Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here.
Dear Care and Feeding,
Yesterday, our 8-year-old asked to go to the toy store to spend her allowance (which she has been saving for a long time). She’s allowed to spend her money how she likes, and she chose three small items. We brought our 3-year-old, who has never been to a toy store before, and said she could get a small item. The 3-year-old doesn’t get an allowance. Feelings were hurt because the 3-year-old got one toy, and the 8-year-old got three. I ended up going back and getting her another little toy. How would you have handled things? Same number of items? I’m an only child, so I don’t have good instincts for this.
— Unfair in Utah
You got gamed by a 3-year-old! Pre-schoolers are exceptionally attuned to unfairness, of course, but they’re also very good at figuring out that appealing that unfairness is a great way to get what they want. Here, your child, introduced for the first time in these late-pandemic days to the wonderland that is a toy store, found a way to get more out of you. Congratulations to that kid.
The answer to this problem is to give your 3-year-old an allowance, the same as you do your 8-year-old. As family finance guru Ron Lieber has written right here in Slate, pre-schoolers are totally capable of delineating between wants and needs, and the best time to start an allowance is the instant a kid starts being interested in money. And boy, is your child now interested in money! Use the next trip to the toy store as a chance for that 3-year-old to make it rain with all the Washingtons they’re about to accrue.
Dear Care and Feeding,
Any advice on dealing with a younger kid wanting to be just like their older sibling? My 4-year-old daughter absolutely idolizes her older brother (almost 8) to the point where it seems like her personality is disappearing in place of his and the things he likes. At Christmas, she was extremely upset that she didn’t get toys exactly like his. She wants to play his video games even though she doesn’t have the emotional maturity or dexterity to play them (and won’t accept substitutes that are more age-appropriate). Most of the time I don’t care if she likes what he likes, but I feel like she’s unwilling to explore things if they aren’t somehow related to him. We try and encourage other things that she’s expressed any interest in. We also talk about how it’s okay to like different things than others.
Is this even a problem? Lol! It’s such a strange dynamic to me only because it’s so extreme. I know it’s super common for kids to want to emulate their older siblings. I just would like to see her do her own thing.
— Idolizing in Idaho
This is not a problem lol! Your daughter has one example in her life of what’s cool and awesome: her brother. It’s great that she loves him so much, and it’s great that he doesn’t seem too put out by his tiny acolyte who wants to do everything he does. But this is all temporary. Soon enough she will be heading off to kindergarten, where she will suddenly be confronted by a panoply of examples of cool and awesome: the boy who’s obsessed with caterpillars; the girl who only plays Minecraft; the fourth-grader who yells “FART”; the teacher who wears horn-rimmed glasses so suddenly your daughter wants to dress like Vince Lombardi all the time.
Eventually, she will find her own things to enjoy, a process you are doing your best to help by encouraging her along the way. Be patient; she’ll find her own road soon.
Catch Up on Care and Feeding
Dear Care and Feeding,
This is kind of silly, and I feel almost embarrassed asking it because I am a grown woman, but how do you handle when your child repeatedly tells you that he does not like you? I was the preferred parent for years with my now 5-year-old, but I’m the stricter disciplinarian in our house (also less patient than my husband is, and more likely to remove privileges, like the use of my tablet). Many times over the past few weeks, he has said that he does not like me. He says it to my husband as well, but I feel like he’s saying it a lot more often to me. I’m not yelling at him, but giving simple reprimands in a normal tone of voice. I am very sensitive to criticism and clearly he is as well, so I try to phrase things in a different way when I can so it’s less of a reprimand and more a reminder. I know he’s 5 and does not mean it, but it is hurting my feelings, especially when I think of everything that I do for him. My husband and I explain to him that words can hurt people and when he says things like that, we still love him, but it hurts our feelings.
— Unliked in Unalaska
This isn’t silly at all. I really feel for you! We parents spend a lot of time brushing off insults that, if they were delivered to us by an adult friend, would cause us to delete their contact information from our phones. It’s especially frustrating when it “feels like” it’s happening to us more than another adult in the home. And these insults are coming from people who literally depend on us to survive. It’s absolutely maddening. Some parents can shake it off better than others, but I don’t know a parent who hasn’t occasionally felt actually deeply hurt by a mean thing their kid said to them.
It’s great and important that you understand that of course he doesn’t mean it, and that 5-year-olds just have big feelings that they struggle to convey. I think it is less useful than you think it is to repeatedly tell your child, in that heated moment, that he’s hurt your feelings. I think that often escalates rather than de-escalates, and allows you too much time to stew in your own misery. I recommend an entirely different way to handle these situations. My sister-in-law, who parents with a poise and self-possession I admire, has a great retort to the “I hate you!!!!!”s that every parent must endure. She replies, instantly and with maximum sweetness, “Well, I love you.” It lets you travel upon the highest of high roads, and as an added side benefit it often baffles the child into quiescence. Give it a try!
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I have a question about something I am very unsure about, so I will just cut to the chase: My 30-year-old fiancé still kisses his mother on the mouth. There are no long or slow kisses, just quick pecks. I just find it very odd that either one would think that is appropriate at his age. It makes me very uncomfortable to see, and they even will kiss each other on the mouth in public. Like I said before, it’s nothing romantic, just a quick peck like you would give to your child; but that’s why it is so weird, because my fiancé is obviously not a child. I mentioned it to him once before that I find it weird, but we haven’t talked about it since. I guess my question is: What do you make of it? Do you think it’s weird? Is it normal?
— Grossed Out in Grosse Pointe
Dear Grossed Out,
What is normal? What is weird? I would not kiss my mother with my mouth, given the kind of profanity that flies out of it every day, but my way is not the only way. Nor is your way! He is not slipping his mom the tongue (right???), so try not to worry about it.
This is what you are actually seeing: Your fiancé has, at least on the face (if you will), a warm and loving relationship with his mother that they express in a slightly different fashion than you are used to. If you ever have children with this fiancé, you will appreciate these children’s father setting an everyday example that even grown kids can and should show their mothers how much they love them. Take from this difference between the two of you the good (he is not shy about showing affection to those he loves), and ignore the bad (sorta weird!).
It is certainly not your place to police the way they relate to each other, and I urge you never again to casually comment on how you find the whole thing very slightly Oedipal, ha ha, just making an observation, honey! Nothing good will come of that. In the meantime, when you kiss him, I encourage you to really give him the business, so there’s no confusion.
More Advice From Slate
My daughter is 9 and wonderfully smart and creative. One of her favorite creative outlets is cooking. However, she has been somewhat brainwashed by cooking shows, which give the impression that everything is prepared off the cuff. So she now believes that cooking is wantonly combining ingredients to create culinary masterpieces. I have explained that all those celebrity chefs develop and follow recipes based on carefully measured ingredients and food science, and that I am happy to teach her how to cook so she develops the skills to eventually create her own recipes. She, however, wastes huge amounts of food creating inedible dishes based solely on her creative whims. What should I do?