Care and Feeding

My Husband Purposely Sabotaged Us With “Baby Shark”

Oh, God, the kid’s asking for it again …

A toddler in a shark costume.
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 husband introduced our child to “Baby Shark” against my express wishes, and now he’s obsessed. He’s 20 months old and doesn’t go to day care, so while I understand that obsessions with annoying songs were in our future one way or another, we had a little while to still be in control of his media consumption. My husband thinks my irritation is overblown and hilarious (I suspect this is why he put the song on in the first place). I’m the stay-at-home parent (although my husband works from home in our guest room). Now I have to choose between constant loops of “Baby Shark” or fussing for “Baby Shark.” For what it’s worth, I do play other age-appropriate kids music around the house and in the car, so it’s not like I’m depriving him of music made for him; but I do think I’m more sensitive than most people to background noise, and I have a really hard time tuning things out. Does my genuine irritation make me a diva or a grump? How many times is a fair number of times for a toddler to be treated to his favorite song when the person who wipes his bottom hates it?

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—Run Away Doo Doo, Doo Doo Doo

Dear Runaway,

Oh, no, your phone/TV/Bluetooth speaker/car stereo has a terrible mechanical problem! It is broken! Broken in such a way that it can’t play “Baby Shark” anymore. Can we get it fixed? No, it’s permanently broken. We loved “Baby Shark” very much, but it’s time to listen to something else now.

In all seriousness, I think it’s pretty mean that your husband did this to you, especially after you specifically asked him not to. If that’s a dynamic that asserts itself often in your relationship, that’s no good. Hopefully, this is one silly isolated incident, and he’s genuinely contrite about it when you explain the hell that is having that demonic song playing in your house and also in your head all the time.

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Your son is at the exact age, unfortunately, when kids first get fixated on a song and want to hear it all the time. You are in control of his media consumption, though, and you can set limits and boundaries if my “ ‘Baby Shark’ is broken” strategy is too duplicitous for you. You can also try to transfer his affection to another tune that’s just as much of an earworm but less objectionable to you. But that creates another set of problems … not that I ever had to explain to a stranger why my toddler would not stop screaming WANT LADY GAGA! WANT STUPID LOVE!!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a mid-30s mother of a wonderful 2-year-old boy, due with my second (a girl) very soon. My husband and I are from the East Coast, but we moved to a liberal West Coast city five years ago. My sister, her husband, and their 2.5-year-old daughter, as well as both of my parents, have moved out here in the past year, and my sister is expecting her second a few weeks after me. We are all COVID-cautious (my sister and I are both in public health), and our three households have been socializing together since the moves happened—we don’t socialize with anyone else, so it’s a LOT of time together. We are all very close and get along great—except, at times, my father.

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He grew up in a somewhat volatile household (alcoholic father I never met; a mother that was a wonderful grandmother to me and my cousins but at best manipulative, at worst emotionally abusive, to my father and his brothers and sister). My sister and I are close in age and fought constantly as kids, and our fighting was very triggering for my father. He never totally flew off the handle—I think my arm got smacked once, and he once punched a hole in the wall—and he wasn’t a yeller; typically we’d just get sent to our rooms or something would get taken away as punishment. So, pretty run-of-the-mill ’90s parenting. BUT alongside this would be a terrible mood that my father would stew in for hours, sometimes all day, leaving the rest of us anxious and walking on eggshells. I have lots of memories as a child of spending most of the day a bundle of nerves wondering when Dad was going to forgive us and go back to the relaxed, playful father he normally was. Otherwise, he was a model father—my friends growing up absolutely loved him, and his career involved a significant amount of mentoring junior career scientists, which he was fantastic at. So he’s generally very good with people. He’s a fantastic grandfather, and my son and niece adore him.

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Now, the issue is our kids fighting. My son and his cousin are close in age and, as is totally developmentally normal for toddlers, have issues with toy snatching followed by hitting (though less hitting recently). My sister and I, along with our partners, talk regularly about how we want to handle this and work together to make sure we’re all on the same page. But my dad can’t handle it—when a toy gets snatched and one or both kids wind up screaming, the bad moods of our childhood return. He picks a fight with my sister or I if he doesn’t agree with how we addressed the issue, and won’t let it go or respect when a conversation is over. Once he calms down, he says it triggers a visceral reaction, but the calming down can take a long time—we’re currently on day three of the most recent incident. Some distance could help in theory, but I know he’ll react the same way when they fight whether he sees them once a month or several times per week (based on how things went before we all moved to the same city).

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He does the best he can to hide his anger from our kids—the issue is how he handles things with my sister and I. To me, the issue isn’t whether my dad is fully on board with all of our parenting decisions. I’m fine with him occasionally telling me he disagrees with an approach I took as a parent, but it needs to be done respectfully, with cool tempers, and an acceptance that I (and my partner) may or may not take his advice. I think he also needs coping mechanisms to stay in control when his grandkids are fighting, especially as two more will be added to the mix soon—eventually they’ll get old enough to fight with their siblings.

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I think he needs therapy. It’s going to be a big push to make that happen, and if the first therapist isn’t a good fit, that’ll probably be the end of that. Am I missing anything? How do I help him find a good therapist if I can prevail there? Am I making a big deal out of nothing and should just accept that kind of stuff just goes with the territory of having heavily involved (and mostly helpful) grandparents?

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—Mom and Grandpa Are Fighting

Dear MaGAF,

You aren’t making a big deal out of nothing. Your dad’s angry outbursts and scary moods were inappropriate and harmful when you and your sister were kids, and they’re still inappropriate and harmful now that you’re all adults. I think on some level you know this, but you’re doing a lot of hard work to convince yourself that what he’s done and what he’s continuing to do isn’t that bad. None of the mitigating factors you mention—like how much other people like him and get along well with him, or how hard his childhood was—is relevant. The only thing that matters, and the question you’re avoiding asking yourself, is how being around him and his uncontrollable anger makes you feel. If it’s not OK with you, if you would prefer not to experience his anger, if you feel like you are happier and healthier emotionally when you’re not having to avoid or manage your father’s temper tantrums, that’s important information. You are a parent of your own children now. Would you treat them the way he treats you? Would you stand by and allow them to be treated that way by your husband?

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It’s not your responsibility to find him a therapist. He is a grown adult and can find his own therapist, and he should, of course. If you aren’t seeing a therapist of your own, or if you’re not talking about this in therapy, that’s one important first step you need to take as soon as you can. In the coming months, as your households begin to be able to socialize more normally, I hope you can take a breather from your parents—maybe a longer one than you’ve taken before, when the added distance didn’t help. Having some real space away from your dad’s angry outbursts and disrespect will help you get the perspective you need to assess the situation and come to grips with what you want your relationship with your parents to look like in the future.

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If you’re tempted to dismiss this advice, please consider one last thought: Your son and his cousin may not seem to be affected by what’s going on, but they are. The poisonous environment you describe from your own childhood, when you would spend days feeling tense and scared all day until your dad calmed down, is the same environment he’s creating now for your son and his cousin. If you can’t bring yourself to make a change for your own sake, I hope you will do it for them and for your daughter.

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

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

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I need advice about transitioning toddlers back to day care and seeing other humans after being home for a whole year. My husband and I pulled our twins, who were 2.5 years old at the time, out of day care just over a year ago, and they’ve been home with us 24/7 since while we both work(ed) from home and shared child care duties. I’ve been between jobs since September, but I just got a job offer last week and I am due to start a new (remote) role at the end of March. With COVID cases going down in our area, vaccines being more readily available (and our parents getting vaccinated soon), and me having ADHD and needing as few distractions at home as possible while working, we determined that it’s time to find child care outside the home again. In addition to my husband and I needing a serious break from child care duties, I know, at 3.5 years old, they really need the structure of class and socialization with other people. Prior to COVID, they had been going five days a week since they were 10 weeks old.

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I’ve been a little worried about their socialization/development for a while and have wanted them to go back to day care sooner (I know lots of kids have been going this whole time!), but my husband has been (understandably) extremely cautious and wanted to play it safe, since we were managing and there wasn’t a reason that it was absolutely necessary. I am worried about separation anxiety because in the last year, they’ve become very attached to us and barely let either of us out of their sight. They haven’t played with any other kids besides each other or socialized with or been left in the care of any adults outside of our grandparent bubble in over a year. One of my twins especially seems to be suspicious of strangers if we pass people on the street or other kids show up to play at the playground while we’re there.

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They’re just at such a weird age for this right now. If they were a bit older, we could, of course, start an ongoing dialogue with them about this transition and they’d also have memories/a frame of reference for knowing what going to day care/school in the Before Times™ was like, but the past year has become all they know. I don’t think they remember much about going to day care (they stopped asking about going to school a few weeks into quarantine and haven’t mentioned missing it). My hopes for having a rational conversation with them are pretty slim (I’m pretty sure the suggestion will be met with some variation of “I don’t want to go, I want stay home with you and Daddy!”). Even if these were non-corona times and they just happened to have stayed home with us for a regular year, there still would’ve been lots of opportunities to socialize and be around other people to make this transition less jarring.

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I guess I’m just looking for ideas of how I can prepare them and get them used to the idea? Suggestions of books we can read or shows/YT videos we can watch together? Incentives to make it more exciting/less traumatic for them? It will probably take at least a few weeks for us to find a place for them, but I want to get started ASAP, if I can.

—Day Care Dilemma

Dear DCD,

No matter what you do to prepare them, your twins will probably have a terrible first morning at day care. Drop-off will be horrific. They will cry in that inconsolable, heartbreaking way that makes you worry that they’re in some kind of life-threatening pain. (Remind yourself that this is the same way they sometimes cry when they have received the wrong color of lollipop.) More likely than not, you will also cry. And then you will leave, and eventually they will get bored of crying and begin to look around. There are toys that they haven’t ever seen before! And also there are other kids—kids are looking at them with interest. Perhaps some terrifying stranger is there, but they have something in their hand—is it … a bowl of goldfish crackers? Well, if you insist, they will think. OK, I will sit at this tiny table for a while and eat these crackers, but that’s it, then I’m going to start crying again until I get to go home and be with Mommy and Daddy again. Unless … is that a pile of so, so many Magna-Tiles? OK, I guess I could play with those for a few minutes, and then start crying …

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Seriously, though, it is a difficult transition for all of you, and I don’t mean to make light of that. And for some kids, it does take longer to adjust. But it’s more likely than not that your well-loved, emotionally healthy twins will, much sooner than you’d think possible, be clamoring to stay when you arrive to pick them up. Let the gospel of Daniel Tiger, “grown-ups come back,” be your guiding light. Congratulations, by the way, on regaining your independence and fostering theirs, too.

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For more of Slate’s parenting coverage, listen to Mom and Dad Are Fighting

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 3-year-old consistently misgenders his beloved preschool teacher, “Miss Angela.” Initially I thought he was just learning pronouns, but after correcting him, he keeps insisting that Miss Angela has a man’s voice, and therefore is a man. It’s true that Miss Angela does have a deep voice (she’s certainly never come out as trans to the parents of her students, nor is her gender identity any of my damn business). When he refers to Miss Angela as “he,” I correct him in the moment. I also try and turn it into a teachable moment—we call people what they want to be called. But my son is not buying it. He argues with me every time I gently remind him that Miss Angela is a she. This is despite the fact that we have trans friends, we read books on gender identity and expression, and we talk openly about differences and identity in our family. But my son will not let this go! He loves Miss Angela and is always excited to see her at school. What is my next move here? Do I bring this up to Miss Angela? Do I make correcting my son’s misgendering into a bigger deal when it happens? Or do I just let it go and trust that he will figure it out at some point?

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—Not Raising a TERF

Dear NRaT,

Developmentally, there are a few things happening here that don’t have much to do with Miss Angela. One is that kids around your son’s age are learning about the differences between themselves and others, like very literally beginning to discern where they end and the rest of the world begins. One way that kids do this is to point out the differences between themselves and others. Putting things into categories like “boy” and “girl” takes on an outsize importance at this specific moment. No matter how much you talk about differences and identity, your son will probably continue to experiment with his own categorization and identification processes. Kids in this phase often say things that are wildly tactless, and when they do, it’s tempting to react in a dramatic way. Gently but repeatedly correcting your son’s misgendering, which is what you’re already doing, is the absolute right thing to do, but as you can see, it doesn’t make an immediate difference. He will get it eventually, but it’s not realistic to expect a 3-year-old to understand the nuances of why misgendering might be hurtful. And luckily, kids his age use pronouns so inconsistently and fungibly that Miss Angela is unlikely to be feeling offended.

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—Emily

More Advice From Slate

I have an 8-year-old son who is really, really smart but really, really stubborn. Although he gets good grades, we fight all the time over schoolwork. He is constantly saying that he doesn’t see the point of some simple task, that it’s stupid and easy, that he hates it. When he does the work, he’s lazy, resents having to do multiple steps on things, and doesn’t follow directions well. Example: They are teaching students to do math a certain way, but he can do it in his head, so “What’s the point of doing it like that if I can just do it and get the right answer my way?” Same thing with spelling. Each day they do a different task with their word list. And each day we get drama and fighting because he “doesn’t see the point” to doing anything other than simply being quizzed on the words. I’ve tried incentives, but he was never reward-oriented. He’s always been a grouchy kid, but school is just turning him into an angry kid. Parent-teacher conferences are this week, and I’m going to bring all of this up, but I would love some ideas.

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