Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I are parents to an amazing 20-month-old boy. Before I became pregnant with him, my husband and I would frequently have some drinks with dinner, drinks on the weekend, et cetera. We also work at the same place, which has instituted a weekly gathering of co-workers at a local bar for drinks after work. My husband always goes and ends up getting sloshed. I stay home with our baby and always cherish this alone time with him that I rarely get since my maternity leave. I love our quiet nights together.
My husband, though, insists that I need to get out more and come to these gatherings. I do not want to drink anymore and find the idea of getting drunk with my co-workers unappealing. Bath time and cuddles are my excitement now, but my husband thinks I’m depressed. He thinks I am shutting myself in with our baby and it is not healthy. I honestly have never been happier since becoming a mother. It is hard, but my life has become complete. I am honestly at wit’s end here trying to make my point and I’m worried that we are going to have a fight over this eventually. I know people insist new mothers get out and let loose, but the very thought of this has me digging in my heels at home and sets off waves of anxiety. Am I wrong?
—I Want to Stay at Home
You are not wrong. No one can tell you that you need to go out and drink if you don’t want to go out and drink. You say that being a new mom, while difficult, makes you feel joyous. There is no need to second-guess this. You are fine.
I find it interesting that your husband is so pushy about you going out drinking with him and your co-workers. I’d speculate that this is not unrelated to the fact that he always ends up getting sloshed. Some of us, when drinking, become quite fixated on making sure the people around us match us shot for shot. It helps mitigate our own shame about it, and in some extreme cases may be a way to stave off the dark terror that we are actually losing, or have lost, control on how much we drink. I am in no way qualified to say definitively if this is the case for your husband. If his insistence is so great that he would be willing to fight with you over it, you should bear that in mind. There are other possibilities too. Perhaps his fear about depression is related to a feeling that he couldn’t rise to the test of helping you through it; perhaps he simply doesn’t know another way to be supportive, so he’s putting all of his force into the life-or-death struggle to get you to go drinking. No matter the cause, unless you are exhibiting other clear signs of depression—difficulty getting out of bed, mood swings, extreme isolation, for example—it is not appropriate for him to hang his assessment of your mental health on whether or not you go to a bar.
And yet: It sounds like his insistence is causing you to dig in your heels with perhaps greater force than you truly feel. It sucks to be painted into a corner where you are reacting rather than living your entire truth. The tactical solution for this is straightforward: Go out for a drink. This will keep him from being able to leverage the “you never go out” card. And if he remains unsatisfied after that, it may allow both of you to gain deeper insight into what’s really driving his persistence.
But something else may happen. It may be fun. Certainly not as fun as a warm clean baby, freshly washed and cooing at you from behind a mountain of towels, but maybe just fun enough for you to consider doing it again, a few months down the road. And if you don’t have a good time? Well it’s just one night of babysitting, and you’ve still helped to ease this nagging issue.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband of one year has a son who is 6—let’s call him James. Recently we were visiting with James’ grandfather, my husband’s father. We were playing a table game, which James happened to lose. He got angry, went to another room, and slammed the door shut. At about the same time, his grandfather was getting ready to leave, so we called to James to come and say goodbye to his grandfather. James ignored us and kept sulking behind the shut door.
My husband’s father went into the room, said goodbye, and gave James $20. James was happy then, the loss forgotten. I didn’t say anything at the time, but this situation made me uncomfortable. I feel we should teach James respect and politeness to other people, not give him the impression that people are to be valued based on what he can get from them. Also, he is probably already old enough to learn to lose games graciously. On the other hand, expressing one’s emotions is a good thing too, which wasn’t easy for me as a child. Asserting oneself and not being afraid of confrontation serves one well in life. What are your thoughts on how to balance raising a respectful, self-confident, and free child?
—Strict or Mellow?
There is a difference between asserting oneself and throwing a tantrum, and James is at the age where he should be learning that difference. It’s unfortunate that he was upset about losing and sulked as a result. But he is a child, so it makes perfect sense that he was behaving childishly. He should be forgiven for it. After all, children, in their infinite wisdom, give us many, many opportunities to teach acceptable behavior. And even if we don’t get to make them do what we want in the moment—my favorite parenting advice ever came from our midwife, who simply said, “They’re not robots”—we do have to seize as many of these opportunities as we can to build both long-term habits and long-term values.
The parenting challenge with James wasn’t that he was upset about losing. The parenting challenge was that he expressed his upset by demonstrating it rather than communicating it. You can counsel him that it’s OK to feel upset. It’s natural. When we have feelings like that, we can say them. What we can’t do is be mean or impolite to the people who love us. Sometimes we feel like doing that, but there is frequently a better way.
This is how you raise a respectful child. And also, by the way, how you raise a free one. By acknowledging that the feelings are OK, understandable, and even appropriate, you avoid seeding the self-doubt that troubles the adult versions of us the most. They say our inner voice as adults is that of our parents, so let his inner voice be one that says, “It’s OK that you feel this way, but it is not OK to treat others this way based on that feeling.”
Shout out to grandpa, by the way, for teaching James about the economy of personal feelings so early. Perhaps the child, now knowing he can trade his anger for cash, has a future as an essayist. The good news is that I can guarantee that James will act out again. Next time, Gramps and his deep pockets won’t be in the room, which will provide an excellent opportunity for all of you to do better.
More Care and Feeding
Dear Care and Feeding,
During my unhappy first marriage, I had a brief fling and got pregnant. Everyone assumed my husband was the father of that little boy—including my husband. When my son was a teenager, my husband and I divorced. My son has always had a great relationship with my ex-husband, and he and I are friendly now.
Recently my ex-husband and my son (who is 40) decided to try a genetic testing service. I understand the benefits of my son knowing his medical history, but I’m positive that my ex-husband is not my son’s father, and having the truth coming out now almost seems like more of a betrayal of my ex-husband than having the baby in the first place. I’m willing to admit to my son that I made a really bad decision and take the consequences. Should I confess to my son now and ask him to not share the test results with my ex-husband, or should I just wait and see what happens?
—Who’s the Father?
You should do neither.
While it is tempting to ask your son to keep the secret so you can be spared the harsher consequences, it is not appropriate. It is your secret, not his, and making him responsible for it is wildly unfair. You have been able to avoid the consequences thus far, and that’s good for you, but as it happens now your time is up.
I feel for you. It is a terrible situation and I’m sorry for all parties involved.
But you can no longer navigate this by deception and subterfuge. You must out with it. You must tell them both before the test results arrive. What other options do you have? You’re going to turn off your ringer for the next five years? Fly a SpaceX rocket to the moon? The jig is all the way up, friend. Your son has a right to know, and there is no ethical way you can tell one person and not the other. They must not find out from some pretty data visualization on an app. They must find out from you.
And very likely it will, as you fear, rock the world of your ex-husband. It may make him view you differently, your marriage differently, and possibly himself differently. But I imagine it won’t make him view his son differently. It’s been 40 years, and his investment in fatherhood has long passed the stage where its driving force is biology. He loves your son. Your son loves him. They are father and son, no matter what the DNA says. The person most at risk here is you. And while that is terrifying, you must recognize that in the end it will be better to be free of this secret you’ve carried for so many years.
One more thing
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