Dear Care and Feeding,
I am the mother of 8-month-old twins. First of all, I just want to acknowledge that my twins are very laid-back, happy babies, as well as good sleepers. I know how lucky I am! My husband is as involved as he can be, but he also travels for work three to five nights a week while I am left to care for the kids.
When he is home, I know he is trying to help, but sometimes I really question his parenting techniques. I know he loves our babies, but sometimes when he’s playing with them, I feel he’s a little rougher than he should be—they are only 8 months, after all. I feel like he also doesn’t know how to soothe or calm the babies, or maybe doesn’t care to. When they’re upset, he’ll often just put them in their crib and walk away—which I realize is necessary from time to time for your own sanity. I know he’s trying the best he can and loves our babies. I try to stop myself from criticizing, but sometimes I just can’t help it.
—Trying to Hold Back
You get to correct some things, but you don’t get to correct everything. Partially that’s because no one can be right about everything, and partially it’s because a co-parenting relationship in which one parent is consistently correcting the other one quickly becomes very uncomfortable for everyone.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and hypothesize that “a little rougher than he should be” is probably fine, even if it’s not what you would want. I don’t think you’re seeing the babies in actual danger of harm, because I think you would have said so. Nonetheless, it’s stressing you out. So you can say to him once or twice, “Oh, that stresses me out when you hold them like that,” which is much different from “You hold them wrong.” Similarly, I might suggest that putting the kids in the crib so they can self-soothe is one of those things that certainly parents can disagree on, but both approaches are valid, and neither is especially damaging.
An underlying issue here is that you’re doing the bulk of the parenting labor, and you feel a certain kind of earned ownership over the handling of your kids. And while that feeling is perfectly reasonable, and entirely justified, the problem is that it’s not particularly helpful to your situation. Your husband wants to parent his children. It doesn’t sound as though he’s doing it badly, just differently. So if I were you, I would pick and choose very carefully my spots of correction. And when you do choose a spot, strive to think of it not as you teaching him how to do things the right way, but rather you sharing with him something that you’ve had a chance to figure out because you’ve been home. But try not to press or push. It sounds like you have a great family.
Also, if you haven’t yet seen it, I might recommend the 2010 documentary Babies, which follows the first year of life for four different kids from four parts of the world. It’s a good way of seeing just how many different ways of soothing, holding, playing with, and handling kids can be perfectly fine.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I am in a serious relationship with a wonderful man, and I very much love his extended family, including teenage cousins. I’ve only spent a little time with them, and they both seem like sweet kids. However, the kids’ father has expressed vague concerns to us about the 13-year-old daughter. According to him, she has always been a “socially anxious,” withdrawn, and “mysterious” kid.
As she enters puberty, these traits have intensified, and she doesn’t speak with anyone about her feelings or the changes her body is going through. Pretty normal teenage stuff. Recently, though, he shared that she only wants to wear sweatshirts even in hot weather, she’s self-conscious, she has low self-esteem, and he discovered a significant amount of old food in her backpack yesterday. We had dinner together, and I surreptitiously watched her eat. She served herself a small portion and literally just nibbled around the edges of the food.
I have a Ph.D. in a child psychology area, but it’s not a clinical degree, so I am 100 percent unqualified to make any diagnoses, but I am very concerned about this girl. I’m also afraid of overstepping in sharing those concerns. The totality of what her father has told me and what I have observed leads me to think that, at the very least, she needs caring and professional intervention that her parents are not equipped to provide alone. They both genuinely seem at their wits’ end and have grown what seems to me to be resentful of her attitude. I don’t want to insult anyone by insinuating they’re bad or unobservant parents (they clearly aren’t), and I don’t want to raise an alarm if there isn’t actual cause for concern, but I would feel awful if later on it becomes clear that we all missed an opportunity for an earlier intervention for this girl. What can I do? What should I do?
—A Little Therapy Can’t Hurt
You’re right that a little therapy can’t hurt, and neither can kindly and humbly sharing your observations and concerns. As parents, we often need outside perspective on our kids that we don’t have. Of course, not every parent wants to admit that they need that—parents are people too, and oftentimes people are insecure, which makes them act like assholes—but every parent does need it.
You would do well, I think, to prioritize here. I think your chief aim is to help the girl, not to please the parents. And if you have to take the risk of displeasing the parents in order to help the girl, then I think that’s a risk worth taking. Dad is already aware that something is amiss, so there’s even more of a chance that he’s open to input. None of this is a guarantee that your preferred outcome will be achieved, but that’s OK. You need to be willing to take some flak here.
Don’t diagnose anyone, but instead go to the parents and tell them basically what you’ve told me. That you have been noticing some patterns that to you look like they could be pointing toward bigger problems like disordered eating, and that you feel like you’d be remiss as a family member if you didn’t say something to them. Remind them that you’re coming from a place of trying to help, not judge. And then let it go.
In the meantime, it could be a nice thing for this girl that there is a new member of the family who is paying attention to her. No matter what her parents decide, I hope you don’t lose sight of the simple value of that. Good luck.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My 2-year-old has started cuddling with a particular stuffed animal during naps and at night. The stuffed animal stays in the crib all the time, and my son doesn’t seem to care about it while he is awake. I don’t want to encourage an all-encompassing emotional dependence on this one stuffed animal, but I also want him to have what comforts him and for him to have secure attachments. Would it be wrong to switch it out every few weeks for similar bears in different colors (which we already have) so he isn’t so dependent on this particular one? Should I just take it away altogether before he gets too attached? Should I let him form whatever amount of attachment to this one stuffed animal that he so chooses? My little brother had a blankie that he carried everywhere until he was about 8. It was a big hassle if it was dirty or misplaced or forgotten at home. I’d like to avoid that.
I honestly don’t think your ability to control and manage your kid’s attachment habits has anywhere near the level of granularity that you think it does. If he doesn’t obsess over the toy in the day, and his attachment to said toy doesn’t disrupt your family’s daily routine, then you don’t have a problem—and if I were you, I wouldn’t make one.
Try switching out the toy, not so that you can successfully engineer the correct future proportions of attachment and freedom for your son, but so, as you note, you’re not creating hassles when it needs to be washed or gets lost. But if you try to swap it out and he freaks out, I wouldn’t turn it into a standoff. Just give him his favorite toy and be done with it. Plenty of perfectly happy and successful and healthy adults had absurd attachments when they were kids. It can be a temporary logistical problem for the parents, but you don’t have to treat it like a permanent psychological problem for the child.
Ask a Teacher
My son is 15 years old and in eighth grade. Since about fourth grade, I have struggled to get him to do schoolwork and take it seriously. I’ve tried punishing him for doing poorly in school—loss of electronics, no friends over, etc. None of this is working, and I am at a loss. I always did great in school and college—it was important to me. It is so frustrating to see him do this. I can’t make him care.