Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband is a stay-at-home dad to our 1-year old daughter. I appreciate all he does, and I feel lucky he takes equality in our marriage seriously. But his unemployment has put a strain on us financially, and I’m consumed with jealousy that he gets to stay home.
He quit his job because he was suffering from depression. I had hoped—and expected—that he would find a new job before he quit. He made more money than I do, so it cut our income by a little more than half. Our priority is his mental health, but it’s been 10 months and he’s not suffering any more. Our savings have run out and my paycheck only covers bills, so we can’t afford fun stuff or emergencies.
I’m also frustrated because he has difficulty with balancing watching our daughter and keeping the house clean. I have to pick up more slack when I get off work, since he needs a break. I’m trying to enjoy time with her and keep the house tidy and relax from a draining job.
This is a minor quibble, but I’m also annoyed because he doesn’t get up until about noon, and stays up late playing video games. I want him to have free time, but if you can’t get housework or job hunting done while the baby is awake, get up earlier and do it while she’s asleep!
I also can’t shake the feeling that I want to stay home. I’ve always loved my job, but now going to work is miserable for me. My husband says that his working isn’t going to make me happier with my job, but I think the end of financial stress will end my jealousy. I’ve talked to other working moms and while they do wish they could spend more time with their kids, none of them have stopped feeling fulfilled by their jobs like I have.
To add to all of this stress, about a month ago, my mother passed away unexpectedly. After losing her I feel like I’m about to go off the deep end. I don’t feel like I can handle anything anymore and all I can think about is being with my daughter.
I have started grief counseling (as well as for depression) but how can I make this jealousy go away? How can I balance my husband’s wants with my own? We just bought a house, so we’re stuck where we are. I can’t blow up our lives and quit just because I’m unhappy.
—Falling Deeper and Deeper
I’m sorry for the loss of your mother. With all that you’re balancing—the death of a loved one, financial strain, job stress, your husband’s unemployment, parenting a small child—it’s no wonder you feel you’re about to go off the deep end. It’s great you’ve started counseling. That won’t make your feelings “go away,” but I have no doubt it will help.
You seem fixated on the idea that staying home would be a solution to all your problems, and this fixation is making you miserable. But I can’t help but think this is because of how alluring your husband makes staying home look. Sleeping late and playing video games and having someone else to worry about money and handle the housework—that’s adolescence, not adulthood.
Your current situation is untenable. You need to talk to your partner and determine whether he’s truly ready to get back to work. If he is, he’s got to get serious. No more sleeping in; no more leaving all the chores for you. Agree on some real benchmarks and dates. Make concessions that benefit you both: Alternative child care arrangements (favors from friends or family, occasional day care) will give him liberty to job hunt, and he can take part-time work that will allow him to contribute immediately.
Regarding the housework: While being a stay-at-home parent is a tough job, your daughter is presumably napping, so he does have some time to help take care of things around the house, too. I’m not saying that won’t be a long day, but it’s part of his responsibility as a parent and partner.
I realize there’s another possibility here, and that his lack of productivity could be the result of him still feeling the effects of his depression. Is he actively in treatment? If he’s truly healthy now, he ought to be able to meet his responsibilities. There are times in a marriage when one person will need to shoulder more. You did that while he healed and now it’s time for him to do more. It’s your turn to heal.
Do talk to your husband soon, and honestly, if he doesn’t start to act more like an actual partner, this is going to take a terrible toll on your relationship. Good luck to you.
Dear Care and Feeding,
Our 2-year-old is obsessed with sports. Basketball, soccer, tennis—he heard about jai alai at some point and now plays it with our mesh strainer. He also loves baby dolls and stuffed animals, and we try to expose him to all kinds of activities, but he really likes sports. My question is: Do we let him be a basketball player for Halloween? He will not stop talking about how he wants to be one, but I’m worried everyone will think we’re forcing this macho jock stuff on a toddler. I swear we’re not, but will we look like jerks with a 2-year-old in a Curry jersey when all his friends are dressed as chipmunks and Elmo? Am I way overthinking this?
You are overthinking this.Let your kid be whatever he wants for Halloween! If other parents think you’re jerks who are force-feeding sports to your son that’s their problem.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My 4-year-old is destructively unhinged after school.
Our kids are in day care from 8 until 5; we’re home by 5:30, eating dinner by 6. Our 15-month-old is in bed by 6:45, and our 4-year-old gets playtime with both parents until bed at 8. He takes a daily nap, sleeps 10 hours at night, and gets milk and a snack immediately upon pickup.
His major craziness is the worst from 5:30–7. We understand he’s held it together all day and needs to unwind. But he’s physically out of control. Causing harm to the house and his sister—not things we can ignore. It devolves into us having to cuddle crying sister and punishing him for behavior he can’t control. This must seem to him like we’re favoring her and shunning him. We clearly don’t want to perpetuate this.
Often it’s just one parent in that period, so we can’t send him outside (we live in the city). I have to make dinner and get the baby bathed and to bed, so it’s hard to devote one-on-one time to him until she’s asleep.
We’ve tried glitter jars for calming down (was thrown), quiet games or books (nope), enrolling in taekwondo and parkour after school (delays the crazy until he gets home), asking him to help with dinner (nope).
Does it get better? Do we ride it out and just bubble-wrap the house and baby? Do we keep being firm and exacting consequences that are hard and unpleasant to enforce? What else can we try to channel that helps him unwind in a less destructive way?
—In the Eye of His Hurricane
First: It does get better. He is very young and will certainly grow out of some of this. But here are some strategies you can try.
Have you tried moving his bedtime earlier? This will eat into your alone time, but that time doesn’t sound all that pleasant anyway. And even half an hour more sleep a night might help make his days less taxing. (For what it’s worth, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends kids that age sleep 10–13 hours daily, including naps.)
I’ve said this in this column before, but try making dinner in advance. Throw something in a slow cooker! Microwave some cold pasta! Make a batch of meatballs on Monday and serve them all week. You might only be saving 20 minutes, but minutes can make all the difference when you’re dealing with toddlers (never mind infants).
Music and audiobooks are also worth a try. The former really does soothe the savage beast. Playing something chill while you’re cooking or getting the baby down might curb his more destructive tendencies.
Finally, you don’t mention your family policy on screen time, but it was (please don’t cancel me) a lifesaver for me when my kids were smaller. Any show on PBS Kids would send my big one into a near fugue state while I dealt with his little brother (and they’re educational too, right?). This opens a whole can of worms—the screen is powerfully addictive—but I was willing to make that trade off against daily freakouts and the complicated logistics of being the only adult around. Hang in there!
Dear Care and Feeding,
On her surface, my mother-in-law is a lovely woman who’s kind, caring, and compassionate. In reality, she’s deeply narcissistic and does things that appear to be kind, caring, and compassionate because they will look good to her social circle.
My husband and I have a 4-month-old girl, and my mother-in-law would like nothing more than to steal her away and raise her as her own. She has regularly attempted to insert herself into parenting decisions.
Our baby girl is in day care, and my mother-in-law knows we are not willing to let her pick her up from day care, though we agreed that occasional babysitting would be allowed. But the last time she babysat, she showed her five minutes of Sesame Street despite the fact that she had agreed to have the TV completely off whenever the baby was awake. I was livid. I had long ago sent her an article on why TV is bad for infants; she acknowledged reading it and promised not to show her TV. I was too taken aback to remind her of this.
My husband and I aren’t worried about those five minutes of TV, but we are worried about a lack of respect for our rules. We’re letting my mother-in-law watch the baby again soon and need advice on how to talk to about respecting our boundaries. She’s narcissistic, so her normal reaction to criticism is to cry, and then to complain to people about how mean and rude and terrible I am (even if the conversation was between her and my husband and I wasn’t involved at all).
This isn’t a case of us needing her to watch the baby (she’s asking if she can), but we want to continue having a good relationship with my father-in-law, who takes his wife’s side, and we’d like for the baby to have a relationship with her grandparents. I’m terrified that if she’s willing to break that rule, what else will she do? Feed the baby food too early? Give her coffee or soda pop? Put her in unsafe sleep situations?
—Can’t Stop My Thought Spirals
While it’s the remit of the grandparent to spoil, grandparents must also ultimately respect a parent’s wishes. Parents gets to decide what is too far for themselves. I do think there’s a bit of a walk between five minutes of television and pouring Coke into the baby’s bottle. But it sounds like you’ve long had a challenging relationship with your mother-in-law, and your baby is allowing you to draw a line in the sand. So draw it.
It will be difficult to get through to the kind of woman you describe—she’s going to cry, blame you, and so on. If she is in fact, as you feel, a narcissist, there’s no getting through to her. So talking this out is probably pointless.
If maintaining a relationship is important to you, the burden is on you to make mother-in-law-proof arrangements. You have to assume she won’t adhere to your dictates (sounds like a safe assumption) and simply prevent her from being able to. You’re lucky that you don’t need her to babysit, so stop letting her. Let her see the baby but not alone; that way you can be sure things are done as you like them.
Your mother-in-law might complain, or call you controlling, or what have you; that will be the cost of you providing your daughter a relationship with her grandparents. I don’t think it’ll be easy on you, but it will be preferable to worrying that your mother-in-law isn’t meeting your (reasonable, in my opinion) parenting standards.
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