Care and Feeding

I’m Worried Our Neighbor’s Strange New Pet Is Making My Daughter a Bad Person

I can’t help but think this mysterious creature is leading her astray.

A fox looking upward.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by GlobalP/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,

I have a 7-year-old daughter, “Bea,” and we live two houses over from her best friend “Stacy,” also the same age. The two girls go to school together and frequently stay over at each other’s houses now that everyone’s fully vaccinated. Stacy’s parents recently got a pet fox. This is legal where we live, although they would have had to register the animal as an exotic pet. I wasn’t worried at first, but now I’m not so sure. The fox isn’t violent or anything, but almost every time she comes back from their house, Bea tells some hilarious, giggling story about how the fox stole food, or the TV remote, or a bracelet, or something else, and ran around the house holding it in his mouth or trying to bury it somewhere. Last evening at dinner, Bea tried to steal some fries from my plate, and tried to pass it off as a silly joke. I gave her a lecture about how it’s wrong to steal, even as a joke, and I think it sunk in. But I’m worried about the lessons she’s picking up from this animal and am considering not letting her go over to Stacy’s house anymore. Is this a step too far?

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— Possibly Overreacting

Dear Possibly Overreacting,

Assuming this letter is legit (honestly hard to say!), I am going to be uncharacteristically firm in my assessment here and say that you are definitely overreacting. This fox, like countless dogs and other animals, picks up items that do not belong to him, and your daughter has observed said behavior. I do not think there is any reason for you to think that she will be influenced by such a thing, even if she made a joke about it while swiping fries from your plate. Also, swiping fries from your parent’s plate is not really akin to theft, and while I understand that you don’t want her to think that stealing is okay, I don’t think a 7-year-old should feel like they’ve done something criminally wrong for taking a few of Mommy’s fries or for making what sounded like a silly, age-appropriate joke (one she will likely neve make again after being subjected to a lecture). If you don’t believe in sharing food, or don’t want her to feel comfortable touching your plate without permission, make that clear to her, but please don’t connect fry swiping with theft, nor with the fox. And please, please don’t think that this animal is going to train your child to do anything wrong; the fox is not a bad animal, it is not doing bad things. It is an animal, you are raising a child. Be clear with her about the things you want her to do (and not do), and she won’t be swayed by the cool, stealthy actions of a wily fox.

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From this week’s letter, How Much Should I Share With My Teen About My Own Sexual History?: How much of one’s past sordid sexual history can one share.”

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My almost 3-year-old is in a two-morning a week “preschool” and otherwise home with a nanny. He’s been going to this same very small program (12 kids with three teachers and only one classroom) since last June. At home and around family friends, he’s a huge/loud/boisterous personality; however, at school they describe him as “very quiet, reserved, and keeps to himself.” This hasn’t changed in the almost nine months he’s been there. He does not enjoy going to school but does not cry at drop off and separates just fine. My impression is he just spends his morning quietly waiting out the minutes until he’s picked up again.

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Is it normal for a 2 or 3-year-old to be kind of miserable at school? I’m going in circles wondering if I should pull him (because why force it at this age), keep him at two days a week to keep practicing, or put him in five days a week to make it more the normal routine. I hate thinking that this is his introduction to school and that he seems so uncomfortable there, and I don’t have any sense of how normal this is or what to do from here. I picked this program because it is so small, warm, and loving, so I don’t think it’s just this school that’s the problem. Help please!

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— Entirely Different Child at School

Dear Different Child,

It takes some kids a bit of time to warm up to something new, and even though it’s been nine months, your son is only at this program for a small percentage of his time each week. Talk to him about his time there and talk to the staff about what he actually does while he’s keeping to himself. Just because he’s alone doesn’t mean he’s miserable, but you need to get a clearer idea on what he’s feeling. Perhaps you can spend a morning there observing and see how the other kids interact; does he simply need some nudging to integrate into the group? Is there something about this place—it could be the smell; it could be the way it looks—that makes him uneasy? Instead of pulling him out or committing to a longer schedule for him there, work on getting greater clarity on just what “there” means to him at this point. There are kids who are over-the-top at home, but much more reserved with people outside of the family; and, again, there’s also the matter of time. This is your son’s first school experience; just because he’s not the class clown now doesn’t mean he won’t be the biggest personality in the room next year. Be patient and proactive. Good luck to you both!

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

My father passed away before my children were born. He was cremated, and my siblings and I alternate “hosting” his ashes. The last time it was my turn, my eldest daughter was too young to understand the concept of death. We included saying good night to him in her bedtime routine, and this has always meant a lot to me. But I am unsure how to handle his return to our household. She is now 3-and-a -half and has recently begun to understand what death means and that we all, including her, and Mommy and Daddy, are all going to die one day. She has taken this news quite well and even assured me that it was no big deal because we are going to die at the same time, so we won’t have to miss each other.

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But I am at a loss about how I can explain to her that her grandfather’s ashes are in the urn. I cannot tell her that after he died, we burned his body and put the ashes in the urn. Or can I? My husband suggested that we tell her that it was his favorite vase, but that seems quite far from the truth. I would prefer to tell her the truth in an age-appropriate way. Any suggestions to how I can do that? She can speak quite well for her age and understand a lot. Any advice you can give me would be very welcome!

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— Mom with Burning Question

Dear Burning Question,

There’s no need to potentially disrupt your daughter’s currently calm approach to death by adding an extra layer about the burning of bodies at this point in her life. For now, say that the urn is a special item you and your siblings chose to remind you of him, and that when you take turns hosting it in your home, it’s your way of paying tribute to him because you loved him so much. You all decided to share the vase so that you could have that experience together as a family. When she’s a little older, she’ll likely have the “what happens to your body when you die” curiosity, and you can tell her then how your father’s remains were preserved. If it never comes up on its own, then explain it when she’s 9 or 10. In the meantime, you probably should correct the notion that your family will die at the same time and let her know that what usually happens is that the parents pass away when they are old. You don’t have to go deep, but she shouldn’t be blindsided later by the discovery that she is designed to outlive her mom and dad. Wishing you the best on those awkward, less-than-cheery chats.

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m looking for help navigating some dynamics between my adult children, my husband and me. My oldest son (30) and middle daughter (28) just became parents for the first time. We are of course overjoyed; we’ve always wanted to be part of our grandchildren’s lives. My son lives in State A and my daughter lives in State B which are across the country from each other. My husband recently retired from his job and, seeking a warm/sunny climate with a lower cost of living, we chose to buy a condo in State A near my son and his family.

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Well, my daughter has been really hurt by this decision. She lives closer to where our whole family lived back in the day, and she views our decision to move near my son as a statement of rejection (we essentially moved from near her and far away from our son, to near my son and far away from her). She also has a child with special needs who requires much more care than our other grandchild, so she has expressed she feels “burned” that we moved to be closer to the grandchild with fewer needs. I feel badly that she is hurt, but I also think my husband and I should be free to make decisions that are in our own best interest. We wanted warmth and a nice condo so we chose to be near our son. I do not appreciate being made to feel guilty for not wanting to endure brutal winters and expensive housing just to be near my daughter and serve as free childcare for a child with needs greater than what I can probably reasonably provide for. At the same time, our nice condo feels empty knowing that my daughter is so upset with us—to the point she is threatening to not even visit for the holidays. Did we make a mistake? Is there any way we can handle this better, to avoid family resentment and pain? Please help.

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— Grandma in Georgia

Dear Grandma,

It’s not for anyone but you and your husband to decide if you made the right choice by moving to a place that prioritized your needs over that of your daughter. You may feel in the future that you wish that you were close enough to help her regularly, or you could decide that you two did what was best for you. Either way, at this moment in time, you need to stand firm by your decision and explain to your daughter just why you made it. Presumably, you and your husband are older and between the two of you, have worked for years and raised your children. It stands to reason that you all would chose to create a life for yourselves today that is comfortable and easier than what you knew in the past. Let your daughter know what you had to consider quality of life for the two of you when you decided where you’d spend your later years, and that the weather and cost of living were tremendous factors. Be empathetic about how it feels to be far away from the family, particularly in your “home” territory, but be clear that this choice was not made to undermine or neglect her. Visit as often as you can, be consistent with phone calls, gifts, and any other ways you may express your love and support for her. She’s a grown woman and hopefully, she’ll come to respect and understand your choice.

— Jamilah

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

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