Care and Feeding

My Friend Is Turning Her Son Into a Monster

A young boy eats an ice cream cone.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Sorapop/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My best friend, Kayla, has a 6-year-old son, Harvey. Kayla allows Harvey to eat whatever he wants … and all Harvey wants is sugar. Whenever I’m over, I internally gasp at the obscene amount of sugary foods Harvey consumes. The last time, no exaggeration, Harvey had the following, over the course of four hours: three mini cupcakes, three juice boxes, a cookie with icing, Twizzlers, and M&Ms. While this is grossly unhealthy (for what’s it’s worth, he’s not overweight at all), obviously, it’s not my place to speak up about this.

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However, herein lies the problem: I feel like the sugar affects his mood, and, dare I say, I think he’s very addicted to it. About twice a month, I help out Kayla by watching Harvey for a few hours. I refuse to feed Harvey so much sugar. I certainly don’t sit there and lecture him about eating habits, but I just cannot be a part of it. As a result, he gets very moody. To me, it’s more than just sulking because I won’t give in to him, but a lasting, very noticeable change in attitude, including lashing out emotionally, in a way that I don’t otherwise see him do. I do feed him other foods, which he’ll mostly eat, so it’s not a matter of him being hungry. The second Kayla comes home, he’ll run up and ask for some sort of sweet.

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It’s not just me, because I have seen the mood change when Kayla is around too, and he hasn’t had sugar—for instance, recently I went with them on a day trip that was a two-hour car ride. She didn’t bring any sugar snacks (she actually forgot, it wasn’t a conscious decision), and near the end of the ride, he was so cranky that she stopped at a convenience store and bought him TastyKakes.

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What I’m getting at is that I don’t really want to watch Harvey anymore, because I really don’t want to be around him when he’s like this. But I know that it’s a huge help to Kayla, who doesn’t have a lot of support. So, how do I deal with this? Do I just suck it up, and continue to put up with this kid when he becomes a little monster from not getting his sugar fix? Do I speak up, knowing that Kayla is most likely going to be offended that I’m criticizing her parenting? Please help!

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—Sugar Highs and Lows

Dear Sugar Highs,

I’m unsure about your feelings regarding sugary treats. Can you be clearer, please? That’s sarcasm, by the way.

Seriously speaking, I would dial back the judgment in terms of Harvey’s diet. Kayla may be your best friend, but I’m sure there are a lot of things you don’t know about what she’s going through behind closed doors. I’m a little biased here because I was someone who grew up eating a ton of sugary snacks, and as an adult I’m one of the healthiest people I know, so I guess it didn’t ruin me. Nowadays, if a parent allows a kid to eat two candy bars in under an hour, people want to call Child Protective Services on them. In any case, it’s important to remember that most parents are doing the best they can with the tools they’re given, including Kayla.

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Since this is a behavioral issue and not an overall wellness issue regarding Harvey, ask yourself a simple question: Is it worth it to me and my mental health to continue with this arrangement? If you love Kayla like a best friend, then I highly suggest you continue. In doing so, you should lay down the law with Harvey when he’s under your care. If you’re not cool with sugary treats, then inform him from the jump that they won’t ever be on the menu in your house. That may impact his mood, but you should also remember that the kid is 6 years old. You said he’s like a little monster, but in reality, he can’t do anything to harm you—and as the adult in the room, you should be able to handle him for a few hours at a time.

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By handling him, I mean setting clear ground rules for your home, not only with Harvey but with Kayla if it comes up. You can do that by simply saying, “I don’t have sugary snacks or candy in my house.” If Kayla sends him with some, let her know you’re not going to serve them, but that you’ll have plenty of good food for him to eat in case he gets hungry. If he has a meltdown due to his sugar cravings, try misdirection. Find something he enjoys (video games, going to the park together, etc.) that will help to take his mind off of it. And finally—the kid needs to be respectful towards you and your decisions. No back talk should be allowed. Your house, your rules.

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If you try all of those things and determine that you simply can’t handle Harvey for whatever reason, break the news to Kayla without passing judgment on her or her son. You can do that by saying something along the lines of, “I love you, Kayla—but I can’t continue to watch Harvey. It’s just not working for me right now. I’m happy to continue on for a few more weeks until you find someone else.” You will surely disappoint Kayla and it could impact your friendship, but at the end of the day, you have to do what’s best for yourself, and it’s not your responsibility to raise someone else’s child.

I hope it doesn’t come to that, because like I said, I think you should stick this out.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 16-year-old daughter attends an elite private school where many of her classmates come from high income households. Last year, I decided to teach her financial responsibility by giving her an allowance. She gets $200 on the first of every month. I pay for her needs, plus a few wants, and she pays for the rest. The money is usually spent by the third week (she doesn’t ask me for more). Well, last month she got her license, and we gave her the old family car to drive (she has to pay for her own gas). My daughter complains that her allowance isn’t enough for gas. She says her friends don’t have to pay for gas, and although they don’t receive an allowance, they get everything they want (like expensive clothes, new phones, etc.). My daughter makes high As in all her classes, participates on the tennis team and competes in DECA. She is very responsible and does what I ask without complaining. However, she loves to shop and proudly calls herself a “material girl.” Part of me is afraid that she will become an adult who values things and winds up with a ton of consumer debt. Am I wrong to not want to increase her allowance?

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—Not Sure

Dear Not Sure,

I also attended one of those elite private schools where everyone came from high-income households (except for me, of course). As a middle-class Black kid surrounded by a bunch of wealthy white kids, I fit in like someone trying to do the Macarena at a house party in 2022. Anyway, even though your question could qualify for the “Pinnacle of First World problems” award, I’ll answer it as best I can.

I think we all know how high gas prices are right now, so your daughter has a point when she says she may need more money in that regard. I’m not sure what your financial situation is, but if you can afford it, I suggest giving her a prepaid gas card that can only be used to fuel up her car. Then, you could give her some money for other wants and needs that’s less than $200 (maybe somewhere in the range of $100 to $150 a month, depending on how far she regularly has to drive).

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You mentioned that she’s a good kid who listens to you and does well in school, so I think she should be rewarded by having a little fun with her free time. I also think that you shouldn’t be worried about her becoming a victim of consumer debt because she likes “things.” A lot of teenagers are into material items, so that’s far from abnormal. It’s not like you’re giving her a credit card with a $10,000 spending limit.

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If you happen to roll with my suggestion of giving her a prepaid gas card and some spending money, then you should hold firm on that. She may attempt to move the goalposts and ask for more cash to keep up with her wealthy friends, but I wouldn’t allow it. If anything, this will serve as an effective teaching tool in regard to smart spending and budgeting.

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I’m sure she will greatly appreciate having her gas paid for, assuming that’s in your budget. If it’s not in your budget, then I feel pretty confident that she’ll fall in line if you keep it real with her about why you can’t afford it. Not to mention, she could do what many 16-year-olds do (including me at that age)—get a job to make some extra money. Now I’m thinking I should’ve led with the “get a job” thing, but oh well.

The bottom line is you and your daughter have numerous options, and none of them are complicated.

Catch Up on Care and Feeding

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

What is a normal amount of crying for a small child? Sixteen months ago my upstairs neighbors had a child. We live in a 110-year-old building, so I expected to hear some noise. Over a year later, their child continues to scream ALL the time. Multiple times a night and regularly throughout the day. We’re fortunate to be able to allocate a secondary room below what is seemingly the nursery but it’s clear by the creaking and subsequent screaming that they’re regularly bringing him into their master bedroom above us at night. I invested in some good earplugs but as he’s getting bigger so is the screaming. I’ve talked to friends with children and they all concur this is problematic and unusual. I feel for these parents but will my life ever return to normal? Is there any polite advice I can offer or reasonable accommodations I can request without being the cranky neighbor? (We have a cordial relationship with this family but they aren’t particularly friendly.)

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—Tired in the Midwest

Dear Tired,

To answer your question, there is no “normal” amount of crying for a small child. Since you don’t really know them, you don’t have any idea of what’s going on in their household. Maybe the kid has health problems. Who knows?

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I don’t think it makes you a bad person to approach your neighbor and mention the noise. You can say something like, “I’ve noticed that your baby has been crying a lot in the middle of the night. This is an old building so the walls are pretty thin, and we’ve heard it going on for hours on end. I just want to make sure that everything is OK?” Mentioning that could give your neighbors a dose of self-awareness they didn’t previously have, which could lead to them being more conscientious. They may even open up to you about their personal situation with their baby—which is possible, but probably not likely.

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However, the not-so-pleasant reality is the odds are not in your favor here. If your neighbors aren’t very friendly towards you, then they may just ignore you or become offended after you speak with them. My guess is they feel just as helpless about all the crying as you do. You can wait it out and hope that things improve, but I believe the best course of action would be to start looking for another place to live where you won’t have to deal with this ongoing headache. Life is too short to not feel comfortable in your own home.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

How does a parent maintain a creative hobby? I’m an artist, and although I’m certainly not famous, I was lucky enough to support myself on commissions and selling pieces for most of my adult life. I wasn’t expecting to be able to work nearly as much with a baby, but between general baby/toddler chaos and COVID-19 lockdowns, it seems like there’s never a moment where I have time to be creative. We live far enough north that we’re mostly stuck inside until April/May, and it seems like the only way to see time passing is my beautiful baby outgrowing her clothes or learning new words. I’ve tried to sit down and make something after my daughter goes to bed, but after a full day with a baby (understimulating but somehow still exhausting) my brain is mush, and I just want to be passively entertained by the TV or a podcast. Plus, it feels like I need to spend every second I’m not parenting cleaning, meal prepping, or dealing with something I couldn’t do while she was awake. I’m sure it just takes time management, but it feels like I don’t have enough hours in the day as it is, and all of my brain power goes to taking care of my daughter.

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My husband works on remote sites for months at a time, so I’m basically single parenting and can’t ask him to help out with the baby or chores. I love my daughter more than anything, but there’s a part of me that can’t be fulfilled without creative expression, and I’ve been trying to shove it down since she was born. Even just being able to work on a project in stolen moments would be a relief, but I give everything I have to keeping our life together and it’s still not enough.

—Uncreative Parenting

Dear Uncreative Parenting,

May I offer you some tough love here? All I’m hearing is a bunch of excuses. Millions of parents across America pursue their side hustles in all types of fields—and many make money in the process. If they can do it, why can’t you?

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It could require you to work on your passion while your baby is sleeping—even if you want to be sleeping, too. It could mean that your house will be incredibly messy so you can get some stuff done. It could mean that you’ll find a nanny or recruit a family member/friend to babysit so you can focus on your dreams. If you talk to any successful person with young children, they will share similar stories of the sacrifices they made to make it to where they are now.

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It truly comes down to how badly you want it. In other words, are you window shopping on your dreams or are you ready to do whatever it takes to achieve them? Best-selling author Brendon Burchard said it best: “Mediocrity begins the precise moment you swap the love for a challenge with the love of comfort.”

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Great people do hard things, and I hope you’ll step up and accept the challenge to live your best life.

—Doyin

More Advice From Slate

My husband and I are expecting our first child. We’re both in graduate school and have a pretty tight income right now. We have lots of flexibility with our schedules, but both have a lot of work to accomplish, and that work takes a lot of mental energy and focus. We qualify for a child care subsidy that would put day care within the realm of possibility. My husband is open to this but has suggested we split up the childcare between us. I’m deeply skeptical. What should we do?

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