you’re teaching him that his penis is special.
And on another note, I don’t know how other dudes feel about this, but being tickled below the belt would be a hard pass for me. One wrong move and it could turn into a painful nut shot in an instant.
If your hubby is looking for healthy playtime, depending on the age of your son, I’d suggest playing catch, hide and seek, going to the park, reading together, video games, or anything that couldn’t be mistaken for sexual abuse.
• If you missed Monday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.
• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!
Dear Care and Feeding,
My neighbor’s kid won’t leave us alone. She’s 6 or 7 and comes over at least four times a week. If I’m swinging my 4- and 1-year old in the backyard, then she will climb the fence. If I’m home and on a work call, she will just walk in the house. We’ve gotten her to at least ring the doorbell now (after she walked in on me in a towel after a shower), but even using the doorbell annoys me. She rings the bell every 5–10 seconds, which has woken the baby up from a nap multiple times. I always feed her and let her play on my daughters iPad, which eats up her free play time. I give her snacks and juice and let her pick the TV shows and encourage my daughter to share with her. She always asks for more candy (a positive reinforcement treat for the toddler), and she’ll take and hide any candy she can find without asking too. If I ask her about it, she will lie or back talk to me if I tell her no.
Just recently she colored all over my daughter’s bedroom walls in crayon. We had gotten my daughter to stop doing that a year ago. I don’t report every annoyance to her parents, but I did tell them about the wall (after two hours of scrubbing and repainting). They genuinely apologized and wouldn’t let her over for a few days, but now she’s back again ringing the bell every other day. She taught my daughter to steal and lie and lock doors. I know my daughter would have figured all that out eventually, but I really do feel like this neighbor is a bad influence on my 4-year-old, who worships her. Plus, we really do like her mom and stepdad and don’t want to offend them by telling them she can’t come over anymore. They have a restraining order against her biological father, so I know she must be struggling with that and I want to be sympathetic. But every time she’s over, she destroys the house and pesters me constantly and teaches my kid bad habits. What should I do? How can I limit this kid’s influence and annoyance in my life without hurting my relations with my neighbors?
—Tactful in Tulsa
You’re a grown-ass adult and you’re allowing yourself to get punked by a Roblox-playing, Paw Patrol–watching kid in your own home—and she’s not even your kid? Come on, now.
I get it. You’re a nice person and you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but where does that leave you and your mental health? Two hours scrubbing crayons off of the walls, dealing with a cranky baby, constant doorbell ringing, etc. is especially uncool if you’re dealing with it from someone outside of your family. Not to mention, this kid is talking back to you?! Oh, hell no. You can only be a doormat if you choose to let people walk all over you.
We’re in a freaking pandemic, it seems like our country is on fire, and everyone is ridiculously stressed out. Life is hard enough right now without trying to raise someone else’s kid. I’m sorry that her family is dealing with drama, but every family is dealing with drama—so why are you choosing to take on the extra burden? Lay down some boundaries, stat. You could simply say, “Sorry, kid, Suzy can’t play today. See ya!” *Door slam* But I don’t think that’s enough in this instance.
First off, have a chat with her parents and mention all of the infractions, the back talk, the lying, and the nonstop visits. If they’re good parents, they should be mortified and do their part at home to correct their kid’s behavior. Then tell them that you like the kid (we know you probably don’t), but she can’t come over every day as if she owns the place. Give them specific “play hours” when she’s allowed to come over, but also let the parents know that the moment the kid shows some sass, you’re going to toss her out on her ass—tactfully, of course.
Additionally, you need to show the kids (the neighbor’s kid and your own) that you’re in charge. Set specific ground rules for both of them, and when one is violated, playtime is over. I prefer a “zero tolerance” policy, but if you’re nicer than I am, you can give the kid one warning before you send her home.
Do this today. I have a feeling that it won’t be nearly as bad as you think it will be, and you’ll regain your sanity in the process.
More Advice From Slate
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 “creative activities” (coloring books, sticker books, bracelet-making kits, etc.) to keep her busy, but now I have bought so many things I am worried I’m spoiling her. Am I going about this all wrong?
Get more Care and Feeding
Slate Plus members get more parenting advice every week. They also help support Slate’s journalism.