Care and Feeding

My Boyfriend Has Declared He Won’t Change Poopy Diapers

Is he … joking, maybe?

A man holds out a baby to a woman.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. This week we introduce our new Thursday columnist, Rumaan Alam. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email careandfeeding@slate.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My boyfriend and I are trying to have kids. The topic of changing poopy diapers came up, and he was adamant that he would not do it. He said that since he mows our lawn, I can change everything that isn’t pee. He was laughing, but I don’t believe he’s joking at all. Can you settle this for us?
—Equal Opportunity Diaper Duty

Dear EODD,

People tell jokes for attention, or because they’re stressed, or to handle an uncomfortable truth. I want to believe that your boyfriend was joking, but I want to understand why.

So, maybe your boyfriend just wants some attention. Maybe he’s anticipating what it will be like when the two of you become three and the smallest member of the family is the star of the show. Similarly, maybe he’s stressed—deciding to have kids is no small thing!—and this little joke is a way of acting out.

Or maybe this is his way of handling the uncomfortable truth, which is what you seem to think: that he seriously believes this is a tenable option for a dad. Obviously, he’s wrong. He cannot possibly argue that a reasonable approach to parenting looks like him mowing the lawn once every two weeks while you change diapers every day.

You should tell him honestly that this joke or assertion or whatever you’d call it is making you upset—that you need to know you’ll be equal partners as parents and that he’ll be present for your child come what may (and what comes will certainly get a lot messier than a poopy diaper).

What’s at issue here isn’t poop at all, of course—it’s the big messy task ahead of you both. I suspect he’s joking about diapers because he knows this and is rightly overwhelmed. Tell him he needs to cut it out, and hopefully he’ll hear you. If, however, he truly believes that parental responsibilities can be apportioned like this, you should think deeply about whether he’s the person you want to share those responsibilities with.

Dear Care and Feeding,

A young mom I am close with posted on Facebook that her son, seeing she looked sad, asked her about her day at work (she’s a teacher): “What’s the matter Mommy? Were the students mean to you today?” She said yes, and he hugged and consoled her. Should a 5-year-old be worried about a parent like that? This friend always complains about her life in front of her son, and he is a sensitive kid.

—Baby or Therapist?

Dear BoT,

What’s social media for if not sharing cute parenting anecdotes? I was going to say that this mom is rightly celebrating that her son is so empathetic at so young an age. But you suggest there’s more to the story here. I don’t think it’s wrong for parents to seek solace in their children—“I’ve had a bad day, would you draw a picture to cheer me up?” I do think it’s more complex, though, if a parent is forthright about things a kid can’t really understand. If you’re close with this mom, you should reach out—not to chide her for oversharing with her son but to listen. It sounds like she needs someone to talk to.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My parents recently divorced. My mom has moved into a new apartment, and out of our family home, where my dad continues to live. We are headed to my mom’s new place for the first time, and I’m wondering how to explain this to my 4-year-old. He is bound to ask where Grandpa is. I want to be honest, without him worrying that someday his mom and dad will live separately.

—Broken Home

Dear BH,

I don’t know if grandparental divorce will be traumatic for a child who’s only 4. I think you can tell him that Grandma and Grandpa now live in two different houses; that’s honest and clear.

Personally, I’ve had to explain to my kids that their grandmother is my mother … hundreds of times. Kids are the center of their own universe, and they can’t always keep the facts straight. I think it’s unlikely your son, at age 4, might extrapolate from your parents’ divorce that you and your partner might someday split up.

I do think it’s smart to be frank with your son in whatever way is most appropriate for his maturity level. It’s only a matter of time before some school chum’s parents break up. This can shake slightly older kids when it’s their first experience with divorce and lead to worries about their own parents. In those moments, it’s good to have examples like your parents, a reminder that divorce just means change. (Also consider whether your parents’ breakup might be harder on you than on your son—it’s a big change, and I hope you’re handling it OK.)

Dear Care and Feeding,

Our summer weekends are filling up with kids’ birthday parties. My own are almost 4 and 1, so we’re talking young kids. Many invites say no gifts, but some don’t. I’m a children’s book editor and have access to free books. Is it tacky to give a book as a gift if it’s free from my work?

—A Gift Horse

Dear AGH,

I am very anti-birthday gift (excepting kids to whom you’re genuinely close), especially for kids under the age of 5. Bless the parents who specify No gifts, please! For those who don’t: Sure, it would be tacky to try to pass off a bunch of work freebies as a wedding present, but books are a great gift. I don’t think you should give this another thought.

—Rumaan

More Care and Feeding

My husband and I have always been fairly fashionable and work in fields that reflect that. (I am an interior decorator; he has spent 20 years in the skate/surf fashion industry.) Our children, however, are drawn toward the most heinous clothing: socks pulled up to their knees, glittery bedazzled appliqué shirts, patterns on patterns on patterns. Where do you draw the line between self-expression and bad taste?