Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I have a 2-year-old and a 5-month-old. We have a wedding coming up (my cousin, whom I like but am not especially close to) and I’m torn about whether or not we should make the six-hour drive with our kids. As it’s a kid-free wedding, we’d need to find a local sitter, plus I’m breastfeeding (and struggling to figure out the logistics of keeping the baby fed while we’re gone as well as pumping during the wedding). The trip would also be expensive.
My husband thinks it’s too much and we should just not go. But I feel like we always get overwhelmed by the idea of travel with our kids and end up saying no. It seems like other families do this kind of thing all the time. Are we trying to take on too much by going on a road trip to a wedding with kids so young? Or is this one of those things we should muscle through and will be glad we did in the long run?
—Tired of the Indecision
Here’s a sentence I’ve rarely uttered (or written): Your husband is right. I don’t know why you are even considering doing this. It’s clear that you don’t want to—not only because you have a whole list of reasons not to go, but because some of the items on the list seem kind of made-up. (Like, the logistics of having a sitter feed a baby don’t seem that complicated—not if you’re already used to pumping.) But you don’t need to convince me, or anyone, including yourself. You certainly don’t need to be concerned with what other families seem to do, only with what’s good for yours. (And yes, I know that’s a lot harder than that breezy sentence suggests. But it’s a really good mantra. Repeat it daily.)
You’re wondering if you’ll be glad “in the long run,” but I’m not sure what you have in mind when you say this. Glad you had the chance to spend time with your extended family? (You haven’t mentioned that this is something you’re looking forward to, long for, or even wish you longed for.) Glad you avoided their disapprobation, which you fear (but also haven’t mentioned)? Glad you proved to yourself that you are just as hardy as those other families you’re comparing yourself to? Glad you rose to a challenge and forced yourself to do something that exhausts you just to think about?
For what it’s worth, I have a handy method for deciding what to do when the answer doesn’t seem obvious to me. I ask myself two straightforward questions, and if the answer to either one is yes, I do it. Otherwise I don’t. 1) Is this something I am absolutely obliged to do, whether I want to or not? 2) Is this something I actually want to do?
There are plenty of situations for which the answer to the first question is a resounding yes, but going to this wedding certainly does not seem to be one of them. And it’s obvious that the answer to the second question is also no. So write a lovely note to your cousin, send a thoughtful gift, but for goodness’ sake, don’t feel like you have to “muscle through” this. Life with small children—hell, life in general—is full of difficult things that have to be faced. This isn’t one of them.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I have a problem that I am very lucky to have. We recently moved to a country where we are able to employ two wonderful women who clean our house and do our laundry. My husband and I are constantly shaking our heads at each other in awe and wonder at our good fortune. We go to work and then get to come home each day to a perfectly clean house. My three elementary school–age children are also living the dream: They’ve gone from having daily, weekly, and monthly chores—all of which they used to argue with us about—to having none at all. They are getting very comfortable (i.e., lazy). Where we live now, it is common for privileged people (like our kids) to grow up without ever learning how to look after themselves.
My question is this: Do I help our two domestic angels find new jobs elsewhere and plunge my family back into chore hell so that my kids know how to be self-sufficient? Or may I pull a “when in Rome” and enjoy our clean, peaceful new lifestyle? For what it’s worth, we probably won’t be in this country for more than a few years.
—The Kids Are Lazy, but the Bathroom Literally Never Smells Like Pee
Let’s be real: The “domestic angels” you’re employing haven’t taken over for three kids under the age of 12, because those kids weren’t keeping the house you used to live in “perfectly clean” no matter how many chores you assigned them. Your employees are keeping house for you after what has presumably been a lifetime of keeping house for yourself. So let’s separate the two strands of this question.
As long as you’re paying these two women a fair wage and treating them with respect, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for you to enjoy the temporary joys of Rome. But you’ll be doing your children a favor—which I think you already know—if you don’t let them off the hook. They need to learn that being part of a community—which for now means a family, but they will extrapolate from that—means doing their fair share of the work that needs to be done. “Fair share” will comprise different things in different circumstances, and will vary depending on their ages. But all of them should be picking up after themselves and clearing their own dishes, even if the actual cleaning is being done by paid workers right now. All of them can help with meals. (You say nothing about a cook, so mealtime may be a fertile area for teaching them how to master basic skills.) Surely you can think of other age-appropriate tasks they should learn how to manage on their own.
Even if you were going to be living where you currently are for longer than a few years, I know you don’t want your children to grow up without knowing how to manage for themselves. It will be much harder when they’re teenagers to start them toward that goal if they have spent their early years with no responsibilities at all, assuming rightly that everything will be done for them. I would say it’s worth a little disturbance in the peace now to serve the greater goal. But don’t throw the baby out with the dirty bathwater. You are lucky not to have to scrub the tub yourself. So don’t fire anyone. But give your children back a few jobs of their own. That’s part of your responsibility to them.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I am about halfway through my first pregnancy. My husband and I rarely argue, and when we do it’s almost always about chores and the division of household work. We are both inclined to be lazy about chores, but he has a higher tolerance for messes than I do and I am concerned how this will play out when we have a kid. My husband has suggested that we should start to reframe our perspectives now to be more comfortable with messiness and be more “go with the flow” than we have been—while my thinking is that we should be training ourselves now to be more proactive with household duties so that we can start from a better baseline of cleanliness and at least keep things to a manageable level of mess.
Does this seem like a situation that calls for preemptive couples therapy? It was already on my mind because I have seen the stats about how marital satisfaction nose-dives for a while after a baby is born. I’d like to avoid a probable cause of resentment during an already stressful time. My husband says he’s open to therapy but is concerned that it won’t give us concrete tools and might just encourage more fights. Should we go for it anyway? (And how do you even find a good couples therapist … Yelp?)
—How Do I Baby-Proof a Marriage?
Perhaps it’s ironic for an advice columnist to note that she has never found the opinions of strangers she knows nothing about to be terribly useful when it comes to picking a restaurant, but Yelp is not the place to find a good couples therapist. A better bet would be asking around. Anyone you know who’s ever been in therapy and had a good experience with it will probably be glad to pass that name along to you, and if that therapist doesn’t see couples—or you don’t want to see a therapist your best friend has seen—they will be able to recommend someone else.
But to tell you the truth, I don’t think this is a case for preemptive counseling (which, by the way, would probably provide you with concrete tools and stir up some more fights along the way, just as ours did), not unless you think this particular argument has long been a stand-in for a bigger, more complicated one. The basic issue of how clean and tidy you need your home to be is not one that’s going to be resolved by counseling. You two have different needs in this area (welcome to marriage!) and these conflicting ideas about how messy is too messy aren’t even the sort that can really be compromised on (twice as messy as you’d prefer and half as messy as he’d be OK with?).
It doesn’t sound like you and your husband’s somewhat varied mess-tolerance and chore-avoidance levels have presented much of a problem for the two of you before, which is why I find myself doubting that this is a metaphor for a bigger problem that counseling would be able to help you with. I think after the baby arrives you will be exactly the same level of different about this. And I don’t think “training” yourselves is going to help one bit—because things are just going to get very messy for a while. Very, very messy.
I am a big proponent of the let-the-less-important-things-go school of parenting. It will help you a lot if you can get there too. Especially in those first couple of years, if you can focus on the big picture—all three of you safe and healthy, your own bodies clean (which, by the way, I found to be one of the hardest things to find time for during those first crazy weeks), food has made its way to the table, and you all have some clean clothes to wear (even if they are very wrinkled because nobody has had time to fold them)—you can consider it a win.
And if I may be so bold, I think what you’re really worried (maybe even freaking out?) about is how different your life (and the place you live in) will be after the baby comes. And I get that. (I probably just freaked you out even more with my talk of wrinkled clean clothes and no time to shower.) Even this mess-tolerant and wildly happy-to-be-pregnant advice columnist, all those many years ago, had a momentary freakout (I think I was at the eight-months mark) imagining the warm, cozy house I had been living in for years strewn with ugly plastic toys. I mean, out of the blue, I pictured this, and I started to cry. I remember that my husband panicked (because I wasn’t, like, softly crying; I was howling, which isn’t like me at all) and called his mother (which isn’t like him at all). He told her, “I think she’s changed her mind—she doesn’t want to have the baby!” and then thrust the phone at me. Whereupon my mother-in-law talked me off the ledge. (She was wise enough to know that it wasn’t the toys I was really worried about.)
My guess is that if the argument you’ve been having about how to think about this stuff going forward is a stand-in for anything, it’s for the anxiety both of you are feeling (which is taking different forms) about the big changes that are ahead for you. So I’ll tell you what my kind and gentle mother-in-law told me (if you say it to yourself with a soft Southern accent, it’ll be even more effective): Just take a deep breath. Whatever comes, you’ll be able to handle it. Because you’ll be so happy! I know you will—trust me.
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