Care and Feeding

I’m Worried My Easy-Crying Tendencies Are Rubbing Off on My Toddler

She completely crumbles at the tiniest things.

A toddler girl cries.
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,

I am the mother of an almost-2-year-old. When I was young, I used to cry really easily at very minor criticisms and disappointments. I’ve gotten better as an adult (because obviously you can’t go around crying all the time), but it’s still very much my default reaction in certain situations. Now I’m wondering whether my daughter might have the same tendency. I’ve noticed that a few times when I’ve said something that was inadvertently a little sharp/dismissive, her whole face just crumbles. We’re talking about very minor corrections here (“No, the dog doesn’t want your lunch”). When we tell her she can’t do something, she responds to that with typical toddler behavior (whining, insisting, etc.)—that’s not what I’m asking about. It’s more that she seems to take minor corrections as a really big deal.

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I should also say that neither of us ever yell at her, I’ve never cried in front of her, and she’s had a very stable life so far (despite the pandemic), so I don’t think she’s reacting to external stressors. Am I reading too much into this because of my own tendencies? If I’m not, is there anything I can do to help her deal with her feelings? I was always just told “this isn’t worth crying over,” which I don’t consider helpful at all.

—Unsure

Dear Unsure,

I don’t think your daughter is showing you a big red flag with her inability to handle minor corrections. But you do have the opportunity now to look back at how those “this isn’t worth crying over” reactions to your own tears made you feel and to come up with a better way to address her sensitivities. She is your child, and it is entirely possible that she does have the same proclivity toward weeping or “outsize” emotional reactions that you have always had. Don’t beat yourself up about that. Think about what might have helped you to feel better when you had done something wrong and the potential for critique or disappointment was on the table.

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My Mom and Dad Are Fighting co-host Elizabeth has a chart with faces that represent a spectrum of emotions from happy to sad, and when her children are feeling upset, they refer to the chart to identify just how much. At times, they realize that they are displaying “OMG I’m devastated”–level emotions while feeling something more along the lines of “this is a bummer,” and the chart reminds them to act on what is really in their hearts instead of putting on a show. A tool like this may be very useful, and you can make one yourself quite easily, either with hand-drawn faces or pictures clipped from magazines and newspapers.

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Also, crying is not the worst thing in the world. Some people need to cry when their feelings are hurt. But there is a difference between shedding a few tears in the face of hurt and feeling completely demoralized by it. Emphasize the fact that minor behavioral corrections are not a referendum on how “good” she is, nor how loved, while allowing her to express her sadness too. Hopefully, some of the tears will dry over time as she matures and finds other ways to communicate and cope with her feelings. Best of luck to you.

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From this week’s letter, “My 16-Year-Old Showed Me His Texts. I Am Speechless”: “He said it was an inside joke with some of his friends.”

Dear Care and Feeding,

Me, my husband, and our two kids recently moved to a new town. We know exactly one regular babysitter here: a high school student who really just comes over after we’ve put the kids to bed. She has a friend that sometimes subs in for her when she’s busy. I just found out that our sitter’s parents are fairly vocal anti-maskers. They’ve been involved in “protests” that consist of refusing to wear masks in stores, and I believe they’re anti-vaccine too.

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I’d never asked her if she was vaccinated due to her age, but I don’t want her coming over anymore. She doesn’t interact much with the kids, but I’m pregnant and have young children so am fairly COVID-cautious. The whole thing just makes me uncomfortable.

Do I owe her an explanation, or do I just stop calling? Is it awkward to just call the friend instead? Whatever her view on it, it worries me that she lives with two people who are, as a political stand, not taking COVID precautions.

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—Want to Ghost the Babysitter

Dear Ghost the Babysitter,

It’s unkind to “ghost” in most situations, and a young girl doesn’t deserve that sort of treatment. It is unfortunate for her—and you—that her parents’ stance on masks (and possibly the vaccine) has ruined what was a good situation for all parties, but it is best that she knows exactly why she won’t be called to babysit anymore. Politely explain to her that you are aware of her parents’ views about COVID precautions and, as you are choosing to operate your household otherwise, you will have to find another caregiver. Do some recon on the friend’s parents before you decide to lock her in as a more permanent solution.

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P.S. Though it may seem inappropriate to ask a child about her vaccination status, most high school students are old enough to have been inoculated, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with you inquiring after such a thing of someone whom you intend to employ at home caring for your kids. That is a fair question of any future babysitter; the downside is that teens do not always have decision-making powers as it relates to vaccines, and you may come across one who would have been vaccinated if they’d been able to choose. That sucks for them (and you), but this won’t be the last time their parents’ views on science will get in their way. Best of luck to you.

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

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I just read one of your answers regarding pronouns. Explain to me, an “older” person, just how this is supposed to work. If introduced to a female who is nonbinary, how are you supposed to address or refer to this person? You evidently cannot say “she” or “he,” but supposedly are supposed to say “they/them,” etc. This makes no sense to me since these are plural pronouns.

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—Confused

Dear Confused,

So you’ve inadvertently asked a trick question. If you are introduced to a nonbinary person, you were not introduced to a “female.” The National Center for Transgender Equality offers a simple explanation: “​​Some societies—like ours—tend to recognize just two genders, male and female. The idea that there are only two genders is sometimes called a ‘gender binary,’ because binary means ‘having two parts’ (male and female). Therefore, ‘non-binary’ is one term people use to describe genders that don’t fall into one of these two categories, male or female.”

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People who are nonbinary may appear, to an observer, to belong to one gender based on stereotypical physical features or how they dress. However, when someone has identified themselves to you as nonbinary, it is your job to respect that, to relinquish your assumptions about who you may have thought them to be, and to allow them to express themselves as they see fit. As far as those confusing “plural” pronouns, it’s worth remembering that in English, they and them are used to refer to single individuals all the time. Here are a few examples:

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Teacher: “I don’t know which one of you broke the pencil sharpener, but when I find them, they are in trouble.”

Boss: “When I hire a new employee, it takes about three months to train them.”

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We refer to people without assigning them genders frequently, and there are people who simply live outside of the seemingly tidy categorization of “male” versus “female.” Some of them feel as though they see themselves within both groups to an extent—but not to the point of choosing one over the other—while others find that neither group holds any significant relevance to their identity. This may seem confusing or lofty, but it really isn’t. The task before those of us who are not nonbinary should be quite simple: All we have to do is honor how nonbinary folks ask us to engage them as it relates to gender. That means exclusively using pronouns that they have requested, avoiding any temptation to try and group them with the binary gender you may wish to associate them with, and remembering that being a member of a binary gender does not give one the right to decide what is or is not valid gender identity for anyone else. Hope this was helpful.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I waited until my 50s to have kids; now, I’m at retirement age, and I have two teenagers who seem to think that I am their servant. The only official chore they have is cleaning the kitchen between meals. It is a constant struggle to get them to do even this simple task. They are both reasonably good students, active in sports, but they spend hours a day on social media, playing computer games, and watching television. My son is a bit passive-aggressive and has always done the absolute minimum. My daughter throws a screaming fit and slams doors (ruining three to the point where they had to be replaced) whenever she is interrupted with a request to do her chore.

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I was recently in a very serious car accident, which broke both arms, putting me out of work, and putting me in an extraordinary amount of pain throughout a slow recovery. I am also still recovering from two heart attacks that I had three years ago. Before we have the cleaners come to the house, I always have to spend a minimum of two hours picking up after the kids so that surfaces can actually be cleaned. At times I have knelt on the floor weeping because the pain in my arms got so bad. (It’s slowly getting better but lifting things is still quite painful.)

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My wife works full time as a music teacher and has health problems of her own. I can’t seem to get the kids to carry their own weight, which is very frustrating to me because I have been cleaning up after myself and cooking for myself since I was 13. After those health problems, I am ready to retire, but of course I will now be required to pay huge sums of money for them to go to college, money that I may very well need if I need to go into long-term care. I know my kids love me, but they just don’t get that I don’t want to spend the last few years of my life being their servant. Do you have any advice?

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—Tired and More Tired

Dear Tired,

What, if any, are the consequences for your children’s failure to perform their singular chore? And why have you allowed them to go on for so long with so little responsibility around the house? It’s time for some major course corrections. Your kids need to understand the physical and emotional toll that their lack of assistance puts on you and your wife. While it isn’t their job to be housekeepers themselves, they are absolutely old enough to pick up after themselves and play a regular role in the maintenance of their home.

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Talk to them openly about your feelings, as well as what you two are dealing with health-wise. Let them know that it is a privilege to have house cleaners come in, and that a lot of kids their age would be on the hook to do what those professionals are paid to do, and not for an allowance either. Create rules regarding the chores (plural!) that they are to be expected to complete, and enforce them; kids who don’t clean the kitchen do not get to relax in front of the TV or text the night away, for example.

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Also, as far as paying for them to go to college … is this something you promised them? There are other ways to fund an education, either entirely or in part, and if you are concerned about your ability to care for yourself and your wife in your golden years, then you should take that into consideration when deciding how much of a contribution you can or wish to make to their studies. You can pay for everything, but that isn’t your responsibility; it’s a choice. Wishing you the best.

—Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

I can’t believe I’m asking this question, but I’ve become super-duper anxious all of a sudden. I was invited to a wedding of a longtime, but not close, friend. I was given a plus one, which just says “guest.” I want to bring a friend, one whom the couple has met a few times. The couple has no idea whether I’m dating anyone, they don’t know my orientation, and they gave me a plus one anyway. The internet seems dead set against bringing anyone other than a date, but I can’t imagine that these people, who are queer-friendly, are super into conventional, couple-centric etiquette. So, can I bring my friend? Should I calm down?

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