Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My 3-year-old was just invited to his first school friend birthday party. This will be the first party where I don’t know the parent. He has a severe peanut allergy, and I have a lot of anxiety about it. Which is the best way to handle this?
1) Go to the party but leave before cake time, inevitably resulting in a tantrum and probably both of us crying on the way home.
2) Go to the party and bring our own snack box with a cupcake. I’m nervous this will make me look like “that mom” and appear really high maintenance. I would text the mom beforehand and let her know that I’d be bringing our own.
3) Stay home. This is my preferred option but I know I can’t keep him in a bubble forever.
I like the birthday boy. He and my son hug when they see each other at school in the mornings. I know he would have fun, and I don’t want him to miss out on normal kid experiences because of his allergy and my anxiety. I’m probably overthinking this.
—The First of Many Forbidden Birthday Cakes
Option 2! Option 2! I promise that the hostess will be delighted that you took the time to give her a call, explain the allergy, and present her with a ready-made solution to the problem. That’s not being “that mom”; that’s being a great guest.
It’s 2019. Everyone knows about severe peanut allergies, and even those jerks who get sniffy about today’s weakling snowflake children etc., etc., have no particular interest in seeing one of said snowflakes turn blue and pass out on their lawn.
Have a wonderful party, and let this set the tone for a long and happy childhood in which some minor accommodations must be made for your son. Also, I know you know this, but watch him like a hawk around the cake table. The process of raising a child with severe allergies involves a difficult and necessary transition from you being the bulwark between him and allergens to him gradually taking responsibility for his own health.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I have a nearly 5-week-old baby. We weren’t 100 percent sold on the idea of having kids, but eventually I found my “why” and my husband got on board. We agreed to have only one. Overall, this kid seems pretty easy for a baby, and things are going well. My husband is a huge doer and helper and has been amazing. He has found joy in all the cheesy baby things that we used to make fun of others for ooh-ing and ahh-ing over.
Sometimes though, things don’t go well. It seems that once a week our plans go entirely off the rails and we are both left with feelings of frustration. In the moment, my husband will bitterly say something like, “That’s an hour and a half of my life that I’m never getting back.”
Overall I’m not big on confrontation, and if my husband needs to vent I’ll let him vent. But his near-anger over this bothers me—is he going to grow to resent this kid long-term if this is his mindset? Is this a temporary new parent adjustment or a sign of something bigger? And then I’ll feel guilty—it was my thought process that eventually convinced him to have a kid, so it’s my fault he’s frustrated with the kid at all.
I try to reassure him that things won’t always be this way, that we’ll move into new stages of development and time management, but that seems weak in the moment compared to his frustration. How concerned should I be with my husband’s occasional anger over what (I think probably) are normal baby disturbances?
—Too Late to Send Her Back Now
Dear Too Late,
Personally, the minute I saw “5-week-old baby” I knew you two would be fine. Anything you say to each other in the first few months of having a newborn doesn’t go on your permanent record (with the exception of abusive actions or words, which are qualitatively very different from even extreme anger). Now, that this is normal, and not a harbinger of familial doom, doesn’t mean you can’t ask him to cool it some. “I know this is a really hard time, but when you express that kind of frustration it makes me feel scared and overwhelmed.”
One thing that struck me about your letter is you mentioning “our plans” going off the rails. I cannot stress this enough: Stop making plans. You have a 5-week-old baby! They don’t need to do a thing. Mandatory outings are one thing: shots, day care, etc. But a 5-week-old baby should spend its time lying on your floor being poked and cooed at. It’s hard for that to blow your afternoon! If part of the issue is that you’re trying to make it out for family events and visits to the park and family photo sessions, stop doing that right now. For now, pull way back on anything more involved than a stroll around the block, and let your husband find a less stressful way to hang out with the baby. I remember, from those days, the simple idea of putting all the baby’s crap in the back of the car seeming overwhelming beyond belief.
Hunker down like a hibernating bear and I bet you’ll all be a lot happier soon enough. This does not necessarily mean a dang thing about the kind of father your husband will be, I promise.
Dear Care and Feeding,
This is a common enough problem, I’m sure, but a new one for us: My husband and I are becoming increasingly concerned that we don’t want his parents driving our kids around. They’re in their late 70s now, and they’ve been getting into a handful of minor, but disturbing accidents over the last year or two: fender-benders, a missed stop sign, and one more serious moving violation that resulted in some stitches for my mother-in-law’s forehead. Their eyesight is not what it was, and I do not see them making any changes to be more cautious in light of that.
I think it would be upsetting for them to hear that we’re not willing to let the kids ride with them anymore, and I would love some advice on how to start that conversation.
Dear Precious Cargo,
This is indeed a scary and emotionally laden conversation, one which most of us will eventually get to “enjoy” being on both sides of.
Here’s a thought I would like you to play around with for a bit: The road is filled with cars carrying other people’s kids, just as precious as your own. When things get to the point that you are honestly saying “I do not feel safe with Grandpa driving the grandchildren anymore,” it’s time to pull back from your own family’s needs and start thinking about the safety of everyone in the community.
The National Institute on Aging has a really fantastic and informative guide on seniors and driving, with good resources and questions to ask yourself and your parents-in-law. Depending on how severe the situation already is, reaching out to their physician to probe some of the skills and senses that could be impacting their ability to drive safely may be your best bet. (Make sure their physician knows this is a tip-off and not a request for medical information, which is not yours to hear!) It may be that a candid conversation without a third party could also be fruitful: You know these people and I do not.
As a parenting columnist, I can tell you that your very first move is to stop letting them drive your children anywhere. I think you know that it’s time for that, at the very least. Is it time to drop a dime to the DMV for re-testing? That I don’t know. But start talking about maintaining independence and what can be done to cut down on their driving, today. This is a conversation I recommend having your husband initiate with his most resilient and reasonable parent, and have him prepare to listen more than he talks. Starting with “we all know that you would never, ever put our children in danger” will help.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I am in a position that many moms are in, with a wrinkle. I have an adorable 18-month-old daughter who still nurses when I get home from work, when she wakes in the morning, and if she wakes in the middle of the night. She is in the 95th percentile for height, but she has not really gained much weight over the last six months. We have decided to start weaning her all the way off the breast with our pediatrician’s approval.
Why now? It seems like a good age, but also, I am almost 40 and we would like to start trying for a second. We have fertility problems so we will most likely need some medications to help us get pregnant. I cannot be nursing when I am on these meds, so we have a deadline to wean. It has already been stressful to decrease the length of nursing (I have not even tried to deny her outright). The delay in starting our attempts for a second child, my worries over her lack of weight gain, knowing that I will be losing this special connection with her, the actual stress of denying a crying child asking to be fed in my arms—this is all making it hard for me to stay the course and wean her. Do you have any advice on how to make the weaning process easier?
—I Feel Awful
It sounds to me like you’ve made the best possible decision for your family and your life and have consulted with a trusted medical professional, so weaning it is! Let’s try to make it as smooth as possible.
At the moment, you are nursing two, sometimes three times a day. I would figure out which of these feedings is the most important to your daughter emotionally and leave that one alone for now. The collective wisdom is that daytime feedings are the least “needy” ones, so I would drop your morning feed first and give her a week or two, making sure she’s used to it before moving on to dropping the post-school feed.
A key point to keep in mind while you’re weaning is that this is indeed a big shift for your daughter, so please try to do your very best to keep everything else in her schedule as stable as humanly possible. Also focus on having the time you used to spend breastfeeding still be focused on her and you and bonding. A book, a cuddle, an extra song … her main concern is that not getting this particular access to your body means you are growing away from her, so allay that where possible.
Try not to go backward, if at all possible, but you can always slow down. Wait longer before dropping that next feed, if you must. Talk about the process! At 18 months she won’t understand much, but you can still say things about how she’s getting big and ready to not need mama’s milk anymore.
Just take it at your own pace and know that sometimes regression will happen: during sickness, if she moves to a new room, if your work schedule changes, and eventually, when a new baby comes. It’s natural. It will pass.