Dear Care and Feeding,
My daughter had lifesaving stomach surgery at 22 hours old, and she spent three weeks in the NICU. As a result, she was at risk for lung infections and various other stomach issues, such as reflux. Because of this, we co-slept from the time she got home from the hospital. Three months later, her dad suddenly walked out of our life. This was extremely traumatic for me and I was never able to transition her into a crib during her infancy. Along with being able to monitor her health as I lay beside her, I found great comfort in our co-sleeping.
She is now 5 ½ years old, and I’m not sure if I need to worry about her continuing to sleep with me. I don’t mind it as I’m not currently not dating anyone. When I bring it up with her, she says she isn’t ready to sleep in her own bed. Others have voiced their concerns about us still co-sleeping at this age, but she’s smart, hitting all her milestones, and seems very secure in our relationship. She has no issues when staying at other places.
I’m not sure if I am damaging her by continuing the co-sleeping, or if I’m holding on to her because I am anxious about her past health issues (which she experiences much less frequently now).
—Should I Cut the Cord?
I am so sorry to hear about the frightening time after your daughter’s birth and so glad she’s doing well now. And I’m sorry her father wasn’t there for both for you and that he left you when and how he did. I’m trying—because that’s how I roll—to find it in my heart to feel a little sorry for him for not getting to have this delightful child in his life, but that seems past the limits of my compassion.
Speaking of compassion: Your daughter, it seems, has it in spades. If she has no trouble sleeping without you by her side when she stays overnight elsewhere, I’m guessing that what’s going on isn’t that she’s not ready to sleep in her own bed but that she knows you’re not ready for it. I don’t mean that she is consciously lying to you, or to herself. What’s happening, I think, is that she’s taking care of you and she’s internalized your need as her own.
You do need to end the co-sleeping. It’s time. This sounds harsh, I know. But you’ll have to trust me when I tell you I don’t have a harsh bone in my body—and also that I am most definitely not against co-sleeping. I loved having my baby daughter beside me when I slept, and I would have kept her there forever if I didn’t know better. Part of being a loving parent is cutting the cord—cord after cord—when the time is right.
The sad fact is it is ridiculously easy to get our own needs mixed up with our children’s. Learning to ask myself the question Whose need is this, hers or mine? helped me clarify all kinds of decisions about how to treat my daughter. To be honest, it still helps me today and she is 26 years old. This is a question that should never grow old for a parent.
And it’s a harder question to answer truthfully than you might think. We are all of us fragile and needy beings. Being an adult doesn’t magically make us strong. Nor does being a parent, although parenthood does give us some sly opportunities to get our own needs met, and sometimes they’re needs that never have been met before. (For instance, if you waited until you are dating someone and then kicked your daughter out of your bed, it would be very clear whose needs were being met by this arrangement.)
Being an adult doesn’t magically make us strong. Nor does being a parent.
My every instinct is telling me that co-sleeping at this point isn’t about her needs but about yours, and the ways she has come to believe that it’s her job to keep you feeling safe and secure and un-lonely. And I know you know that this is not in fact her job. That because of the awful circumstances surrounding her birth and infancy, the natural order of things shifted. That it’s time to set them right.
I suspect that when you tell your child firmly that it’s time for her to sleep in her own bed—in her own room, too, if she has one that’s separate from yours—she’ll protest. She’ll cry. She might even have a meltdown. Stick to your guns when she says she’s not ready. (This will be hard, I know. I know it will be hard to pick up the guns in the first place.) From everything you’ve said about your daughter, it seems pretty clear she is ready. Give her the chance to let you—and herself—know that.
I want to add that this is not your fault. It’s not something to be ashamed of or feel guilty about. No one intentionally hangs on to something that was once necessary for the well-being of their child but has outlived its usefulness; no one intentionally persuades themselves that they’re doing something for their child when they are “only” taking care of themselves—and “only” is in quotes because I don’t want to minimize the importance of your taking care of yourself. There’s no one taking care of you, no one helping you, no one looking out for you. That’s very hard. But figuring how to take care of yourself is another matter altogether, right?
Dear Care and Feeding,
My wonderful wife and I are expecting twins in the new year and, despite being utterly terrified, I couldn’t be more excited. There’s just one thing I hope you can give me some advice on. My wife is Italian and speaks perfect English, while I only learned Italian when we got together, so while I’m conversational, my Italian is a long way from fluent.
We want to raise our kids bilingual because it has so many benefits, not least the connection to their Italian heritage, which we feel is so important. However, we’ve been having a disagreement about the best way to do this. My wife thinks we should speak Italian at home, since they’ll speak English with their friends and at school and watch English-language TV, etc. I totally get where she’s coming from, but I’d rather find a system where I could primarily speak to them in English, since I’m not super-confident or able to be entirely myself in Italian, and I’d hate to think that I wasn’t relating fully to my kids because of an artificial language barrier.
I’ve explained this to my wife, but she thinks that if she’s the only one speaking to them in Italian, it will inevitably become a secondary language to them. I’m sympathetic to this view, but I’m not prepared to forgo an honest and expressive relationship with my kids. What should we do? Should I suggest that I speak English to them for a couple of years while working on my Italian, and then switch over? Is speaking another language with one parent enough? I’ve googled a lot but gotten lots of conflicting advice. Please help!
—Anxious English-Speaking Dad
For once, a simple whose-need-is-this question to answer. Enjoy it. It may the last one (for you, I mean—but probably for my column, too).
If you want your children to be genuinely bilingual, I think you do need to make Italian the language of your family life. I agree with your wife: If you don’t speak Italian at home, right from the start when they’re first acquiring language, English will likely become their primary language by default.
I’m not suggesting that there’s anything wrong with that scenario (I love English! I’m an English professor! English is the only language I am fluent in—alas). But if you really mean it when you say you both want them to grow up speaking English and Italian fluently in equal measure, then make a sacrifice for the sake of your kids. (And get used to doing it. It comes with the territory when you’re a parent.)
But I also have to say this: If you’re only paying lip service to the idea of raising them this way, then you need to come clean to your wife—and to yourself. (Today’s theme: people lying to themselves and those they love, with the best intentions and without meaning any harm. Or maybe, to put it more simply: how life is, practically all the time.)
I hope you do mean it, though, because it is an awesome idea. The advantages of being raised bilingual go beyond children being able to communicate equally well in two languages. They’ll also be better equipped to acquire other languages and to live as citizens of the world.
If you come to the conclusion—or you already know—that you mean what you say, here’s my advice: Start working on your Italian right now, and not casually this time, but in a serious way. Don’t panic—you have plenty of time to become fluent enough to be able to express yourself fully to your children. In the meantime, your relationship with them won’t be dishonest and inexpressive. For one thing, relationships aren’t just about what we say. For another, it’ll be a while before your kids are speaking in full sentences themselves. Your babies/toddlers won’t hold it against you if you use simple, direct language with them. By the time you’re having complex conversations with them about your deepest selves, not to mention the meaning of life, politics, and their romantic relationships, they will already be bilingual and you can relax into English if you want to.
So why not take this grand plan of raising bilingual children as your inspiration for really learning your wife’s first language and the language of your children’s extended family and heritage? There’s a bonus here for you, of course, since becoming fluent in Italian will expand the boundaries of your own life even as it provides your children with a richer experience of language and the world around them.
Another bonus: Your wonderful wife will love you even more than she does now.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My 3-year-old kid really likes me to wear my red patent leather kitten heels. He likes them so much that he’ll actually try to remove any other shoes I am wearing and bring the red ones from my closet. I thought this was funny so I posted a pic of my kid’s tiny hands holding my red shoes on Facebook with the caption “Shoe fetish.” My husband was appalled. He lectured me about the inappropriate use of that word to refer to the behavior of our child. I removed the post but still wonder: Was I wrong or was he overreacting?
—What’s in a Word
He was overreacting. There are so very many things to be appalled about. This is not one of them.
But I have to ask—not because it matters, but because now I’m deeply curious—why your 3-year-old is so in love with your red patent leather kitten heels. Are all your other shoes boring? Are they all, like, black or beige or navy flats? How many pairs of shoes do you actually have? And when your toddler brings you the red patent leather kitten heels, demanding that you take off the shoes you’re wearing and put them on instead, do you?
I also find myself wondering why I don’t have red patent leather kitten heels and what kind of occasion calls for the wearing of them. (Maybe I’m the one with a shoe fetish.)
My brother-in-law taught his children to call my husband “Uncle Ditz” when they started to talk, and now at ages 9 and 11, they call him “Ditzy.” I am sure this was initially a playful insult to my scatterbrained husband. I understand it’s endearing to have a special name from your family, but I still can’t help but cringe when I hear a child call an adult “Ditzy.” I do not want our child (due this spring) to hear this name. How do I approach this?
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