Alpha Mom » Amalah parenting and pregnancy opinions and information Thu, 13 Aug 2015 17:13:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Potty Training Wars: Dealing With the 3/4 There Kid Wed, 12 Aug 2015 15:04:14 +0000

Hi Amy,

I feel like you must have answered this a dozen times already and I swear I’ve read all your posts that are even minimally related, but I am totally stumped by – of course – a potty training problem. My almost-four-year-old refuses to poop on the potty.

For at least two years, long before she was even close to potty training, she has told us she needs to poop, asks to go into the bathroom for privacy, then comes out to tell us she’s done and asks to be changed. A year ago when she randomly decided she was done with diapers and started consistently peeing on the potty with only exceptionally rare accidents since, I figured pooping wasn’t far behind. Nope. She still asks us to help her put on a Pull-up (which we resorted to once she was too big to fit on any changing table!).

Not only does she recognize the need, she can control it and hold it until she is home. She’s more than capable of using the potty. She’s gone on the potty a couple times accidentally, and once or twice voluntarily, all to much excitement and major fanfare and rewards that we’d hoped would be enough positive reinforcement to keep going. We’ve tried incentives of all kinds, bribery, charts, simply running out of Pull-ups (she found the stash of her old diapers instead), insisting she do it without our help (ie attention), having her wear the Pull-up while sitting on the potty, using the stand-alone potty instead of potty seat, having a special iPad game just for pooping on the potty… We’ve gotten so far as for her to recognize the need, sit on the potty for a while, only to break down and start crying and begging for a Pull-up as soon as it’s about to actually happen. She’s now even told us a couple times that she actually did it all by herself despite it being times of day she doesn’t usually poop (she’s remarkably regular), there being zero evidence to support her claim and her then insisting on going in a Pull-up later in the same day at her usual time.

I believe she really wants to poop on the potty, but I’ve come to think that she is just not comfortable sitting down -or something- and she won’t try anything else I suggest to make her more comfortable. Perhaps you can tell she’s quite clever and strong-willed?

I don’t want a power struggle: I cannot make her poop. The last thing I want is for her to start holding it in and making herself sick so it then becomes even more of a struggle. I’ve been trying to maintain a viewpoint of “she’ll do it when she’s ready and one day she’ll just surprise us as long as we’re supportive and encouraging” but…come on! I also don’t want to just continue enabling a bad habit. What can we do????

Tired of poopy diapers in MA

Ha! Nothing like hitting the Googles for a question and finding your own column on the front page: Potty Training Wars: Dealing With the Halfway There Kid.

I titled this column the “3/4 There Kid,” because your daughter sounds a little further along in the process — she’s just scared. This is so, so normal. For some young children, poop feels like it’s “part of them” and are just more comfortable going in a pull-up or diaper so that “part” stays close to them. Having poop fall out of their body into the toilet feels dramatic and scary, or they worry they might fall in with it. (Think toddlers/preschoolers who freak out when you open the tub drain.)

You basically have three options.

1) Cold turkey. Run out of pull-ups (and diapers and training pants), like for REAL. When she asks for one, say you don’t have any. Hold firm. See what she does. Will she go on the floor or in her underwear? Or are those unacceptable options to her?

If you’re lucky and she really won’t go anywhere but in the pull-up, you put her on the only other option in the house: The toilet. AND THEN DISTRACT THE HELL OUT OF HER to keep her mind off pooping and her fear. Read a book together or play with the iPad (any old game, not one that might have “poop on the potty” connotations for her), or do a puppet show or whatever else you can think of. Don’t cheer lead or even talk about poop. Make the time on the potty about ANYTHING OTHER THAN POOP. Goal is to stand firm on no more pull-ups, and give her no other option that to confront her fear and realize that oh, nothing bad is going to happen. Obviously the idea is that with few more hard-won successes + praise = big kid pride in herself.

Cons of this one? It’s certainly not the gentlest. The distractions might not work and there might be tears and begging. For one of my kids, this approach worked like magic. No more diapers, sorry, just the potty. He played with my phone, then hit that panic/crying stage. I held him and hugged him and reassured him and then BAM. Fear confronted and conquered. It was a rough couple minutes but once he believed me that this was his only option, we got through it just fine. The immediate look of relief and pride on his face was awesome.

Other kids, however, respond to the cold turkey approach by simply holding the poop in and fighting their bodies, leading to constipation issues. I tried this with ANOTHER one of my kids and he just started holding it in, and then would just have accidents in his underwear instead of a pull-up, which….NOT AN IMPROVEMENT. If you think your daughter is strong-willed enough to start holding it in, I wouldn’t do this one. If her bowel movements are really that regular, predictable and…ahem, unholdable for her…and it’s just a matter of getting her to stay on the toilet for a minute or two of crying while you gently reassure her that everything is okay, then maybe give it a shot.

(You may also want to talk to your pediatrician about possibly giving her a small dose of Miralax throughout the potty-training process, no matter which option you choose. The Miralax can override her ability to hold poop in and cause problems without being habit-forming or too strong.)

2) Cutting holes in the pull-up. This is an approach I’ve read about on a few different potty-training centric sites, although never tried personally. It’s designed for kids who get scared/panicked about pooping on the toilet, and is basically an extension of what you tried when you had her sit on the potty while wearing the pull-up. The next time she needs to go, give her the pull-up but make her sit on the potty while it happens. If you can get her to poop in the pull-up while sitting on the toilet, treat this like a success. Then gradually, GRADUALLY, you start cutting small openings in the pull-up. Kind of like training wheels, you slowly get her used to the idea that some of the poop might fall in the water.

Cons? I have never tried this. I have no idea if it works or if it’s worth all that effort. Also requires you to go back to something you may have already tried (pooping in the pull-up while seated on the potty) without success, so you might run into some of the crying/panic anyway. But at least it might give you the sense that’s you’re doing SOMETHING and making SOME progress, as opposed to the final option, which is…

3) Waiting it out. Yeah. I’m sorry. I promise you, your child will poop on the potty at some point. She’s so close! She’s just scared. She probably WILL surprise you one day. Just…probably not today.

I would still maaaaayyyybe experiment with withholding the pull-up as long as possible just to see what happens. Hide them somewhere really, really inaccessible to her, and then be really, really “busy” right around her regular pooping time. If she just goes on the floor or in her underwear, forget about it. You’re gonna be buying pull-ups for awhile. But if you consistently make her wait juuuuuust long enough for the comfort of the pull-up every day (even just a few minutes, if she’s that regular), she MIGHT decide that this just isn’t worth it anymore. You’re not technically saying “no” to the pull-up and then backpedalling, you’re just…not at her immediate beck-and-call for them. Remind her that pooping on the potty is always an option, if she really has to go. This slight inconvenience might be enough to prompt a change in habits.

Or not. You might just have to wait it out until a developmental spurt or peer pressure from preschool kicks in. She is DEFINITELY more than halfway there, and she DEFINITELY will not be pooping in a pull-up forever.


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A Daycare Food Dilemma Mon, 10 Aug 2015 17:21:21 +0000

Hi Amy-

I love your column and blog. Congrats on the new house!

Based on your advice, we have adopted a Satter approach to eating at our house, so I am hoping that you may have some insights on another food-related issue.

We have a just turned 1-year-old son and a nearly 3-year-old daughter. We switched in-home daycare providers in March. The new daycare providers (a husband and wife) are very loving and involved with the children. The environment seems stimulating and the providers plan a lot of activities for a variety of ages. Both kids love the providers and overall, we are very pleased with one exception- the food served.

They serve a variety of cereals for breakfast ranging in healthfulness from Rice Crispies to Fruit Loops. For lunches, they serve multiple fruits and vegetables (though the veggies are often canned), but the fruits/vegetables are often accompanied by chocolate milk and processed foods such as American cheese, hot dogs, Spaghettios, chicken nuggets, fish sticks, white bread, etc. I have seen an 18-month-old chugging chocolate milk with his lunch on multiple occasions. At home, we typically try to eat unprocessed, home-cooked food.

Our previous daycare provider did not serve processed foods, so my daughter tends not to eat the processed food at the new daycare (though she fully partakes in the chocolate milk and fruit loops). My concern is primarily about my 1-year-old son as he is just developing his food affinities. Up to this point, I have been sending a home-made lunch with him daily. Our daycare provider has asked when he will be eating with the other kids so that he isn’t left out. On the one hand, I don’t want the little guy to stand out as he gets older as being the kid who doesn’t eat what the other kids are eating. On the other hand, I don’t want him growing accustomed to these foods that are not consistent with what we eat at home.

Other than this food issue, the care really is very good. My husband thinks that I am overreacting and that what is served at daycare won’t dictate their eating habits later in life. I’m not as convinced. Would you continue to send a separate lunch, tell the provider that there are certain off limit foods, or just not worry about this? Am I overreacting?

Thank you in advance for your advice.

Yeah. I’m fully on your side here. I’d actually go even nit-pickier and send in homemade alternatives for BOTH kids. Because that menu is completely unacceptable.

Forget long-term food habits, that day-to-day menu is LOADED with waaaaay too much sugar and sodium for just about anyone, and especially toddlers and preschoolers. Not to mention all kinds of garbage like HFCS, artificial flavors and food dyes. And canned veggies are 1) gross, 2) often add sodium as a preservative, and 3) unless the daycare is buying top-quality or organic brands (which I doubt), there’s a risk of BPA exposure from the cans. NOPE.

I wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about a 1-year-old feeling “left out.” (Which: Come on. They probably want him eating the daycare food because it’s easier for them.)  You  are not overreacting when you’re looking at a daily menu that’s pretty much nutritionally bankrupt…and full of ingredients with the potential to cause real harm to your kids’ growing bodies, teeth, and taste buds. (A lot of processed foods really do warp your sense of salty/sweet in the wrong direction.)

I’ve mentioned before that at some point we do need to accept the fact that we cannot control everything our children eat and drink. And be okay with the occasional treat at Grandma’s or the fact that they get served soda at their friend’s house. But YOU, OP, are NOT at that point yet. Your kids are still babies! All that sugary/salty food is BAD FOR THEM. You have the option to send in more acceptable, nutritious food and drink items to daycare and BY ALL MEANS, you should take advantage of that option.

I did. I still do. My kids have never complained about feeling “left out” or oddballs because they don’t get to eat Lunchables or Kool-Aid. At every school/daycare my kids have attended, everybody eats at the same community table, regardless of whether they’ve brought lunch from home or are eating school-provided food. (And there’s ALWAYS been a mix, thanks to food allergies and kids/parents’ personal preferences.) Your children can sit at the table with their friends and eat their packed lunches.

My oldest cannot tolerate food dyes, so I’ve always told his teachers who added that to the classroom list of food allergies/preferences when it came to school-provided snacks or treats. So I think it’s perfectly reasonable to ask that they keep the chocolate milk/super-sugary away from your ONE YEAR OLD. The preschool my last two kids attended had a wonderful snack menu that met all my standards (fresh fruit and vegetables, real cheese/yogurt, whole grain carbs, white milk), so they ate that. But if it had been Froot Loops and chocolate milk and Oreos, you better BELIEVE I would have been sending something from home. Or lobbying for change with the school director…or looking for another school.

(Not saying you need to go that far, I completely understand that a good full-time daycare program is a different beast than finding a preschool. Especially in my area where there are about a million options, most of whom cater to my particular brand of hippie food neurosis. My school food menu privilege is fully in check, I swear.)

When my kindergartner expressed an interest in buying lunch at school, I let him. That whole “you must cede control and let them make their own choices” thing. Thankfully, the appeal quickly wore off once he realized the school lunches were really gross and not worth the access to chocolate milk, and he went back to a homepacked lunch. While packing multiple lunches and snacks isn’t my favorite task day after day after day, I’m grateful I still have the option to ensure my kids are eating healthy, wholesome food during our hours apart. So do you! Take that option and do not let anyone shame you for making smart nutrition choices for your children.


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Would It Kill You to Just Say Thank You? Fri, 07 Aug 2015 12:17:02 +0000

Hello Amy,

First lets get the fangirl part over: LOVE your blog, your family is adorable, and your sense of humour is top notch.

Now my question. You seem very well versed in etiquette and how to conduct yourself in a rather non-douchey way. And I truly appreciate that. Manners and basic decency are mandatory in our family and extremely important.

I have 2 boys, they are 3 (4 next month) and 1 years old. My brother also has 2 boys the same age. We do not live close by, are generally not close, and were not raised together. We basically didn’t have any involvement in each other’s lives until the last 10 years or so. No sinister reason, we were just raised apart.

Ever since his first was born I’ve sent him baby gifts (times 2 now), birthday gifts for each boy and Christmas gifts for each boy. He’s sent me exactly one gift for my oldest and that’s it. Also not once in the past 4 years has he (or his wife/boys) ever said thank you or even really acknowledged that I got them something. And quite frankly it’s starting to bother me. Sometimes we do get invited to the birthday parties but it always is super last minute (almost like an afterthought) and because of the distance we can never attend. I know that the kids wear their gifts and play with them, I see the photos online, so I guess there’s that. But honestly, is it too much to expect a thank you? I honestly don’t care that they don’t send us gifts, it’s more about the lack of gratitude.

When my oldest turned 3 he wrote thank you cards to people for his gifts. He will do it again next month because I feel it’s important he not take his advantages for granted. We always show gratitude, say thank you, text/email/call long distance relatives to say thank you but it’s starting to irk me that no effort is being made in the other direction.

This past Christmas he was even reminded to thank me (by other relatives local to him – and completely unprovoked by me I might mention) and still nothing. When I asked him if he even received the gifts (since I sent them in the mail and without any acknowledgement on his end I wasn’t sure they even got there) and all I got was a “yay we got them”. Gee, swell.

So I guess my question is when is it acceptable to no longer send gifts because they are ungrateful. I feel bad for the kids because it’s not their fault that their parents are like this, but there’s consequences to not being nice. Or is there? I’m not sure anymore. Am I expecting too much?


I imagine we all have a family member like this. Or several! Or maybe some of us might even be that family member once in awhile — full of good intentions but utterly crappy on the follow-though. I have no idea if we can even give your brother that small credit — he seems to be almost willfully blind to his serial lack of gratitude.

Not that it makes it “correct” or “polite,” but I have to disclose that my entire sibling network basically operates like this.  As do my husband and his brother. We aren’t particularly close (like you, nothing sinister, just big age differences and geographical scatter), and I admit that I’ve been both the “did the gift even arrive???” unacknowledged gift giver AND the aunt who looks at the calendar and has to Amazon Prime a belated gift in a panic. If a birthday gets missed in our house, that’s okay. My kids get enough crap from the family we ARE close with to notice that an uncle who hasn’t seen them in three years forgot to send a gift card. If I send a gift, I’m happy to get a quick email or text, but even that doesn’t happen all the time. Likewise, I try to always email/text/send/post photos of my kids enjoying/wearing their gifts, but I’m sure we’ve even let that fall through the cracks some Christmas mornings.

That might surprise anyone who has read my columns on shower thank-yous or my support of kids writing notes post-birthday parties, but I guess…it’s just different with family. We cut each other a lot of slack and generally have kind of low expectations of each other because we KNOW we’re not that close, we  rarely see each other, and everybody is consumed with their own busy lives. Again, this DOESN’T  mean we’re NOT just a collective pack of rudeness monsters, but it’s just what works for us, and keeps the distance and cracks from growing larger via resentment.

In your case, I  think you need to permanently adjust your expectations of your brother, and ALSO separate/differentiate your relationship with him versus your relationship with his children. He’s not going to change. For some reason even the barest show of gratitude is not in his wiring.  That’s lazy and yes, understandably infuriating when you’re just trying to get confirmation that the gifts even arrived in the first place. He’s NOT GOING TO CHANGE. But like you said, that’s not his kids’ fault. And refusing to send them a birthday present in some kind of principled retaliation strikes me as sad. You don’t fight bad manners with meanness. Especially if the person affected isn’t really your main target. Don’t send HIM anything, but maybe try to see your nephews as separate from him, and your relationship as their aunt as its own thing, free of any baggage you and your brother might share.

If you’re wondering if your gift was received, pick up the phone or Skype and ask to talk to your nephews. Ask them about their birthdays and what they got and start putting a voice/face to the person who they don’t see very often but occasionally sends them cool stuff. Say “You’re welcome!” when they mention what you sent, even if the exact phrase of “thank you” isn’t uttered.

On the other hand, your brother might not care if you stop sending gifts (hell, in his mind, he might prefer you did if it meant people would get off his case about thanking you), and your nephews are so little they probably won’t really notice either. So I guess before you make any big “last straw” decisions about this, think of it strictly in the aunt/nephew dynamic instead of sister/ungrateful brother. Or think about the relationship you hope your children can have someday with their cousins.

And hey, maybe a long-distance, once-a-year gift exchange is enough. Maybe just send them gifts because you want to make them happy, and stop giving a rats’ ass about your brother’s lack of verbal/written gratitude. Or stop sending them “stuff” but find other ways to be involved in their lives.

(Either way, when you send them a generous gift for their future high school graduation, I would NOT expect a thank-you note.)

(But make sure your own kid sends them, because honestly.)

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First Birthday Family Drama Wed, 05 Aug 2015 14:37:18 +0000

Dear Amy,

My baby girl will be turning 1 in a few months, I know it’s a little early to be stressing it but I am. I would love to do a first birthday for her but the biggest problem is I have a huge family. My parents are divorced and remarried and don’t get along and my in laws don’t get along with any of them either. Last time they where all in the same room together it was a nightmare.

My husband says to just invite everyone who normally goes to family events and they can get over the drama but that’s around 60 people before we invite friends (most of which I’m closer to then my crazy family). A fight would break out and someone would storm off angry and since I’m the peacekeeper in the family I’d be expected to go after them. It just seems like a lot of work to me and a headache. I’ve been in the middle of my parents’ fights my whole life and it just got worse when I got married because now my in laws join in. I don’t want my daughter to have to deal with it growing up so I think It be better to always keep them separate.

So the real question is would it be odd if I had 3 separate birthday parties for a 1 year old who won’t even remember them? If I do one special one with one family the other ones will find out and be upset they didn’t get one. Or should I just skip it all together?


Ay yi yi. Talk about near-toxic amounts of drama.

While I agree with and applaud your efforts to keep everybody separate to shield your daughter from the dysfunction, I also have to caution against three different birthday parties for one small child. I think it would be overwhelming for her (AND YOU!) at this young age, and would set up a bad precedent/tradition that you will likely come to regret as she gets older.

Your parents’ lifelong inability to keep their drama in check and shield small children from the fallout isn’t going to improve in time for your daughter’s second birthday, or third, you know? As she gets older, birthday parties will naturally get more important, expensive, and COMPLETELY out of control gift/spoilage-wise, so imagine committing to three of them, each and every year, in a never-ending bid to keep the peace and bend over backwards to keep all the other grown-ups in the room from acting like children.

(“We did separate parties LAST year and it was great! What do you mean you’re not doing that again? This isn’t fair! Did your father put you up to this? Those awful in-laws of yours?”)

Nope. I vote for a firm FOOT DOWN now. Some consequences for their established bad behavior and refusal to tolerate each other for the sake of the children. You have a friends-only, casual get-together at your home. No family. No in-laws. No one who has ever made a family gathering hell for you gets invited. If they get upset that they weren’t included…well, tough! Mom, you and Dad know you can’t be in the same room together! Why would you even want to go through that on your granddaughter’s birthday? How about you and Second Husband come over for dinner on a separate night? 

Sure, give each of the warring factions a separate dinner out or brunch invite, just don’t make it a “party” and try to keep the gift-giving limited and under control. (I usually selected a few gifts my babies received on early birthdays/Christmases for them to actually open and keep…the rest were kept in their packaging and donated to Toys For Tots or something similar.) Let them sing Happy Birthday at the next regularly-scheduled family event and call it a day, family-obligation-wise. And if you want to throw her a party, I vote VERY HARD for you to make it a low-key, peaceful, FUN party with people who KNOW HOW TO BEHAVE AT TODDLER BIRTHDAY PARTIES. Not 60+ people who are likely to end up the subjects of a viral YouTube brawl.

I’ve said this about a million times here on this column: We as parents do need to be prepared to make some concessions (and even extend some forgiveness) to our parents and in-laws for the sake of the grandparent relationship. We have to recognize that they are not perfect, but neither are we, and the benefits to growing up with a loving, mostly-functional extended family is worth us occasionally having to bite our tongues over somebody’s weird political ideas or insistence on feeding your kid something that you aren’t thrilled about. We need to be mindful about letting low-stakes problems poison the relationship.



There are dealbreakers, and there are extenuating circumstances that make it okay for you to limit or tightly supervise/control the relationship. The emotional chaos that you grew up with (and that continues to shape your adult life as a people-pleaser/peacekeeper/mom-who-is-stressing-over-a-birthday-party-months-in-advance) is exactly that kind of circumstance. You do not want your daughter witnessing fights and absorbing the same stress/anxiety that now plagues you as a result. That is entirely reasonable and a noble goal. I just think you need to focus on ways to achieve that goal that also create a more peaceful, stress-free life for YOU. Easier typed by me than done by you, of course. But I am pretty sure three separate birthday parties isn’t the best way to start. You don’t have to cut your parents and in-laws from your life, but I think it’s perfectly okay to cut them off the guest list, for now.

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Help! We’re Moving & Driving Each Other Crazy! Mon, 03 Aug 2015 15:55:43 +0000

Hi Amy,

My husband and I have two kids, ages 2 and 4 months. Next month we’re moving an hour away to be closer to his parents and his job. Since you’re about to be going through the same thing I thought you might have some insight into how to go about this process.

I’m all about planning and working diligently over the next month to pack things up we don’t use much and organize so that when the day comes all we really need to do is load up our stuff and go. My 2 year old is having a ball helping me pack a box a day and is super excited to go to his new house with a playground in the backyard. And really, the kids take up a lot of time so if I leave packing to the last minute we’ll be way in over our heads.

I’m having some disagreements with my husband over the best way to go about the move. Hubby is taking a more loosey goosey, go-with-the-flow approach. As in, I’ll pack the week before no don’t box up my winter shoes I’ll do it myself approach. He even had to be talked into renting a U-Haul truck so that we’d only have to take one trip. He and his dad thought it would be ok to use a smaller borrowed trailer and take as many trips over as many days and weekends as we needed.

Last night when talking about the aforementioned shoes packing, I got upset with him. I told him that I wasn’t going to spend whole days and nights watching the kids while he packed at the last minute. I don’t think he’s grasping how stressful it will be to have the kids in limbo for an unknown length of time. I want to load our stuff once, unload it once, and work on getting everything in order so the kids (and us!) are settled as quickly as possible.

He eventually relented to letting me box up the shoes. No word yet on if I can tackle anything else that is his but for now I’ll be content to do mine and the kids’ things. (I stay at home so really I’m happy to do it so it makes life easier.)

Husband has already mentioned that my planning when we move stresses him out. I think I come across as frazzled and excitable when this happens but it makes me feel better and helps me sleep at night knowing that I’m chipping away at the mountain of work ahead of me in a detailed way.

So my question is: how do I go about helping my husband let go a little in this moving process. He works full time with an hour long commute, and takes care of the finances and the yard work on over an acre of land. He NEEDS me to take charge in this process but I think living with boxes around for a month and not being able to organize it all himself makes him crazy.

Thanks for all your help!
Up in Limbo

(Lots of moving questions rolling in. I wonder why, because over on my blog I am pretty sure I’ve only demonstrated that I am a HOT MESS and should NOT BE CONSULTED about anything moving related unless it’s how to likewise be a HOT MESS.)

So you and your husband sound super similar to me and my husband! Are you us? Are you wearing us like skinsuits? Because my husband also had it in his head at some point that we were going to handle the entire move by ourselves. Even though he has a bad back and I am a puny weakling and we have approximately 11,000 pounds of stuff in our home. (And that’s NOT an exaggeration. That came from an estimate from a professional packing and moving company, who I FINALLY managed to convince my husband to contact because DUDE. DUUUUUUUDE. Our move out and into the new house has to happen on the same day, and that day is hurtling towards us rapidly.)

So you guys have different approaches to this, and you’re clashing because 1) duh, moving is stressy-stress stressful, and 2) your different approaches are each making the OTHER PERSON more stressed out, ouroboros style. The more he insists that his last-minute, DIY approach is the right one, the more you panic because you’re convinced that your planning-to-plan, let’s get stuff done ahead of time approach is better. He thinks you’re control freaking/micromanaging, you think he’s being an idiot, there’s so much to do plus kids for the love of God let me pack up some crap for you already!

What we need here is a good old-fashioned compromise. While he’s at work, you run things at home. You pack things, including his things. You are capable of knowing what not to pack (stuff he needs over the next few weeks), and will label anything you pack appropriately for easy location just in case. By allowing you to do this, he will also solve the problem of you “stressing him out” because the more you chip away at the packing process, the better/calmer you will feel. (HELLO I AM YOU. I KNOW HOW THIS STUFF WORKS.)

When he’s at home, you will refrain from nagging/bugging. Channel the frazzled/excited energy into the hours when he’s not there, and try to make sure you guys are having conversations about things OTHER than the move. It can get all-encompassing, I know. But the rest of life is happening around it, and needs attention and love as well.

As for the actual move itself, I gotta admit if we could have done the several-small-trips-over-a-few-weekends, we would have. Definitely cheaper, although yeah, it prolongs the period of feeling unsettled. I don’t think it’s The Worst Thing, though, especially given how young your kids are. They’ll be okay, since it’s more about you guys being there and remaining a constant than whether or not you moved the dining table out already. That might be your area of compromise, with an agreement to revisit the idea of a One And Done truck rental if it seems to be stressing the kids out too much. (And promise that it really will be about the kids, and not you.)

But take heart! Eventually even my super stubborn husband woke up to our reality: We have to do it in one day, we HAVE to hire movers for our furniture, and honestly, we probably need to shell out some money to have packers come the day before to pack all the crap we won’t have time to get to. Yeah, it sucks. I’d rather use that money on new furniture or something! But having the packers as a last-minute fallback means I won’t drive us both insane by trying to pack up ALL THE THINGS RIGHT NOW YOU PACK TOO DO IT DO IT while my husband procrastinates, and also I can cut myself a break on having the entire move/packing process on my shoulders while trying to work and care for the kids.

Take a deep breath. Compromise fairly and calmly. And tell him that some person on the Internet gave you permission to pack up his stuff while he’s at work, because come on, man.

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Frustrated No More (Except With Ourselves) Fri, 31 Jul 2015 14:40:15 +0000

The all-powerful Amalah,

I wanted to follow up on the wonderful advice you and commenters gave to help us get through the surprising onset of severe emotions in reaction to daily challenges with our oldest son. Your advice, and one commenters in particular ended up magically flipping the switch (I realize with kids, there is almost never a “this solved the problem!” moment, but we were lucky enough to have one). You recommended a quiet area as a tent or fort, and emphasizing it’s not a punishment but rather a place to feel all the emotions, at daycare. A commenter, a longtime preschool teacher, also commented that for kids who have constantly been in that group setting with others (ours both have full time since 11 weeks old), at some point their subconscious just might need a break for some 1:1 time with an adult.

So we took all of that advice, meshed it together, and used it. Daycare did change their quiet area to be much more of a comfy, chill area that is not mobile as needed, but a designated space. My son even uses it in the morning sometimes when he’s cranky upon first arriving at school. Heck, I would totally use it if I had time in the mornings too! They weren’t able to accommodate a staffer getting him out of the classroom a couple of times a day because they were unexpectedly very short on staffing at that point in time, so my husband and I installed intentional 1:1 time at home multiple times/day, and upped our sometimes visits to school both in number and to take him out of the classroom on a walk with us for 10 minutes. I didn’t even realize this is something I should/could have been thinking about – we’re big on lots of family time, and we have 1:1 time with each of our kids occasionally with a mommy/son date night or daddy/son trip to Lowe’s, but I’ve not sought out special 1:1 time very often. I guess my oldest seemed to adjust to having a brother A-OK, so I figured it was all good! But two years into having a pretty needy younger brother, is two years of seeing that attention, especially from Mommy, zapped away consistently. So we have a reading time in the morning, just me and him. We also have designated time sometime in the evening where he gets 100% attention from only one parent, and his brother isn’t around to interrupt. Just 10 minutes of making paper airplanes, having a pillow fight, walking around the block, or making some LEGO or play-dough creations. I kid you not, we instituted this game plan on a Thursday evening, and the NEXT DAY he had the best day at school he’d had in six weeks. And he hasn’t had an incident report since! Still with the whining, frustration, or general grumpiness as circumstances change (let’s be honest, we all act like that without the excuse of being 4…), but no more of the throwing chairs, hitting, biting, unable to calm himself down.

In many ways, I felt awful for a bit, because why didn’t I, his own mother, who knows how much like me he is (I’m an introvert, but I’m just over the border from extrovert, so sometimes I forget that he’s similar) even think to say hey, let’s give him more attention in a very specific, uninterrupted way. A way that makes him feel refreshed, instead of depleting his energy. But then I remember that most parents, myself included, don’t know what the heck we’re doing half the time, and I felt slightly better :)

This is particularly good because my younger son will be two in one week, and has almost to the day at 23 months started having small tantrums, not listening, and generally acting like he’s in charge of his o’n self. Oh, and croup symptoms started cropping up in both of them this week. LIFE, I tell ya. Magnificent and terrifying.

So thank you. For listening, which is really what all of us seem to need. And for being in the trenches with us.


High Fives All Around


I don’t publish every update I receive, but yours resonated with me in particular — not just because the advice you received actually worked (GO TEAM SMACKDOWN GO!), but what you wrote about feeling AWFUL in the face of a parenting SUCCESS. You had a problem. You found a solution. And then you beat yourself up for awhile because the solution seemed “obvious” in retrospect.

I do this too. All the dang time.

Sometimes, I admit, I feel awful while writing this very column, because I know the words I’m typing are not the actions I always take with my own children. I sound like a much better, more patient, more “together” mother than I probably am on a day-to-day basis. I give other parents a script and then forget all the lines when it’s my turn.  I lose my patience, my temper, I choose my words and tone poorly, I forget to praise and compliment the positive and focus instead on the negative. I miss “obvious” things like the fact that my kid is acting like a jerk because he’s coming down with an ear infection, or isn’t sleeping because the floor vent in his room got closed so it’s a million degrees in there.  I assume everything is okay until it suddenly isn’t, and wonder how or why I didn’t see the problem coming because DUH.

Many of the solutions/suggestions I make here I learned the hard way too. I had babies who wouldn’t nurse/sleep/nap/stop barfing. I had toddlers who wouldn’t eat/talk/potty-train. And now I have kids who don’t always listen to me, who fight with each other, who occasionally get in trouble at school, who worry about things, who just want screens all the time, who still reject dinner every once in awhile and throw tantrums at the table because they’re completely overtired or seeking attention, etc. etc. etc.

They’re not perfect. And I would never expect them to be. But for some reason I secretly, sometimes, expect perfection from myself. Even though I would smack a letter-writer down six ways from Sunday for wasting time with that kind of useless guilt. Like you, I’ll often blame myself for the problem being a problem in the first place, or because the solution was “obvious” or I was just inconsistent in the follow-through. (OH HOW MANY BEHAVIOR CHARTS HAVE I STARTED AND ABANDONED OUT OF MY OWN LAZINESS  EVEN THOUGH I KNOW THEY WORK?? SO MANY.)

Anyway, wow. Sorry to take your celebratory update and turn it into a total downer with my ramblings. But it’s been a long (and very imperfect) summer around here, and your letter unexpectedly prompted a little self reflection. Which I needed. So high fives right back atcha.

(Also yayyyyyyyyy I got an answer right! With a commenter assist! The system works!)


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To Move or Not To Move (And What To Say To Your Kids) Wed, 29 Jul 2015 13:23:12 +0000

Hi Amy,

You’ve answered my questions in the past with great advice. I’m hoping maybe you can help with this question as well.

I am a loyal reader of your blog and know that you and you husband are thinking about moving. I currently live in Southeastern PA, just north of Philadelphia with my husband and 2 kids (1 & 3.5 years old. We have been here for 4 years and have no family in the area and a limited support network of friends) but am originally from near Syracuse NY. I have just received a job offer that would allow us to move back to NY and live in the same city as my family (yay for a support system!). We are leaning heavily towards going . The job would start the first week in August which would give us just about one month to pack everything and move. We would probably live with my parents for a month or 2 before settling into our own house\apt.

So here come my questions. How do I go about telling my 3 year old and when? Will it be bad to live with my parents and then essentially move again in 2 months? Is that totally going to mess with the kids? How will you deal with it if/when you and your family move?

Looking forward to any advice you have you offer.

-Country road, take me home

I’m sorry this answer is coming so close to your target move date, so close it might render itself officially useless, since I imagine you’ve chosen a course of action by now. And are likely well into the moving process, if not through it completely.

But back when I first received your question I was at a complete loss on how to answer, because we were also flailing around in a “should we move? should we not?” limbo and were DEFINITELY not ready to bring the subject up with our kids. I had no advice to give, other then I think you should take the job, make the move, and let things shake out however they shake out.

Here’s what we did right, I THINK:

1) We reminded ourselves (over and over and over) that kids are resilient. Moving can be a stressful and scary thing, but families do it all the time, for a bajillion million reasons.

2) We avoided talking about the subject in front of the kids while it was still a “maybe” or a “what if.” There was no sense in them overhearing us talk about it in the abstract.

3) This is more applicable to kids older than yours, but once we more or less made up our minds about moving, we took the boys on a day trip to our potential new area and made it an extra positive experience. A DVD on the drive up! Hot dogs with fries for lunch! Playgrounds! Throwing rocks in a creek! Buying LEGO at a funky little toy store, then ice cream cones! They (naturally) were all, “AGAIN! AGAIN!” as soon as we got home. That’s the opening we used to introduce the idea of living there all the time.

Here’s what we did kind of wrong:

1) We had one talk with all three kids, mostly aimed at our 6 and 9 year old. Our newly-turned 4 year old, unfortunately, was not really following the conversation but gleaned just enough to get completely freaked out.

The older boys needed ALL the information. They wanted to understand the moving process and what exactly was going to happen every step of the way. From us getting our house ready to sell, to the stages of the sign in the yard (Coming Soon, For Sale, Under Contract, Sold) — they wanted all of that explained. Our little one did not need this overwhelming amount of detail, and couldn’t understand most of it. (Me describing an Open House = him thinking a whole bunch of scary strangers would come into his house, play with his toys, and NEVER LEAVE.)

We had a redo, though. and NOW I’m confident he understands what’s happening in a less scary way. So with your little ones, go easy. Don’t inundate them with a ton of information about what’s going to happen (especially since there are so many unknowns) and focus on what’s a constant: Mommy and Daddy love you and we’re all staying together.

Once we had a contract on our new house, I created a personalized book for him via TwigTale called “Ike is Moving.” TOTALLY recommend this! TOTALLY wish I’d known about this service for all the other Big Life Moments in their lives, like new babies and schools and potty training!

(Note that I used a promo code for a free book given to me by Isabel of Alpha Mom, not as any sort of sponsorship/ad deal, but just because she thought I might find it helpful for poor little Ike. There was no obligation to recommend or even mention it.)

I uploaded photos of us, our pets, our current house and his new one and tweaked the script of the book (which was written by a childhood development expert) just enough to be relevant to our family’s situation and his particular fears. It arrived super-quickly (whew!) and Ike was absolutely delighted by it. (He’s the star! There’s his room! There’s his new swing set at the new house!) It doesn’t shy away from the fact that moving involves a lot of “goodbyes” but is honest, upbeat and reassuring. I think a similar book would be GREAT for your 3 year old. Get your parents to send some photos of their house and them and incorporate that into the book.

(I’d leave out the part about moving AGAIN in a month or two for now. Again, toddlers and young preschoolers will get information overload. Do another book or your own photo scrapbook once you find a more permanent housing situation and present that then.)

A big move into temporary quarters isn’t ideal, but I certainly wouldn’t turn down a great job and a move back to a support system just because it’ll required a month or two of time with Grandma and Grandpa. Go back to Number 1: Kids are resilient. You’ll get through this. You’re just doing what’s best for your family in the long run, even though there might be some bumps and disruptions in the short term. (I’m guessing sleep with your younger one. With a baby the bumps and disruptions almost ALWAYS come down to sleep. It’s okay. It’ll work out, eventually.)

I don’t know how our move in a few weeks (OMG I SHOULD BE PACKING) will impact or “mess with” my kids. They are leaving behind good friends and great schools and lots of places/things they love about where we live now. We have every reason to believe they will have all of that in our new neighborhood as well, plus their own rooms, a big yard on a cul de sac, a swing set with three swings and a climbing wall, plus a really funky toy store that sells vintage LEGO Bionicle. We have assured all of them that while we know they’re excited and that makes us happy, it’s completely okay to also feel sad or nervous. They can talk to us about whatever they are feeling, and it won’t make US sad or mad. It also won’t change the reality of what’s happening, because I can’t change that. We’re making this move because it’s what’s best for ALL of us as a family, and we’re all in this together. We’ll make it through and things will shake out in the end.

(Also recommended: Pixar’s Inside Out. Probably more for you than them. Damn, did that movie nail the experience of moving away, and the dangers of not letting yourself feel what you feel, when you need to feel it?  And not letting your children feel what they feel. Just be prepared to weep copiously.)

So I know we have a LOT of families who have done a LOT of moving/relocating with young children. Any addition (or contradictory) advice for Country Road here?


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Super-Duper Belated Baby Shower Thank-You Notes Fri, 24 Jul 2015 16:02:24 +0000

Dear Amy,

About two years ago, a handful of really great people threw me not one, not two, but three baby showers for my first daughter! (Yes, I’m surrounded by amazing people!)

Of course, after those showers, I was all about resting and getting ready for baby girl and . . . not writing a Single. Stinkin. Thank. You. Note. I had ignored the advice of other moms to write the notes ASAP, because I was different and I’d have time for that after the baby was born, in the whole entire 8 weeks of time I’d have before I returned to work.  (Now, any mother out there is laughing hilariously, because they all know that just didn’t happen. Ahh, the blissful ignorance of soon-to-be-mothers.)

So, baby girl is here and precious and awesome and no one has been thanked for any gift (or party!) they threw for us.

I’ve toyed with the idea of doing one of those photo announcement cards with some of the cute photos of baby girl from the last two years with a generic thank you note to everyone that I can remember was there (I’ve lost two of the three gift lists, of course). Or just trying to remember who gave us what . . . Or did the verbal thank yous at the time suffice and I have nothing to worry about?

Here’s where this gets more complicated: we’re expecting baby girl #2 this December. I’m fairly certain some of those same awesome people will throw us a shower/sprinkle.

While that’s completely amazing and we’ll be super grateful, I worry about those people who have super long memories and feel snubbed because they’ve never gotten a thank you card.

So, am I over thinking this? Is there a better way to express our late, but completely sincere, gratitude? And should I have any concerns going into the shower/sprinkle season again?

Would love to know your thoughts on the matter.

The imaginary thank you note writer

So I usually like to head over to more dedicated etiquette advice/guidance sites to brush up on whatever the latest prevailing “rules” are, as I’m admittedly, stubbornly old-school about a lot of things that other people don’t care much about anymore. And hilariously, the first link I clicked on was my own damn column on the topic of belated baby shower thank-you notes. In that case, however, the notes were only six months “late,” which I feel falls solidly in the realm of “perfectly understandable.”

But I still advised her to just get the notes done, MOSTLY because it would make her feel better to not have the obligation hanging over her head. (This advice brought to you by a serial procrastinator who knows the procrastination/anxiety/guilt loop well.)

I am taking the same better-late-than-never tack with you, although I recognize that’s difficult since you’ve lost gift lists and memories are fuzzy. But I would really caution against more showers/sprinkles without at least making some kind of effort. Especially since second baby showers can create etiquette snarls in and of themselves, at least in certain parts of the country.

Perhaps your shower hosts can help? If they were not properly thanked either, you should start there and then hopefully enlist them in your Belated Gratitude Crusade. Take them out for dinner and/or give them a lovely surprise gift, then come clean about the thank-you note situation. Perhaps they can at least help you remember everyone who attended, or even fill in a specific gift hole or two.

Then move on to the gift list you do have and power through it. Aim for 5-7 sentences and talk about how useful you found the gift, and plan to use it again for baby #2. Sign, seal, stamp, DONE. Believe me, it’ll feel GREAT.

If you have no idea what gift the person gave, go generic. Thank them for their attendance and “generosity.” Including photos would be a nice touch, but NOT if that added step over-complicates things for you and becomes another roadblock/procrastination device.

Here’s the bottom line, though: I think most people give baby shower thank-yous a pretty wide, understanding berth. I would personally not be too fazed or judge-y over not getting a formal thank-you note on a baby gift, because…the recipient JUST HAD A BABY. (This understanding does NOT extend to wedding thank-you notes, by the way.  That’s just rude and my side-eye will linger if you’re unable to scribble out a few lines at some point after your honeymoon.) I’m positive there are people who haven’t given your lack of notes a second thought, or never really expected one.

But there probably are people who are wondering what’s up…especially if they were particularly generous, or they didn’t attend a shower and mailed you a gift. So with these people in mind, I continue to believe it would be best to try to make SOME kind of effort before they get invited to another shower. Those invitations are bound to trigger some memories in some folks, like “heyyyy, wait a second…”

If you absolutely can’t deal with the idea of sending the notes so late, I would HIGHLY suggest you take a hard, firm “no gifts please” stance on any and all showers/sprinkles. You’re having another daughter and not much time has passed, so it’s not like you need a whole new gendered wardrobe or gave away all your baby gear. Explain that since people were SO GENEROUS to you last time, there’s simply nothing new you need as you plan to reuse all the lovely gifts as hand-me-downs. If there is something you want, you buy it yourself.

Personally, I gotta admit that a no-gifts policy might be polite regardless, since you don’t want people getting a thank-you note, then an invite, and possibly connect the two in a “oh NOW she thanks me, because she wants more stuff!” way. I know that’s not your intention, but you just never know with some people. Plus! It’ll result in fewer thank-you notes to write THIS time! Which might be worth buying your own diapers and onesies in and of itself.


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Keeping Your Kids Awake In the Car Wed, 22 Jul 2015 15:14:23 +0000

Dear Almighty Amalah,

I need a bit of assistance. How the hell do I keep kids awake in the car?! Maybe some background info will help.

Kiddos are 6 and 4. We are busy bees all summer, with morning swim lessons 5 days a week and a whole slew of other things going on in the afternoon; normally playdates, day camps, trips to the park or occasionally the zoo. Ya know, stuff kids like. With all these afternoon things, it’s understandable that the kids get pretty worn out, and fall asleep in the car on the way home.


These car naps are happening pretty late in the day, like 5:00ish or later, and they’re sleeping for the entire duration of our normally 30+ minute car rides. Which means that the edge is completely taken off. Which means that they take FOR. EV. ER. to go to sleep at night. Which would be fine and all, if they could sleep in a bit in the morning to make up for the staying up late at night, but because we have morning swim lessons, I have to go in and wake them up in the morning so that they’ve got time to eat breakfast and get ready for swimming. So they aren’t getting enough sleep at night, because they’re falling asleep in the car, because they aren’t getting enough sleep at night….it goes on.

Bedtime is 7:30-8, and while 4yo generally will zonk out within 15 minutes, they share a room and 6yo wants to be UP. ALL. NIGHT. and keeps her awake, normally to the point of a crying 4yo coming out of their room at 9:30 saying “I’m so tired but she won’t wet me sweeeeeeeeep!!!”, so currently we have to let her sleep in our bed until her sister falls asleep, normally around 11 or so. (Crappy solution, I know, but she needs a good night’s rest so badly in order to not need that 60-90 minute after lunch nap we worked so hard to kick after her 4th birthday in May). We’ve tried putting 6yo to bed after her sister falls asleep, but she goes out of her way to wake her sister up so she has someone to play with, either by talking to her, throwing stuff at her, or kicking her bed frame/wall so that the banging wakes her up. She’s just a peach at night, clearly.

I’ve tried everything I can think of to keep them awake in the car, so that they aren’t getting a pre-dinner nap that will lead to them being up all night. I’ve tried books, toys, food (and they aren’t normally allowed to eat in the car unless it’s a super special circumstances), music, talking to them, everything. I have actually driven down the highway with all the windows down, blasting Karma Chameleon (a weird family favorite song, I ain’t complaining) so loudly that I couldn’t hear myself speak, and they both STILL passed out. The only thing that works is me aggressively and consistently shaking their legs, which isn’t easy or safe to do while driving. The only other thing I can think of is getting a squirt bottle and spraying water in their faces to wake them up…but for some reason I don’t see that going well. (Also, I don’t have one of those fancy cars with built in DVD players or anything like that so I can’t turn on a movie, and after they broke someone’s phone they are no longer allowed to play with phones or iPads).

PLEASE help me fix our car rides (or bedtime, whichever you think may be more broken) and keep them awake! I’d hate for us to turn into “those people” who can’t stay anywhere later than 3PM at risk of the kids falling asleep in the car too late, but oh my god they need to sleep at night or we may not survive this summer.

You know, I think it’s really good and admirable that you imposed serious consequences after they broke someone’s phone. That’s a big deal and a good lesson in responsibility, especially since far too many kids treat expensive electronics with the same regard as a hunk of Fisher Price plastic. And we’re all too reliant on screens in general these days, especially when it’s more about our convenience and making our own lives easier rather than providing children with enriching, high-quality media YEAH YOU KNOW WHAT GIVE THEM BACK THE SCREEEEEEENS.

You’ve really tried just about every trick out there. And I feel you — OH GOD I FEEL YOU — on how badly the late catnap in the car can eff with the rest of your evening. And the next day, even. And the day after that. It really does snowball and screw with everybody’s sleep routine. There’s no bedtime fix when they’ve taken the edge off too late in the day.

I used to scream sing-a-longs and blast music at my kids. I’d ask them the stupidest, silliest questions I could think of (like if there was a dog in a car nearby I’d ask them if it was a giraffe, or if my hair was turning purple, or if I should take my shoes off and hang them on my ears). I’d put the windows up and down repeatedly to blast them on and off with air to perk them up. I tried snacks and drinks (and usually just ended up with a conked-out child and a ton of spills to clean up). One time I brought a pile of plush Angry Bird toys with me and threw them at their heads any time I saw them dozing off.

Now? I pop in a DVD and hand them some wireless headphones. Works every time, and allows me to keep my full attention on the road in front of me, rather than on my kids eyelids behind me.

(For the record, our DVD player remains unused 99% of the time. We use it ONLY on very long trips, so when I pop the screen down for a “short” drive because I’m trying to keep someone awake it’s a HUGE EXCITING THING.)

You don’t have a built-in DVD player, but you can absolutely buy one for your car. They’re a good travel investment in general, for long road trips or plane/train rides. Or you can just buy an over-the-headrest mount for your iPad on Amazon. That way you’re not technically going back on the phone-breaking punishment, since they won’t actually handle the tablet themselves.

Or you can just tell them that the car is the only place they’re allowed to play with phones or iPads, and that how they behave with them there (no dropping, no rough handling, etc.), will be the first step or test into lifting the ban other places. This kinda makes sense — they’re buckled into carseats, so unable to run around with it or drop it on a hard surface or spill something on it. It’ll be A Big Special Car Thing and they’ll likely stay extra engaged with it, even more so than watching a DVD.

I know, I know. Freaking screens. Little blinky electronic babysitters. Solving problems and making parents’ lives easier one preschool app at a time. You totally have my permission and approval to use them to solve this particular problem.

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Dealing With the (Homeless) In-Laws Mon, 20 Jul 2015 17:04:13 +0000

All wise Amalah,

My mother-in-law moved-in with us two weeks ago. By itself, this isn’t a problem, as my MIL and I get along extremely well. She brought her teen daughters from a second family with her. This is also not the real problem, because while the girls *are* teenagers, they are pretty decent ones, without the attitude problems I had at that age. The real problem is that she also brought her boyfriend (the girls’ father), a large-sized Labrador, a chihuahua, a snake and a turtle. Did I mention that we rent our house? Or that our landlord very firmly told us when we moved in that the house was not a circus, and we were not to add any additional pets?

The thing is, they are making seemingly no effort to move *out* of our house. They just had the house they had lived in for 15 years foreclosed on them. They have no rental history, poor credit and both are unemployed. It’s also a pretty tough rental market right now. Places that fit their desired qualifications are going super fast – you basically have to turn in an application the same day it’s listed in order to get a place. We tried Section 8, but all the counties on our coast have closed wait-lists. And once they are on the wait list, it may take years before it’s actually approved.

Still, via a lot of calling around (untreated Social Anxiety Disorder means my MIL really can’t do that part), I was able to find them a few possible places that would rent to them and fit their rather stringent requirements, all not yet listed so they’d have had their pick. They rejected all the places I found, though, mostly because they were in backwater towns that didn’t have nice downtown areas. Any protestations of “but it’s temporary!” or “but this is what you can afford!” have gone unheard. I’ve explained the 3x rule, found out their income (boyfriend is on permanent disability for a back injury), even done the math on paper so at least the older teen could follow. MIL doesn’t get it, instead is looking at rentals similar to their old house, in their old town; places that rent at well over half their income.

There are other issues, of course. Minor things like having to move our kids into our bed to sleep, my kids (who are 2 and 5) being given soda despite having been told they aren’t allowed, feeding their dogs in the room that gets ants after having been asked not to, eating the leftovers we intended for a second night’s dinner, teenage girls who arrive home at midnight and slam the bathroom door right next to our bedroom, the boyfriend missing the toilet and leaving pee on the floor for me to clean up (“men don’t clean bathrooms”) and so on. These are minor annoyances, I realize. But they are still things that make me not want to live with these people on a long-term basis.

“I give up” is something I’ve said twice a day for the last two weeks. I can find them a place, but they have to apply, and that’s something they aren’t doing. My husband and I have talked about setting an out date, a day when they are just going to have to go – preferably a date that would give them enough time to get the girls enrolled in school in their new location. My husband balks when it actually comes down to discussing it with his mother, though. He knows they won’t have a place by whatever date we select, and then what happens? He throws his own mother and sisters onto the street? Puts them in a homeless shelter?

Amalah, I’m terrified my landlord is going to find out and boot US out. I love my MIL and her girls, I really do. I’m not terribly keen on the sexist boyfriend, but they are a package deal. Regardless of how we feel about them, we can’t afford to feed and house them long-term and I’m fresh out of ideas on how to fix the situation. My own anxiety levels are through the roof, even while taking my meds properly. I’m a ‘fixer’ who just can’t fix this problem!

- Overcrowded and Anxious

Okay folks. That’s it. Shut it down. We have found our winner for the Most Nightmare Inducing In-Law Letter Ever. This is clearly Advice Smackdown Hall of Fame material, right up there with the toddler twins who threw their poop at each other like monkeys and the mom being dragged to soap-making festivals by her husband and MIL at like one week postpartum.

All of you are now required to re-read this poor woman’s letter BEFORE you write to me about how annoying your in-laws are.

And you, OP. I’d like you to re-read your letter. Out loud to yourself, maybe while looking in a mirror. Notice how often you try to play down the absurdity of this situation, and insist that some (reeeeeeeeally unacceptable) things are just “minor” annoyances, that you don’t mind, YOU REALLY DON’T MIND, YOU LOVE THEM, YOU GET ALONG WITH THESE ABUSIVE UNSTABLE FREELOADERS JUST FINNNNNEEEEE.

And yeah. I went there. You can abuse someone’s hospitality. You can abuse someone’s good intentions and sense of familial duty. These people should never have been allowed into your home in the first place (a simple “we run the risk of eviction if you and your zoo stay here even one night” should have shut this whole thing down), but now they are here and what you are describing is a terribly unhealthy, damn-near toxic situation full of grown-ass adults who you keep making excuses for.

She can’t make phone calls! She can’t accept reality! He won’t clean his own pee from the toilet he’s lucky to even have! They don’t respect your home, your rules, or YOU.

I do feel sorry for the daughters. They’re not responsible for their family’s chaos. I could maaaaaaybe see myself offering to become a temporary guardian of them so they could stay and find some stability (if said guardianship also included some really firm understanding that they WILL follow and respect your rules and curfews, etc).

But MIL, jerkwad boyfriend, and all the pets need to go. Like, yesterday.

They ARE responsible for their own chaos, or are at least responsible for dealing with the chaos that results after things like back injuries or lost jobs or lost homes. And you are running a real risk here of absorbing that chaos into your own family. Your children have lost their rooms and routine and privacy, and you’re now putting them in danger of losing their entire HOME, if your landlord finds out. (And I’m guessing Mr. Pee On the Floor And  Treat The Person Who Is Saving His Family From Homelessness Like A Slave isn’t setting the best example for your kids.) Your own financial situation is deteriorating because you’re trying to feed and provide for a family of eight (plus a million pets) and they just. Don’t. Care.

Let me be the neutral third party here, or your pretend friend who is listening to you talk while we’re getting coffee: GURL. THIS IS NUTS. GET THEM OUT.

Nothing you describe here is “minor” or “not really a big deal.” They are holding you hostage — emotionally, financially, even a bit physically — and you guys are going Stockholm Syndrome on them because family. Yes, family takes care of each other and looks out for each other and you have MET that criteria ten fold here, by finding them places to live and doing all the number crunching and legwork that your MIL can’t do. (Or just won’t.) But they reject everything because they like where they are now: Zero rent or expenses or any real expectation that they sack up, grow up, get a reality check and take responsibility for their own family and mess of a situation.

At some point a line has been crossed here. You’re no longer helping them. You’re enabling them. The rejection of perfect rentals YOU found for reasons that fly in the face of their reality was the last straw.  Your MIL clearly has no intention of making any effort to leave your house and doesn’t give a crap that they might get you ALL evicted. That’s just not her problem. That’s yours, in her mind. (I’m guessing nothing is her problem, or her fault.) They probably assume that if you do get kicked out, they’ll just follow you to whatever place you end up next. They’ve abdicated responsibility to you. You’re the grown-up now, who buys the food and makes the phone calls and cleans up the pee on the floor.

Gurl. That is nuts. Get them out.

It’s not uncommon after something as financially and emotionally devastating as a foreclosure for people to kind of shut down. Or lose perspective on their new reality and what their next step should be. (Remember the parents who were expecting their daughter to co-sign a risky new mortgage for them because renting was beneath them or something?) It’s also perfectly natural that you and your husband would want to help in any way you could.

But this ISN’T helping them. Nothing about this situation is helpful or even remotely okay anymore. Of COURSE your anxiety is through the roof. Just reading your letter made me want to pop a Xanax. Put your foot down. Where they end up next is NO LONGER YOUR PROBLEM, because they are GROWN-UPS. Maybe compromise and have the girls stay until their parents settle somewhere, although only if you can accept that might never happen and they’ll be with you until graduation. (As minors they should be able to get more help from the state, though.)

Give MIL and Jerkwad a date. If your husband won’t, tell him you will, and also that you will see him in couple’s therapy, because you guys need to work on your priorities. Namely, the well-being and security of your young children. Who, like the teen girls, are not responsible for and did not invite all this chaos into their lives. But you guys did invite it in, even though you obviously had good intentions. But it’s time to give the chaos an eviction notice…preferably before your landlord hands YOU one.

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