Care and Feeding

Our Kid’s Japanese Godfather Gave Her a Kimono. Can She Wear It?

We’d never want her thinking somebody else’s culture is a costume.

A child's kimono against a pink and yellow background.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by KimonoRobeStore/Etsy.

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’s closest friend from childhood is Japanese American, and although he moved back to Japan after college, they are still very close. He’s our daughters’ godfather, and they think of him and his wife as another uncle and aunt (we’re also called “Uncle” and “Auntie” by his kids). For our daughter’s fifth birthday, they sent her a sweet gift of a box full of Japanese candies, a stuffed toy, and a kimono in her size. It’s absolutely gorgeous, but I’m hesitant to let her wear it, as much as she’s begged us to let her dress up and show it to her friends. I know how big of an issue cultural appropriation is, and I don’t want to let her think that somebody else’s culture is a costume. She has a lot of anti-racist children’s books, and books about kids from other cultures celebrating holidays and traditions, and this could be a great way for us to talk about the problem of white people appropriating other cultures and using them as costumes—but also, our friends have been asking us if she liked her kimono, and I don’t know what to tell them! I will confess: I don’t want to be thought of as another insensitive white lady who lets her kids “dress up” as stereotypes of other cultures, and that may be part of what’s holding me back from letting her wear it, so I think an outside perspective might help. What should I do—let her wear it, or talk to her about why she can’t?

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—To Wear or Not to Wear

Dear TWoNtW,

Your question made me think of a couple of not-the-same-but-similar situations in my own family. The closest comparison might be when my birth father returned from a trip to Korea and gave hanbok to everyone in the family, including the non-Koreans. As in your case, an individual was the giver of a cultural item they really wanted to share in the spirit of family/friendship. I don’t think it’s wrong for your child to wear a gift from close family friends, especially because you know they would like her to enjoy it. If she can do so respectfully and with care, I’d probably tell her it’s fine to wear her kimono at home, show it to friends, etc. But I do think it’s important that she not be encouraged to wear it flippantly, or to think of it as just playing dress-up—I wouldn’t have her wear it as a Halloween costume, for example.

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I talked this through with a Japanese American friend, who reminded me that there’s a correct way to tie and wear different types of kimono. If your child is going to wear hers, you should help her learn to do so properly, in part so it’s not viewed as just another robe or dress-up outfit. It’s up to you, but if your friends ask about the kimono again, it could also be worth talking with them about this. Depending on your friendship, there may be room to let them know that you’re very grateful for their beautiful gift, and you also want to be sure that your child is taking care of and being respectful of it.

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Many people are mocked or stereotyped or slotted into some “foreigner” category for wearing clothing that honors our cultures. Sometimes, for one reason or another, it can also be difficult for us to feel we have a right to these things. (As a Korean adoptee, I didn’t get my first hanbok until I was in my 30s, and it was hard to feel like I deserved to wear it.) On the flip side, white people are often entitled or just plain careless in their appropriation, treating our cultural identities like fun trends or costumes without having to endure any of the prejudice, doubt, or othering we do. So I do think it’s really important to talk with your daughter about why cultural appropriation is not OK—and that was always going to be important, whether or not she received a kimono from her godfather and his wife. I don’t think having this discussion and letting her occasionally wear the kimono she was given need to be mutually exclusive.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My best friend has an almost-4.5-year-old daughter. It seems as if the only people who can understand her speech are her parents. She’s a great kid and fun to be around, but looking back at my own daughter’s speech at that age, the pronunciation and grammar skills just are not there. I don’t want to be the type of person who compares my own child to other children’s progress, but at this point I’m fairly concerned. Her parents sometimes correct her, but usually just try and translate for anyone else that might be interacting with her. She gets very frustrated when you tell her that you couldn’t understand what she said. The only pronouns she uses for other people are her and him, so a sentence would be: “Her using the iPad when we watching TV!” Sentences are mostly full of slurring/mispronunciation. For example, she calls a backpack a “packpack,” and when she told me to pretend to be a unicorn it sounded like “glue-gun.” When we visit, I always try to gently correct her and make sure I speak clearly.

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The parents are expecting a second child in June, so they will have less time to work on speech/grammar once the baby is born. Should I be concerned with these things given their daughter’s age? If I should be, is there a good way to point this out to her parents without making them upset? No one likes hearing anything negative about their child, and I certainly don’t want to upset a pregnant woman (which is why I haven’t broached the subject with them).

—Unclear in NJ

Dear Unclear,

I really don’t think you always need to point out your friend’s child’s errors or correct her speech, especially when her parents are right there. Even if you mean well, it could still be hurting her feelings or contributing to her frustration. If you’re not sure what she meant by something, you can politely ask—or it sounds like her parents might sometimes explain—but ideally, your friend’s kid should just get to relax and be herself when she’s around you, not worry about having her speech corrected.

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I’m not a speech therapist, and even if I were, I think it would be tough to reach any definitive conclusions about a child’s needs based on a couple of written examples. I want to point out that it’s very possible that your friends are already pursuing evaluation or trying to get speech services for their child and just haven’t mentioned it to you. Even if they hadn’t noticed anything themselves, these issues are often flagged by health care providers or teachers. It’s also possible that they’ve consulted their pediatrician and/or others and been told not to worry too much about it for now. Best friends or no, this isn’t something they’re obligated to tell you about, and I wouldn’t assume they’re not looking into it just because they haven’t looped you in.

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I think the question of whether or not you could say something may partly hinge on determining what sort of friendship you have. I don’t know if you can think of any comparable conversations from the past—any sensitive kid/parenting issues you’ve discussed in detail, in which you’ve both been more open and frank than you would with casual friends? If you routinely confide in and seek advice or support from each other on bigger, tougher issues, then you might have the sort of friendship where you could ask whether this is something your friend is concerned about, too. Even then, though, I would only consider doing so if you really have reason to believe they aren’t already on it, with the acknowledgment that you’re not trying to pry and you know you aren’t entitled to an explanation.

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I don’t think it’s a “negative” thing for a kid to need more support in a given area—if you decide to ask about it, you definitely shouldn’t frame it that way. You could try opening with something like “Have you ever thought about discussing her speech development with your pediatrician?” As the parent of an autistic child, I can discuss these things with my closest friends, in part because I know that they care about and appreciate my child as she is. And if my spouse and I hadn’t already realized that she would benefit from extra support in some areas, I might have preferred to get a question from a trusted best friend or family member than risk her missing out on that help for years.

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But I’m just one data point—I obviously don’t know your friends, and I’m afraid there is no way for me to promise you that they won’t be upset. I do know that it’s a lot harder to hear any concerns about your child from someone who seems to be judging them or withholding their acceptance. So, if you decide to say something, and you really want your friend to be able to hear your concerns, I think it’s very important to make sure that you’re being consistently affirming and supportive of both her and her child in all your interactions.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

We have three kids between the ages of 5 and 9. Thus far, the only family vacations we’ve taken have been (1) to the beach or (2) Disney. This is totally fine with me and with the three kiddos—everything is safe and family-friendly, there’s plenty to keep the kids entertained and food for picky eaters. My husband is NOT happy with the status quo. He yearns for adventure and wants 2022 to be the year we branch out. He pictures children with eyes filled with wonder soaking in foreign cultures on a grand tour of Europe, East Asia, or Central/South America, with no advance planning beyond showing up at a location with a hotel reservation, because having plans/itineraries would “take all the fun out of it.”

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I picture long, expensive flights, jet-lagged children too tired to walk, and kids getting bored and fighting or making a scene at museums or restaurants where there is nothing they will eat. I honestly don’t know any real-life parents who have ever traveled on the kinds of vacations he proposes, though I know they exist from all the travel blogs (I suspect there were a lot of behind-the-scenes tantrums that didn’t make it into those blogs). I feel like this is what teenage years are for—wait until they can handle the long trip and actually appreciate it. He refuses to wait that long and insists I’m stifling their development. Is this world-traveler-with-little-kids concept absolutely insane, or am I being a stick in the mud?

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—Have Kids, Will Not Travel

Dear Will Not Travel,

As with many parenting and travel experiences, your mileage will vary. Do I think it’s strange that your husband is leaping all the way to “you’re stifling the kids’ development!” because you’re anxious about the idea of this trip? A little bit! But then again, I’m not sure if you actually told him that you think he’s “insane.”

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I just don’t see this question as cut and dried, and cannot tell you to never under any circumstances travel abroad with younger children. It really depends on the family, the kids, and the parents. Age is one consideration, but it doesn’t have to be the deciding one. (For most families, of course, the biggest issue is money.) Some younger children are great travelers, while there are plenty of teens you might struggle to take anywhere. So you have to think about your children, specifically, not the kids in the travel blogs. Are your kids excited about the idea of far-flung travel? (Are you, even in the abstract? That matters too!) Are they very anxious about it? Are they able to go with the flow (some kids really can!) and adapt to surprises or quickly changed plans? Could they give some input into things they’d like to do or try, if you gave them options? Will they eat anything besides chicken fingers and fries? etc.

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I don’t blame you for not loving the idea of just showing up in another country with no plan whatsoever; I imagine that would add tremendously to the stress of traveling long distances with children. If you were to go, I’d recommend making some plans—perhaps a flexible itinerary with a few built-in options each day (fine if you don’t get to any of them or change plans on the fly) just so you’re not going in completely unprepared. I do think trips of the type your husband is proposing can prove stressful at times, even if both parents agree that any challenges are absolutely worth it—and that’s not how you feel right now. So, since you don’t have to decide today, for now I’d probably just keep discussing your options and possible plans, and not rush into any decisions when you’re nowhere close to being on the same page.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a beautiful 1-year-old granddaughter who is the light of my life. She’s excelling at and exceeding all of her motor skills and is extremely bright. I’m regularly astounded at all of the things she can already do. (I realize all grandparents say this, but as a former day care teacher and preschool instructor, I’ve been around plenty of babies.) My son and daughter-in-law are wonderful parents. I know that they do things differently now, baby-led weaning and “gentle parenting” have been quite a shock for me, but they’ve done their best to keep us included and seek advice.

My one contention is that my granddaughter sleeps well, but only if she sleeps next to my daughter-in-law. This has been the scenario since she was 5 months old. They refuse to do sleep training, claiming they’ve tried gentle versions to no avail, and they refuse to do a cry-it-out method. My son told me that the few times they tried letting her cry, she cried so hard she threw up. He tells me he’s not worried because she’ll eventually sleep on her own. I think this is nuts. They are coddling the baby, and it’s ridiculous to keep this up, especially when it’s gone on for so long. I think they are setting a bad precedent with the sleep situation, and they should just continue to let her cry until this is all resolved. Am I wrong? What should I do to convince them they need to stop this?

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—Slippery Sleep Slope

Dear SSS,

The baby is healthy, well cared for, and safe. Her sleep training/situation is not yours to determine—it’s up to your son and daughter-in-law, and with all the discourse around baby sleep out there, believe me, you are not going to supply any arguments they have not already seen or heard. Where your grandchild naps affects you not a whit, as you are not her parent. Enjoy being a grandparent, and let this go.

—Nicole

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