Kristen Bell Answers Readers' Parenting Questions
Our November guest editor takes on readers' toughest dilemmas!
Question: My longtime friend and I have children who are about the same age, but they just don’t get along. Every time my girlfriend brings up getting together, she wants to do something with the kids—and my daughter says she doesn’t want to go. Do I tell my friend that my daughter doesn’t want to hang with her kid—and, if so, how? I’d rather just do a moms’ night out with my girlfriend and leave the kids out of it.
Answer: Telling your friend your kid doesn’t like hers is a one-way ticket to Hurt Feelings-Ville. Instead, I’d plan to see your friend when your daughter has other activities. Your instinct to have more solo time with your friend is great! I bet if you tell her you want to see her when you’re not in parent mode (to hang out and really connect), she’ll be happy to do so.
Q: My 6-year-old loves to dance, even though she doesn’t have the body of a dancer (she’s chubby). The other day, her instructor commented that she needs to “shape up” if she really wants to keep dancing. I was appalled and didn’t know how to respond. Now I’m not sure what to say to my child. Dancing is good for her confidence, and pointing to her weight will crush her. What should I do?
A: I would absolutely make an appointment to speak directly, and at length, with the instructor. Don’t end the conversation until you feel reassured that when you leave your daughter at dance class under the instructor’s guidance she’ll be in a healthy environment. Take deep breaths and speak calmly (even though you might want to use your “outside voice” because you’re defending the most important girl in the world!). Let the instructor know you are not under the impression that your daughter will be a professional dancer and that’s not why she’s in the class. Dancing is good for her self-esteem and you would appreciate it if more consideration were given when she’s making comments that might affect your child. Explain that you would simply like your daughter to have fun while practicing and not feel the pressure of trying to fit into the mold of a professional dancer. Ask that your child be encouraged to work hard and improve without making remarks about her weight, shape, or size. I would focus not only on just shielding your girl from possible criticism but reaffirming to her that she’s perfect just the way she is. She’s clearly active, and if you feel confident she has a healthy diet then it doesn’t matter what shape she is.
Fatigued by Food Talk
Q: My boyfriend and I are vegetarians, and we’re raising our kids as vegetarians too. We have family and friends who have a hard time accepting this and ask us if we feel guilty about not letting our kids eat meat. We don’t! I wish this didn’t have to be a debate at every meal with people we otherwise love. What can I say to (politely) shut down the conversation?
A: I hear you. I’ve been a vegetarian for 24 years, and I’ve found that it’s usually the meat eater who wants to discuss (and often guilt-trip) the vegetarian—not the other way around. Your friends are probably coming from a place of genuine concern for your children and don’t intend to be critical. But you are the only ones who know if you truly are giving your kids a balanced diet with all the vitamins and minerals they need, and if you’re confident about that then nothing else matters. You used the word debate in your question, so make it clear that there is no debating your choice. Try to calm their concerns by saying, “You know, we pay a lot of attention to diet and we make sure our kids receive all the nutrients their growing bodies need. But in truth, it’s not much fun for us to constantly defend our choices. We believe everyone has the right to raise their kids the way they deem healthiest, and this is what we choose.” Then smile politely to give them a physical cue that this subject is closed and you’re ready to move on to another topic.
Not a Hotel
Q: My husband and I often host our siblings and their spouses and children for weekend visits. We love to see them, but they are such terrible houseguests (they never contribute to grocery purchases, they literally leave trash around the house, and they drop their wet towels in heaps on the floor). What to do?
A: Not only is your house “Not a Hotel,” it’s also not a garbage dump! I know it might be tough to be honest, but setting boundaries makes for healthier relationships. It allows both parties to fully respect one another. Since you do enjoy their company, the next time you invite them try phrasing the invitation like this: “We’d love to have you over this weekend. Would you mind bringing some groceries when you come?” And don’t stop there—ask in the moment too: “Hey, can you pick up those towels while I load the dishwasher?” The key is to make the request in the present and not bring up a resentment that’s been building for months or years. And since you haven’t ever brought it up, it wouldn’t be fair to them to even allude to the fact that you have been harboring this—I’m sure they would be mortified. If they don’t change their ways after your efforts during this visit, however, chances are they never will. You’ll need to decide if the inconvenience is worth seeing them. You can either keep inviting them to stay in your home knowing full well that, even though they are fun, they’ll be messy and won’t contribute, or decide that it just isn’t worth the hassle.
Fight or Fold?
Q: My husband is obsessed with playing this war game on his phone. It drives me nuts and it’s a bad influence on our two boys, but he thinks I’m overreacting. How can I get him to stop?
A: Fight—but wisely. Don’t say, “I don’t like it when you play that game. Why can’t you stop?” Instead, say, “I get nervous about the violent nature of that game, and it scares me that our sons might gravitate toward violent entertainment. Desensitizing violence, especially for young kids, is a knot we can’t undo, and that makes me nervous.” Ask him if he would be willing to not play in front of the kids. That way he can still get his kicks from the game on his own time. —KB