Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My 9-year-old daughter has a habit that’s driving me bonkers. Every time she speaks to me, she says, “Mom?” and waits for me to respond with, “Yes?” or “What?” Sometimes, after I respond, she says, “I have a question,” or “Guess what,” and then waits for me to respond to THAT before continuing. She’ll do this whether she’s calling to me from another room, or if we’re hanging out and just had a brief lull in our conversation. I’ve tried to explain to her that if we’re in the same room and I’m not listening to anything on my headphones (which go over my ears so it’s obvious to her), she has my attention and can just say what she needs to say without the prelude. I’ve tried to emphasize this by putting down what I’m doing and giving her my undivided attention when she says, “Mom?” but she’ll stand three feet away from me, making direct eye contact, and still say, “Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom?” until I respond. And then she’ll do the same thing 30 seconds later.
She’s always done this, but when she was a toddler, I assumed that she’d outgrow it. She hasn’t. For what it’s worth, while I sometimes have to direct my attention to chores or my other children, I do pay attention to her and spend one-on-one time with her after her younger siblings go to bed. I acknowledge that this is a low-stakes problem, but I’m so sick of saying, “Yes?” all day long. And I have to admit, my patience wears extremely thin when she says, “Mom?” for the fifth time in under 10 minutes. Do I need to tell her that I’m not going to respond anymore when she says, “Mom?” 15 times in a row?
It sounds like, despite all your efforts, your daughter feels some insecurity when it comes to having your attention. When she starts calling your name, explain to her that she doesn’t need to do so when you’re already in her presence. Be honest: “It bothers Mommy when you say my name over and over again and I’d like for you to stop. If you have something to say to me, just say it. I’m right here and I’m listening. I’m always here for you when you need me.” Continue to give her these reminders each time she calls on you: “Mom is right here. What do you need?” Offer a hug or some other physical assurance that you are present and available to her. Respond to her the first time she says “Mom” so she doesn’t have to keep checking in with you to see if you’re paying attention. You can also try giving her a taste of her own medicine, calling her name constantly and allowing her to see how annoying that can be. She will likely grow out of this with a little more time, so try and be patient with her for now.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m a single mom (early 40s) of a challenging tween, probably neuro-atypical like both parents. I was able to move out of a violent relationship with her dad, but my kid seems to repeat the violent cycle even if we both go to therapy. Nothing really helps so far, and she’s getting worse as she’s getting taller and now slaps me in the face, says horrible things that trigger my PTSD, and gaslights me like her dad. I have a very sweet boyfriend of many years; we’d like to have a family together, and it’s a dealbreaker for him if we don’t. I’m afraid my kid would be a bad influence on a younger sibling, or that I would have no energy left for a baby with my oldest draining me, and I’m starting to resent being a mom.
—Trying My Best
Dear Trying My Best,
As the parent of a neuro-atypical tween who can be very challenging, I completely empathize with your situation. However, it’s important that you get to a better place with the child that you have before you expand your family. If therapy isn’t helping, it’s time to get a new therapist. You also may want to consider talking to a psychiatrist, who may be able to make a diagnosis and prescribe treatment that could be useful for your daughter. Talk therapy may not be enough to address her issues; there are other modalities that a doctor could prescribe, including medication. You should also continue speaking with a therapist of your own about your feelings regarding motherhood.
I’m glad that your boyfriend is sweet, but it’s important that he recognizes the need for you to get to a place of stability with your daughter before you all consider having another baby. What is the relationship between him and your child? You also want to make sure the two of them have a positive connection before introducing another little one.
Right now, the child you have must be your priority. She needs you to advocate for her needs and help her to find peace. It may not seem like you have much time to become pregnant again, but you have to be more concerned about taking care of her than you are with having a baby. A book that may help you is Your Defiant Child, which has methods for dealing with oppositional children. Focus on your big girl and save the family planning for when things get better.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
At my daughter’s daycare, classroom assignments are done strictly by birthday. When we started last year, my daughter, who has a late summer birthday, was placed in the younger class with every other 2-year-old who was born after March. We were told this would be her cohort for the rest of her time at the center, which goes through kindergarten. But it turns out that this fall, the incoming 3-year-old class is particularly large, so instead of two classes, there will be three classes: birthdays falling between September and January, between January and April, and between May and August.
I learned this afternoon that of my daughter’s class, she is the only one who will be in the youngest class, with a bunch of new enrollees. All of her friends will be in the middle class. She had already been nervous about transitioning to a new teacher and classroom, but had verbally assured herself that “Chloe will be there too, and Amari, and Will,” etc. Only, they won’t be! None of them!
I’d like to talk to the school director and see if there’s any way my daughter can move up with the rest of her class. My husband says that a policy is a policy, and asking for an exception is entitled. Which one of us is right? And if it’s my husband (it’s probably my husband), any tips on how to prepare my daughter for knowing her friends are all together and she isn’t?
—Missed the Cutoff
It wouldn’t be entitled of you to ask for an exception for your daughter. That’s a perfectly reasonable request, one the school may actually be willing to offer. Explain your situation to the administrator, that your child has bonded with the other kids in her previous class, and that you all were under the expectation that she would be with the same group for the duration of her time at the center. Talk about her nervousness over joining a new group. Hopefully, they will realize that allowing her to remain with her old group could be best for all parties; they want children to feel happy and comfortable in their surroundings.
If they aren’t willing to be flexible, explain to your daughter that the classes have changed and she’ll be with new kids this year. Let her know that the change was based on birthdays, not anything that she did wrong. Acknowledge her concerns and assure her that she will make new friends, and that she’ll be in the same place that she knows and loves. Get contact info for her friends in the previous class and try to schedule some play dates with them so she doesn’t lose those relationships all together. Children are more resilient than we give them credit for. If she ultimately cannot move up, there will likely be a period of adjustment, but in time, your daughter will likely come to embrace the new class and make new friends.
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