Care and Feeding

Am I a Bad Mom?

My husband says I’ve neglected my oldest since the baby came along.

A mother holding a baby, while her other kid stands and cries.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by AnaBGD/iStock/Getty Images Plus and tatyana_tomsickova/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a 2-year-old and a 1-month-old. My husband made a comment that made me feel like a bad mom. He said that since my second son was born, my first no longer seems important to me and that I focus solely on the newborn. He says this because I need to breastfeed my newborn almost every two hours.

The feeding is worse at night, and as a result, I am too drained of energy to play with or tend to my older son during the day, and my husband does most of that work. I’m looking for stories on how you made your 2-year-old feel that you love him just as much as before.

—Worn-Out, Heartbroken Mama

Dear WOHM,

This is an incredibly cruel thing for one partner to say to another.

It’s possible he’s just tired and stressed with two young kids in the house, and that has rendered him inarticulate. Or it’s possible he’s lashing out at you because he’s resentful of managing most of your toddler’s care. Neither of those is really an excuse. You should tell him how hurtful this is, and I hope he can hear that and apologize.

Feeling like a bad parent is inherent to being a parent. However, you should feel no guilt over the fact that you’re breastfeeding a newborn all night and cannot be the same parent to your older son that you were a couple of months ago.

These early days of newborn exhaustion will, someday, pass. A full partner in child rearing should do what he can to make this period as easy as possible on you. It’s a team sport! Please remember that the guilt you’re feeling is a result of something your husband said to you, not something your older son communicated. You should not feel like a bad mom. I know you’re exhausted and stressed, but this is something I hope the two of you can talk about honestly. Good luck.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a 2½-year old and a 5-year old who will be starting kindergarten this fall. I work full time and so does my significant other, but we are struggling to pay day care. (It’s as much as my rent.)

I sat down and wrote out all my finances, and we’re only making a $200-a-month profit after paying for day care.

I would like to be there at my daughter’s pickup and drop-off for kindergarten. There was also an outbreak of hand, foot, and mouth disease yesterday at day care, and I am scared they will get it. I understand day care comes with sicknesses here and there, but I honestly would just love more time with my kids when they’re this young. Is the $200 worth struggling each month, and am I being selfish to want to spend more time with my kids?

—Can You Put a Price on Parenthood?

Dear CYPaPoP,

Every one of the people running for president right now should read this letter. There is a crisis around child care in this country, and I am sorry you find yourself in this dilemma.

Of course you are not selfish to want to spend time with your own children. I don’t think this is about finding fault with day care (all day cares are hotbeds of germs!) or the school bus; I think it’s about being honest about what you want.

There are people who end up making the trade-off you’re describing because they are passionate about their careers and worry they’ll later be penalized professionally for having taken time off, or because they want a break from household responsibility, or because they need that extra $200 a month. But every family has to make this decision for themselves. If you sincerely want to leave the workforce and spend these formative years at home with your kids, you should have this conversation with your partner. Look at the math, sure, but also look at how you truly feel. Only the two of you can truly answer whether that $200 a month is worth it. Good luck!

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I take no pleasure in strapping my 1-year-old tightly into her car seat, but I recognize that a few minutes of fussing or discomfort are a small price to pay for her safety on the road. My husband and I agree on this—proper car seat safety and seat belt usage are important to both of us.

The issue is with my in-laws. My husband’s brother and his partner routinely let their 6-year-old daughter ride in an adult’s lap on car rides around town if there aren’t enough seats, and they barely buckle their 9-month-old into his car seat. I am dying to say something about how irresponsible this is, and I’ve begged my husband to have a talk with his brother, but he says you shouldn’t interfere with other people’s parenting styles. (He also thinks it may be cultural—they are from South America, where people are definitely not as strict about seat belts, though he and his brother have both lived in the U.S. for many years.)

It’s illegal in our state for children not to be buckled in, and it’s common knowledge that seat belts and car seats are critical for safety. Is there a way for me to broach this gently with my brother-in-law or his partner, both of whom I love and get along with? I love my niece and nephew so much and hate to think of what could happen, but I’m willing to back down on this if you think it’s inappropriate to interfere.

—Paranoid Aunt

Dear PA—

While I generally think it’s best to mind your own business, I think you’re within your rights as a loving family member to talk to your brother-in-law.

While you’re not wrong to fret over the kids’ safety, you might have more success by stressing that this behavior is illegal. They’re taking a pointless risk—endangering their kids and leaving themselves open to legal trouble—and you’ll feel better if you speak up. I hope they can hear you.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My almost-4-year old daughter has an attachment to a friend from school. He was a bad influence on her, to the point that the teachers had to separate them throughout the day. He ended up having to leave the school with a few days left in the year.

The teachers were inappropriate, vocalizing their distaste for this child’s behavior and its effect on my daughter to her and to the other children. It has been addressed with the school. We have my daughter in the same school for camp, in a class that is emphasizing social, emotional, and behavioral development, and we have seen amazing progress.

But she misses her friend so much. She’s like a heartbroken teenager. She talks about him constantly and asks about him all the time, wanting to look at pictures of him on my phone.

She’s begging for a play date, but I have no interest. I think he has behavioral issues that his parents refuse to address. I don’t want his influence on my daughter, and I have no interest in socializing with his parents. I don’t particularly like them, and the dad is a misogynist. (He once told me the female teachers are too weak for his child, as are the child’s mother and grandmother.) I realize the poor kid is likely a product of his environment, but I don’t want to be around that environment!

I let her talk about her friend and tell her how I am so happy she loves him, and that she must feel sad he’s not at school anymore. I try to listen and understand (and also not try to make him feel like the “forbidden fruit”, which I think is part of why she is obsessing about him). But how else should I handle this?

—Parent of a Lovesick Toddler

Dear PoaLT,

Your daughter is still so very young. I think you have the right instinct—validate her feelings but don’t let this little boy become something she’s fixated on like a bad habit. I’d stop letting her look at photos of him on your phone, and change the subject as organically as possible. For instance, if she brings up his birthday party, ask what she’d like to do at her next birthday party. I imagine that before long she’ll forget this kid, who is no longer her classmate.

Kids are, of course, their own people. They’re going to forge friendships and relationships that their parents won’t wholly understand. As a parent, I think you’re within your rights to run interference when a friend seems to bring out the worst in your kid, or when you don’t care for that friend’s parents and their child-rearing philosophies.

This is all easy enough to manage when your kid is 4, but will be considerably harder when they’re 14. For the moment, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Guide your daughter to a place where this kid and his negative influence on her are largely forgotten. But know that it is inevitable your daughter’s life will include people you would not have chosen for her.

—Rumaan

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