Care and Feeding

My 3-Year-Old Keeps Complimenting Me on My White Skin

White mother crouched, talking to her toddler son at eye level
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Brand X Pictures/iStock/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 generally delightful 3-year-old has developed a habit that deeply bothers me. He has started repeatedly “complimenting” me by saying, “Momma, I like your white skin.” My husband and I have tried to redirect this by talking about how compliments about people’s character are kinder than those about appearance, about how all skin colors are beautiful, and about how people of color are treated unfairly in our society despite having equal value. He has responded by doubling down and saying that he doesn’t like Daddy’s brown skin. My husband and in-laws are Hispanic, and while I know his grandparents love him unconditionally, my heart hurts to think of him saying something like this to them as well—or worse yet, to any children at his preschool. We read lots of books with diverse characters, including books that talk about race more explicitly like Antiracist Baby. None of our reading or conversations seem to sink in at all. After reading the Care and Feeding column “My 2-Year-Old Doesn’t Seem to Care About Being Anti-Racist,” I feel unsure if I am projecting white guilt onto my kid, who is just going through a mommy phase, or if I am letting him down by not doing enough anti-racist work in my parenting. Any help, advice, or admonishment welcome. Thank you.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

—Momma So White

Dear MSW,

First off, I appreciate your concern and desire to raise an anti-racist kid, but you should take a deep breath and relax. Your kid is only 3. It’s not like you’re going to see him with a tiki torch chanting “Dad will not replace us” at bedtime. The concept of race and racism is highly nuanced and complex—and a good amount of grown-ass adults struggle with it.

Have you asked your son why he dislikes your husband’s skin? He might say he simply dislikes the color brown, which is completely normal toddler behavior. But if he says something that shows racist tendencies, those thoughts came from somewhere. Could it be a school friend? Another trusted grown-up? Keep an eye on whom he interacts with, because kids will pick up cues from adults even when we think they’re not listening.

Advertisement

Overall, I think you’re doing the right thing. Continue to teach acceptance and anti-racism in your household, monitor the people he interacts with, and stop beating yourself up. If we had more parents like you who are willing to do whatever it takes to not raise a white supremacist, America would be a much safer and happier place.

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.

The other day my 2.5-year-old was sitting on the potty, and they started pinching the skin on their belly and said “yucky.” Should I be worried? I’ve noticed the pinching once or twice before (not just on the potty). I don’t do “weight talk,” but other family members sometimes do (I had a baby four months ago, and my mum is already telling me to suck in my gut). Is it premature to think this might be related? I don’t want to make a big deal about it to a toddler who doesn’t understand what’s going on. A few minutes beforehand, I had said “yucky” while trying to stop the kid from licking the bathroom drain, so I just said, “The floor is yucky. You could never be yucky.” Can you recommend any other ways to handle this if it happens again?

Advertisement
Advertisement

—Positive About Body Positivity

Dear PABA,

Kids don’t come out of the womb thinking their belly is “yucky,” so chances are it came from something they heard in their environment. This is pretty simple: Tell your child that their body is beautiful regardless of the shape or size it comes in, and keep saying it until it sinks in. But engaging in body positivity only works when everyone is on board.

Advertisement

Kids are sponges, and even though we think they never listen to us, they always are. Tell your other family members that any talk about weight is prohibited whenever your kid is around. Also, now would be a good time to ask your mom why you should have to “suck in your gut.” Would it make you prettier in her eyes? A better mom? A better woman? Seriously, get to the bottom of it and find out the reasoning behind her weight comments. Shouldn’t she love you unconditionally? Don’t you want to model that behavior for your kid? For the life of me, I’ll never understand people who are preoccupied with the weight of others. I’d much rather be around a nice person who’s overweight than a physically attractive jerk.

Advertisement

Your kid is a toddler, and they always say crazy stuff. But the good news is that you noticed a red flag early and you’re doing your part to correct it.

Update, Dec 3, 2020: My apologies for the thoughtlessness of how I phrased my comment about nice overweight people and physically attractive jerks in my response to this letter. I did not mean to imply that overweight people cannot be attractive. It was poorly worded.

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

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Advertisement

I’m 13, and a few months ago, I went to visit my nana (83) and her new husband, “Glen” (99), for a weekend. (We mostly wore masks and practiced social distancing.) They have been married about a year. We spent one day with them, and we used the other day to explore the city. Until now, I didn’t really have an opinion about Glen because he was always very quiet. Glen treats my nana well and makes her happy, so that is really all I’ve cared about.

Advertisement

But, on the day that I was with them, Glen was trying to bond with me. Only his way of “bonding” was teasing and just being kind of mean. He was a JERK all day. He would do things like look over my shoulder at my phone and wouldn’t listen when I told him to stop. By the time I went back to my hotel, I kind of wanted to cry. My nana was oblivious, and my dad told him to stop a couple times, but it wasn’t enough. Glen also seems to do the same thing to my aunt, so at least I am not the only one who has to deal with this. Glen is turning 100 in a couple months, and there will be a party which I will probably have to go to. (Don’t judge me in this—I am just trying to go with it.) Luckily my mom will be there, and I know she will stand up for me. I’m anxious thinking about having to deal with him and his teasing all over again. What should I do?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

—Not My Grandparent

Dear NMG,

If I were a jerk, my advice would be to suck it up because the guy is 100 years old and he may be six feet under by the time this column is published. Don’t worry, I’m not going to take that route, because there’s a larger message to share here.

Advertisement

Sadly, a lot of men subscribe to the “If I tease you, it’s because I like you” philosophy—which is beyond lame. They were the dudes I grew up with in high school, who snapped the bras of the girls they had crushes on, thinking that somehow that would help them to score a date (it never did). Obviously, he doesn’t like you romantically—but he is doing his part to get into your good graces in an extremely clunky way.

Advertisement

You can pull your nana aside and tell her how Glen’s behavior is upsetting you, and that you hope she can talk some sense into him. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. If it doesn’t work, then you should take that as a cue that you can get into it with him on your own. If he crosses the line with you again, be extremely firm. Something along the lines of “HEY! I’M NOT KIDDING. STOP IT. IT’S NOT FUNNY, AND I DON’T LIKE IT. KNOCK IT OFF.” At this point, sparing the guy’s feelings should be pretty low on your priority list. You’ve given him plenty of warnings, and it’s time to unleash the fury on him—even if it makes your nana upset.

Advertisement

You mentioned that your mom would probably stand up for you if things go sideways, but I think the lesson here is that you learn how to be the hero in your own story. You are never too young to learn how to stand up for yourself and teach others to respect your boundaries.

I have a Facebook friend (we were friendly acquaintances in high school but haven’t spoken in years) who is the parent of three young children. She often posts pictures or videos of her children riding in the car while the car is in motion. The children, who range in age from 8 months to 3 years, are (in my opinion) not in car seats that are appropriate for their age, and more importantly, they are not strapped into the car seats correctly. The older two children (ages 2 and 3) are in forward-facing seats (or possibly boosters with backs?), but the shoulder straps are positioned underneath their arms and then buckled, leaving the children’s shoulders and arms completely free and unrestrained. The youngest (8 months) appeared to be in a rear-facing seat until recently, but I was astonished to see that he had been moved to a forward-facing seat in the most recent picture. They live in a state with fairly stringent car seat laws, so I don’t think that a more relaxed state law is the reason for this. I have young children of my own and understand that making kids sit in car seats correctly can be very onerous, but what do you think I should do in this situation, if anything? On one hand, I don’t want to stick my nose where it doesn’t belong. On the other hand, if I heard that their family was in a car crash and that the children were hurt I would wonder if there was something that I should have done.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

—Butt Out Busybody?

Dear BOB,

Sorry, but I’m not buying your concern. If you cared about her, you wouldn’t have gone years without speaking, other than when you want to be the seatbelt whisperer. This reeks of a desire to be some sort of a savior instead of a friend. Your username answered your own question. Butt out, busybody.

—Doyin

More Advice From Slate

I’ve been fat most of my life, which has been a huge source of conflict between my mother and me, and the battles over my weight negatively impacted my body image and self-esteem. I’ve recently lost close to 50 pounds, and I feel great. But I’m unsure how to talk about my weight loss in a body-positive way with my 13- and 15-year-old nieces. What are your thoughts?

Advertisement