parenting recommendation from Care and Feeding.
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 2-year-old has always been a bad sleeper, but lately he’s consistently up from 1 a.m. to about 2:30 a.m., and we’re at a loss. Letting him cry it out takes forever (he’ll go for an hour or two), and it hasn’t changed the behavior. He wants to sleep in bed with us or have me sit on the floor in his room while he falls asleep. If I felt like something was wrong, I would do it! And maybe something is wrong because he consistently can’t sleep? But I’m seven months pregnant, and we have to get this sorted before baby No. 2 rocks our world (not to mention it’s very uncomfortable to be seven months pregnant and sit on the floor for an hour). He’s always been a sensitive kid and though he doesn’t understand it, I’m sure he knows some big changes are coming. Are we just doomed until he adjusts to a new baby in several months?
We find ourselves fighting the urge to yell at a 2-year-old to stop crying in the middle of the night. We go in periodically and plead with him to sleep, get him water, let him know we’re here but not going to bring him into bed with us, offer to turn on one of those ceiling picture light things, etc. I worry the neighbors are bothered; I worry he’s learning we won’t comfort him if something is wrong; I’m worried something IS wrong that I’m not catching; worried nothing is wrong and I’m being played; I’m worried he’s not sleeping enough; I’m worried I’m going to try to surgically remove my eardrums one night out of desperation—I had REALLY hoped we’d be out of the bad sleep stage by now. I’m writing this at 2:40 a.m.
—Please Let the Next One Be a Good Sleeper
This one really hits me. Your suspicion that your son detects impending change is probably a good one, and it also means (hold on tight) that there may be additional phases to your son’s adjustment period ahead. My advice to you, based on my limited understanding of the quantum mysteries of sleep, is that your best bet lies with two rules: consistency and exhaustion. On consistency: If you don’t want to sit on the floor for an hour or take him into your bed, stick to your guns. But I do agree that checking on him seems better than letting him cry for an hour or two every night. You could try developing an (ideally temporary) routine for those midnight wake-ups, with the same things in the same exact order, on the chance he becomes comforted by knowing what to expect even during those upsetting bouts of consciousness. A back rub with a hummed lullaby (no pleading). A diaper change. A lovey with special “moon” powers that you hand over only at 1 a.m. And a promise to return very soon. Very (yawn) soon.
On exhaustion (his, not yours): The frequency of the wake-ups makes me wonder how the original bedtime is going, and I would just leave you with several questions to explore. Is he ready for any adjustments to his daytime sleep schedule? Is he truly running the tank to empty before dinnertime? Two-year-olds hit another gear in terms of energy and mobility, and given that you’ve been busy incubating another baby, it’s possible his physical activity hasn’t risen to match.
Some or all of this may help him with his restlessness, but I also have to be honest: There’s a chance none of it will work, and the phase will just have to burn itself out. Which leaves me with the most important question of all: Can your partner take this on, leaving you with a nice set of earplugs?
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Dear Care and Feeding,
How long is it “OK” to let my 22-month-old have tantrums when she’s upset? She’s recently discovered she has feelings about things and can describe them. If I do something she doesn’t like (turn the TV off, tell her it’s bedtime, etc.), she stomps her feet, yells “mad!” and shouts/cries until I can redirect her. Right now, my approach to her having a meltdown is to acknowledge that she is mad, not punish her for acting out, and try to get her focused on something else. “I know you’re mad. It’s OK to be mad, but let’s go look for trucks outside/read a book/play with a favorite toy, etc.” At what age is it no longer acceptable for her to melt down without consequences? As the oldest of six kids, I know tantrums are part of young children learning how to deal with their emotions, but I don’t want her to learn it’s OK to always express being mad with a tantrum.
—Let’s Regroup in Boston
Dear Let’s Regroup,
I sense that what you are really asking is when it will be OK to switch from “redirecting” to “punishing” when your daughter is having a rage-fest, and if that’s so, it might be the wrong question. The goal here, as I see it, is less about teaching her what’s acceptable and more about giving her the tools to process the anguish of realizing there are things not under her control—an anguish that will diminish but never go away. What to do after the tantrums start is certainly worth your attention: Redirection is an honorable strategy and works well with a follow-up after things have calmed, where you ask her, “You were mad when I said screen time was over, weren’t you?” This can give her a chance to examine her emotions without being in the muck of them. But I also encourage you to spend time helping her prepare for what feels to her brain like sudden, arbitrary, and intolerable changes to her day. Give ample warnings, describe the future, and negotiate. Alert her when she has just a little time left, make sure she acknowledges it, and maybe even set a timer. Give her a clue about what you are going to do next together, so she knows what’s coming. Give her one extension if she asks for it. Let her be the one to turn the TV off. All this is to help her feel she is making the transition with you, rather than that everything is happening to her. The illusion of a little power goes a long way.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband of seven years and I are new parents, and it’s time to do what I’ve dreaded for years: baby-proofing. We’re one of those couples whose differences balance each other out, but we have drastically different approaches to cleaning. My anxiety makes it easy for me to be overwhelmed by clutter, so I do my best to tidy as I go and love when things are in their place. His ADD (which he is medicated for; I’m not currently taking anxiety meds while breastfeeding) makes it more difficult to keep things tidy, and he tends to wait until an area is in desperate need of attention and then go on a cleaning spree. This has caused tension over the years, but we are normally able to work together to find compromises when it comes to household task timing and delegation.
I have worked in child care previously, and I know how crucial it is to have clean, safe spaces for young kids. I’d love to incorporate Montessori-aligned spaces for our child into our household, but that seems like a pipe dream at this point. I’m worried about the bare minimum: How do I make sure that our rooms are kept free of clutter that can pose a risk to our baby? I’ve seen some folks with ADD on TikTok who talk a lot about the unfairness of trying to enforce certain levels of tidiness when it’s contrary to how a brain with ADD functions, and I know I may need to provide additional support to help it happen. But is maintaining a baby-safe space too much to ask?
—Don’t Want to Put Baby in a Corner
Dear Baby in a Corner,
What you don’t say is whether the clutter is actually dangerous for your newborn. Is your husband letting his sword collection gather in a corner? (Yikes!) Is it unread New Yorkers stacked beside his nightstand? (Hmm.) Is it unread New Yorkers stacked to a height of several feet? (Yikes!) For the sake of this answer I’m going to assume it’s rather standard-issue mess, and that what is really going on is that your previously manageable Felix and Oscar routine, when it was just the two of you, is reaching a real loggerheads with the newborn. What I’d suggest is cutting the (metaphorical!) baby in half. If your husband’s rhythm of accruing and purging clutter is something that you are willing to grant as important to his well-being, then that already counts as a good amount of support from you, by my reckoning, and in turn your own request for support can be to agree to designate specific areas in the home as spaces you will both keep as tidy and baby-friendly as possible. Good luck.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My wife and I are expecting our first child—yay! Now that we’ve shared the news with friends, colleagues, and loved ones, and now that I’m starting to be visibly pregnant, we’re wondering how to navigate the questions about our baby’s gender. Both my wife and I know that there’s a difference between the sex assigned at birth based on external genitalia and all of the complex components of a person’s gender. We have no intention of having a “gender reveal” party or leaning too much in the “pink-blue” binary. That said, we know learning the sex of the baby is an important milestone in pregnancy. And it’s relevant to others—especially our families and closest friends, some of whom don’t share our analysis around gender and some of whom are trans, nonbinary, or gender-nonconforming. How can we share the news with people who are just excited and want to know in a way that doesn’t require them to share our gender framework OR overinflate the importance of our baby’s genitals? Saying “the baby has a penis/vagina” seems weird (!), but saying “it’s a boy/girl” just isn’t … accurate. For what it’s worth, we talked about saying we’re not finding out the sex or not sharing, but we are finding out and we do want to share, just in a way that feels true to us and doesn’t make it into a whole thing. Thoughts?
—Genitals Aren’t Gender
Dear Genitals Aren’t Gender,
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Since you are asking in regard to your close friends and family, and not how you’ll respond to queries from strangers and acquaintances, I think the answer is both straightforward and unspecific: Be honest, be lighthearted, and trust that your deeply held values do not need perfect verbal encapsulation at all times. That probably means don’t send an e-card to everyone at once announcing the assigned sex with an asterisk and a long disclaimer, but instead to respond in accordance with who is asking. That could mean your more traditional family members get a pro forma “The sex is female, but we’re excited for whoever our kid turns out to be.” Or “The sex is female, but we’re not doing a gender reveal party—we’ll leave that part up to the kid one day.” And for those people in your lives who do share your values more closely, you can be more forthright: “We’re not totally sure how to talk about this!” They might help you think through this very question better than I can.
But ultimately, don’t stress too much! As long as your friends and family love and support you, this is a tiny bit of awkwardness in a very big world, and I’m sure they are all more interested in the important work of welcoming your baby.
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My 15-year-old daughter does exceptionally well in school, where she has many friends and is involved in extracurricular activities. However, outside of school and organized events in our community, she rarely spends time with friends. She prefers her own company, playing musical instruments, being at home with her dog and her family. When I ask if she wants to invite friends over or make plans to go shopping or to the movies with them, she says no. She identifies herself as an introvert; she is very articulate and will indicate that her social gas tank is empty and she needs to recharge. While she says she enjoys the silence and her own company, I worry that she is missing opportunities. My question is not about her, but for me. Do you have tips about how I might stop perseverating about this and instead count my damn blessings that my kid is smart, well-liked, knows herself, and is happy?