Welcome to Slate’s Tuesday Care and Feeding columnist for the summer, Michelle Herman. Michelle is a novelist and essayist in Columbus, Ohio. Her books include The Middle of Everything: Memoirs of Motherhood and an advice book for children, A Girl’s Guide to Life.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I am currently six months pregnant with my husband’s and my first child. A close friend of ours got engaged a few months ago and has asked my husband to be a groomsman. The bachelor party will be in Mexico for five days and will cost roughly $1,500—and it will be happening when our newborn will be only 3 months old.
My husband has only just started a new job after having depleted some of our savings while he was unemployed. Also, my maternity leave will most likely be ending at the same time, and I know I will be having a hard time with going back to work. Plus, I’m not thrilled about him going off partying in Mexico after I just gave birth.
When it first came up, at a dinner with the friend group the groom and my husband are part of, he seemed all in, and I was caught off guard. But we talked afterwards, and I told him I felt strongly about him not going. Now he has told his friends that he is a maybe but he still really wants to go. He feels that he will miss out on this important friend-bonding time and doesn’t want to get left behind with this friend group (which would never happen because they are the nicest people ever). It’s more of a personal issue for him, I think. He’s a people-pleaser, and friends are super important to him. This is all making me feel like our baby and I are less important to him. So now, whether he goes or not, I already feel hurt because he wants to. Is it bad for me to tell him he can’t go? Is it bad if he pushes back and goes anyway?
—Maybe It’s Just the Pregnancy Hormones
Dear Maybe It’s Just,
Oh, dear. I feel for you—and, with a little effort, I feel for him too. Six months pregnant is hard for all (by which I mean both) concerned. With two trimesters under your belt (I didn’t mean that as a pun, but now that I’ve seen that it is, I can’t resist leaving it in), you are right on schedule for massive anxiety about the future: What’s life going to be like for you two, and for your marriage, once it’s no longer just the two of you?
It seems to me there are several strands to untangle here. One is—yes—your husband’s wish to “go off partying,” leaving you at home alone with the baby just as you are about to return to work, which is indeed likely to be a difficult time for you. (And I feel I should point out that it’ll probably make you anxious no matter how it goes. If you’ve madly loved being home with the baby all day long and you’re dreading going back to work, you’ll be distraught; if going to work feels liberating after 12 weeks of feeling isolated and overwhelmed, you may feel guilty—i.e., welcome to motherhood!) Not to mention that if you happen to have the kind of baby (they come in all kinds) who still doesn’t sleep much at 3 months (I had one of those), you are going to be very, very tired, and running the show alone is going to be hard.
So yeah, this seems selfish and childish of him.
And I get why you’re upset (and no, I don’t think it’s just pregnancy hormones). But another strand is his anxiety right now about how much his life is about to change (forever). I hope you can take a small step back and acknowledge that he is freaking out a little bit. It sounds like he’s been honest with you about this (he doesn’t want to get left behind by his friends, in a metaphorical as well as literal way) and you’re not quite hearing him (no, you say, that’s not the problem; the problem is that he is a people-pleaser!). And it may not be productive to frame the financial issue (an expensive trip you’re worried the two of you can’t really afford) in the particular way you have (he depleted your savings when he was unemployed!—a phrase that carries a rumble of hostility).
I also get why this makes you feel like you and the baby are less important to him than his friends are. But it isn’t a contest (I promise—though I know sometimes it feels like it is). Something to keep in mind: You are both allowed to have interests and enthusiasms other than each other and your child. This doesn’t make you bad parents or bad partners—it just makes you human.
It is bad, I think, if you tell him he can’t go. It’s a bad precedent: The two of you should not be telling each other what you can and can’t do; save that sort of thing for the kid. And if you were to tell him that and he pushed back and went anyway, that would be bad too (when your partner says it’ll hurt them terribly if they do something and they go ahead and do it, that’s a pretty serious blow to a marriage).
Why not reframe the whole thing? Can the two of you have a frank but kind and compassionate conversation about it? (Here’s where pregnancy hormones might make things difficult. You are probably more volatile, labile, and fragile than you are when non-pregnant—but that should be part of the conversation, too. And the fact that you may be more reactive than usual doesn’t mean there’s nothing to react to.) Can you and your husband be completely honest with each other about your fears about what life is going to be like after the baby is born? The discussion is worth having not only as a way to solve this quandary but because it will be good practice for the rest of your life together. In fact, you might take this crisis—because, in case I haven’t made this clear yet, I don’t think you’re overreacting; I think it is a crisis—as an opportunity to set a tone for your relationship, to model for yourselves how you want to communicate with each other and try to understand each other.
I hope that in the end he’ll decide not to go, because I think his going would be hard on you—and I hope he won’t be resentful about missing out, even if he’s sad about it, once he has a clear understanding of why he’s not going: It’ll be step one on his path to maturity, to what being a father is about, to what being a good partner is about. But if it turns out he can’t bear to say no to this opportunity, I hope you’ll be able to forgive him. Because making these steps toward maturity is hard. And forgiveness is part of maturity—and being a good parent and a good partner—too. (And I hope you’ll get someone to stay with you for those five days, to help out.)
Dear Care and Feeding,
This is probably the silliest question of the day.
I was raised in a predominantly white community, and, until recently, my feeling was that not addressing differences in race was the best way to be inclusive. From what I’ve read and heard, I now believe otherwise.
My 3-year-old, since she was less than a year old, will pick out a black doll (baby doll, Barbie, GI Joe, Lego, whatever) every time, even though she is (and I am) white. When we’re out and about, she cuddles her babies and tells everyone around her that she’s their mommy. Lately, because of what I’ve read, I have been worried that this might be offensive to people of color.
—Should I Be Worried?
Not addressing race is something only white people have the privilege to do (if you were wondering what white privilege meant, this is not a bad place to start), so good for you for figuring that out. And it’s not only important to acknowledge/address race. The best way to be inclusive is to be inclusive: to live in a way that isn’t isolated and homogeneous, to have people of color in your life and not just in books and on TV. In other words: It isn’t enough to confront the sickness that is racism indirectly or passively or theoretically. There’s nothing silly about asking about that.
As to your 3-year-old and her babies, let her love them in peace, please.
• If you missed Monday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I need some advice on how to best deal with a worrying daughter.
My daughter is 6 years old and generally a happy and sweet child. She is pretty sensitive and tends to always consider everything that could do wrong. For example, when discussing joining the library and all the books we could borrow, one of her first responses was, “What if we forget to turn in the books in time?” The other day I put away a set of spare keys for our new house at my parents-in-law. I made a picture of where I placed them and told my daughter, “Now I know exactly where they will be.” Immediately she started to imagine how somebody could find the keys, not recognize them, pick them up, and misplace them.
I am not worried that she is always anxious, because she is not. Mostly, she is very upbeat. However, she does always consider every worst-case scenario. Can I help her with this, or is this just a character trait that I cannot influence?
—Mother of a Worrier
So here’s the thing: I too was the mother of a power worrier. And while I don’t want to be alarmist (and turn you into a worrier, too), I do have to tell you that in my daughter’s case this worrying was part of a bigger problem. And because she too was 6 years old when it kicked in—and because she too wasn’t anxious all the time—my own alarm has gone off loudly in response to your letter.
Part of what’s going on with your daughter may be a character trait (whether we have any influence over these is a whole ’nother question). The truth is, my own daughter, now 26, is still a bit of a worrier (and still mostly upbeat, too). But there (also?) may be something underlying this that you can help her with, and the way to find out about that is to take her to a psychotherapist who specializes in treating children, who should be able to suss this out pretty easily.
I would urge you to do this sooner rather than later. My husband and I waited, thinking it would pass, thinking it was not that serious, and things got worse—and then quickly much worse—and it was only then that we got help for her. And the help we got really helped. It turned out there were lots of things we could do (at home, every day), and none of them were direct, head-on ways of addressing her fears—none of them were things we would have thought of on our own.
It may well be—I very much hope it is—that this worst-case scenario thinking is a passing phase or a quirk of personality. But it also may be that there’s an underlying reason for her worrying, one that’s not at all obvious, and that there are concrete steps you can take to help free her from it. But it seems to me there’s really only one way to find out.
I want to offer one more word of advice, though I have a feeling I don’t need to. It took me some time—a whole lot of phone calls that left me frustrated and angry and frightened—before I found someone I felt I could trust to make an assessment, whose first line of reflexive defense was not going to be psychopharmacology. Find someone with the skills and patience to see what’s at the root of this. And I hope you’ll let me know how it goes.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My almost-5-year-old has started to say “I hate you,” “You are a meanie,” or (my personal favorite) “I am never going to listen to you ever again” when he doesn’t get his way. I know it has something to do with him just being overwhelmed from the day, as it typically happens in the evenings. I know it is just his way of expressing his frustration. I get it. But it throws me off and I don’t know what to say.
—I Know He Doesn’t Really Hate Me
Say, “Well, I love you, my darling.” And give him a kiss.
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