Care and Feeding

Is Spanking a Deal-Breaker?

My father spanked my son. Now my husband won’t let him babysit anymore.

Photo illustration of an older man with a stern expression and a crying child.
Photo illustrations by Slate. Photos by wr2000/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Denisfilm/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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,

I have two sons, 3 and 5 years old. My parents watch them one or two days a week while my husband and I work. Recently, my 5-year old reported his grandpa hit him on the bottom. My son can be difficult: He does not like rules, hates to be told no, and can terrorize his brother. He is also prone to hitting us (parents and grandparents) when he doesn’t get his way.

We are against hitting our children, but I was spanked as a child and do not feel like I was abused. I confronted my dad, and he said that he did give our son a little spank—he feels horrible about it and said it will never happen again. I am OK with this: I know my son can be difficult to control, and I’ve been tempted to spank him myself.

My husband, on the other hand, has flown off the handle. He says my parents should be happy he didn’t call the police and refuses to let them watch the kids. This has torn my family apart. My parents are upset and miss my kids, the kids miss their grandparents, and we have to pay for extra day care and are struggling to find after-school care.

I feel this is an overreaction, but my husband says that I’m not trying to protect our kids and I’m not supporting him. I have suggested that we seek help in dealing with our son’s behavior, but my husband is against it—he thinks this will cause our son to feel there is something wrong with him. He says that everyone he’s spoken to would do the same thing. I love my parents and appreciate everything that they have done for us in the past. Is my husband justified in this or is this an overreaction?

—Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Dear Can’t,

I can understand why your husband is upset. You both, as parents, have agreed on no spanking as a policy. What your father did isn’t like breaking the no-sugar rule with a lollipop, the sort of indulgence you’d expect from a grandparent. It’s a violation.

You agree with your husband that your father was in the wrong. The challenge is how to move beyond this. Your father’s contrition (I’m assuming he actually apologized to your husband, as well as you—if not, he should do so pronto) satisfies you. Have you asked your husband whether breaking off relations with your family is the only way he can imagine this being satisfactorily resolved?

If that’s how he feels, then all the mitigating factors—your kid can try even your patience; your father has promised this will never happen again—don’t matter. You may think he’s overreacting (I do, too), but they’re his children.

I hope at least that you can all spend time together; perhaps your husband will be reminded that he can, indeed, trust his in-laws with your children. Because the key, I think, is to focus not on what this break with the family is costing you (extra child care) but what it’s costing your kids.

They miss their grandparents, and their grandparents miss them. Your father inflicted one kind of pain on your son; your husband’s response to that is inflicting another kind. Maybe if your husband heard it framed thus, he’d be willing to work toward restoring peace in the family. Good luck.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’ve recently gone back to work after taking almost a year off to be with our daughter. During that time, I cared for her and did most of the cleaning around the house. My husband is with her during most of the day, and when he has to go to work, a nanny arrives and works for us for about four to five hours an evening.

My problem is he’s not cleaning during the day. When she naps, he naps. I know he is a restless sleeper and is trying to catch up on sleep plus be a stay-at-home dad, but I’m getting tired of coming home to dirty floors, dirty bathrooms, and laundry. Luckily, the nanny helps with the dishes. I’m reluctant to ask her to do more, and when I’ve expressed frustration at the state of the house, my husband picks up the slack for a couple days, then we’re right back where we started.

It’s come to the point where I’m having the nanny stay late a few days a week so I can scrub the floors, vacuum, or clean the kitchen/prep dinner after working all day (so fun!). Did I create this by not having him help more when I was home? How do I bring this up without feeling like a “taskmaster”? I’d hire more help but it’s not in the budget right now. Is it too much to ask him to clean while she naps instead of snoozing, too?

—My Second Shift Is Too Long

Dear Second,

I answered a similar letter in my last column but I want to answer yours as well because it feels imperative to say, no, you did not “create this” situation.

You spent a year in the trenches, so you already understand that it’s not easy to balance child care and household chores. But most parents (OK, moms) seem to understand this is part of the bargain. The baby naps, you run the laundry. The baby’s distracted in the high chair, you mop the kitchen. Obviously, there are days you can’t do it and need a nap. But I think it’s part of the job description of stay-at-home parent to at least make an attempt to stay on top of the chores.

Your husband is working part-time, so he’s effectively doing two jobs. But if you’re working full-time and handling the cooking and cleaning, then you are, too. There has to be a better way. Please sit down and talk this through; this is a problem for you to solve together. Be honest about your expectation that he be an equal partner in household upkeep.

Then think about making some changes. Would the nanny be willing to fold the laundry after the baby’s in bed? Is there a neighborhood teen who could take over the yardwork without breaking your budget? If you order takeout one night a week you won’t have to worry about cooking—could you use that extra half-hour to deal with the bathrooms or change the linens?

Beyond that, be the taskmaster you’re afraid of being; someone has to. Keep a running list of tasks and ask your husband to agree to deal with some achievable number of those daily. I realize that making a list of chores is itself a chore, but I think it’s a step toward a more equitable distribution of labor.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I know this is a problem plenty of parents would love to have: My children have received different amounts of money as gifts, and I can’t figure out how to make their future savings come out fairly.

My daughter has been given some significant sums (several thousand dollars over the years) from a very generous family friend that I’ve invested for her in a custodial account. Her younger brother has also been given monetary gifts by this person, but in smaller amounts. Gifts to my daughter have been reduced over the years—which is fine!—but my son only has about half as much as my daughter did at this age.

I’m unsure how to make up for this difference. I can’t afford to make up for it myself. Should I start putting future gifts to my daughter into my son’s account to make up for it? Should I let it go and let her have a lot more saved than he does? I know not everything can be fair and equal, but it seems like thousands of dollars difference in savings (that will grow even more over time) could cause real resentment as the kids get older. How do I fix this?

—Even Steven

Dear Even Steven,

It’s true, as you say, that not everything can be fair, but as the custodian of your children’s money you have the ability to even things out. I would prioritize saving for your son until he’s caught up to his sister; I did precisely this when our second child was born, as I think many families do. (And for what it’s worth, I doubt your generous family friend would be upset if you need to move some of their initial gift to your daughter to your son’s account.)

Dear Care and Feeding,

Advance-settle a ridiculous argument for my fiancé and me: One of us grew up with much greater wealth than the other, and we had wildly different after-school care. One of us was a latchkey kid starting in fourth grade and responsible for a younger sibling starting in seventh grade; the other had a nanny until they went to college, and sort of through college since the nanny stayed on for the younger sibling. Both of us think our own childhood was the better option (and are kind of horrified by the other). Both of us turned out fine, for the record. Latchkey Kid wants our future kids to have a babysitter until they’re about 13; Nanny Kid wants our future kids to have a nanny until college. What say you?

—Getting Ahead of Ourselves, but…

Dear Getting Ahead,

Every kid is different; every family is different. This argument is ridiculous only insofar as it presupposes you could know anything about your still-hypothetical future kids and the family you will become. Some kids require more diligent care; some families see it as a moral responsibility to provide a valued caregiver with as much job security as possible. You don’t know, yet, if you’ll be rich or poor; if your kids will be healthy or not; if one of you will stay home with your kids or not; if you’ll have triplets, or twins, or a good old-fashioned single kid. You don’t know, yet, if a grandparent might come to live with you, if the kids will want to enroll in an after-school program, and so on.

Given all this uncertainty, I’d hold off on this particular argument for now. But it’s possible what you’re really concerned about is how the two of you will see eye to eye on your lifestyle and finances, more generally, given the differences in your upbringing. This is something that can be an issue in a relationship, and as with most problems, it’s best addressed by talking candidly. Rather than fret over theoretical matters, take some time to get comfortable talking about money as it affects your life now.


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