Care and Feeding

I Don’t Think My Toddler Should Have to Apologize to His Drama Queen Friend

Why is this kid so annoying?

A toy train.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by prill/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’m a stay-at-home parent to my 3-year-old and lucky enough to have a friend with a kid the same age so the kids can play together. However, as much as I hate to say it, I find her child very annoying. It’s not the kid, it’s me—I love my kid, but I’m not a “kid person.” Her child likes attention from adults (vs. playing with toys and/or the other kids), while mine is happy to play without needing to be the center of attention. I really don’t like the extra attention I feel forced to give this child (demands like “Pick me up,” “I want to sit on your lap,” “Can I play with your phone,” etc.). My friend is usually good about getting her kid away from my phone and such, but she doesn’t do anything about the demands to be picked up or sat on a lap. (I think both parents think this is a charming trait in their child.)

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Recently, our kids were playing together at my house when my kid crashed his toy train into the train that the other kid was playing with. It was a little loud but otherwise uneventful to me. My friend’s kid started crying a few minutes later, and my friend said it’s because my kid scared him with the loud noise. I felt bad that he was scared, but it seemed like a normal kid interaction. However, she pointedly asked me to have my kid apologize, and in the moment I did. My kid was very sorry, especially that their kid was crying. Since then, the train makes their kid scared again every time he comes over, and he wants to be picked up when he sees it. I feel like this is all unnecessarily dramatic. Their kid doesn’t have sensory issues or anything and is around loud noises at both houses. My kid was very confused the first time this happened because playing trains seemed like a shared interest. Now I put away the trains when they come over so there’s no issue (and I just don’t want to deal with the dramatics). Also, when thinking back on the incident, I didn’t like that I made my kid apologize for something that wasn’t wrong and was within the bounds of normal play.

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I have a two-part question. First, how do I stop feeling annoyed with this child? Second, in the future, when it doesn’t seem like my kid needs to apologize, what can I do in the moment? My spouse said our kid will apologize for lots of things that he doesn’t need to throughout his life (part of social life) and I see his point. But I don’t want to make my kid feel like I won’t advocate for him.

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— Wondering in Wisconsin

Dear Wondering,

It’s tough being around kids when you’re not a “kid person.” Many adults find children who are not their own to be rather annoying. However, we must remind ourselves that just like our own small people, other folks’ kids are kids: vulnerable, in need of guidance and support, and still adjusting to the rules and norms that make our world. You may not take great pleasure in your encounters with this boy or other kids who pass through your life, but it’s critical that strengthen your threshold for tolerating their very normal behaviors. You also should consider that you won’t always understand what’s going on with someone else’s child. Just because this kid isn’t known to have sensory issues doesn’t mean that a loud noise didn’t bother him badly; while that may seem annoying to you, there could be something going on with him that you’re unaware of.

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Furthermore, your son did make the loud noise, so there’s nothing wrong with him apologizing for that. Your friend wasn’t looking to have him punished or scolded, just for him to take accountability for scaring his pal. That’s the sort of polite gesture that your son will learn to make in a number of settings in which he hasn’t done anything intentionally wrong, but somehow caused someone else some discomfort.

I don’t know exactly how to make other people’s kids less bothersome to you, but I’d suggest simply gritting your teeth and trying to focus on the fact that these interactions are essential for your own child. Again, you don’t know this little person through and through, so you can’t explain away his need for adult attention and lap time as simply being obnoxious. Different children have different needs, and while it’s unfortunate that the way this kid articulates his bothers you so much, that isn’t a referendum on who he is, nor how he is being parented. Believe it or not, your child, too, might annoy another parent for seeming so independent, or for talking to adults as if he’s their peer. There’s no right or wrong way to be a kid, and you gotta let go of your distaste for this particular one, even if the idea of spending a day with him leaves you cold.

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The trains are put away, so that’s that. However, you should prepare yourself for the inevitability that something else will happen at some point to draw a big reaction from this child—and that’s okay. As long as he and his parents treat you and your child with kindness, you just have to get through it. Be grateful that your own child’s personality gels much better with your own and go easy on his buddy. It will make you feel much better in the long run.

Slate Plus Members Get More Advice From Jamilah Each Week

From this week’s letter, Ugh, I’ve Had Enough of These Instagram Parenting Techniques: “Whether at book club, Mommy & Me classes, on the playground, whatever, I feel like I’m surrounded by extremely intensive efforts at validating children’s every emotion and using a lot of “parenting” language.” 

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Dear Care and Feeding, 

My daughter “Ashley” is 25 and was diagnosed with ADHD about three years ago, when she had challenges at work and a colleague recommended she get tested. The diagnosis somewhat surprised us. Ashley was high-functioning all through childhood and got good grades in college, though did struggle a bit with organizing (we thought these struggles were standard for someone transitioning to more independence in college).

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Ashley was initially excited to get diagnosed but has recently become completely against taking any sort of medication. She says it makes her feel like “not herself” and she doesn’t like the idea of being medicated. The problem is that unmedicated, her level of functioning has drastically decreased. Her apartment is a complete pigsty in a way that’s unsanitary—old, rotting food everywhere, animal waste from her dog, broken glass, etc. to the point that she doesn’t want anyone to come inside and see it. She’s been put on two performance improvement plans at work. Last week, she missed an important family milestone event because she “forgot” (think importance level of wedding/funeral).

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This behavior is completely unlike her, and she refuses to even entertain a conversation about medication. We support her by paying for her phone bill and health insurance, plus helping with her rent each month because she works at a pretty low-wage, entry-level job. She frequently lives beyond her means and buys expensive things for her apartment, only to have them break or become so overused within a few weeks that they’re inoperable. Her finances and credit score are a mess. My husband wants us to withdraw our financial support completely, but I don’t think that will solve the issue. How do we convince Ashley to get medicated and get her life back on track?

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— Mom in Milwaukee

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Dear Mom in Milwaukee,

It’s time for some serious dialogue with Ashley, and your support is the way in. The way things are going now, you could very easily end up on the hook for many of her primary needs indefinitely. Help your daughter to see the state of her life as it is now. Does she enjoy living as she does? Wouldn’t she rather be able to entertain company and take pride in the condition of her home? Does she aspire to doing work that allows her to pay her own bills and enjoy a more comfortable quality of life? I don’t agree that withdrawing support entirely would help, but perhaps that assistance should come with some expectations with regard to what Ashley is doing to improve her own circumstances.

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Your daughter would likely benefit greatly from talking to a therapist, who can help her to come to terms with the diagnosis and talk to her about what life on medication might be like. As someone who was diagnosed with ADHD when I was just slightly older than Ashley, I can tell you that medication has completely changed my life and allowed me to gain a level of control over things that I struggled with in the past. It wasn’t the first, nor the second prescription that worked for me; finding the right medication at the right dose may take time, but considering how your daughter is faring now, she stands to gain a lot from taking the steps to get it right.

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I doubt Ashley is truly happy or content with the way things are going; let that guide your conversations with her. She deserves to feel good, confident, and functional. She should have the energy to keep her apartment relatively tidy and enough of a handle on her schedule that she doesn’t miss important events. ADHD isn’t reflective of something that Ashley has done or of some inherent deficiency; it’s simply part of her journey. In order for her life to be on track, she has to make peace with that part of her identity and take steps to accommodate it. Don’t let up, don’t drop the subject when she gets annoyed. Keep this line of communication going until Ashley is ready to get it together.

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Catch Up on Care and Feeding

· If you missed Thursday’s column, read it here.
· Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a narcissistic husband who is completely immature and selfish. He makes just enough money to fund his hobbies. He was a bachelor for 11 years before we married, and he has continued to be a bachelor. When people get to know him, they think he is the greatest guy that has ever lived, and they gush over him nonstop. Do I just grin and accept all the compliments about him, or is there any way to put some reality into this situation? I actually have made a life for myself. We have parallel lives and in a weird way, it works.

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— Tired of the Phoniness

Dear Tired,

Does it work? I mean, you may have figured out how to make a household budget work without any contributions from your husband, but is that it? You say that your husband lives as a bachelor; I don’t know if that involves infidelity, but it sounds like, at the very least, you may be responsible for keeping the lights on with no support from him. You consider him “narcissistic, immature, and selfish” and are bothered by how well he is received by other people. Again, does it work?

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Telling folks the truth about who your husband is within the context of your marriage will not do much to change your conditions. Sure, they may think differently of him, he may come off as less charming, but what does that mean for you and your happiness? Would chipping away at your husband’s popularity really solve anything? I’m not sure from your letter if you have kids, own a home together, or are managing any other shared responsibility that would make separating difficult; however, it seems that these “parallel” lives aren’t as parallel as you’d like to believe and that your husband brings you great unhappiness. There’s a lot unsaid about your relationship, so I can’t pretend to know exactly what you’re up against. However, I am rather certain that you will gain little more than temporary gratification from exposing your husband as a jerk. Instead, I encourage you consider just how well this life is working for you and if it’s worth it for you to continue being married to someone whom you don’t seem to want to be with anymore. Wishing you all the best on an incredibly difficult and personal decision. Hopefully, the life you’ve made for yourself is one that can peacefully sustain you in the future.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m an adult woman in my 50s living with/caring for my elderly parents in their 80s. They are both fragile health wise, and I think they would be better off in assisted living. They have their names on a list at a very nice place and I know they would love it; they know people there and there are lots of activities to enjoy, but they say they “Aren’t ready to move yet.” I work full-time at an elementary school and come home exhausted most days. When I get home, they always need me to do something, get something, or go out and get dinner; my weekends are spent doing all the inside and outside work. I don’t feel like I have a life; I’m just a caretaker.
Am I wrong for feeling this way? I feel like I can’t say no to them because then I would feel guilty, and they would get mad. How can I approach this sensitive subject with them?

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— Exhausted with the Elders 

Dear Exhausted,

It’s time for a very honest conversation with your parents about your quality of life. While it is understandable that you would want to take care of them and make their later years as comfortable as possible, you deserve a life of your own. They have one another, as well as their friends in this potential facility. It isn’t sustainable for you to go on like this, living exclusively to serve others without having your own needs met. Explain to your parents that you are overwhelmed, that you aren’t able to attend to your own needs and do not have much of a life of your own. Assure them that you aren’t going to be abandoning them at this senior home; you’ll visit regularly and continue to run errands for them. However, you absolutely must claim part of your existence for yourself, and this relocation will allow you to do that. You will likely feel guilty and conflicted, as you do now, but you know deep inside that the way things are going just isn’t working for you and that you deserve to be happier than you are now.

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Hear your parents out; the idea of moving into a senior facility is humbling and scary, and their concerns are valid. Be sensitive, but firm. This isn’t working for you, things have to change, and they’ll have to understand that. It may not be easy, and you may shed some tears along the way, but you have to create a life that you can enjoy at least a little bit, and that’s not going to happen as long as you are a full-time caregiver and full-time teacher. Hopefully, your parents will come to understand your point of view and will make their peace with a new home sooner than later.

— Jamilah

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

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