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Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a 2-year-old son who recently developed a problem going to sleep in his own bed. One night, after our bedtime routine of reading stories, his dad and I were saying good night and his dad added the “don’t let the bedbugs bite!” saying. Immediately, a look of horror crossed my son’s face and he sat up and pointed at the bed asking “Bite? Bite?” over and over.

Obviously, we tried to reassure him and tell him nothing was going to bite him. But ever since then he refuses to lay down in his bed and go to sleep. I usually have to hold him until he falls asleep in my arms and then lay him down. At this point I’m not sure if he’s just using the situation to not go to sleep on his own or what. For what it’s worth, he does seem really scared of the bed, so I have a hard time forcing him to lay in his bed. What can we do?

— There Are No Bedbugs

Dear TANB,

It’s surprising to me this doesn’t happen more often, considering how excruciatingly literal children are at this age. Look, you’ve told him there aren’t any bedbugs, and that nothing is going to bite him. If I were you, I would offer to put the mattress or a sleeping bag on the floor (reiterating that there is nothing wrong with the bed) and see if he goes for it. If it’s genuinely a concern about the bed, because of the BITE DANGER, then he should be fine with the mattress, as children are uninformed about where bedbugs actually conceal their hideous little bodies and lay their vile eggs. If he’s just trying to get you to hold him until he goes to sleep, you’ll find that out pretty quickly.

It’s perfectly common for a 2-year-old to want to be held until they fall asleep, and if that’s the case, you can work on fading it like you would any other transitional soothing activity. But the fact he seems unwilling to be held in your arms while lying down ON the bed (I hope for the sake of your back and arms that you are holding him in a rocking chair and not just grimly standing there begging for him to fall asleep while maintaining him in a football carry) makes me think it’s actually a fear issue. He won’t be sleeping on the floor forever, and, honestly, it doesn’t matter. Just keep reiterating there are no bedbugs and wait it out.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am in my late thirties and fairly confident that I will never have children. This is by choice, but a choice narrowed by circumstance. Some circumstances are out of my control. Many are due to my own bad choices, which I deeply and painfully regret. It is hard even to type that sentence. I live with a lot of regret.

My nephew is 2. He is a wonderful boy, and I know that my brother wants me to be more involved. But sometimes when I am with them, or even just looking at photos, I am filled with so much sadness that I cannot bear it. But then I think about what I am missing in this little boy’s life, and he is missing by having only a distant aunt. (We have no other siblings, and his partner is an only child). And then I am unbearably sad again, in a different way.

What can I do? How do people live with this feeling? I am squandering the greatest blessings that I have, because I can’t stop agonizing over the ones I don’t. Please help me. It’s so painful. It’s also still a private thing that I‘m not ready to talk about with family.

— Distant Aunt

Dear DA,

I’m so sorry. You are in a very difficult place, and it seems as though you are in pain from this situation on an almost-constant basis. This is something for which I feel strongly that you need to be in active therapy in the hands of a professional, if at all possible. There are things we cannot imagine saying to people in our lives that can be much easier to say to someone who is trained to handle large emotions and help people work through them.

I can’t make you any promises, but I also think that it would be hard for things to get much worse, that keeping all this inside has not helped, and that it’s worth giving phone or video therapy a try. There are sliding scale options, and your current situation is not sustainable.
In the meantime, there are many children who do not have aunts or uncles, and if you are in aching, aching pain when you spend time with your nephew, I doubt it is doing either of you any favors to try to ignore that because you feel having a nephew should be “a great blessing.” I certainly hope he can one day be an actual blessing in your life, but right now he’s not, because you are in active crisis. It’s that crisis that has to be addressed. It’s unworkable until you are working at it.

You have all my sympathies, and I hope your life becomes easier to manage. Please keep me posted.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a divorced single mom of two boys in elementary school. I have been dating a wonderful man for three years. He is everything I want in a partner. He is great with my kids. I would love to marry him. This is something I find myself wanting for my and my kids’ future, to have a man to share our daily lives with.

The problem is, he has two young adult sons, who live at home with him, and want nothing to do with me and my kids. They don’t have jobs, and so the prospect of them moving on with their lives and out of his house anytime soon is unlikely. They are rude and demanding of their father. When he is with us, our time is often cut short by them asking him to bring something home to them.

He is not very strict with them, because he is exceptionally gentle and kind, and feels badly that their mother does not spend much time with them. I see my boyfriend about twice a week, which after three years of dating does not feel like enough. We used to talk about moving in together, but we have both realized this would not be a comfortable situation. I am torn between staying with him and making the most of what we have, because I love him deeply and he is truly a great man, or moving on because I don’t want to spend most of my time alone, as I am doing now, and hope to find another man that is more available to me and my kids.

— Torn Single Mom

Dear TSM,

I think you need to sit down with your very gentle and kind boyfriend and ask him if he has a plan or a timeline for his adult sons moving on to the next phase of their lives and out of his home. Is that a goal for him? Is it something he theoretically wants, like world peace, but feels no personal urgency to achieve? Something he concretely wishes but is on hold at the moment because of the circumstances in which we are currently living? If they packed up and left tomorrow of their own volition to join the French Foreign Legion, would he then want you and your sons to live with him? Does he see himself getting married? Does he want to be a father figure to your children?

All of these questions matter more to me than whether or not the adult sons in question are annoying or disinterested in your kids. He seems either content in his current situation (which is fine, it’s his life) or insufficiently dis-contented to change it. If you’ve been avoiding pressing him or telling him what you want, do him the favor of being clear: You want to see more of him, you want to build a real life together.

I think it’s probably time to move on, but I think that getting some answers to the above questions will spare you a lot of agonizing. Gather the information. Be ready to move forward. That doesn’t mean you’ll magically find someone who wants to be part of your family in all the ways you want, but living in this sort of part-time stasis is not making you happy either.

I wish you all the best, regardless of the outcome.

— Nicole

More Advice From Slate

I was a bridezilla, and I’m sorry about it. I laughed at those women who wanted the “perfect fairy tale wedding” that was all about them. And then I got engaged and became one of them. I spent hours poring over bridal magazines, dragging friends to bridal shops, and telling them they were ignorant or worse when they disagreed with me over silly things like the exact shade of ivory I needed for napkins. I drove my maid of honor to tears with my constant demands and emails. I made my fiancé drop his brother as best man when I heard him tell my fiancé to end our relationship because I was crazy. I was crazy. I was wrong. But I don’t know what to do. My husband’s relationship with his brother is strained because of my behavior. And our marriage is not the greatest. I own it all. I did this terrible stuff. But how do I fix it?

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