Dear Prudence chats live with readers at Washingtonpost.com.

Advice on manners and morals.
May 10 2010 2:44 PM

The Dreadful Day Care

Prudie counsels a student who has witnessed unacceptable behavior at her new job—and other advice-seekers.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. An edited transcript of this week's chat is below. (Read Prudie's Slate columns here.)

Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. Maybe there'll be some questions about what to do when a friend is nominated to the Supreme Court.

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New York, N.Y.: I'm a college student, and to make a little extra money, I've started working part time at a day-care center. Since starting to work there two weeks ago, I've noticed a lot of things wrong with this place. First of all, I know how difficult and stressful 2-to-4-year-old kids can be—I'm the oldest child in my family, and I have a lot of younger cousins. I know that the "terrible twos" can actually last a year or two longer than the name implies. The thing is, the other staff members go way too far in my opinion when they "discipline" the kids. They curse at them, they slap them, and they spray water at them from a water bottle. Even my boss, the owner of the day care, does these things. I feel that because of the way the staff treats these children, the children act out even more, such as biting, kicking, and hitting each other. I think that these kids believe that it's OK to do these things because they're done to them by the so-called caregivers. Also, when prospective parents visit the day care, the staff puts on a little "show"—they put on songs, tell stories, and show off art projects that the kids have done. But once the parents are gone, all these things go away. I was hired to help out in the afternoon during snack time, story time, and play/activity time. Snack time consists of sugary drinks and things like Twinkies, cookies, and other foods that are all-sugar and no-nutrients. I don't think I've ever seen any fruit in the day care's kitchen. Story time consists of the same two or three books being read for an hour and a half every day, and I haven't seen any other books. And those art projects that the children do? It's actually the staff who do them. I was even told to strategically place things like stickers and scribble on the projects the way a small child might. The children hardly ever have a crayon in their hands. I wanted to quit by the second day, but I made a commitment to work there until mid-June. I really want to do something to help these kids, but I don't know what.

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Emily Yoffe: From what you describe, severe discipline is in order: The abusive director of the day-care center and her minions should be reported to the authorities and have the book thrown at them. Keep a detailed log of what you see for another week or so with names, dates, instances of violence against the kids, verbal abuse, staff-created "art" projects, etc. Then take this to the government agency that licenses day care centers. You could also take your information to the local newspaper, which in this case may be the New York Times. This place is an outrage and needs to be exposed and shut down.

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Washington, D.C.: I have recently tried dating through a popular online dating service. I've been on dates with a few women and realize that no matter how I'm meeting potential mates, finding "the one" may take time, patience, and some trial and error. My problem is that I have been turned off by my last few dates because they have all lied about themselves in some way (online) that was not revealed until we met on our date(s). For example, I've had first-date confessions about being several years older than what they had posted and others whose photos, weight, etc., were completely unlike their actual appearance. I don't consider myself to be shallow and realize that everyone ages, that looks fade, and weight can fluctuate. After all, I have flaws, too. I feel that it would be very superficial (as well as a potential missed opportunity) to reject someone because of age or weight, but I also can't seem to get past being lied to from the onset. Is this wrong?

Emily Yoffe: What goes through the mind of a 40-year-old when she posts a picture of herself 10 years younger and 20 pounds lighter? Maybe she plans to carry around one of those cardboard cutouts of her more alluring self on the date. If someone seriously misrepresents who she is in order to get a date, then that is something to factor in at the end of the date. It's a seriously self-defeating strategy, and I don't blame you for making a negative judgment about someone who lies about the basics.

Everywhere, USA: My older siblings financially support and care for my sick elderly parent. My parent is admittedly happy as they do not want to live out their days in a nursing home. I live five hours away and get home only two or three times a year and do not earn enough of an income to help. While I appreciate my siblings' efforts, I disagree with the diet my parent is fed, which is not healthy and caters to my parent's every wish and whim. I also think that a nursing home is better equipped to care for my parent. This has created a divide in our once-close family. What can I do to narrow this divide?

Emily Yoffe: You can pitch in or shut up. If you're a five-hour car ride away, you can come on long weekends and prepare the kind of healthy food you think your parent should be eating. Since you contribute nothing financially and rarely visit, and the other siblings have taken on the burden of caring for your ailing parent, and making him or her happy—as you acknowledge—be grateful they have relieved you of this burden. Stop complaining, start acknowledging the sacrifices your siblings are making, and do more so that when it's all over, your siblings don't forever resent you.

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Ugh: I had just psyched myself up to begin a job search that would end my time as a SAHM. After reading New York, N.Y.'s post, I'm not so sure I need a job anymore.

Emily Yoffe: I did a "Human Guinea Pig" column at a lovely, caring day-care center, and my teenage daughter volunteers at one that's also wonderful. They're out there, Mom—don't be afraid to do an unannounced drop-by to get a sense of the place.

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St. Petersburg, Fla.: After moving across state suddenly in my junior year of high school, I dropped out and got my GED. Now, four years later, I am attending community college and plan to go on to get my doctorate. I have just been accepted to a nonprofit internship across the country with another student, and I am worried. She is from the Ivy League, three years younger than me, and went to a private prep school. I may have to share a room with this girl for over three months. I feel intimidated by her education and worry she may look down on my scholarly past and nontraditional age for a freshmen student. However, I have over two years of practical experience in the field and specific job of our internship, am well read, and have always worked to improve my mind. I don't want to come off as undereducated or overqualified. How can I start off on the right foot with her this summer?

Emily Yoffe: It sounds as if this internship was very competitive and you two were chosen because you bring the drive, intelligence, and dedication the directors were looking for. So agree with their assessment that you are highly qualified! Your Ivy League roommate may not be the snob you are expecting. She could be intimidated by your superior life experience and your ability to make your own way in the world. If you are confident and open-minded, instead of defensive and insecure, she'll surely be grateful she has gotten such an interesting, experienced roommate. You also don't know what struggles she's had to deal with in her life. Maybe her parents are divorced. Maybe she has a disabled sibling. Don't let a résumé dictate your assumptions about the entirety of who someone else really is, or even who you are.

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