Care and Feeding

I Think Both of Us Should Get Up With the Baby. My Husband Thinks I’m Crazy.

Who’s right?

A mother holds a baby while a father sleeps.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I are expecting our first child this summer, and we’re stuck on one specific debate. We can’t decide on an appropriate schedule for who should get up in the middle of the night with the newborn! My husband is firmly in the camp of splitting things 50/50—either trading off who gets up or planning that he takes the early mornings while I get up in the late night (he’s an early riser, and I’m a night owl).

This sounded pretty reasonable to me at first, but I can’t help but worry that I’m going to end up taking on the lion’s share here either way. While I don’t have a ton of pride wrapped up in its success, I would like to try breastfeeding, which makes me think that I’ll likely be getting up with the baby pretty much every time regardless. I’m also a light sleeper, so I can’t imagine that I’ll be sleeping through a crying baby. As a result, I proposed that we both get up every time. We’ll be getting used to a huge change in those early weeks, and it’ll be nice to have an extra pair of hands. When I bring it up, my husband looks at me like I have three heads! He thinks that we’ll both end up sleep-deprived and miserable; he also doesn’t get much paternity leave, so he’ll be working through most of this period.

I know we’re both just trying to plan for what is ultimately a hypothetical, but still! We’re at an impasse. Am I being unreasonable? Is this even a problem? I worry that some new parent nerves might be getting played out in a weird way here, so I’d love to hear your take.

—Who Gets Up?

Dear Who Gets Up?

You do not have three heads, but your husband is correct that planning on both of you getting up every time is a terrible idea.

Look, you are not going to know anything about how this is going to go down until it happens. There’s no real planning for this. Alternating nights, alternating shifts on the same night … it’ll evolve out of actual experience. Your husband’s observation that you are a night owl and he is an early riser and scheduling shifts accordingly is a good starting point.

Please field-test some good noise-canceling headphones and/or earplugs so that the not-on-duty parent can actually sleep, and know that it’s going to be bad and then it will get better. Mostly, just give up on the idea that this is a controllable scenario to be plotted in advance.

Congratulations on your first baby! It’s going to be a blur when you look back but punctuated by some very beautiful moments.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have been struggling with how to maintain safe and appropriate get-togethers between our 11-year-old son, Karl, and one of his school friends, Marx. They have been in school together for many years and were both high-energy kids who needed classroom support when they were younger, so we have been familiar with Marx since early elementary. They have recently resumed their friendship and enjoy a lot of age-appropriate activities together. Unfortunately, we have been encountering accumulating reasons for making us want to place restrictions on their time together. Our sense is that Marx is not an alarmingly troubled kid, but his behavior is more risky, sexualized, unstructured, and otherwise inappropriate than we’re comfortable with. This past fall, Karl was at Marx’s house for several play dates, and we’ve observed a lack of supervision from his grandparents (his guardians, who are lovely, but maybe too old to handle his energy). Karl and other friends have reported Marx leading behaviors such as porch theft, shooting Nerfs at cars, and unrestricted screens. One of the times when I collected Karl, there were no adults home as the grandfather had left to pick up pizza and another friend.

Since then, we have not allowed Karl over to Marx’s house but have had Marx over to ours periodically. Most of the time, our son is able to understand that Marx does not always use good judgment and has sometimes spoken up to him about risky or inappropriate activities. But he is pushing back on our restrictions, and Marx or his grandfather call frequently to invite him over. I’ve tried to use a “Sorry, Karl isn’t available, maybe another time,” or “Why doesn’t Marx come here, instead,” but I don’t like lying, and sometimes the only reason Karl can’t go over is because we won’t let him go over.

Is it unfair that we’re not being direct with the grandfather about why Karl can’t go over? How many things should be accepted or overlooked? In addition to what I’ve described, Marx has recently said racist things without being willing to apologize when called out and threatened destruction to various things when he’s had disagreements with others. Finally, years ago, when our younger son was 5, he was at a day camp with Marx, and we received a call that Marx had led him into some disturbing activities that included mouth-to-genital contact (now we have a DCF file). We haven’t talked about that in years, but at the time, we were very careful to avoid anything that would make our young son feel shamed by what happened, and his sense of it was that it was a joke.

I’m sure there’s no easy, clear answer. This kid is unlucky, and given how challenging Karl can be, we’re sympathetic to not wanting others to be isolated or excluded. But is it our responsibility to coach someone else’s parenting to fit our needs? Do we just continue to avoid calls and evade encounters and redirect invitations? It’s honestly a regular source of stress dealing with invitations. Should I be able to forget the encounter with my younger son because everyone makes mistakes and it was a long time ago?

—All Kids Are Challenging, but …

Dear AKACb,

I feel terrible for Marx, but I would not allow this friendship to continue outside of school hours. The minute I got the call about him engaging in oral-genital contact with my younger son, it would have been over. Marx is a troubled kid, and I hope he gets the help he needs. (I’m extremely disturbed that he’s still displaying “sexualized” behavior; I’m concerned about where it’s coming from and would encourage you to sit down and talk to his teacher about your concerns.) But I would absolutely separate my son from him.

There’s so much going on here: destructive behavior, theft, making racist comments, the inappropriate sexual contact (I am referring both to the incident with your younger son and also your mention of “sexualized” behavior, which I wish you had explained more fully). It’s hard to be direct. It’s hard to say, “Karl has been increasingly getting into trouble while hanging out with Marx, and we’re taking a break from it” to his pleasant-seeming grandfather, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

I would not want Marx coming over. I do not think it’s a safe situation for Karl or his younger brother (you can’t be physically supervising them constantly, and the situation is escalating as he pushes back on your restrictions). My action items would be: First, talk to their teacher about your concerns about Marx’s behavior and where it could be coming from. Second, be polite but candid when contacted by Marx’s grandfather: Tell him that you are concerned by Marx’s behavior and suggest that they talk to a professional about what you have observed. Three, tell Karl that he can see Marx at school, but because he doesn’t listen to your house rules, he can’t come over anymore.

This is a harder line than I tend to take, but this is not a goofy 5-year-old who gets your kid into shenanigans. This is a troubled kid on the cusp of puberty displaying very disturbing behavior in an escalating manner. Listen to your gut. Keep me posted.

• If you missed Wednesday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Our daughter is a healthy and happy 4-month-old baby, and she has been developing perfectly well. We decided not to introduce her to the pacifier, but now we wonder if this was a smart choice. She keeps her fingers and her hand almost constantly in her mouth. At this point even when we try to give her a pacifier, she is not interested and prefers to play with her fingers instead.

Both her father and I have been biting our nails our entire lives (yes, this is something I have always struggled with, and the longest I managed without this habit was one month). I am worried she will also start biting her nails—especially if she observes me doing that. Should we continue trying to get her used to a pacifier now? What should we do to make sure she won’t pick up biting her nails as a toddler?

—Pacifier Blues

Dear Pacifier Blues,

It’s always a crapshoot as to whether a baby will actually take to the pacifier (none of my three ever did, and I tried at least three different brands), so there’s no point in regretting the past. It’s also no guarantee that your kids won’t instantly switch to biting their nails when they eventually give up the pacifier, nor that you won’t have a hell of a time weaning them off the pacifier when the time comes.

I strongly suggest you and your husband redouble your efforts to stop biting your own nails while she’s still a very little baby (I say as someone for whom this has been a lifelong struggle), because you really just won’t have any credibility in trying to get her to stop a behavior you’re regularly modeling for her.

Looking down the line to a possible toddler nail biter, there are a variety of chewy, dishwasher-safe toys designed to redirect oral fixators away from their shirt collars and sleeves and fingers. (For kids old enough to be able to safely wear necklaces, I swear by these.) For now, it also may simply be that your daughter is uninterested in sucking and more interested in mouthing, which is a very different sensation. Try clipping chewy things designed for teething onto a pacifier clip, and see if she gets into it.

The bottom line is, she may very well wind up biting her nails, or sucking her fingers, and that may just be how things go. You and your husband have survived this habit without being cast out of polite society, and there’s no reason to think that using a pacifier would prevent this outcome for your child. All you can do is present other alternatives, and try to do your own nail biting on your own time, and not in her presence.


Ask a Teacher

My daughter is in middle school, and her school’s policy is that homework only counts for 5 percent of a student’s final grade. Since my daughter can maintain A’s and B’s without that 5 percent, she doesn’t ever do her homework. I feel that she is being disrespectful to her teachers by not doing it. Sometimes respect for people is more important than good grades. Should I just back off?