Care and Feeding

My Stay-at-Home Husband Is Just Plopping the Kids in Front of the TV All Summer

I don’t want to waltz in and tell him he’s doing a bad job. But come on!

Photo illustration of a sleeping man on a couch while two toddlers play unattended.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by 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,

My husband is in education, so during the summer he is a full-time stay at home dad to our children, ages 4 and 18 months. During the school year, he cares for them several days a week. I’ve long had a hunch that he was letting a screen do the child care for him. And now, after my first week working from home full-time, the facts can’t be ignored: They watch TV all day, every day.

If they start to get restless he’ll put on something else, or they’ll come bother me. Also, every day since I have been working from home, while the little one is napping, my husband will set up my older child with a movie and take a nap himself. I really do not want this kind of care to continue, but I am very hesitant to say anything because I know if the shoe were on the other foot and I were a stay-at-home mother, I would bristle at my husband waltzing in and telling me that I’m parenting badly and need to change things. What say you?

—Summer of Screens

Dear SoS,

I am not a screen time absolutist. Sometimes you need a quiet complacent kid; it makes life so much simpler. But what you describe is… well, I think you have two problems: Kids this age (any age, really) should not be staring at a television all day, and spouses should be able to openly discuss child-rearing philosophy and technique.

Go to your husband immediately, preface your comments with the fact that they’re a concern and not a critique, and come to a hard and fast agreement about what amount of screen time is appropriate for your children. (The American Academy of Pediatrics would say that for your younger child, that amount is zero.)

I understand that minding young kids daily is tiring and challenging work—I’ve done it myself—and I know that sometimes you need to shut your eyes for 15 minutes while the baby is napping. What you describe is something else altogether, and it’s something I think you need to address quickly and honestly.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 9-year-old has a group of a few boys he likes to invite to play dates, to tag along if we go somewhere special, and to sleep over. None reciprocate. I don’t mean that we invite them more than they invite my son, or that we take them out to dinner while they only have him over to play. I’m not sure they have ever emailed or called and invited my kid to come over in any fashion.

I know some kids may not be as proactive as mine. I know some households are more protective of family time, or don’t have disposable income to take an extra kid to the movies. That said: How many times do you invite someone who doesn’t invite back?

For myself (a grown-up, I hope) I am mindful of the give and take of relationships, and am not comfortable initiating more than a few times without some reciprocity. But can I put that on my kid? And how? I have no idea if it bothers him or how aware of this he is.

—The Inviters

Dear Inviters,

You’ve already laid out the possible scenarios: Not everyone can spring for another movie ticket, some families have tons of siblings and cousins knocking around, some households hold weekends as sacred for quality time. Your kid likes to have his pals over, and presumably you can make that happen without any personal strain. So that’s great.

There’s a chance your kid’s friends are being ill-mannered. There’s a chance they’re taking his friendship and your largesse a little for granted. But these are 9-year-olds we’re talking about, so I think the worst-case scenario—they’re pretending to be his friend so they can enjoy free trips to the movies—is unlikely.

Sure, there’s an imbalance here, but that’s more on these kids’ parents than on them. My 9-year-old has to be reminded to urinate; mastering this particular social nicety is probably beyond him. You can be proactive about it and mention to little Billy’s mom that your son sure would love to come over some time. But I wouldn’t go much further.

These kids are little yet, and few of these friendships will last much longer. These relationships are important as a stepping stone or a lesson. Clearly you’re in a position to teach your son the value of reciprocity, but I might not use these friends and circumstances to drive that home right now. Among the perquisites of youth is blissful ignorance. If this imbalance doesn’t bother your kid, isn’t that sort of great?

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My friend from childhood has three kids. Her first two are a joy to be around, but Kevin, her youngest …

He’s 8 years old but acts like he is 3. He refuses to sit still, runs around, always speaks in an elevated voice, and often breaks things. He doesn’t do that on purpose; it’s simply because he is running and jumping.

He acts like this in public, too. The screaming and banging start at 5 a.m. (weekends too) and ends at 9 p.m. Our cats are petrified and hide; our neighbors think we have invited elephants to stay. I am starting to lose my patience. The past few visits, I’ve snapped at him to be quiet and asked him to please sit still.

His parents do yell at him, but he does not listen, and they give up. I suppose they are used to the behavior. Will he grow out of it? What can I do, aside from asking them to leave him at home next time? I’m also concerned that if he needs help and medication he’s not getting it, and they are in denial about how bad it is, and it will cause him issues in school.

—Non-Parent Meanie

Dear NPM,

Kevin sounds like a handful. It’s hard to tell from your account, looking in from the outside, just what is going on. Is he high-spirited and his parents indulgent; is he in need of treatment and his parents negligent? If this is a dear friend of yours, you might consider asking if she would like to talk about her son and the strategies she’s tried with him. You can express your concerns that maybe he’s got a real problem and relay your willingness to be a supportive friend. But he’s her son and not really your problem.

Whether or not Kevin will grow out of this is impossible to say because we don’t know what “this” is. But if his bad behavior drives you crazy, there are very easy ways to avoid it. It’s cruel and also probably logistically impossible to disinvite only the youngest son, but instead of inviting the whole family to visit, just have your friend come to stay. If that’s not an option, agree the family will stay in a hotel instead of your home, so the elephant in the room won’t be your problem but the Holiday Inn’s.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Neither my husband nor I was ever big into organized sports, but we’ve always enjoyed being active, hiking, or pick-up games of basketball and soccer with family and friends.

My 11-year-old daughter has excelled at the sports she’s tried. She loves volleyball and is currently enrolled in a skills-based class. The coaches keep mentioning that she should try out for the club team. The club team is over $1,000 (which is cheap as far as travel teams go, from my understanding) and involves travel every weekend between November and April. Between the cost and the time commitment, it sounds miserable, dragging my two younger kids to her all-day games every weekend.

I don’t want her to miss out on a good experience, but I also don’t see how this will work for the rest of the family. Am I a bad mom if I don’t sign her up? Or make her wait until high school to join?

—Can’t We Just Chill on the Weekends?

Dear CWJCotW,

I suppose that there’s a very small—infinitesimal, really—chance your kid was touched by the hand of God and put on this earth to play volleyball. But even then: She’s still just 1/5 of a family unit. I share your reluctance to shell out more than $1,000 (!!) for the privilege of spending every weekend schlepping two little kids to a series of volleyball matches. Indeed, that sounds to me like an absolute nightmare.

Travel sports are a decision many families face, and there are very sound arguments for standing firm against the tide of early sports specialization. It sounds like your family is plenty active, and you’re right: Someday soon she’ll be a high school student, and team participation will be slightly easier to manage. So, no, you’re not a bad mom, and yes, you can just chill on the weekends.

—Rumaan

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