Care and Feeding

My Son Is Terrified of His “Haunted” Christmas Present

Should we make him face the “mean ghost” inside or just get rid of it?

An evil-looking panda bear plushy.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by klaasvanderploeg/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here.

Dear Care and Feeding,

This Christmas, one of the gifts I gave my 7-year-old, “James,” was a panda bear plush. Ever since he watched Kung Fu Panda a few months ago, he’s been obsessed with pandas. Because of this, I assumed that he’d love his new toy. Unfortunately, James is convinced that the panda is haunted and has been trying to destroy it. This all started a few days after Christmas when James ran into my bedroom at night crying because the panda was “making scary faces at him.” I moved the panda into the play room, and he was able to fall asleep after that. A few days later, James told me that the panda had apparently told him that it was an evil toy and that it was haunted. He said that he tried to stomp on the panda and “get rid of the mean ghost.” I also caught him trying to bury the panda under the snow. I’ve told him that I will not allow the panda to harm him and have offered to “teach the ghost not to be evil,” but he believes that no matter what, the panda will come and get him. My husband has suggested that we keep the panda in one of our bedroom closets until James gets a bit older, but I don’t know if it’s even worth it. While it is disappointing that James is having such a strong negative reaction to the gift I got him, part of me thinks it would just be easier if we gave the panda away. What should we do about the panda?

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—Panda-monium

Dear Panda-monium,

It’s nice to imagine that in a few months James will just be over his aversion to this toy and will ask to have it returned to him. However, what is more likely is that he will stumble upon it in its hiding place and get upset. It’s not uncommon for a kid to find a toy somehow creepy, and once they’ve seen it as such, those feelings may never change. It seems to me that you should cut your losses and donate the toy so that another child might take pleasure in it. It wasn’t a huge investment, and if James suddenly has a strong desire to have a plush panda in the future, a new one shouldn’t be too hard to find. Cheers!

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Slate Plus Members Get More Advice from Jamilah Each Week

From this week’s letter, Something Feels Off With My Teen’s Social Development: “How can I help my otherwise sweet and intelligent 13-year-old?”

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m 16 weeks pregnant with our first child. My husband really likes the idea of having a baby betting pool. Several of his friends have held them, and he enjoyed participating. Much like gender reveal parties, I’m really not into it, and actually feel kind of gross thinking about people betting on when I’ll give birth. Is it reasonable for me to ask him not to do it? Or should I just go along because it doesn’t require much from me?

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—All Bets Off

Dear All Bets Off,

You have every right to say that betting on something that takes place inside of your body makes you uncomfortable and that you don’t want him to do it. He should be reasonable enough to respect your feelings, even if they leave him disappointed about a “fun” ritual. He’s a grown man. Express your discomfort clearly; let him know what makes you feel icky about this and ask him directly to abide by your wishes. Hopefully, this won’t take a lot of debate and discussion, and he’ll hear you out once and for all. Wishing you all the best and a safe, healthy delivery.

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Catch Up on Care and Feeding

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

My daughter is 7, and we have an issue: She wastes daily necessities like they grow on trees. For example, when she is sitting on the toilet doing her business, she will unroll the entire roll of toilet paper into the trash can out of “boredom.” I don’t want to have toilet paper on my intimate parts that has touched either the floor or old trash, so in the trash is where it stays. She’ll also dump half a bottle of shampoo or body wash into her bath. I have tried bath bombs and bubble bath, but they cause her irritation and UTI issues. I am by no means rich (in fact I am much closer to poor), but I try to make sure my kids have the best. She has very sensitive skin and gets rashes very easily, so I get her a special body wash that is not cheap; you can imagine my anger when I found the new bottle empty three days later. I also get name-brand toilet paper and have never policed my children’s toilet paper usage before, because it was more important to me that they learn how to get themselves properly clean—but she isn’t “overusing” it, she is literally throwing it in the trash.

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My plan is to get some small travel bottles and fill those with their soap, and that’s what they get for the week; if she dumps it all in the bath, that’s on her. I can give each of my kids their own roll of toilet paper that they can use, and keep a roll of the very cheap brand in the bathroom. If they use their whole roll in less than a week or forget theirs in their room, they have the cheap stuff available. My problem is I am not sure if this is the right way to handle this, and I’m also concerned how this will affect her sister (8), who has never done anything like this. I get that my daughter is easily bored, but I cannot afford to keep buying expensive toilet paper, body wash, and other necessities every week.

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—Trouble With Toiletries

Dear Trouble,

Instead of getting your kids toilet paper and body wash to waste, I think you should instead invest in a few inexpensive items that will keep your daughter’s “bored” hands busy. How about some fidget toys that stay in the bathroom and are bath-safe? Speaking of bath time, have you tried a good old-fashioned rubber ducky? Empty water bottles? A pail? Spray bottles? There’s too many cheap plastic things to occupy your little one’s time for you to have to throw money away. Speaking of which, you can start the “things cost money” conversation now! Your kid won’t fully grasp the nuances of it, but she’s old enough to begin to make the connection between her parent working and items being purchased for the house. Explain to her that you do not have endless money for endless bathroom supplies, and that it isn’t OK for them to be wasted for that reason. Good luck to you.

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Want Advice From Care and Feeding?

Submit your questions about parenting and family life here. It’s anonymous! (Questions may be edited for publication.)

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have an 18-month-old son and a loving, caring husband. As with many heterosexual couples, I do more than 50 percent of the child care, even though we both work full time. The thing is, I’m not sure if this is a problem for me. I love spending time with my son, and am not unhappy with the amount of time I am “on.” For example, I wake up when my son does, and we play alone together until I take him to day care or, on the weekends, until his father wakes up a few hours later. If my husband took some of this time to be solo parenting, I think I would miss my son more than I enjoyed the time off, and since I would be with him anyway, it doesn’t seem crazy to me that my husband wants to sleep in.

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However, I’m questioning if this is, or will be, a problem for my son. He loves his dad a ton, and they have a great relationship. However, I am clearly the primary parent. I’m usually the one to comfort him if he’s upset, and when he’s sleepy, he crawls into my lap rather than his dad’s. If I am home, he wants me to be with him (including if I need to go to the bathroom or go into the other room for a minute). He could be very contentedly playing with his dad while I’m reading a book, but if I get up to switch the laundry, he wants to come. He’s not the same way when the roles are reversed. If I’m out of the house entirely, he seems to be fine with that, but we’ve never tried it for more than a few hours (though we have done bedtime and wake-up this way on occasion, which went fine) and don’t do it often.

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By being OK with being the primary parent, am I setting up my boys to have a more distant relationship? Will my son be OK if I am gone for a longer period (like a weekend), or are our patterns too ingrained? We are thinking of having another baby, which of course will change things. If my son is too mama-centric, will that make introducing a new baby worse? Finally, and this is probably a question only I can answer, am I deluding myself that I am OK with this split? Will I come to resent it or continue to cherish the closeness I have with my baby? I know my husband would do more if I asked him to, but the current state of things is more comfortable for him, so I’m hesitant to do that unless I know it’s really what I want.

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—Obvious Primary Parent

Dear Obvious Primary,

This may be a controversial opinion, but I think the combination of mothers taking pleasure in and/or feeling compelled to be the primary parent and a culture where fathers are generally expected to be less hands-on is to the detriment of children and their relationships with their dads. We aren’t talking about one partner cooking most of the meals or balancing the checkbook because they have the better skill set to do so; your relationship with your son is closer than the one he has with his dad, and some of that must be credited to the fact that you’re doing more work. It shouldn’t matter that you like doing it more, or that your husband is comfortable doing a bare minimum in the parenting department at times; both of you are in the house, both of you work full time, and both of you should be hands-on participants in the raising of this child and any others you may have in the future. You and your husband should begin creating rituals and activities that are designed to give them the opportunity to bond without you and to create a relationship that exists independent of you.

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To the second part of your question, this sort of dependence upon you can absolutely make the transition into siblinghood more difficult for your son. Will you be the same parent to them both? Do you have the capacity to do the lion’s share of the parenting for two children? What happens when you get exhausted and have no choice but to delegate? Would that be the ideal time to learn how to divvy up parental responsibilities? I strongly urge you to start creating some balance in your household so that you may be able to sustain your role in it for the foreseeable future. Sending you my best wishes.

—Jamilah

For More Parenting Coverage, Listen to Mom and Dad Are Fighting

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