Bullish Q&A: Gentlewomanly Living with a Toddler

Gentlewomanly (1)


Hi, I would love to hear Jen’s thoughts on Gentlewomanly Living with a Kid. I used to have a pretty elegant lifestyle, but now I have a toddler, which means less time/energy, so many ugly plastic things in a my house, and spending a lot of time with someone who throws her food and likes to wipe her snot and drool on my clothes. If Jen has any tips on preserving some shreds of panache under such circumstances, I’d be very interested to know them.


WHY YES I DO HAVE MANY SUCH SUGGESTIONS. All of which require a great big privilege check, naturally.

So, if you’ve got a good income, a feminist partner (without these things my comments will just be useless and annoying, I’m sorry!) and a need for a little panache…

Dry cleaning costs the same no matter how much snot and drool is on your clothes. You don’t have to dress badly. Wear your nice clothes if you want. My baby once threw up all over my best dress – a long sleeved wool Catherine Malandrino with pockets (so hard to find!) I took care of the baby, removed the dress, wiped the dress with a towel, and took it to the dry cleaner. They didn’t bat an eye. They see everything. $8 later, the dress was fine.

I’ll totally grant that I have no experience with multiple children or children with special needs. All true. But it sounds like you and I are in the same boat exactly. My daughter is almost 2. Can we have nice things? I think we can. My daughter does not like when I tell her to go play by herself while I try to have nice things. But she has a strong interest in watching me put on mascara, make macchiatos, and arrange a cheese plate. These things are weird and new and interesting, and fit perfectly well into my toddler’s world: she has her toys, and I have mine. She knows which buttons to press on the espresso machine.

Eye makeup takes forever, but lipstick only takes a minute. My go-to is red lipstick with what I might describe as a “ghostly upper face.” It works for me.

Get some storage ottomans. Like this. Target has a bunch. They’re pretty and they double as seating (or end tables). Just put all the toys and plastic shit into the ottomans. Train the kid to do it. Don’t make it harder than it has to be, like these toys go over here and these ones go over there. Just hide it all in something covered in leather or velvet and pour yourself a fucking cocktail. Train your child to put their things away before bed. Kids like throwing shit into containers, especially if it provides a means of delaying bedtime by a few minutes.


For dignity’s sake, I have a rule that if I’m doing something for a kid, the kid is going to have to help, watch, or wait – she can’t move on, play, and start demanding new things. Specifically, when the baby wants out of the high chair, her tray is generally by that point covered in a mess of food, including messy dishes that are suction-cupped to the tray. I don’t just let her out of her high chair to run around and play while I’m still cleaning up. I remove the tray, and she sits and watches while I clean up her mess. Then, when her tray is clean, I undo the buckle and let her shimmy down.

It is not dignified to clean up someone’s mess while they are making new messes.

I have been greatly assisted in such matters by the teachers at my daughter’s daycare. One day I was cooking some noodles and my daughter held out her hand towards the stove in a sort of traffic-stopping gesture and said “HAVE TO WAIT.” I hadn’t taught her that. It was a calm (and correct) observation. How wonderful.

Apparently, it’s good not to say “no” too often to your children. That seems right. But saying “yes” doesn’t mean saying yes at this very moment, when you’re still wearing a messy shirt, or eating lunch. My baby now knows the words “first” and “second,” and possibly “third.” Yes, I will say. Yes to the thing! Eat first. Your thing, second. It is easy to say this kindly. Much better than saying yes right now in an annoyed and resentful way. A martyr complex benefits no one.

It’s also fine to tell a toddler that adults and children like different things. I remember my mom explaining to me in a store that I couldn’t get my dad a Barbie doll for his birthday because you’re supposed to get people things that they like. I cried. It shook my world. Good lesson, though (like maybe for any dude who got you stupid lingerie for your birthday instead of sweatpants and tacos and vodka).

Gentlewomanly living with a toddler by Jennifer Dziura

It is only in the past couple of decades that anyone has thought it was a parent’s responsibility to get on the floor and play games as though you, yourself, are a giant baby. Sure, everyone does this for a little while, and if you enjoy doing it for longer, great. But my daughter is plenty old enough to understand that babies like baby things, and adults like adult things. Like dignity.

If there’s one common thread that runs through all of Bullish – career advice, romantic advice, life advice – it’s not taking bullshit from anyone. Sometimes that means having a snappy comeback to a street harasser or a diplomatic way of dealing with a sexist boss. But sometimes bullshit just arises as if from thin air – from the patriarchal society we all live in, or from the natural friction of too many humans in too little space, or from the simple fact that humans are born screaming and selfish and that’s not their fault, but it’s the job of parents to socialize them.

I think raising a small person to respect your own dignity will probably help to create an adult who respects the dignity of others.

Also of interest:

A Practical Wedding: How I Balance a Career, Marriage, and Parenthood

DailyWorth: How to Parent Equally When You Both Work Full-Time

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