Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My brother is getting married this summer in a small mountain town that’s either an 18-hour drive or an expensive flight/rental car. He and his fiancée want our three boys (ages 2, 3, and 6) to “be in the wedding,” which means “walk down the aisle, put flowers down, and return to sit” with me. But the reception will be adults only.
My husband (whose cultural background is very inclusive of kids at weddings) is perturbed and insulted that we will have to bring the three little kids a very long way to a ceremony, only to drop them off with a babysitter. He loves our kids, of course, but for him it’s not a relaxing family vacation to drive the kids a long distance; he would likely be stressed the whole time. I want the kids to participate in what they can of the family event, even though it’s a logistical inconvenience to us. I see it from more of a family vacation view. Plus, I would rather enjoy myself at the reception (ha!), so I don’t mind the part where we would leave them with a babysitter. My other cousins are bringing their little kids and nobody sees it to be a problem … they would certainly ask us where our kids are if we left them home.
Should I request a table for the kids at the reception? Leave the kids home with my in-laws? Or ask husband to suck it up in name of family event/reunion? Is it super crappy of the bride and groom to ask kids to be in the wedding but then not invite them to the reception? Have you been in a similar situation?
— 18 Hours Is A Long One
Dear 18 Hours,
It sounds to me like the “in the ceremony, not at the reception” question is something of a red herring here. The ask is a little annoying, but as you say, your other cousins are not surprised or upset by it, and I have certainly taken my child to a wedding where she was welcome at the ceremony and then had to leave for the drinking-and-food part of things. (For what it’s worth, she was totally unbothered by this, and thought that the ceremony itself was the bee’s knees, worthy of re-enactment with stuffies for four weeks thereafter.) And it would, I think, be a breach of etiquette to ask for another table at the reception for the kids.
But yes—I think all of this is a little bit neither here nor there. It sounds like your husband is just a little bit overwhelmed by the idea of this 18-hour drive with these three, and is focused on the ceremony versus reception question because it’s kind of catalyzing all of these feelings about this whole plan being just wrong. I have to be honest—I kind of agree with him! This drive sounds like something I’d dread. And this is a wedding on your side of the family—his in-laws—which is a whole other thing, when it comes to prospective enjoyment levels, at least for some people.
I’m not sure if you’re determined to drive the whole way, or if you’d be willing to do this the plane-plus-rental-car way. That is probably a lot pricier, but I wonder if it might seem a little more bearable to your husband? Try to see it from his point of view: This sounds less like a vacation, and more like a trial-by-fire.
If he’s still not sold, I think your best bet is to tell your brother that bringing the children is just too much for you guys (giving him plenty of time to fill the small hole in the ceremony), leave the kids with the in-laws, and fly there with your husband, to have a good time. Your cousins may be traveling with their kids just fine, but everyone’s situation is different, and I think, in the end, this choice will feel like a relief. Happy husband, happy life, as the (slightly amended) saying goes.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I have a 6-month-old daughter who I believe has some pretty big stranger anxiety/separation anxiety issues. She started at a small in-home daycare at five months. She never adjusted, cried basically all day unless she was being held, didn’t sleep great, didn’t eat great. I started dropping her off late, picking her up early. It was difficult from a work perspective, but we were trying to ease her into things to help with the adjustment.
Things didn’t improve, and last week we were given notice that we had until the end of January to find new care for her. We decided to pull her immediately—what’s the point in keeping her there if it’s not working to a long-term solution?—she’s miserable, the daycare provider is miserable, we’re paying for full-time care while getting half the hours.
There was also a lot of judgment from the daycare provider that these issues were caused by my parenting—too much baby-wearing, too much holding her at home. I have a really hard time believing these caused the problem; nevertheless, I feel very hurt by the judgment. Also, I am able to leave her for long stretches of time while taking care of my toddler or cooking, and she does just fine playing on her playmat in the living room.
Our daughter stayed home with me and my husband last week. She did great. Great naps, great attitude, just the best baby you could ever want. Work was difficult. Basically, like the early COVID days when all the kids were home, except clients and deadlines weren’t as flexible or understanding. This week, we have a babysitter to help out. Today was her first day and our daughter cried basically anytime my husband or I wasn’t in the room. She did well on stroller walks in the neighborhood, but while inside if my husband or I weren’t in the room she pretty quickly broke down. I spent most of my day sitting nearby playing with them or hanging out to try to ease my daughter in hopes that would make the next day or the following day a little better. I didn’t get much work done.
I’m wondering if people have had similar experiences with babies this age? How long did it last? We’re looking for a nanny now; what should I be looking for? Right now, our approach is to try to be in the room to ease our daughter as much as possible. It’s very difficult from a work perspective and also a little frustrating from a financial perspective. I’m hoping it will pay off in the long term, but I’m starting to feel a little pessimistic about it all. Thanks for any advice or shared experiences you have to offer!
— Separation Anxiety for the Both of Us
Dear Separation Anxiety,
Oof. Reading this letter just gave me serious flashbacks. I didn’t have a “cries at separation” baby, but she was only 3 months old when I went back to work, so the developmental situation was different. (As I’m sure you’ve Googled, separation anxiety usually starts later than that, because younger babies lack the object permanence required to have it; your baby seems somewhat precocious, if not completely anomalous, in having it at 5 or 6 months, while most get it between 8 or 9 months and a year of age, if they’re going to experience it.)
But I did at first have her in a center-based daycare that wasn’t right for us—the caregivers were anxious (not their fault; childcare is a difficult business and they were very underpaid); the babies never went outside; there were too many of them in the class; and so on. I swear my child could pick up on the vibes. She didn’t cry and cry, but she didn’t sleep either, and she arrived home at the end of the day strung out (in a baby way), having spent eight hours basically strapped in a bouncy seat. I thought about it constantly, all day long, posted about it in Facebook groups, until we finally switched her to a very small home-daycare situation with a caregiver who was very experienced, much less overwhelmed, took her to the woods constantly, and so on. Everything was fine, and I went back to being able to work, basically radicalized when it comes to getting childcare workers the right pay, support, and teacher-to-child ratio in their classes! It matters.
All of which is to say, it is totally a Thing to be strained when your child is not in the right situation. And I strongly believe that babies can sense it when their caregiver is not confident, or is stressed out by the way they are acting. I don’t know enough about the home daycare you started with to know whether this was the case with this person, but it seems like there was some kind of a personality or situational mismatch between your baby and the caregiver, and the fact that the caregiver was judgmental about supposedly excessive babywearing sort of confirms this, in a way—it sounds like they were quite nonplussed by the situation, and looking for reasons why they couldn’t solve the problem.
I also think that the fact that your baby was okay on stroller rides with this stopgap sitter, while sometimes not okay when you were closer by, does not mean that her anxiety will definitely extend to whatever nanny you hire. I think a lot of babies do better with a sitter when the parent is gone altogether. If you plan to have the new nanny take care of her at your house, in a familiar context, but with you gone, that seems like the best-case scenario. I’m hopeful that if you can find a nanny who will be happy to be there, will handle your baby’s feelings with aplomb, and will bond with her in a way that makes her confident when you leave for the day. Good luck.
Catch Up on Care and Feeding
Dear Care and Feeding,
My 5-and-a-half-year-old had been having a lot of what she refers to as “bad dreams” lately. I don’t really think anything is “going on” per se, as she is otherwise happy and healthy, and generally doesn’t exhibit any signs of anxiety or significant worry. She does have a very strong imagination and has never shied away from things that lots of kids seem to find scary, so maybe it’s catching up with her?
At any rate, my question is more about how to handle it when she comes dashing into our room at 2 a.m. and tree frogs on top of me. We’ve always had a policy that unless there is an emergency (need to use the potty, you’re sick, or some other TRUE emergency), she needs to stay in her room until her nightlight changes colors in the morning. This is born from the fact that she has always had a tendency to turn middle-of-the-night wakings into a constant habit, and if left unchecked, will do things like call us in to her room to ask a question about elephants in the middle of the night.
I’ve been trying to be lenient on this lately, understanding that bad dreams suck and sometimes you just need a hug. But. It feels like it’s starting to become a habit again, and the interrupted sleep is really starting to wear on me. That being said, I don’t want to cause her some lifelong psychological damage because we wouldn’t attend to her after she had a bad dream, either, so I’m reluctant to put my foot down and firmly remind her that a bad dream isn’t an emergency. What should we do?
— Exhausted About Elephants
I, too, have a 5-and-a-quarter-year-old who used to be totally fine with scary things, but has, of late, started to voice all kinds of night fears about witches in the woods behind our house. When I wrote this piece, two years ago, about her affection for creepy stuff, I talked to a friend whose kid also had these fandoms, and who had noticed that her kid got more scared as she got older, not less. So this switch is not uncommon. I’m also not okay with middle-of-the-night wakings (I am a very cranky parent, and person, when tired), and often feel very mean about this, until I remember that in the height of my own “scared at night” phase, my parents were not involved in helping me in the middle of the night, and I did not blame them for it.
What did work for me to help myself was to have unfettered access to books, audiobooks, and lights. We now let our child have as many books, toys, and games as she wants in her bed (the result is that she sleeps in what looks to me like a trash heap, but I let it be), and she can turn her lights on and off whenever she wants. (The Alexa does go off, via parental controls, after a certain time, because we don’t want to hear the Moana soundtrack announcing the witching hour, but she can listen to it as she’s going to sleep.) We also talk about what she does to help herself when she wakes up with a scary dream, and she’s gotten pretty specific about what does help: Reading certain books that are very anodyne and friendly and familiar, hugging her favorite toy bobcat, taking drinks of water, and so on.
If you are at all willing, I know other parents of kids this age have tried the “pallet on the floor” method, where they allow their kid to come into their room and sleep in a sleeping bag (some people even use a dog bed, which is pretty cute). Some set the rule that this will be allowed so long as the kid can sneak in tippy-toe and not wake the parents up. This seems like a nice middle-ground way of doing things.
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,
We are very close with my husband’s parents, and they provide a significant amount of child care for our (very close to) 4-year-old son. They moved to where we live when he was born to be able to spend time with him and care for him while my husband and I work. He spends two nights a week at their house. He is particularly close to his grandmother.
Recently (in the last few weeks) she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has done her best to explain it to my son in terms a 4-year-old can understand, and we aren’t sure how severe her cancer is yet. My husband I are being as supportive as we can, but we are also worried that if the worst happens he will be absolutely shattered.
Do you know of any resources that can help explain this type of situation to a four-year-old? How can we best help him with this?
— Hoping for The Best, Preparing for the Worst
I’m so sorry to hear this is happening, and hope that the prognosis turns out to be as good as it can be. I heard an excellent episode of the Your Parenting Mojo podcast a little while ago that may be of use; it summarizes academic research on how children handle death, and also gives some very specific tips for talking to preschoolers about it. And this episode of the Janet Lansbury podcast Unruffled offers some good scripts for talking to this same age group. Basically: keep it simple, be very honest, don’t get scared of their feelings, and follow their lead.
More Advice From Slate
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?