Care and Feeding

My In-Laws Gifted My Daughter a Stuffed Dead Rabbit. She Loves It.

A girl smiles beside her extremely realistic stuffed rabbit on a hammock.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by 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 5-year-old daughter, “Maya,” loves rabbits. She loves books about rabbits. She loves movies about rabbits. When she sees an actual rabbit in the wild, it’s the highlight of her week. She desperately wants a pet rabbit, but our apartment building doesn’t allow any pets other than fish. So this Christmas, my in-laws (who can best be described as “eccentric but well-meaning”) gave Maya a stuffed rabbit. I don’t mean “stuffed” rabbit as in a plush toy. I mean “stuffed” as in THE TAXIDERMIZED CORPSE OF AN ACTUAL DEAD RABBIT. Maya adores it. She talks to it, sings to it, reads to it, sleeps with it, and carries it with her everywhere.

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Words cannot express how much I hate this thing. I don’t want to stare into the glassy eyes of a rabbit corpse while I’m eating my dinner. I don’t want a dead rabbit snuggled on the bed with us while I read my daughter a bedtime story. But I know that Maya would be heartbroken and confused if I took it away from her. She views it as a super-realistic toy and doesn’t understand that it’s something that used to be alive and is now dead (she also doesn’t quite grasp the “meat is dead animals” thing). I have tried switching it out with toy rabbits, which she has about 50 of, but she always demands her precious taxidermized monstrosity. Complicating things is the fact that her school has been 100 percent remote since the start of the school year, but they will reassess whether they will resume in-person school after spring break (mid-March). Right now, the stuffed rabbit is by her side the entire time she’s in Zoom class, and I know that if she starts in-person school, she will want to take it to school with her. Her school is K–8, so if she gets labeled as “the weirdo with the taxidermy rabbit” now, that could follow her all the way until she’s in high school. I want to wean her off of the rabbit before then, but I have no idea how when it’s the only toy she ever wants to play with and she has a meltdown if she doesn’t have it with her. I know eventually she will move on to something else of her own accord, but the looming start of in-person school means this should ideally occur within the next two months. Do you have any suggestions on how to help this happen?

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—Get This Rabbit Corpse out of Here

Dear GTRCooH,

You have my sympathy. I would not enjoy snuggling with a dead rabbit either. But I really don’t think you have to worry about Maya getting labeled as the taxidermy girl if she starts kindergarten in person with the rabbit along for the ride. (For one thing, she’s unlikely to be allowed to bring it with her to school except on special occasions. But even on “stuffed animal day,” the other 5-year-olds won’t know the difference between taxidermy-stuffed and toy-stuffed any more than Maya does; they won’t think she’s weird, even if her teacher does.) This is a problem that is entirely about your discomfort, not hers (not even future hers). And let me repeat that I feel for you. But she will move on to something else of her own accord. If I were you, I’d try to get used to this passing fancy, just because it’s way easier for an adult (even a seriously grossed-out one) to do that than it is for a child—especially a child right now, when everything is so weird—to adjust to giving up a particularly beloved toy.

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If you are determined to try to nudge things along, I suppose you might see if a really big stuffed rabbit or one that moves or is creepily realistic (but was never alive) would entice her away from the stuffed dead one. But there’s no guarantee that any of these will entice your daughter to abandon her beloved dead creature.

Let me add one additional note of advice, while I’m here. Since most kids that age cycle through obsessions, it’s possible your daughter will move on not just from this particular “toy” but from rabbits to, say, owls. Or, you know, horses. So you might want to have a little chat with her eccentric grandparents about future gifts, just to make sure there’s no more taxidermy in your future.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My oldest daughter, who is 12, recently confessed she has hated her name for years. She asked her two sisters and me to call her by a new name—a different name every few days! Overall we have done pretty well in following her lead, with the occasional slip-up. But I do not like calling her anything other than the name I gave her! (This is not a gender-neutral thing, by the way—just a question of her wanting to be called by a name she “likes better” than her own.)

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Now she has decided America stinks, and while, yes, right now it does, she has said some hurtful things like “I can’t believe you would raise children in a place like this.” She insists she will live somewhere else when she is grown, which, OK, but she has decided she wants to sound like she is from somewhere else now. She has chosen Australia. She sounds pretty good, actually, but it annoys the heck out of her sisters and her father. And honestly, with all this, it feels like she is trying to change who she is! Do I have to call her by her new name(s) and put up with her accent and her comments about the country she is from? I have been hesitant to put my foot down, but should I?

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—New Daughter

Dear ND,

I guess my answer to this questions depends on the sort of relationship you want to have with her. She’s 12, just the right age for trying on new identities, for wanting more control over her life (and herself), and for testing boundaries (usually we mean this metaphorically, but your kid means it literally too—which I find both clever and hilarious). She’s also at an excellent age for a political awakening. So while I understand that it’s much easier to be impressed and amused from a distance—and I get that it must be frustrating to you to have to act as a buffer between her and her siblings and father if they are more irritated than you are (by the Australian accent, anyway)—I’d say it would be a pity to put your foot down. Let her try out all the new names she wants (what’s the harm?); let her play at being from elsewhere. At the moment I wouldn’t mind being from elsewhere either. As to her “comments,” since you agree that right now America does stink, why not tell her you understand her rage (you do, right?) and that you are as shocked and horrified as she is? And have a real conversation with her about what’s going on.

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The Australian accent and the constant renaming will pass, I promise. Your sympathy and empathy—and taking the opportunity to engage with her in a conversation about what’s happening in the U.S. today—will lay priceless groundwork for her teen years and beyond.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 11-month-old is a decent eater. He loves yogurt and Cheerios and has recently gotten much more into eating table food. We haven’t found anything he won’t eat, though the amount he eats varies a lot based on his mood (he still breastfeeds, so we’re not really worried about the volume). My issue with his eating is that he refuses to sit in his high chair for meals. REFUSES. If we latch the seatbelt for his chair, he will cry and refuse to eat at all. So we’ve taken to letting him climb out of the chair and onto the dining table. Sometimes he’ll sit nicely up there for a while, but usually he likes to crawl around while we keep him from falling off as we offer him food. He’s also pretty happy to eat if we let him crawl around on the floor or stand up holding onto the table. Any ideas for how to get him to sit still? He’s a pretty active guy and in general hates being constrained in one place. We’ve tried toys at his high chair but the main issue seems to be his desire for free movement, rather than boredom. We almost always have two parents home for mealtimes, so it’s workable to have a don’t-fall-off-the-table parent and a here’s-your-food parent, but it would be nice to have a less active and stressful dinnertime.

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—Feeding a Moving Target

Dear FaMT,

Don’t make him sit still—that’s my advice. He has plenty of time to learn to sit still, and strapping in a child who yearns to be moving, as you’ve already learned, is a losing proposition. But I’ll admit that having him sit—and crawl around!—on the table doesn’t seem like a good idea either, no matter how many extra pairs of hands are available to keep him from falling off. It sounds exhausting (and how do you keep him from knocking over your drinks?) Since he’s also happy to eat if you let him stay on the floor—especially if he’s willing to stand up holding onto the edge of the table!—the solution seems to me to be right before your very eyes. Who’s to say that sitting at the table is better than standing at it? (We’d all be better off standing than sitting anyway.) Let the child stand up for himself! Yes, I know that others might raise an eyebrow, so, OK, we’ve got another pandemic silver lining (I’m making a list!): No one is at your table with you to judge. Remember that being a parent doesn’t have to be about enforcing arbitrary rules. Sometimes it’s about figuring out what your child needs, based on who your child is at any given moment, and working with it.

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And this too shall pass. If there’s one thing that can be said with certainty about childhood, it’s that nothing stays the same for very long—and the younger the child, the shorter-lasting the phase. I know that when you’re in the midst of a particularly challenging phase, it feels like it’s going to last forever (and it can feel like an emergency—as if, if you don’t “fix” the problem now, you will be stuck with this behavior for the long term), but waiting things out is a parenting skill that’s worth practicing and getting good at as early as possible. Otherwise you will be exhausted by the time your child is all grown up.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My sweet 16-month-old usually naps from 12 to 2 p.m. On occasion, she wakes up a little early (say, 1:40) and proceeds to chill in her crib. Usually, she looks out the window, pulls off her socks and plays with her feet, and makes a few non-crying noises to let me know she’s awake. Generally, I leave her in her crib until 2 unless she starts crying. I do this in order to maintain her schedule, but more importantly (and selfishly) so that I can get the extra 10 or 20 minutes to finish up whatever I’ve been doing during her nap. Is this OK? Should I be getting her as soon as I realize she’s awake? Is 20 minutes too long to leave her alone in her crib? Logically, I feel like it’s probably fine, but on some level I worry that I’m being neglectful or selfish.

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—Naptime Is “Me Time”

Dear NIMT,

You are neither neglectful nor selfish. You’re doing both yourself and your daughter a favor by not rushing in to rescue her when she isn’t in need of rescue: You get your full complement of “me time”; she gets a little practice at keeping herself occupied and engaged when she’s alone. And since, like everything else, this beautiful phase is unlikely to go on forever (any day now, she may start waking up and immediately demanding to be freed from her crib—and before you know it, she will surely shorten her naps themselves), please enjoy it while it lasts. Save your strength—you’ll need it later.

—Michelle

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My partner has always been a soft no toward kids, I’ve been a soft maybe. I would have kids with him, but I still don’t know if I want to. There’s pressure to have children from our family, and we’ve talked about having them. I know we would be good parents. Should we take the leap?

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