Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here.
Dear Care and Feeding,
We have a very observant almost-3-year-old boy, who is in the throes of potty training. We usually leave our bathroom door open, so our toddler can see when my husband or I use the toilet. (“See? Daddy and I use the potty! And you can toooo!”) Recently, our son told me, “I don’t want to go potty. I want to wear a diaper. Like mama. Mama wears a diaper.” I asked what he meant, and he told me that I use the blue diapers in the bathroom. (Pads.) I told him something to the effect of, “umm, oh, err, those aren’t diapers, they’re liners, who wants to watch Blippi.” How do I explain feminine hygiene products to a toddler, remaining open and honest but also age-appropriate?
— Mama Doesn’t Wear Diapers
Dear Mama Doesn’t Wear Diapers,
Explain to your son that most mommies have to wear pads, or something else similar, once a month because they get something called a period. The pads protect their underwear, just as diapers protect clothes, from getting messed up. When someone is on their period, they bleed a little bit from their private area, which is why you wear the pads. Explain that periods are something that bodies that make babies go through, so he doesn’t have to worry about getting one himself. Let him know that it is because you get a monthly period that your body was able to produce him.
I don’t think he needs much more information, but you can entertain whatever questions he may have next. As he gets older, you can go on to add that periods can be difficult on a person’s body, that they come with stomach cramps and irritability, and that he should be empathetic to you, and his peers, and whomever else in his life has one. I think it’s important that we normalize talking about menstrual cycles with children of all genders. You don’t want him laughing at some poor girl who started hers at school one day because he doesn’t have the proper context to understand what happened, nor do you want him freaking out if he ever sees you wipe between your legs and clean up blood during this open-door potty-training period.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
This may seem like a relatively small parenting issue, but I have no idea the best way to proceed. My 2-year-old son’s best friend is moving soon. They have been in day care together for close to two years. My son talks about him all the time and they play together outside of school from time to time. When do I tell him that his friend is moving and won’t be at day care anymore and how do I tell him? I know he will notice when his buddy stops showing up. I want to help him navigate this, his first little friend heartbreak, but it makes me so sad for him.
— Concerned in D.C.
You should explain to your son what is going to happen, instead of waiting until his friend is gone to address it. Talk about what moving means and why families do it. Acknowledge that something sad is happening and that things will be different. Allow him to grieve and ask questions. Try to plan some special time for the two of them to share before the other little boy moves. If his family is game, the children can stay in touch via FaceTime, Skype, and even “letters” to one another; this could be the start of a lifelong friendship just as easily as it could simply be the end of one that took place in day care.
Whatever you do, don’t let this young man’s disappearance come as a surprise to your son. Allow the children to say, “See you later” to one another; losing a friend suddenly and without warning could be traumatic, and may add unnecessary hurt to an already difficult situation. I strongly urge you to try to keep the kids connected, while also focusing on ways to develop your son’s friendships with other kids. Schedule some play dates or outings for the weekend following his friend’s exit so that he has activities to keep his mind off of what happened. This will be sad and hard for him, there’s nothing you can do to change that. Heartbreak is a part of life. And your son is going to experience his first one soon. The best you can do is to hold his hand and ensure he feels loved, secure, and supported along the way.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m in my mid-20s and in the process of moving from an incredibly stressful but low paying job at a nonprofit into something new. Because my job is tied to the school year, I gave notice in early June that I would not be returning for the next year and have been slowly job hunting since. My parents have tried to be helpful but, in reality, all the things they are doing are stressing me out further (think connecting me to friends who are tangentially related to my industry without asking, or asking for updates and giving feedback on the applications I have submitted). I am incredibly burnt out from my current job and am intentionally keeping things slow for this job search.
The problem: My parents are insistent that I need a new job right away and that I need a plan for what comes next. In a perfect world I would too, but I simply do not have the energy to make much motion towards anything. I am envisioning taking some time to recoup and rest after my last day, but my parents are really worried about what’s next and have made it clear they think that’s a bad choice. I am grateful that I have parents that want to support me, but all of their “help” is really just making things worse and adding to my anxiety. Additionally, when I try to be vague and talk about something else, my parents say that they feel I’m shutting them out and not sharing anything about my life. All I want is for my parents to see me as an adult and let me make my own choices. How can I keep my parents out of my job search while not alienating them? I want my parents in my life, but this situation is stressful for all of us.
— I’m Not Aimless, I’m Burnt Out
Dear Burnt Out,
Let your parents know that you are incredibly grateful for their concern and support, and that you understand that they only want to see you doing well; however, the way they are going about it is adding to your existing anxiety about the process and is doing more harm than good. Talk about how you are feeling, and why you have chosen to approach your job search as you have. Offer to keep them abreast of how it is going, but with the caveat that you can only do so if they agree not to lay any additional pressure on you during the process. Politely decline their attempts to connect you with people or to review your applications. Explain that you are confident that you will be able to find something that works for you in a reasonable amount of time, but that you need their support to look and feel much different than it does now. It isn’t your desire to shut them out, but you must protect your peace as best as you can, and if it feels stressful to talk to them about job hunting, then you won’t do it. Remind them that you are in your mid-20s, and that all the hard work they put into raising you has prepared you to go out and make them proud, even if that comes with you needing to approach things differently than they would. Hopefully, they will understand and respect your choice. If they don’t, you’ll still need to remain firm about how you engage them regarding the topic of your employment, and to keep yourself as calm and stress-free as possible. Wishing you lots of luck, both with this conversation and in your search.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
When my now 18-year-old daughter was 4, I split with her other parent and moved out of the home. My ex and I have co-parented amicably enough. About a year after the split, I began a long-distance relationship. After another two years, my partner moved in with us. My partner and my daughter have always had a somewhat distant relationship; there have been some great times spent just the two of them doing outdoorsy things, as well as some typical step-parent/step-child conflicts around parenting and discipline.
In the late summer of 2020, my now-spouse was diagnosed with cancer and started grueling treatment (surgery then six months of hard chemo). They are fine now (so far) but were very sick and seriously immunocompromised until half-way through 2021. During the time that my spouse was bed-ridden, my daughter was a junior in high school, doing remote classes.
She was staying with me almost full-time at the time, even before COVID, because she prefers to be at my house. Before the vaccine rollout, I would not let her see her friends in person at all because of my spouse’s illness and because my elderly mother lives with us. My daughter was suffering greatly from the isolation, staying in her room, on her phone or computer almost constantly. I was not able to be present enough for her because of family caretaking and my crushing workload (I work at a human services agency and the COVID crisis was overwhelming). We connected her with a counselor during that year. She ended up having serious mental health diagnoses and is continuing to get psychiatric and counseling help.
The issue is that now my daughter is full of rage at me and my spouse (mostly me) because she believes that I chose my spouse over her when she was struggling so much with isolation. My daughter is staying with her older sister for the summer and is off to college in the fall. She is contacting me only when she needs something, which is fine. I am minimizing contact to give her space. She is no longer seeking help from her counselor. Is there any advice for me to be able to hear her rage and to help us be able to interact constructively? I will give her all the space she needs, but every interaction leads to her being enraged anew (and we need to interact at least a little because she seeks my help to complete all the details for getting ready for college, as my ex has checked out on that). I would just like to have a reasonable stasis at this point.
— Texas Parent
Dear Texas Parent,
I think your urgent work at this point is to try and convince your daughter to return to her counselor. Has she heard from you that you are sorry? That it wasn’t your intention to neglect her during the height of your spouse’s illness? She should. Let her know that you hear her when she talks about what she endured during that time and that you are empathetic.
Explain that you never intended to choose between her and your spouse, but that you realize why she may feel that way and you regret any pain she has felt as a result. You should focus on hearing her out and letting her know that you care about her deeply. Don’t be defensive, don’t waste too much time trying to explain your choices; the end result remains that she felt uncared for, and it’s critical that you let her express those feelings to you.
While I understand your choice to give her some space, I think you should be cautious of allowing too much distance to settle in between the two of you; there may be some repair needed to her relationship with your spouse as well, but your focus should start with you and your daughter. You want to get her back into counseling sooner than later, and you also don’t want her to cling to the narrative that you simply neglected her when she needed you, nor for her to take the space you are giving her as confirmation that you don’t have time to care for her anymore. Again, be as empathetic as possible and focus on making her feel heard. She needs to know, from you, that the pain she felt is valid and justified.
You describe your daughter’s mental health diagnoses as “serious,” and with that in mind, you should prioritize getting to a place with her where she’ll listen to you when you encourage her to keep getting help. She needs to trust you again. Wishing you all the best.