Dear Care and Feeding,
My friend’s 8-year-old got a bow and arrow for Christmas. Not a Nerf one, but one which could injure him or another living thing. My friend is a single mom, and confides in me about her struggles with her son who has impulse control and, like most (some?) 8-year-olds, can’t really be trusted to follow directions. He is left alone for hours sometimes to watch himself and if told not to watch electronics or eat candy will consistently do those things anyway. I usually keep my mouth shut and offer assistance as needed since it is candy or TV, but I am worried for the neighborhood children! Should I say something? She isn’t familiar with bows or any kind of weapons but thinks he will have fun. I just want adult supervision and a safe it will be locked up in.
—Going to Shoot an Eye Out
Yikes, I’m pretty sure that even Hawkeye’s origin story didn’t begin like this. I also have an 8-year-old, and there’s no way I would let her play with a real bow and arrow under any circumstances—supervised or not. What is he going to shoot with it, anyway? His friends? Neighborhood pets? Birds in trees? Random inanimate objects like cars or windows? No thanks.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with staging an intervention here, especially since your friend doesn’t fully understand the dangers involved. I would clearly state to her that a bow and arrow is a weapon, not a toy for children, and in doing so, you could purchase a Nerf bow and arrow set for him instead (my kids have them and they’re great). At that point, I’d donate the real bow and arrow to charity or throw the set into the fireplace.
If she’s of sound mind, she should probably be cool with what you offered. If not, then you have to be at peace with her decision. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I am a new mother to an amazing baby girl, and I have a question about weight and body positivity as it relates to raising a daughter. Due to some medical issues, my weight fluctuated significantly throughout my adult life, and when those resolved a few years ago it settled at what most would consider thin (a 60-pound swing from me at my heaviest). To maintain that weight I have sometimes restricted calories—not drastically so, but I’ve definitely dieted in that sense. I do not and will not do crash/fad diets—when I’m watching my weight, it’s strictly a matter of taking smaller portions and not eating out as much, and this approach has been very sustainable and not unpleasant for me so far. The truth is, I’m so much happier at my current weight, and it’s not for any of the feel-good reasons. I don’t have more energy or stamina or anything like that. I just like the way I look; I like the clothes I feel comfortable in; I like being in photos more, etc. I still appreciated my body and considered myself attractive when I was heavier, but I much prefer how I am now. If it were just me, I would be at peace with the fact that this is a bullshit societal expectation, but it’s one that I am ultimately happier adhering to.
But I don’t know how to approach this with my daughter! I would NEVER pressure her to maintain a certain weight, intentionally send her the message that thinner is better, talk about dieting or my desire to be thin around her—I am 100 percent confident I will think she’s the most beautiful creature in the world at any size, and I hope to raise her in a body-positive way. But is that even possible if personally I prefer to be thin? Can I hide that truth from her, and is it even desirable to do so? Part of me feels like I shouldn’t have to sacrifice such a fundamental part of my autonomy—how I want my body to look and how I’m happiest inhabiting it—on the altar of motherhood, and part of me is afraid that unless I figure out how to stop deriving any satisfaction from being thin, I’m setting my daughter up for a life of disordered feelings around food and weight. I truly don’t think anything I’m doing is unhealthy, but sometimes it seems like any attitude short of “don’t deny yourself anything you want to eat and be at peace with whatever weight you land at” is considered fatphobic and antithetical to body positivity. What is my obligation here?
—Bad at Body Positivity
Dear Body Positivity,
It seems like I always get myself into hot water whenever I answer weight-related questions around here—especially since I’m a man—but I’m going for it anyway.
Let me start by saying there is absolutely nothing wrong or unhealthy about feeling good about yourself when you’re at the weight you want to be. For example, I know “dad bods” have been made popular for the past decade or so, but I have no desire to have one. I like the way I look with my shirt off at the beach, and I enjoy the way my suits fit me during business meetings. To get to this point, I’ve worked out for no less than 30 minutes for 413 straight days and counting—which isn’t always fun, but I love the end result of how I look and feel. Does that make me vain? Maybe, but it also makes me happier, which in turn makes me a better dad to my two daughters.
Plenty of parents (and people) look and feel good carrying around extra weight, and that’s awesome for them. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and you’re right that being thin is a “bullshit societal expectation.”
But it’s OK to want to be what you consider personally the best version of yourself, in order to be the best mom possible, and I don’t see any problem with restricting calories and meal portions to stay at your ideal weight. The caveat, of course, is to do so in a healthy fashion (aka no disordered eating, body dysmorphia, etc.).
In terms of your daughter, I think you should teach her about the value of eating healthy meals and regular exercise—just like any pediatrician would advise. If that still leads to her carrying a few extra pounds, then so be it. Weight is not an indicator of health or beauty, which is the message I share to my two girls, and it should be the same one you share with your daughter as well. Always ensure that you’re reinforcing her amazing qualities that make her who she is on the inside. Stay positive about health. Don’t make negative comments about your own body or others’ bodies (and of course don’t comment on hers).
If you’re looking for me to drag you for being happier for being thin, then you’re barking up the wrong tree. It’s not like you’re constantly broadcasting “I’m eating this salad today because I want to stay thin!” As long as you’re not overtly pushing your beliefs on your daughter, then I’m good with it.
Catch Up on Care and Feeding
Dear Care and Feeding,
This is a profoundly low-stakes parenting question/conflict, but I hope you’ll indulge me: My wife (cis female) and I (cis male) have a very nutty but fun 18-month-old girl. The kid is maybe a little behind the curve in terms of talking (she only says variations on “da” and “aa” in reference to basically everything, but many other sounds are emerging). Neither of us are particularly worried about her cognitively since my wife and I were both late talkers as children and the little one is otherwise incredibly precocious, inquisitive, and playful. Our pediatrician is similarly not worried, though said that, were it not a pandemic, they may have recommended some speech therapy to help her catch up.
To my question: My wife often calls our child “mama.” Example: “Hey mama, want a snack?” or “No biting, mama!” She’s hinted that this is an effort to get “mama” into the vocabulary—she started saying “dada” early, which I suspect led to low-level jealousy (to be fair, it wasn’t in reference to me—everything is “dada”). This, weirdly, sets my teeth on edge. It’s hard to say why—the closest I get is that I worry it’s sort of cynical and could be mildly confusing to our kid (the point, by all accounts, is to have her call my wife “mama”—how would our kid know that if she’s also “mama”?). Mostly, I feel like it may end up hurting her own cause: Even if the kid starts saying “mama,” she may end up calling the cat “mama” before my wife! Intuitively, I recognize it’s not a “real” problem. You can call anything anything, families have endless terms for each other, and not all families have a “dada” and a “mama.” Hell, I muddle the issue by calling my kid a million weird, totally unrelated nicknames, most of them gibberish. My (feeble) rationalization is that this doesn’t confuse the issue of MY identity. It’s not enough to cause conflict between my wife and me; she’s a fantastic mother and I recognize the (mild, slightly irrational) irritation I feel about this doesn’t even rise to the level of a conversation. So I guess I’m asking: What’s another way I can think of this so I don’t find myself rolling my eyes every time my wife calls our kid “mama”?
—Not the Mama
Dear Not the Mama,
My guy, I’m glad you said it because this is easily the lowest-stakes parenting question I’ve answered in my 13 months as a columnist here.
When my daughters were your daughter’s age, I constantly called them “mama” as well. For some reason, I think it’s adorably cute to call baby girls that. Of course, I’m sure you and other readers may disagree—but the fact of the matter is that my kids didn’t deal with any confusion surrounding who their mom is and what the word meant, and I’m pretty sure your daughter won’t have any issues either.
Also, it’s no secret that moms are probably the most underappreciated people on the planet. They have to deal with ridiculous societal expectations of being perfect at all times while we dads can create messy ponytails for our daughters and be viewed as national heroes. If your wife finds some level of happiness from calling your kid mama, then let her do it.
In other words, this is a “you” problem—and I certainly wouldn’t die on this hill by confronting your wife about it. This too shall pass, and I think it would be in your best interest not to micromanage her parenting style.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
What do I do about a suspicion that one of my daughter’s friends is stealing from her? At first it was candy that went missing from my daughter’s “dessert bowl” in the kitchen; then a few dollars from her clear plastic savings container in the living room; and this week, an antique watch—a gift from my recently deceased mother—from her bedroom. We noticed all of these losses happened right after she and her friend “Samantha” had spent time in those areas. My daughter is 7 and her friend is 12. If we had a decent relationship with Samantha’s parents, we might be able to talk with them about this, but Samantha’s home situation isn’t good. (Her family is living in a relative’s home; her mom has mental health issues; we have minimal, one-way communication with the parents.) Our daughter doesn’t like playing at Samantha’s house. And Samantha is the only kid in the neighborhood close to our daughter’s age, so it’s not like there are other friendships that we could encourage her to pursue. I don’t think confronting Samantha is the way to go, since we have no real evidence. I suppose we could set up nanny cams throughout the house, but that would be costly, and neither my wife nor I want to spend hours reviewing footage of the kids playing. Any other ideas?
—To Catch a Thief
Dear To Catch a Thief,
First off, there is a huge difference in emotional and mental maturity between a 7-year-old and 12-year-old. I’m not saying that kids of those ages can’t get along, but there is a lot of room for bad things to happen—especially in terms of the older kid taking advantage of the younger one.
You also mentioned that Samantha is the only kid around her age in her neighborhood, but why does that matter? As my mom always says, “It’s better to be alone than in bad company.” Doesn’t your daughter go to school? I’m sure she has friends there, right? Best of all, those friends will be the same age as she is.
Regarding the alleged stealing, I definitely think you should get indoor cameras. You said that it’s costly and you don’t want to spend time reviewing videos, but what do you expect? It’s not like a little birdie is going to visit and inform you if a crime is taking place in your home. You gotta put some effort in here. You can get a good camera for under $100, and if you think that’s expensive, you should compare it with the cost of replacing the items that are missing from your house.
If you happen to catch her red-handed, either via video or in person, then you should confront her before she leaves your home. Not in an angry way, of course, because she’s still a kid, and you do want to be sensitive to what sounds like a difficult home life. But you should talk to her, get your stuff back, and end the play date. Then you’ll have to engage the parents and discuss it with them. I know Samantha’s home situation isn’t a good one, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore her behavior.
But like I said earlier, if you don’t want to go through the trouble of getting a camera, you should just trust your gut and ensure your daughter doesn’t play with this girl anymore. As long as she’s going to school, she can find plenty of other friend options.
More Advice From Slate
What is your take on expectations of women these days? I can’t tell if I’m a total dud or normal, but I feel exhausted by the expectations of me. I am a mother of a young child, and this is my main priority. I do all the parenting (literally), and my husband’s only expectation in this area is to say hello to our child when he gets home. You could argue that this dynamic is my fault, but among my friends it’s actually pretty common that the mom does the lion’s share of parenting.