Care and Feeding

Dear Care and Feeding: I’m Worried About the Time My Daughter Spends at Her Friend’s Filthy House

I don’t want my daughter exposed to it anymore.

A cigarette laying on an ashtray full of butts
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by PaulPaladin/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 recently discovered my teenage daughter’s friend’s house is filthy because her parents smoke inside, and I don’t want her to go there anymore. The walls and every surface are dirty and damaged, the air is so smoky it stings your eyes, and my daughter is nauseous when she comes home. I’m worried about her friend growing up in this environment, and I don’t want my daughter exposed to it anymore. I told my daughter she can go out with her friend or hang out at our house, but should I talk to the parents?

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—No Smoking

Dear No Smoking,

Addiction can lead parents to place their children under dangerous circumstances. Though we don’t think of cigarettes the same way that we do drugs and alcohol, the stronghold they have over people can be just as devastating. These parents have an addiction that is out of control to the point where they are unable to step outside or otherwise keep their bad habit out of their child’s line of sight and away from her lungs. This is terribly sad, and you are making the right choice by refusing to let your own daughter enter this environment again.

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However, though you are right to be concerned about her friend, it is highly unlikely that these two will respond favorably to the intervention of a stranger. Had you built a relationship with one or both of them, it would be somewhat easier to bring up the subject, but I can’t see this going very well as it stands now. Hopefully, this kid will get out of the house when she graduates high school both with her health intact and a strong distaste for cigarettes, but I don’t think there’s anything you can reasonably do now that will change her living conditions. For now, allow her to have a safe space to hang within your home and open your doors to her as often as you can.

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Slate Plus Members Get More Advice From Jamilah Each Week

From this week’s letter, I Can’t Believe What I Caught My Granddaughter’s Wearing to Bed: “When I gently queried this, I was told that ‘Mommy says this is what we do.’ My daughter-in-law is a wonderful woman and I’m certainly not to question any of her parenting decisions, but this goes completely counter to what I was told growing up.”

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a 42-year-old mom of a toddler. I used to work in child legal services in my state, and as a result read about numerous sexual abuse court cases frequently perpetrated against young children. At the time, I either dismissed the details from my mind or tried to focus on other aspects of the cases. However, I think it has had a more profound impact on me than I realized. I find myself cringing and saying “ew” out loud when I need to shower and change my 4-year-old and the cleaning gives him an erection. Because he repeats me frequently, now he says, “Ewww, yucky,” when he sees his genitals. I’m mortified that this has happened. I have no intention of making him feel ashamed of his body, and I have no problem whatsoever with the male body, I’m just having my own issue with my child’s physical reaction to me washing him. I know the problem lies with me and I’ve tried very hard to rationalize my way through it, but I’m failing. Please help.

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—Bewildered in Gainsville

Dear BiG,

It’s not surprising that you were profoundly affected by hearing such devastating information at your previous job. Most people seem to take for granted that they can be exposed to awful things and somehow walk away without being affected. I think it would be wise for you to talk with a therapist about coping with the horrible stories you heard in your past job and how you can distance them from your own relationship with your child while still being mindful of his safety in your care and with others. Right now, a totally normal bodily function is making you deeply uncomfortable and seems to be triggering memories of these frightening cases. A professional can help you to separate the two.

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In the meantime, explain to your son that there’s nothing ew-worthy about his genitals: “I’m so sorry you heard Mommy say that before. She shouldn’t have said that! We don’t say ‘ew’ to our bodies. We love our bodies!” Take a few moments before you give him a shower to prepare yourself. He is likely to get erect, and that is OK. You know you aren’t doing anything inappropriate—this is just a matter of biology. Remind yourself of this and refrain from making any disgusted sounds or faces. This is just normal. Wishing you all the best.

Catch Up on Care and Feeding

• If you missed Thursday’s column, read it here.
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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have been unsuccessful at getting pregnant for about a year now. We are saving up for treatments but still trying in the meantime. A few months ago, my husband asked me for one of my used tampons because he wanted to bury it in the backyard to grieve the fact that we didn’t get pregnant that month. It seemed to help him and he’s done it every month since. But I want him to cut it out! Admittedly, I don’t have an argument for why he should stop other than I think it’s kind of gross. It helps him, he doesn’t ask me to participate in his little ritual, and the tampon would just go down the drain anyway. Should I refuse to hand my tampon over, or just let him have his weird period graveyard?

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—Hopefully Pregnant Soon

Dear Hopefully Pregnant,

It’s great that your husband is enthusiastic about having a child with you, but it is certainly strange to bury tampons in the backyard as a way of mourning each month in which you are unable to conceive. I can’t imagine this making you feel good; your body is engaging in the same normal process that it has since puberty, but now it’s somehow a marker of tragedy, loss, or failure. I know couples talk about pregnancy as a “we,” but let’s be honest: You are the only one who is going to be pregnant, just as you are (likely) the only one having periods here. You have your own feelings of disappointment and frustration to navigate during this time, and they are related to a process that you wish to take place within your body. This ritual just feels stupid and selfish. Menstrual cycles are not miscarriages. Typically we bury the dead, and period blood is not a dead baby. If you don’t like it, tell him he must stop. Buy him a journal where he can write down his feelings about your journey toward pregnancy and encourage him to use that instead. Wishing you all the best, a successful pregnancy, and an immediate end to what’s going on in your backyard.

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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,

My son has inattentive ADHD, and writing English essays proves very difficult for him. He struggles to follow detailed rubrics as he gets lost in the words. He struggles to pin down his racing thoughts into words and sentences. In a recent annotated bibliography assignment, the teacher provided examples as well as a rubric. My son worked long, carefully, and hard to make sure his final product matched the samples provided. An English teacher myself, I was very proud of his efforts as well as the final product.

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Evidentially, his teacher was not. She wrote a note saying that one section should have contained only a few sentences at most, even though the examples she had provided contained many more than that. She wrote that he had not provided evidence stating how the author could claim authority in the subject. My son clearly pointed out and stated the author’s justified authority on her subject. The teacher subtracted 40 points from 100 because he included what she considered too much information and because she did not think he had explained the author’s claim to authority on the article’s topic. She gave him a D minus for obvious effort, careful thought, and diligent work.

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My son is afraid to confront this teacher because she has a reputation for retaliating against students whom she does not like. In fact, the school has spoken with her in years past about such. Unfortunately, our school does not remove teachers from their posts very often. My son says he evidentially was a liked student at the beginning. He said he and a friend often had similar responses on tests, but the friend would receive much lower marks for very similar work. The tables have turned now, though, and my son is being downgraded as the other student is being rewarded for lower-quality work. I have seen both students’ work, and I agree with this assessment. This harsh and unfair grading has led my son to feel even more reluctant to give himself to trying to improve. “What’s the use if the teacher grades so haphazardly?” he asks. Thank you for any advice.

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—Fearful of Retaliation From an Unstable Teacher

Dear Fearful,

Unreasonable teachers provide parents the opportunity to talk to their children about an important truth regarding authority figures. Let your son know that, like you, the principal, the police, or any other adult whom he is expected to respect, this teacher is a human being and that humans are a complicated lot. Not all teachers are good at their jobs. Some of them simply don’t know how to effectively engage with children, and others are just plain mean. Your son’s teacher is a bad teacher and he deserves to hear that from you. She gives inconsistent guidance and seems to hold children to standards that have little to do with their output in class. This won’t necessarily be the case every time he has a challenge with a teacher, and he should know that too, but in this instance, there is a clear villain and a clear victim. Let your son know that he hasn’t done anything to warrant this treatment; it’s just the unfortunate luck of ending up in a crappy teacher’s class.

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You need to speak to school leadership about what is going on in this class. She has a reputation for this sort of behavior, which the school seems to be aware of. However, without parents raising hell, problem teachers can easily go on for years unchecked. Meet with the principal and calmly present the same information that you shared here, and gather as many examples of her behavior as you can possibly provide. Request that your son be transferred into another class, as soon as possible. Also, what sort of accommodations, if any, does your son require for his ADHD? Does he have an individualized education plan? The school should be aware of his diagnosis and teachers should be informed about any special support that he requires; if that hasn’t happened yet, you need to get that done ASAP. If you aren’t able to get a worthwhile solution from the school level, take it to the local department of education. It may be the case that you’ll have to transfer him to a school where he can be better supported. But in the meantime, you owe it to your son to make some noise at his current institution about the way this teacher is allowed to conduct her class. Wishing the both of you lots of luck in this fight.

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—Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

My husband gets up early in the morning. He sets his work clothes out in the dining room so he doesn’t disturb me. For years, he got dressed in the bathroom. Two years ago, I caught him walking through the house naked. He said it was OK since no one was awake yet. I reminded him that our daughter gets up very early and asked him to please get at least partially dressed in the bathroom. He agreed, but I caught him a few weeks later still walking around naked. I just learned that my daughter has seen him naked multiple times, including when he yelled out for her not to look and then walked out of the bathroom to grab a towel from the linen closet. On at least two other occasions, she came down to use the bathroom and saw him. His behavior is downright creepy.

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