Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
We (myself, husband, two small kids) have a 60-ish pound lab-mix dog we got from the shelter four years ago as a maybe 1-year-old. She’s great with the kids (although we would still never leave them unsupervised together), and we’ve trained her pretty well, although she definitely lacks perfect recall if there’s something really exciting going on. My in-laws love her but refuse to enforce any discipline with her, and sometimes actively encourage poor behavior. So, while she never jumps on us, she does as soon as they walk through the door as they pat their legs, call her over, and catch and hold her front paws. When the in-laws come over, the dog basically misbehaves and is rowdy and in their faces the whole time. If we attempt to correct her, they tell us it’s no problem.
Now that we brought home our new baby, they express concern over the dog’s rambunctious behavior and worry that she’ll accidentally injure him. They’ve offered that maybe they should just bring our dog home with them and she can live with them to keep the kids safe. They won’t listen when we indicate that she only misbehaves when they’re around and refuse to enforce any kind of discipline with her. They keep voicing concern for the safety of the kids, saying she’s accidentally going to knock them over when she gets running around. It’s become one of the only things they will talk about, and it kind of feels like they just want our dog. Outside of limiting visits, which we really don’t want to do as they do want to see their grandkids, how do we set this boundary and shut them down?
— Just Tell Her No Once and She’ll Calm Down
Dear Calm Down,
It sounds like you have tried to reason with your in-laws ad nauseam, but it may be worth trying one more direct, “let’s sit down and talk about this” discussion where you lay everything out—without the dog (and ideally kids) in the room as a distraction, physically or emotionally. Perhaps they will hear you then. If not, I think you should leave your annoyance at how they act with her (it sure sounds annoying!) to the side, or try to. Also, attempt to stop dwelling on the idea that they are trying to take your dog, which they can’t do without your permission (some type of heist aside). The thought of that seems to be amplifying your pique, here. De-escalate the situation a bit in your own mind, and just reiterate to them: “We don’t leave her with the kids unsupervised. She’s been great with the other two, and we’re on the lookout for any behavior that gives us pause. We haven’t seen it yet, and we’d like to drop the subject” Unfortunately, beyond saying that over and over, I fear there’s not much else you can do. I hope this subsides, over time!
My second-grade daughter (currently age 7) told me something disturbing the other day, and I don’t know how seriously to take it. (For reference, it’s currently December and the incident happened sometime over the summer.) So I’m hanging out with my kid and we’re playing outside together, and she tapped my breasts and giggled “big boobs!” I stopped our game and gently reminded her we don’t touch other people’s private areas, like breasts, and we definitely don’t make jokes about them. She looked embarrassed and then said that a few months ago, she had been playing in the sandbox at summer camp when a bunch of boys held her down, buried her in the sand, and shaped breasts and a penis on her while saying phrases like “big boobs!” and “penis!” One boy sat on her “with his private area but his shorts were on.”
On the one hand, I can totally remember similar incidents from my own childhood. On the other hand, what the actual F. I told her what the boys did was incredibly wrong and that if something like that happens again, she needs to yell and scream until a teacher comes over. We role-played a few times. I seemed much more disturbed by it than she was, and eventually let it go because I didn’t want her to dwell on it if she wasn’t overly bothered (my kid has a tendency toward anxiety). So … is this typical playground rough-housing? Am I inflicting my grown-up trauma, leading me to feel enraged that my barely 7-year-old daughter was held down by a group of boys and sexualized? I don’t even know who those boys are—though given the summer camp parameters, they couldn’t be older than 9 or 10—and it happened so long ago that I’m not sure what to do with this information.
— Boobs Off Limits
Dear Off Limits,
What an upsetting situation! For starters, I am very glad she felt like she could talk to you about this. You of course want to keep that communication open, and I can see how that desire gives you a difficult line to walk. You’re probably thinking, if you are too anxious in your conversations about it, she may not feel like she can talk to you in the future; if you’re not anxious enough, she may not recognize the behavior, should anything like this happen again, as problematic. That’s tricky! I think the role-playing and the conversation, followed by you laying off, was probably the right thing to do.
As to your question about the normalcy of this, there are some good resources out there drawing lines between what’s to be expected in sex-themed play in kids, and what should be a cause for concern. One such line is whether sexually-inflected play is coerced, which comes into question here. The “held her down” part of her description makes me wonder about this part; but also, since young children aren’t perfect narrators of past events, it’s a little hard to say exactly what happened. Another red flag is when this kind of play occurs between kids whose ages are more than four years apart—again, that might or might not apply here, if she was 6 and these boys were 10—I’m not sure there’s much of a way for you to know.
That said, I’m mildly shocked that the counselors at the camp didn’t see this and do anything about it? It seems like the construction of a sand sarcophagus with breasts and a penis on the body of a girl who doesn’t want to be part of the situation would take a couple minutes at least, and result in a lot of giggling, and it seems a little odd that nobody caught it. Beyond what you’ve already said to your daughter about how to respond to similar situations, one thing you might be able to do would be to find out a bit more about the camp’s supervision practices, if you decide you want to send her back.
That aside, I think you have said the right things, and I think the only thing to do is wait and see and be on the alert for any other conversations that might emerge that might tell you more about how this incident unfolded.
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How do you give gifts to people who make significantly more money than you? My parents (still married) each separately make more than my husband and I do combined, plus we have two small kids and a mortgage to worry about (in contrast to my parents, who now have neither). They give us very generous presents each year, and my presents in return always seem rather meager. I often try to hand-make presents, but because I have two small children, I’m also short on time in addition to money. I have a similar situation with my best friend, and in both circumstances, I feel slightly embarrassed around holidays and birthdays because I just don’t have the money to reciprocate “equal” presents.
— Unequal Gift Exchanges
I would hope that each of these people would understand your situation. You don’t say whether they’ve said anything that makes you think they might be dwelling on this imbalance, or even thinking about it much. Since that’s the case, I think you need to consider that when you’re in this phase of your life, the cliché “your presence is your present” applies, more than ever. After having been the traveling caregiver of a small child over several Christmasses and New Years, I will henceforth always expect zero holiday presents in future from parents of small children! I’ll just be happy with whatever taste of their presence they can give me, whether that be a visit, a Zoom call, or a picture sent over iMessages. If I also get some homemade granola or one of those Snapfish photo magnets out of it, that’s a bonus. I hope your parents and your best friend are the kind of people who can understand all of this and love you. And I hope you can find a way to put away this particular shame, at least a little bit.
My husband, kids, and I are working on planning a house rental next summer with his family (parents and adult brother). We have a few locations picked out, and everyone is going to take a look at rental options for a few weeks and bring the best choices they found for discussion the next time we get together. When discussing essentials for the rental, my husband and I requested the house have four bedrooms so that we can have one and our kids (1.5 and 3 by the time of the trip) can have another. We also clearly stated that when it comes to paying, we would pay half of the rental cost and expect the others to each pay a fourth since we’re taking half the rooms.
My husband’s brother said this is ridiculous and we could all just have one room, that’s how anyone else he knows with kids does it. He says we will massively inflate the rental cost and severely limit what rentals are available to us by demanding an extra bedroom. I think this is all so that we will agree to rent his friend’s lake house he keeps bringing up as an option. I’m pretty sure his friend does a discount when he rents to his friends that BIL intends to just apply to his portion, as he has talked about the discount in previous years when he’s rented on his own, but it’s not being mentioned this time around with all of us. Besides the house only has three bedrooms, each room is rather small, with very little space around the bed. Basically, no pack-and-play or anything like that would fit in our room, and it would end up being us and our two kids in one queen bed for the week. Our kids are very independent sleepers and have never slept in our bed with us, and we’d like to keep that up! Before we put too much time and energy into fighting this and potentially cause some family drama, is it really that unrealistic to want (and be willing to pay for!) a kid-free room while on vacation?
— The Kids Are Fine Sleeping on Their Own
Dear Kids Are Fine,
This question was tailor-made for me, a freak among parents of young children. I’ve only slept with my almost-6-year-old child in the same room three or four times in her entire life: once when she was sick, and a few times when we’ve had to be in the same room in a hotel, while on the road. All those times, even though she honestly was perfectly fine to room-share with and not loud at all, I was on edge, and slept like crap. The situation you describe—a small room, four family members, one queen bed—sounds like the opposite of vacation to me. I’m not joking when I say I’d rather sleep in the bathtub—at least then, I’d be alone.
I understand plenty of parents think that this is weird, and I used to be a little obsessed with my own lack of ability to co-sleep, wondering if I was a bad person because I wasn’t a good “nighttime parent.” (I know a lot of people have a lot of feelings about this!) My own family has been extremely kind about adjusting to my weird issues. I still recall one vacation week when my sister gave up the chance to sleep in a room alone without her (older) children, so that I could sleep in a room without my toddler. She had no reason to do that, it made no sense, and I’m so grateful that she did.
But a lot of people expect that parenthood means cosleeping, especially on vacation. That room my sister graciously gifted me was an anomaly. We go to a week-long family camp as an extended family, with six sub-families that have small children, and when rooming arrangements are being made, the kids are generally expected to be in with the parents until they are in elementary school. The same situation has unfolded with other groups of friends doing big vacations together. I’ve always felt like such a weirdo, begging for at least a little walk-in closet to stick my child in. (We’ve done that! It had a window, it was fine.)
I’m afraid you are simply going to have to put your foot down. You are willing to pay! Money talks. Do a lot of research and find some great 4BRs that your brother can’t deny would be fine.
Or maybe, even, a 3BR with a small extra room—a walk-in closet, or a convertible sleeping porch, or some such. If you’re insisting, AND offering options, you’ll have the upper hand. Oh, and try to ignore whatever discount shenanigans you think might be afoot with your BIL—poking at that feels like a recipe for family drama, and shouldn’t be necessary anyway, so long as you offer alternatives and refuse to take 3BR for an answer.
Whenever my wife talks to her dad either in person or on the phone, her voice shoots up an octave, and she speaks in a slow, sing-songy way like you would if you were pretending to be five years old. (Not “pwetend baby tawk” lisping, thankfully.) She reacts to things he says that she disagrees with by shooting up into an even higher register, and becoming even more childlike in her vocal responses.
They don’t have any sort of “daddy/little girl” role-playing thing going on; in fact, she talks to him the way her late mother talked to him, like a sulky preteen. I cannot convey how much this creeps me out and is just highly irritating to listen to. She does not talk like this to me, nor to ANYONE else. She’s a senior professional in a highly technical field. I mentioned it once and she got really offended. How do I bring it up again and let her know how I feel?
— Use Your Indoor, Adult Voice Please
Dear Adult Voice,
I hate to say it, but you’re simply going to have to go to another room when this happens. There are many complex psychological reasons why this kind of thing could show up between parents and children, but you are not the one to plumb those depths. It sounds awful! My sympathies.
My friend “Lindsay” and I have worked out together for a few years—our gym/run/yoga routines have been the backbone of our friendship. We’re in our late 20s, and at a pretty similar level of fitness/strength. I’m average size, and I tend to meld into the background of group fitness settings, which is a blessing for me. Lindsay had some health issues in the past few years and with her medications and hormonal issues combined, she gained a lot of weight. She’s just as strong and fast as ever, but I know her body size is a self-esteem issue for her.
This combined with us both moving this year to a new city where neither of us had a regular gym, etc. yet. Unfortunately, this seems to have sparked a lot of people singling her out in her workouts, acting like she doesn’t know what she’s doing, or class instructors treating her like she is a beginner when she’s a pro. Sometimes it’s overt, and sometimes it’s so subtle I don’t notice it until she brings it up afterward. It’s hard for her to just blend and work out in peace.
I want to support her and help her be welcome in these spaces, but I don’t know how. When I asked her about it, she said she needed more support but wasn’t able to specify how. It’s garbage that this is happening, and worse I didn’t know these were unwelcoming places until now. Do you have any suggestions?
— Want to Be an Ally
That is awful. I think the only thing you can do is be willing to move gyms and studios with her until you guys find somewhere that works. You can be the one to do a bit of research—if you live in a big enough city, you may be able to find gyms, teachers, and studios that explicitly flag themselves as places that prioritize size inclusivity, or de-prioritize diet culture. Of course, just because someplace says they do that, doesn’t mean they walk the walk, but at the very least you can narrow things down a bit.
If this would fit in your budget, you could also consider hiring a personal trainer who advertises themselves as believing in the “health at every size” paradigm, or being interested in “fitness inclusivity,” and having that person train the two of you, in a small group setting. Or, worst comes to worst, you could go running together, negating the need for a gym altogether. Just stick by her, and keep looking.
When I was a child, I had a really hard time sleeping when away from home. Even if I was having tons of fun on vacation or at a sleepover, when bedtime came I’d become incredibly sad and often cry because I missed my house, my bed, and my parents and pets if traveling without them. Now, I am nearly 30, and while I don’t shed tears over it, I still feel extreme homesickness at night. I recently went on vacation with my partner and their family (people I love and have spent lots of time with) and each night found myself in the throes of melancholy, staring at the ceiling, unable to fall asleep for hours out of sheer sadness…