Care and Feeding

My Clueless In-Laws Think Their Backyard Is Perfectly Safe for My Toddlers

A young boy near a backyard pond.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Andrey Rykov/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Rabbitti/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My in-laws just moved to a house with a large water feature in the backyard—an ornamental pond with a stream and waterfall flowing into it. We have an 18-month-old and 3-year-old. We used to bring them over to my in-laws’ old house for babysitting a few times a month. I want that to stop until the kids are older. My husband does not.

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I’ve seen how my in-laws are when little kids are near water (at the shore, in the backyard of my BIL who has a pool, near the pond at a park). They aren’t totally inattentive, but they’re nowhere near as vigilant as I am. They aren’t alarmed if they lose track of where a kid is for a couple minutes. If a toddler gets close to the edge of the water, I move so that I’m within an arm’s reach of them, and my in-laws always comment that I’m being overprotective. They aren’t lax about safety in general, but water safety seems to be a blind spot for them. I just don’t feel comfortable with them being the only ones watching our kids around a potential drowning hazard.

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Writers for this column have talked about “two yeses, one no” situations in parenting, and I think this is one of them. Do you agree?

— Water Safety Worries

Dear Water Safety Worries,

I spent a few years as a parenting editor. The hardest thing about it was that it brought me into contact with a terrifying checklist of all the bad things that can happen to children. (Ask me about the time I cut the linings out of my then-toddler son’s bathing suits because I edited an article about how little boys can get their penises dangerously entangled in them.)

Accidental drownings were particularly hard to read about, because it happens in an instant, and it often happens silently. The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines on prevention of drowning say that parents “should be advised to never—even for a moment–leave young children alone” near open standing water, and that supervision should be “close, constant and attentive.” It’s good practice to always have at least one non-distracted adult who is designated as a “water watcher.”

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For added peace of mind, you might consider looking into a class like Infant Swimming Resource, where children as young as 6 months are taught how to roll onto their backs and float in an emergency situation, or regular swimming lessons, which children can be enrolled in after the age of 1. It’s also a good idea to learn CPR – check with nearby hospitals or your chapter of the American Red Cross for a local course. These measures, however, are not replacements for vigilant supervision.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My wife and I have 2 children, ages 5 and 7, who are both in school. Until recently, I worked four 10-hour night shifts at a hospital and usually got home around 7:30 in the morning and took the kids to school. When I got home, the family was usually in crisis mode. My wife would be frantically trying to get the kids to finish their breakfast, get their shoes on, brush their teeth, etc., as well as get herself ready for work. I have had lots of conversations with the kids about making better use of their time in the morning and getting ready quicker. Recently my schedule changed so I am home in the mornings more and can help out getting them ready. For me, the kids get up great and are ready before we have to leave the house. It baffled me how different it was.

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Well, a couple weeks ago I came home about an hour early and everyone was still in bed. Thinking someone was sick, I walked through and checked on everyone and saw my wife had been hitting the snooze button for about half an hour. I wanted to see how things would unfold so I didn’t wake anyone up and was surprised when she finally got out of bed at 6:45 and then started rushing around and yelling at the kids to get up, getting frustrated when they didn’t jump out of bed, and then the mad dash of the morning started.

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I asked my wife if this is how the mornings go when I am not home, and she initially denied it but my 7-year-old said that it was. He said that I get them up earlier than my wife, and they prefer the mornings when I am there because it’s not so crazy. My wife finally admitted that she usually hits the snooze button for half an hour or more before getting up.

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I’m not really sure what to do. I feel bad for my kids—they are being rushed and yelled at 3 mornings a week because their mom won’t stop hitting snooze! Worse, they are being yelled at to “just get out of bed the first time you’re asked” when their mom can’t do the same! I bought an alarm clock for my 7-year-old so he can at least get up earlier, but I don’t feel right about making him be responsible for also getting his 5-year-old sister up and ready as well, or watching her while my wife is still asleep. Changing my schedule won’t work because then I have to be at work at 6:30 and I still won’t be home 3 mornings a week. Plus my wife would have to take them to school and that’s a recipe for everyone to be late.

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I feel like getting up should just be a no-brainer. The alarm goes off and you get up. Obviously, this isn’t the same for my wife. She tried setting the alarm earlier a few times, but she just kept hitting it for longer. She said she knows that she can get everyone ready if she gets up no later than 6:45 so that is the time she is accustomed to getting up. I’m starting to get really frustrated. Is there a solution that I am not seeing? Even if my wife can get ready by getting up at 6:45, it is making the morning really stressful for our kids and now that they see how calm the morning can be when they are woken up earlier, they really prefer that.

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— Tired of the Snooze Button

Dear Tired of the Snooze Button,

I can understand that you’re frustrated by what seems to you to be your wife’s inefficient approach to mornings with the kids. But I wonder about what reads to me like your assumption that your wife is doing things this way out of preference, or even laziness.

I think it’s more likely that if your wife is hitting the snooze button for half an hour every morning, she’s probably really freakin’ tired. When you’re working the night shift, is your wife spearheading the evening parenting duties at home? Or if not, might she simply be exhausted by the grind of being a working mom who presumably also has a host of other household responsibilities? Or maybe, as I often do, she sometimes stays up too late because it’s the one time of day when nobody needs anything from her and she can simply be an adult lady on the couch watching adult lady shows.

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There are also more serious reasons why it might be difficult for a person to get out of bed, like depression. Can you check in with her to make sure her snoozing isn’t the result of her struggling? I don’t have enough information to know why your wife has trouble popping out of bed promptly, but I’m willing to bet that in that moment, she’s doing the best she can. Because most parents are.

I know you want what’s best for your kids, but that extra half-hour of sleep may be less a luxury than a necessity to get through her day. Unless you’re going to take something off her plate, or take over the job of managing mornings, try to avoid micromanaging your wife’s parenting, and instead give her the benefit of the doubt.

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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 husband and I have an arrangement where I watch our 15-month-old on Saturday afternoons so he can have some time to himself, and he watches the kiddo on Sundays. When it’s my childcare day, I do everything in my power to give my husband a 100 percent break. I pack up snacks and head to the park, the library, the grocery store—kid and I are ghosts for three hours so that husband can watch TV, nap, or just putter in peace. But on husband’s day, all kid activities are indoors and in the next room (dance party, toybox explosion, etc.), and if our son ever says “Mama?” then my husband will bring him to me so we can “say hi” for 5-10 minutes (this happens a few times every hour). Husband says he’s doing parent duty the way that’s most comfortable for him, and if I’m really annoyed by this, then I should get out of the house for my day off—go to the movies or have lunch with a friend. But I don’t want to go to a restaurant. I want to lie in my sweatpants on the couch and binge Netflix, the way my husband gets to. Is one of us right? How should we negotiate this?

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— A Moment’s Peace

Dear A Moment’s Peace,

I’m sure your husband is a nice man with many good qualities that led you to want to link yourself to him permanently in matrimony, but this situation is giving me “man who calls taking care of his kid babysitting” vibes. He’s adhering to the letter of your arrangement but not the spirit, and it’s not fair. If your kid is popping in to talk 15 minutes out of every hour, you are still effectively on Mom duty. Your husband should carry his parenting weight and give you a real break. If he’s going to be in the house, it should be with the understanding that you are effectively not there and not to be bothered. If he’s not willing to do that, then I think he should be required to hire a babysitter to actually watch your kid for a few hours so you can get your Netflix sweatpants binge on without the interruptions.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I was matched with a then-11-year-old almost 7 years ago through a mentoring program; she is about to turn 18. We have always gotten along well—she is a kind, thoughtful, and funny kid—and in addition to having fun together, a big part of my role has been encouraging her studies and helping her navigate the world. She is a first-generation American with parents who do not fully speak English and are not fully integrated into American society. I can speak some of their native language as they are from the same country as my husband (who is fluent).

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Two weeks ago she called me to say she had no place to live because she was struck/tackled by her father; her friends who witnessed this called the police. She has no money, so 6 hours after we got the call, we became quasi-parents. We’ve worked out how she gets to school (she lives about a 45-minute drive from us), and we know she has a safe place to stay, food, etc, and she has a therapist, school counselor, and we’re working to get her a social worker/CASA (it’s slow).

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She is starting the college application process and it’s clear to us how naive she is to money, logistics, etc. We will work with her to find grants, scholarships, loans, stipends—but she has chosen a ton of expensive private schools ($50k+/year) on the other coast and abroad. We tried to play it cool, but we were shocked—she hasn’t been applying herself much during the last two years, and it seemed like she had chosen different schools.

How do we continue to encourage her while uncovering assumptions and helping her understand this choice? I don’t think she understands the huge difference between $50k of college debt vs. $200k and she’ll regret burying herself under debt (she’s going into a field where paying off this amount of debt will be difficult). It’s her decision, but how can we be the responsible adults in the room?

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— Surprise “Parents?”

Dear Surprise “Parents,”

First of all, let me commend you for getting involved in a mentoring program. Youth mentorship organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters of America can be such a meaningful way to give back to your community and make a difference in a child’s life. Research shows that a stable and committed relationship with one caring adult can be the factor that causes a child to succeed in the face of serious hardship. (This Twitter thread is a great concrete example to read if you want to cry your face off.)

That said, in this situation, I want to respectfully suggest that you may be trying to do too much too fast. Your mentee has just been through an extremely upsetting experience, and she’s likely feeling traumatized and displaced. Focus on where she is and what she needs right now. You don’t need to fix her whole life today, and in fact it’s not your job to do so. Worrying about her future debt instead of her current precarious situation seems like putting the cart before the horse.

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It’s great that you want to help with all the logistical things, but for now I’d try to focus on showing up for her emotionally, listening, and meeting her where she’s at today. I have a hunch she needs that right now more than she needs financial advice.

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—Emily

More Advice From Slate

I work in a day care where I observed teachers teasing and laughing at a 16-month-old little boy because he only wants to wear a diaper. He takes off all of the rest of his clothes and, I was told, “He’s always done this.” Apparently, the behavior stopped for a while, but now has reappeared. Last week, he was taken from the young toddlers’ room, placed with the infants, and told he had to stay with the babies unless he kept his clothes on. I am very concerned about humiliating a child in this way. What to do?

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