Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I have two young kids for whom my husband and I rarely buy toys because we already have way too many. We also have a large extended family, and when we celebrated my son’s birthday last month, we again were overflowing with toys from all of our family members.
We’re so lucky that we have people in our lives who love our kids and want to express that by giving presents (in addition to showing love in nonmaterial ways, of course), but I really want the gift-giving to stop or at least slow down. I don’t want my house packed with things, and I don’t want my kids to put their value in material goods. I don’t think I’ll make any more progress with my mom, but how do I tell everyone else to give only one gift or give nonmaterial presents instead? When I tried telling people not to give me presents one Christmas, I got a lot of funny looks and some chastisement from my mother.
Also as a note, we do rotate out toys, but I still just don’t want my closets/basement/storage room crammed with toys just waiting to be put back in the toy rotation. We also donate a lot of toys, but again, I don’t want to have to run to the donation center so frequently, and I feel bad donating toys specifically purchased for my children.
—Toys in the Attic
There are three main things I would like to communicate here:
1. It is indeed wise to try to cut back on the number of toys your kids have in their possession.
2. It is impossible and mildly rude to tell people what presents to give other people.
3. It is very reasonable to insist that any presents given to your children come through you first, at which point you can say “This is too much, do you want to take it back or should I donate it?” and then hold the line.
This has already borne some fruit with your mother, and you really should see some success with other family members after only a few beautifully firm pronouncements. If they try to sidestep you as the gatekeeper, you can literally insist they cough up their illicit gifts before entering the house. Before any of this, of course, individual conversations with the offenders should be held: Often people simply don’t realize how many other people are also over-gifting your kids, and when they become aware of the Smaug-like Play-doh hoard, they’re happy to cut back. If those conversations fail, though, that’s when you install a donation bin on the porch, into which you immediately toss seven of their wrapped gifts when they try to enter with nine. And don’t feel bad about donating if you’ve made your wishes clear: They can buy whatever they like, with the knowledge you ain’t keeping it.
I believe in you!
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I had fairly significant acne as a teen and young adult and eventually took isotretinoin (aka Accutane) last year, with excellent results. I have no acne anymore and have only minimal scarring. I don’t wear makeup as often as I used to, but I wear it on work days because I feel more polished and more confident in myself. I am a feminist and believe that women can do as they choose, wear makeup or not, but recently my elementary school–age niece saw me applying makeup and asked me why I wear it. I didn’t know how to answer this question and simply replied “Because it’s fun.” I know why I wear makeup but I want my niece to feel good about her self-image and not feel like it’s something that every woman necessarily has to do. What is a good answer to this question in a way that balances body positivity, realism, and personal choice?
—Put My Makeup on the Shelf?
I think you’re doing just fine, and there’s no real need to go Big Picture on it with your niece. (Were she your own daughter, I would advise that it’s part of a longer conversation that emerges over time, one about a variety of grooming and dressing choices and the reasons we make them, et cetera.) It seems to me like your enjoyment of makeup or sense that it adds to your confidence is hard-won, and not something you need to be particularly hand-wringy about. As more men start to realize how nice is it to slap concealer on a zit, I guarantee the whole issue will drift off into the ether anyway. “Because it’s fun” is a great and appropriate answer for an aunt, especially when asked why you wear it, as opposed to “Why do women wear it.” Next time you’re talking to her parents, you could idly mention she asked you about makeup, giving them the chance to follow up or not, but I honestly feel like the newest shackle of makeup is the urge to overthink it.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I have a 4-month-old son and a marvelous nanny. Let’s call her Jenny. I, my husband, and our son all adore her. However, today in a shared text conversation, she mentioned offhandedly that she’s been letting our son cry himself to sleep and then upbraided my husband for rocking him at nap- and bedtime. “That’s bad,” she said. “He has to learn to fall asleep on his own. It’s OK if he cries.” But, A, isn’t that for his parents to decide, and B, isn’t four months awful young for sleep training? I’m an attachment theory–obsessed first-time mom who—no judgment!—has zero interest in letting my son cry it out. I never made this clear to her because I never imagined she’d make a unilateral decision like this without consulting us. Was that naïve, or did Jenny overstep? More importantly, how do I proceed? I’m not OK with her continuing to let him cry, and since she’s alone with our son for most of the day, she has time to hold him until he zonks out. Is it reasonable to expect her to do so, or am I supposed to be letting her do stuff as she sees fit?
—Jenny Jenny, Who Can I Turn To?
I am not an attachment theory–obsessed mom, but I am a You Are the Boss mom, and it is 100 percent Jenny’s job to do what you tell her to with your own baby. Since you say you had never made this clear to her, you have a fantastic opportunity to evaluate how she does when told clearly to do something that isn’t her own personal instinct. It’s time for an in-person conversation, which doesn’t have to get overly heated at all:
“Hi Jenny, just wanted to follow up on Rambo’s sleep routine. We talked to our pediatrician and we’re not planning on sleep-training him at this point, and we’re not comfortable letting him cry it out. We would rather you [fill in the bedtime routine you want]. Is any of that going to be a problem?”
I think it’s entirely likely she’ll be like “Sounds like a plan!” because you didn’t give her bedtime guidance before. If she flat-out declines, get a new nanny. Honestly, I think you’ll get one attempt to explain the merits of crying it out (four months is indeed young for that, though hardly criminal) followed by a couple of eye-rolls and then rocking Rambo to sleep. If she makes a continued attempt to argue, repeat “We’ve given it plenty of thought, and this is what we’re doing” no more than two times before having a really serious conversation about the future of your working relationship and her need to put her personal opinions on childrearing aside when given explicit instructions by you, her employers.
Hopefully this nanny you adore will be in your lives, doing her level best to carry out your parenting wishes, for a long time. However, if any more “upbraiding” occurs, you know what you need to do.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I know a lot of your readers might laugh at my problem, but it is tearing me apart. My wife promised my daughter that she would take her on a trip to Europe for her 16th birthday. My parents and siblings will eventually find out, but I have no idea how to tell them without being overcome by guilt or being judged for turning my daughter into a spoiled brat. I come from a family of highly educated people who work very hard in good jobs that don’t pay a lot. I work in an industry that is highly paid and am financially successful compared to most people in the country (and I am grateful for it). For their 16th birthdays, many of my daughter’s peers are being feted with expensive parties or exotic trips. My wife and I focus a lot on trying to emphasize to our children that money is not the ultimate measure of self-worth, and that hard work and humility are more valuable than fancy cars or second homes. My wife is emphasizing the “experience” aspect of another culture as being educational and argues that we can afford the trip. Recently, one of my siblings confided that they aren’t sure how they are going to be able to afford college for their bright, hard-working, and wonderful child. How do I tell my family about the trip without becoming the object of scorn and resentment? How do I make sure my daughter understands that, despite what she sees from her peers, a trip like this is something she should feel grateful and lucky to experience because most people can’t?
—Money Changes Everything
I have no intention of laughing at you! But I do want to reassure you that other people think about you much, much less frequently and seriously than you think they do. I would not bother to tell your family about the trip, and if it comes up, you can say, casually, “It’s a nice opportunity for Sonia and Beatrix to spend some time together before she leaves for good.” The more flustered you get and the more excuses you make, the weirder they will feel.
Now, as for your daughter: This trip and how you contextualize it for her is oceans less important than the ongoing, childhood-long process of making sure she knows about the human condition and the nature of wealth and scarcity, the importance of meaningful gratitude, and the obligation to give back what we can. If you’ve done that work over her childhood, the trip is a blip (one she should appreciate!). If you haven’t, then the trip is the least of your problems with a ready-to-launch affluent young woman. It sounds to me like you have done your best to prep your daughter, so bid them bon voyage with a light heart, and if you have the opportunity to help your less-rich family members in a way that will not seem infantilizing, please do.