Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My 4.5-year daughter is obsessed with my boobs. I have no idea on how to make her stop or if this is normal behavior. She will try to grab them, motorboat them … if she catches me changing, she’ll run towards them screaming “boobies!” We have sat her down and told her it’s not nice or appropriate, and to respect people’s body parts and boundaries, but she still continues to do it. Now my husband is insinuating that it’s my fault as I breastfed her until she was 20 months old. He has made fun of me and compared me to that one character in Game of Thrones. How do I get her to stop? And should we be concerned here?
— My Eyes Are Up Here
Dear My Eyes Are Up Here,
For nearly half of your child’s life, your boobs were perhaps the most comforting place on Earth to her. Not only was she being fed from them, but she was bonding with you through them. It’s not surprising that she has a residual fixation on them. It’s also not nice for your husband to make fun of what’s going on, and you should ask him to stop; you didn’t do anything wrong, nor should you feel like this is your fault. Continue explaining to your daughter why we don’t treat people’s boobies (nor other body parts) like that, and let her know that it makes you uncomfortable and sad. Meet her boob outbursts with an alternative: “You don’t need boobies, you need some tickles!” Grab her up for a hug and say “No more boobies, remember?” It’s possible that she’s craving affection or attention when she goes for your chest, so provide her with those things and distract her from her fixation. She’s likely to let this go sooner than later. Wishing you (and your boobs) lots of luck.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
Our 17-year-old daughter, like many of her peers, had a rough high school experience. She lost much of grades 10 and 11 to COVID online schooling, and we moved to a new country midway through grade 11, so she had to start over socially during a pandemic. She’s just graduated high school, and will be at college several hours away in the fall. In the past few months, her social life has started to gel, and she has friends she’s seeing regularly. However, we’re stuck around the idea of a curfew. We’ve never imposed one; her older sister didn’t go out often, and was usually home by 12 or 1, so as long as we knew where she was, we didn’t set a firm return time. Pre-pandemic, this daughter was young enough that this was not much of an issue.
However, recently she’s been going out 2-to-4 nights a week and coming home between 2-to-4 a.m. most of those nights. We don’t know the friends she’s with, although we’re not overly concerned about drug/alcohol consumption (there is some, mainly not by her). Mainly it’s that coming home that late is a problem; she typically takes an Uber, which is expensive (but safer than riding with a friend who may have been partying), but we don’t sleep well until she’s home and we’re often awakened by multiple texts from her letting us know that her plans have changed. We’ve tried to ask her to propose a time that she would generally come home by, with the understanding that if she’s having an amazing time she can extend it, but she sees this as us imposing a curfew, and therefore punitive. Meanwhile, her 15-year-old brother is watching this go all down, and I know however we handle this will become precedent for him in a year or two.
We don’t want to cramp her style, but feel like having her home by 1-to-2 a.m. as a rule is saner and more realistic. At the same time, we recognize that it’s impractical to impose a curfew retroactively, and we don’t want her to sneak out. And of course, in a couple of months she’ll be living away from home, and we’ll have no idea what she’s up to. But right now, those are feeling like a long sleepless couple of months. She’s looking for a summer job but doesn’t have one yet, so there are no big daytime commitments to moderate her schedule. Any advice? Do we shrug and let her do what she wants? Can we even get this horse back in the barn? How can we get her to engage in a dialogue about this?
— Party Pooper
Dear Party Pooper,
This is definitely a sticky situation, as it can be difficult to impose rules upon a kid where there weren’t any before—and as you mention, she’s so close to leaving the house that the idea of curfews and consequences are probably going to be more irksome to her than had you put them on the table when she first started hanging out at night. I think all you can do is to be honest with her. Let her know that you guys didn’t think much about a curfew because it wasn’t an issue with her sister, and while you trust that your daughter is responsible when she is out, it’s just impossible to rest when it’s after 2 a.m. and she’s not home yet. She will live on her own very soon, but she is still under her parents’ roof and still young enough to be subject to their rules. Apologize to her for not enforcing boundaries sooner, acknowledge that it may feel annoying to go from not having to worry about being home by a certain time to having to be in at 1, or 2, or whatever time you decide works for you. But be clear that what is going on now is simply unacceptable and has to change.
Ask her to be considerate of her parents’ feelings and your need to rest knowing that your children are safe. She very well may push back or get upset, but you have every right to enforce a curfew upon her for the remainder of her time in your home. Hear her out too, and try to settle on a time that you both can live with. But do not think that because you didn’t do anything sooner that you should be resigned to just letting her hang out as long as she sees fit. She’s still in your house, she still should follow your rules. All the best to you.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My family is moving to another state in less than a month. We have a 2-year-old (3 in August) and a 5-month-old. I am at a loss as to how to discuss our move with my oldest in a way that helps her feel empowered and acknowledged. I know she will be okay once we move—it’s the conversation ahead of time to prepare her that has me stumped. I’m looking for advice on the timing of the conversation—how far in advance?—and ideas for how to handle her last day (or week) with her friends at daycare, and perhaps some affirmations to say with her to make her feel in control of a situation she’s pretty powerless in. Thank you so much!
— New Home, New Adventure
Dear New Home, New Adventure,
I think the time to start the conversation is now. Your daughter doesn’t have a lot of time to wrap her brain around the move before it happens, and the longer you wait, the potential for her to feel blindsided and overwhelmed only increases. Sit her down and let her know that you have some big news, and that it’s very exciting but it also may seem a little scary. Talk about why you are moving, and the great things that your new home and state have to offer. Show her pictures of the house, local attractions, anything that would charm her. Acknowledge that she will be going to a new school and making new friends, and that it’s totally normal to feel sad about the ones she’s leaving behind; encourage her to say goodbye to her buddies, and consider exchanging contact info with the parents of any kid that she may have been particularly close with.
As far as affirmations, if she feels scared or worried, encourage her to tell herself “I’m okay, everything is going to be okay” and remind her of that regularly throughout this process. Everything is going to be okay. If there’s less than a month to go, then it can’t be long before moving boxes and other sure signs of change become impossible to hide. Get the dialogue going now so she can be as prepared as possible. No matter if you’re leaving for a fabulous new job or because you need to drastically cut costs, this move has to be sold to her as something worthy of her enthusiasm, something to look forward to. As you closed your letter, “new home” equals “new adventure,” so make sure all of your correspondence with her about the move is in exactly that spirit. Good luck to you all on this exciting journey!
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My question is about my 13-year-old son, “Sam.” He’s basically a great kid: does well in school; has lots of friends; has a sunny, optimistic disposition; and is a natural athlete who plays a couple of sports. I’m almost completely hands-off about his schoolwork, because he seems to be well-organized and conscientious and gets great grades.
However (you knew this was coming) I have a really hard time getting him to help out around the house. I’m a true single mom (dad is not in the picture), I work full time, and I really need Sam and his 11-year-old brother, “Ben,” to do a certain number of chores. I’m not asking anything extreme, and I do the vast majority of the cooking and cleaning. But I would like the boys to do things like put folded laundry away, set the table, occasionally unload the dishwasher, take out the trash once a week. Sam just doesn’t seem to want to help. When I ask Sam to empty the dishwasher, he starts complaining that it’s not fair and he did it last time and why don’t I ask Ben to do it. Or he claims he doesn’t know where the dishes go. Or he halfway unloads it, then walks away. I’ve tried setting up schedules or giving each boy specific chores after discussing which ones they prefer. But Sam regularly “forgets” to do his chores, even when reminded. Or tells me that he’s done them, when he hasn’t. I’ve tried writing lists. Sam “forgets” to do the items on his list. Or he splits hairs about the precise wording of the item. (The list says “pick up your clothes and put them in the hamper,”; Sam leaves most of his stuff on the floor and, when confronted, argues that “clothes” doesn’t include socks. Or underwear. Or towels. Or soccer uniforms.) I’ve tried explaining how we need to work as a team and that everyone in the family needs to pitch in. Sam starts arguing how the division of chores is not fair and that I always favor Ben. I’ve tried tying privileges or penalties to the chores, but Sam really doesn’t seem to care. Or he finds a way to sneak around the consequences.
I don’t know what to do. Ben ends up doing more around the house because he’s generally more cooperative and because Sam frequently offloads his chores onto Ben. (For example, if I ask Sam to sweep the floor, he’ll sweet talk Ben into doing it for him.) I’ve told Ben he doesn’t have to do Sam’s work, but he says he’d rather do it himself than listen to me fight with Ben about it. I don’t know what to do. I end up arguing with Sam so much or constantly following up on chores he was supposed to do, but never actually completed. There must be a way for me to set things up so this isn’t a huge source of conflict.
— Don’t Want to Be a Nagging Mom
Dear Don’t Want to Be a Nagging Mom,
You have to enforce rules and consequences for Sam that he can’t work around. It is unfair to you, and to Ben, for him to behave as if they simply do not exist for him, and there is a precedent being set that could be devastating to his ability to function in a world where rules and consequences can be the difference between a good life and a bad one. Some kids make a distinction between what they can get away with under their parents’ watch versus how they must behave at school or out in public, but others take the lawlessness they are allowed to experience at home and let that inform how they behave in general. You also have to stop Ben from doing Sam’s chores, and punish them both when they get caught making such an arrangement.
I think a single-mom conversation is long overdue. At 13, Sam is old enough to hear about just how much work goes into maintaining a home, working a job and feeding two children, and to begin to develop some empathy towards the person who is sacrificing tremendously, on her own, to give him a decent life. Let him know that things simply cannot go on as they have.
It is unacceptable that you work as hard as you do with no contribution from him around the house. It is unacceptable that his brother finds it easier to do Sam’s chores himself than to expect him to contribute to the home the three of you share. Once you let him know that these things are no longer to be tolerated, you have to enforce that. If devices, such as TVs and computers, have to be completely removed in order to make your point, so be it. There must be real expectations for Sam and real consequences if he does not attempt to meet them.
Let Sam see what happens when you fail to live up to your obligations. Let him go to school without clean clothes for a day or two, force him to forage in the pantry for meals instead of cooking. Make him walk somewhere you’d usually drive him (if it’s safe). He needs to get it through his head that everyone in this family has a part to play in keeping the household in order. You can have both boys sit down with you as you create a new chore chart, and ask them for input. Perhaps you can identify some of the tasks that are more tolerable for Sam than others and allow those to be his tasks. But no matter what, there must be a radical change in your home, and soon. You and Ben and Sam deserve much better than what you’re dealing with now, and until you are willing to put your foot down, nothing is going to improve. Wishing you lots of luck (and lots of patience) as you work this out.