Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband is a very friendly guy. He’ll talk to anyone, wants to know their name, and tries to remember everyone’s name. He’s this way with adults and kids alike, male and female. I’ll admit I’m not like this. I’m friendly, but I don’t put the same level of effort like he does. During nice weather, we walk around the neighborhood, we wave and say hi to everyone who’s out, and of course my husband likes to address everyone by name. There is a group of girls around 12 to 14 years old who walk around the neighborhood (I call them “the Squad”), and he says hi to them too and knows their names. I am worried that as they continue to get older, they’ll think he’s creepy for talking to them. It’s getting a little awkward in my opinion. But I always also say hi and am friendly to them. I probably wouldn’t be as friendly if I were alone because they’re preteens, and what preteen wants to talk to an adult?
He can be a bit clueless as to how females perceive men they don’t know. We run together, and I told him he needs to stop saying hi to women on the trail because generally women alone on a trail don’t want to interact with men who are strangers. Should I say something to my husband about not being so friendly with these girls? (Maybe I’m overreacting because it’s not like they turn and run the other way. They are always polite.) If so, how can I tell him without killing his friendly spirit? I am worried about perception—I don’t believe it’s anything else.
—Friendly vs. Creepy
Dear Friendly vs. Creepy,
I think you can gently explain to your husband that while his level of friendliness would be more common in an ideal world, women and girls simply must operate with a level of guardedness that can make his kind overtures seem a little excessive. Let him know it’s OK to chat with “the Squad”—it actually is important for kids to have positive interactions with adults outside of the family!—but that he must be mindful to keep these conversations super brief: “Hey, girls! How’s it going? Susan, I saw your mom at the grocery store last night and she told me about your big win last weekend—congratulations! Looks like rain, might want to grab some umbrellas this afternoon. Be safe, girls!” Warm, polite, and short. You also should keep on top of him about not talking to women who are out on a running trail, especially when he’s not with you.
He may be frustrated or confused. Remind him that kindness is a tool that predators use to get women and girls (or other targets) to let down their defenses in order to do them harm, and that when it comes to strangers on the street (or even polite neighbors you don’t know well), we usually cannot tell a “good” guy from a “bad” one until it is too late. Appeal to the nature of his friendliness, which is hopefully rooted in some desire for people to have positive interactions with him; explain that if it is his goal to be kind to people when he meets them, one of the best ways to be kind to girls and women is to respect our need to feel safe. He should keep his longer exchanges for adults he knows more intimately, and save his greetings for the appropriate time to make them.
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From this week’s letter, Our Daughter Lied to Us and Went to a Pro-Life Rally: “We’ve grounded her and taken away her phone for going behind our backs, but she’s showing no remorse.”
Dear Care and Feeding,
My 3-year-old daughter has been thriving in Montessori pre-K since September, enjoying the teacher and other kids in her class. Prior to that, we were fortunate enough to have an incredible nanny who was with us for about two and a half years. The two of them were close, and it was tough for them both when we had to end her employment with us. We’ll still have her babysit once a month or so, and sometimes they spend time together just because the nanny misses her. The problem is, while my daughter is usually happy and well adjusted, sometimes she breaks down out of nowhere and starts weeping and begging for the nanny. I do my best to comfort her and swallow my hurt that after all these months, my daughter is still often pining for someone who’s not me when she’s upset. I know she’s a smart little kid, but I’m still feeling surprised to learn what a long memory a little kid has. How can I help my child move on from this loss?
She’s feeling genuine grief, but it seems to appear mostly when she gets a bit shocked (for example, my husband and I called out “NO” without any anger when she tried to eat shaving cream the other day, and she immediately melted down and wept for her nanny for half an hour). Often it happens because she’s clearly overtired, but sometimes it comes out of nowhere. My daughter and I have a warm and wonderful relationship where we both feel loved and express our affections for each other, so other than some minor envy when we’re in these moments, I don’t worry that she’s starved of maternal affection. Keeping them apart seems unnecessarily cruel to them both, but I wonder if it would help my daughter to move on if we did so (I can also recognize that solution might be my own selfishness taking over). On the flip side, I could try to give them more time together, but at $22/hour for babysitting, it’s much easier financially to have the nanny request one-on-one time that we don’t have to pay for (I usually let them bake cookies together or something while I hang out and read).
The nanny has a full-time job, boyfriend, and various school courses which give her a very busy schedule, so it’s not as if we can have constant visits anyway. I was looking forward to my husband and me becoming the center of her world after the nanny started with a new family, but I’m getting constant reminders from my child about how much she wants this fourth party to be present. I’m genuinely shocked to see how much my toddler is still mourning this relationship, but I want to respect her feelings while helping her to move on. Any thoughts?
—Let’s Move On Already
Dear Let’s Move On,
There was a time—the vast majority of your child’s young life—during which she wanted her parents badly, but learned to be soothed by the presence of her nanny. I don’t think it’s hard to imagine why, just months later, she is still missing that person. While she may love school and her classmates, there is a tremendous difference between having a beloved adult’s attention all to oneself and sharing it with a room full of other kids.
If this young woman is available and interested in remaining in your child’s life, I agree that it seems needlessly mean to separate the two of them. I don’t think you necessarily need to carve in extra time beyond the monthly babysitting (and please, let your former nanny be the one to suggest some unpaid hangout time, as opposed to you inviting her over and getting free child care in the process), and it would be nice to include her in birthday parties and other occasions in which your child’s loved ones would gather. In time, they may grow apart, though there are caregivers and their former charges who stay bonded for life. Separating them now will do little but further trigger your mild jealousy when you see what a big reaction your daughter has. It could possibly traumatize her, as it would likely be her first major loss and there’s no real reason to put her through that. It takes very little of you to maintain this relationship, and over time, she will most likely get over her constant aching.
It’s also possible that crying for the nanny may simply be a part of how your daughter handles stress right now. Instead of simply focusing on the one thing that has gone wrong, she’s thinking about all the things that are wrong, such as missing her special person. She also may be craving something specific when she calls for her nanny—was there something she did that was soothing to her when she was upset? Is she perhaps in need of affection? Think about how you can make her feel secure again in those moments. Also, make it clear to her that you and your partner will not be departing her daily life like the nanny did, and affirm that there was nothing she did to cause her nanny to move on.
Also, be careful not to let her see your tiny little modicum of jealousy over this connection, especially if that might manifest via subtly talking down on the nanny (“What do you need to see her for? Mommy is here!”) or suggesting that you wouldn’t be letting them see each other in the future. You could easily be positioning yourself as the villain in this story, depending upon how she interprets your actions and role in taking her nanny away.
Give your daughter a significant amount of time to grieve the first great devastation of her young life. See what redirects her energy when she calls for this person, and try to anticipate those needs before it happens. If it then continues to be that she is just as heartbroken as she was when the separation first happened, you may consider taking her to talk to a therapist, who should be equipped to identify just what the attachment to the nanny means. Some people do just love really hard with very big feelings! Others have more complicated reasons to forge such bonds. A professional might have a good idea as to which you are working with. All the best to you.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I have three daughters, ages 17, 19, and 21. To me and my spouse, each one of them is the single most stunningly beautiful girl who’s ever lived. Objectively, they are all fit, healthy, and above-average looking, but not model-beautiful—in real life, that is. In photos, however, one of them looks pretty much the same as in real life; one is extremely photogenic, and often appears model-beautiful; and one is extremely unphotogenic. So much so that she looks noticeably unfortunate in any photo with her sisters, friends, etc. This has been apparent ever since they were little girls but has grown more dramatic since puberty.
Unphotogenic Daughter began complaining about her photos around that age, and now strongly resists having her picture taken under any circumstances. She will hide her face, make a scene, run away, or pick a fight with anyone who posts a photo including her online without blocking or blurring her face. So far, my spouse and I have maintained a policy of telling her it’s all in her head, praising every photo of her as being just as beautiful as she is in real life. The rest of the family, including her sisters, seem to have followed our lead. The last few times the subject has come up, however, she has gotten increasingly upset, and ended up crying and begging us to tell her the truth about whether she really is falsely seeing her photos as unattractive, or whether she’s falsely seeing herself as pretty in the mirror and really is as unattractive as she appears in photos. At times she seems to genuinely fear she may be “crazy” or have something physically wrong with her eyes or brain. But then she’ll go back and forth between that and accusing everyone else of conspiring to make her THINK she’s crazy. It’s getting exhausting, and I’m starting to wonder if it’s cruel of us to refuse to acknowledge what she so clearly sees for herself. How bad would it be to just admit she looks better in person than in photos—there are worse handicaps to have in life—and encourage her to accept it and roll with it? My spouse still believes that hearing this from us would devastate her self-esteem. I would like for us to be on the same page on this, so we’re not confusing her further by telling her contradictory things.
I think it’s time to have a painfully honest conversation with your daughters about beauty, society, and self-image. Explain to your daughter that not all pretty girls take pretty pictures—easily, at least. Some of us are just better-looking in person than we are on camera. Be truthful: You’ve said nice things about some of her pictures in the past to make her feel better, but no, her pictures are not an honest representation of what she looks like in real life. Explain to her that despite that fact, she still benefits from beauty privilege. She is better-looking than the average girl, and that will lead to her being treated more kindly and being given many other advantages throughout her life. It isn’t fair that she will have that experience while other “less attractive” girls will not, just as it isn’t fair that she can’t take a beautiful picture with great ease. We are all given both challenges and privileges, and our experiences as people are affected by them.
That said, there is hope aside from the fact that we are much more than what we look like on film or in the mirror (which you should remind her, but don’t dwell on it at this moment—save that conversation for when she’s in the headspace to receive it). Even “less photogenic” people can learn to take great photos. If she really wants to take better pictures, offer to help her practice her poses—there are scores of online tutorials on how to make yourself look better in photos. Allow her to engage with this stuff for brief periods of time—do not let her lose hours trying to improve her smize. However, encourage her to give posing practice a try. She may also find that selfies (sans filters—urge her to take photos without them) are just more flattering than other folks’ photos, and that she can best capture her beauty that way. Let her know that she is absolutely capable of taking pictures that are just as pretty as she is; it’s simply going to take some effort on her part to learn how to make that happen. Good luck to you.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
What’s an appropriate age, developmentally, for our daughter to start wearing makeup? We’re two dads who have been raising our daughter as gender-neutral and open-minded as possible and supporting whatever interests she has. So far, having two dads hasn’t been detrimental to her growing up as a girl, as far as we can tell, but we’re stumped about how to start discussing the issue of dressing for herself as she starts puberty and being more influenced by her peers. Her friends have started wearing makeup and dressing like women they see on Instagram or TV shows, and she has asked to learn how to apply makeup. We want her to express herself however she feels comfortable, but as men we have a much different relationship and expectation with makeup than a girl does.
My husband wants to discuss the makeup and beauty industry and how old cis white men are making money off of girls feeling self-conscious about their natural beauty before we agree to buy her makeup, but I think that’s a bit complex for an 11-year-old. I think girls her age should express themselves however they want, but my husband argues, at that age, especially with social media and influencers, girls don’t fully understand what they’re doing when they put on makeup and tight clothes—they just think it’s pretty like their IG idols, which I agree with to a certain extent. We want to encourage her to find ways to feel comfortable with herself as she grows and not look down on femininity while staying age-appropriate about sexualizing herself. For me, I would have felt so powerful in makeup at 11 if my parents had supported me, but I understand that young ladies are treated differently and fed different messages than boys at the same age.
—Makeup or Slow Down
Dear Slow Down,
I think your husband is absolutely correct to start the conversation about the complicated politics of the beauty industry (among other important conversations) now, while you’re still a few years away from her being ready for makeup. One important thing you can require her to do now is to have a skin care regimen. Every morning and night, she should wash her face, moisturize, and apply sunscreen. Let her know that for her to graduate to the responsibility that comes with wearing makeup, she must master having good skin care practices first. At 11 (or you can even save this for her 12th birthday so it feels like a milestone), you can allow her to wear tinted lip gloss. When she turns 13 or 14 (you know your child and you’ll know when it feels right), she may graduate to lipstick. I’d say 16 might be a good time to allow her to wear a full face. At each step, good skin care will be critical to her continued permission to wear any makeup products. When she gets older, you’ll have to make sure she doesn’t get in the habit of falling asleep with a dirty, painted face—it’s terrible for her skin and sheets. Continue to affirm her natural beauty and encourage her to view makeup as a fun way of playing with her look, as opposed to a solution to a problem or something that she requires to be seen by the world. Wishing the three of you the best.