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 wife and I named our daughter Nola. We wanted a unique name, like New Orleans, and thought it was pretty. Six months later, my brother has named his new son Nolan, the male version of Nola. We are shocked and hurt that he picked this name without asking us if this was all right. This is his second son; if he’d always loved the name, he could have picked that name for his first son, and we would not have picked Nola. They announced the name at the bris, and everyone kept asking if it was a family name, as we already have a Nola. Are we being overly sensitive, or is it weird to steal our 6-month-old’s name? Can I talk to him about it?
—Worried About Our Good Name
Name stealing is not a thing. It does not matter. Please maintain a dignified silence on the subject until the sweet release of death.
Dear Care and Feeding,
One year ago I obtained custody of my grandchildren, ages 8 and 9. My daughter—their mother—was incarcerated, as was their father.
My husband (their stepgrandfather) wanted them to go to foster care, as he does not like children and does not want to raise kids in his “golden years.” (He has been in their life since they were born and they call him “grandfather.”) We have been married 15 years. When it is just the two of us, he is very kind, loving, and attentive. But now that we have the grandchildren, he is withdrawn and sometimes hateful.
He typically does not talk to the kids except to say, “Time for dinner” or “Time for bed,” and other than taking them to the bus stop, he has no interaction with them. The situation is compounded because I travel two to three days a week for my job. So on those days he has to get them to school and warm the dinners I’ve precooked.
He recently told me he loathed the children. He feels unloved and pushed to the wayside because of them and says now he is pushing me away so I can feel what it’s like. He refuses counseling of any kind because a therapist cannot make him “love or like” children. I love my husband and care about his feelings and well-being, but this is driving a wedge. This is causing him chest pain that could be avoided if I just gave the children to foster care.
Hopefully our situation will be temporary as my daughter is out of jail and trying to get her life together. But he has given me an ultimatum to have them gone in a couple months or he is leaving. When I told him I couldn’t make promises and I had to do what was best for the children, the situation became worse.
Your help and advice is appreciated.
—Do I Have to Choose?
My dear woman, I am so terribly sorry for the current hardships in your life and in the lives of your family. I honestly do not care at all about your husband, regardless of whether warming the dinners you’ve cooked two to three nights per week is in fact causing him chest pain.
Life is full of aggravating moments in which the rubber hits the road and we find ourselves forced to do aggravating things because it is the right thing to do. These are your (and his!) grandchildren. You are not packing them off to foster care. It’s a nonstarter. He can nut up or shut up.
I am the most Marriage Is a Covenant person you will find in the secular-advice game, but I can tell you this: He’s gotta go.
There is nothing wrong with not wanting to have children. It would definitely be a bummer to hear that kids you never wanted to have are moving in. Trying to convince your wife to put the grandkids in foster care instead of buttoning your yap and walking these poor shell-shocked kids to the bus stop? Well, that makes you a bad person. Your marriage was happy because you never had to see how he reacts to doing things he doesn’t want to do.
I hope your daughter gets her life back together. I encourage you to make it extremely clear to your husband that the kids aren’t going anywhere. He can walk, or he can remain and be pleasant. Good grief.
More Care and Feeding:
Dear Care and Feeding,
I have recently found myself pregnant with my first child—hooray! I’ve made my way through two pregnancy books, so I have a reasonable idea of what to expect while I’m expecting, but no idea after that! I’ve spent a lot of time with toddlers and older kids but virtually none with babies! Do you have any suggestions for books to read to prepare for having a newborn? I know that much learning will happen once the baby is here, but I’d love to at least feel like I’m preparing myself and my husband!
—Ready to Read!
Well, your infectious enthusiasm about learning about the first year means you’re already ahead of the game! So many people buy books about pregnancy and assume the newborn stuff will work itself out, while in reality, that’s what you really need a four-year degree in.
The New Father is a great option for your husband. It tracks the first year and is very calm and factual and good. The Baby Owner’s Manual is similarly point-and-click and should soothe everyone. Those are my top two picks. (The Karp book is also popular for a reason.)
I tend not to recommend the Sears books, as they contain a lot of “What? You have a minute to yourself?! GO HOLD YOUR BABY. This lasts such a short time!!” which is the least helpful thing you can possibly hear. On the other end of the spectrum, the Ezzo Baby Wise books are very bad and the overly strict schedules they advocate have been linked by the American Academy of Pediatrics to babies getting dehydrated.
Don’t buy anything that says it can solve the Sleep Problem. No one has solved the Sleep Problem. Once your baby is 4–6 months old, then you can buy a sleep book. Just be prepared to reject several before you find one that works for your baby.
Don’t buy any books that are like “how the French/Germans/Finnish raise babies.” They do not track to the United States and you’ll throw them at the wall crying, “Oh NO, my baby hates chard and leeks, I am a failure.”
The final book I would like you to invest in is a guide to preparing your marriage for having a baby dropped on top of it. A little preparation in advance can yield such dividends once the lack of sleep and physical exhaustion start to build up. I liked And Baby Makes Three and How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids. The first is a bit gender essentialist (hence extremely appropriate for me!), so peruse before buying.
Dear Care and Feeding,
Right after my 17-year-old son started dating his 19-year-old girlfriend, she told him that she has Stage 3 cancer and is undergoing chemo. They have been dating for a few months now and the stories weren’t adding up so I took it upon myself to talk to her parents. Her mother confirmed that she does not have cancer and never has. My son has forgiven her for the lie, but my husband and I are divided on how to handle the situation. My husband wants to force them to break up and I think we should just let it play out. He has three months until graduation, and I’m fearful that if we force them apart he’ll drop out and move in with her. Any advice?
—My Son’s Not-So-Sick Girlfriend
I am happy to be the bearer of good news: You don’t have to do much of anything. Your son is 17 years old, so we’re firmly past the stage of forcing them to break up, which in this case is probably a blessing. The bigger a fuss you make, the likelier this becomes a Romeo and Juliet romance. The number of 17-year-old guys who stay with their high school girlfriends is extremely low, and I can almost certainly guarantee you that this will work itself out in due course.
What you do need to do, if you haven’t already, is have a very firm talk with your son about contraception. This has “you can’t leave me, I’m pregnant” written all over it. He should not be relying on his girlfriend for birth control—he needs to be bagging this up, and you need to be painting a suitably grim picture of his worst-case scenario.
Welcome to the most terrifying period in parenting: watching your kids make terrible decisions that you can’t do anything about. It never really ends, but they do usually get better at decision-making as the years wear on.
Unless they don’t.