Care and Feeding

My Husband Refuses to Learn to Do Our Daughter’s Hair Properly

These messy loose ponytails are not cutting it, Dad.

A girl with long hair beside her stepdad, who has his arms crossed obstinately.
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? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband straight-up refuses to learn how to do our 3-year-old’s hair. He is her stepfather but has been in her life since she was 3 months old, so he views her as his own. Her hair is rather long but extremely thin and silky. It needs to be brushed and put into pretty tight ponytails or braids to keep it out of her face, and to avoid lice.

Most of the time I am the one to get our little one ready for school, but occasionally my husband has to do it. He usually does a thing he calls a “daddy-tail” which is a super loose ponytail that inevitably comes out within a few hours. She is very patient getting her hair done, so I don’t think she is the issue. Her stepdad absolutely refuses to practice or try a new style and says he doesn’t want to and that “she will be doing her own hair in a year anyways” (which I highly doubt).

Our daughter is in a ballet class now that requires the hair to be in a bun, and I am unable to get her ready for it due to my work schedule, but he won’t even attempt to learn how to do a bun. I understand I’ve had much more practice with hair, but it’s the fact that he refuses to even try that bothers me. Meanwhile, her biological father (my ex-husband) does her hair with no issue and mastered the bun.

We are looking to get pregnant in the next year, and as our next child may also be a girl, I fully expect my husband to put forth some effort toward basic hygiene and grooming for our children. As it stands now with our daughter, I do the lion’s share of that stuff alone: all baths, all bedtime routines, the morning routine, etc. Am I being unreasonable for expecting more from him?

—Got Me Twisted

Dear GMT,

Grooming is a mandatory part of caring for a child, and you are well within reason to expect that your husband would learn how to do it. Furthermore, it’s particularly strange that he refuses to learn to do a simple hairstyle required for an extracurricular activity—dare I say a bit cruel.

Are there other, non–personal care examples of your husband taking issue with caring for your daughter? Or is he typically an active and engaged stepfather? I wonder if the act feels too intimate to him for some reason. You say he thinks of her as his own, but have the two of them truly bonded?

Continue to push the issue and be clear that you are unwilling and unable to be the sole person tasked with grooming your children. If he is not able to step up and be active when it comes to caring for one child, how will he behave with two? Furthermore, how will he step up when you’re pregnant or postpartum and unable to be the only one handling the a.m. and p.m. routines?

Your husband is not only letting your daughter down (especially on ballet days) and failing to support you; he’s setting a bad precedent for your children when it comes to the division of labor across gender lines. One parent can do all the grooming and the tucking in if they don’t also have to work outside of the home, which you do. Be clear that this isn’t the example you want your kids to see, nor is it a system that works for you. And don’t be afraid to conjure up a childhood story about being embarrassed after showing up to school with unkempt hair; sometimes you gotta add a little razzle-dazzle to these conversations, because a whole lot of otherwise intelligent men seem to become completely dense when it comes to the feelings (and work) of women.

If he continues to lack empathy or understanding about the matter, you may consider some counseling before you have an infant to care for. Sending you all the best.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a 37-year-old with a 6-year-old daughter and a baby on the way … and I completely dislike being a father.

Despite some challenges, most of the other moms and dads I know say they find the experience of being a parent to be joyful. I feel just the opposite, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find happiness in any part of the process. What’s all the more confusing is that people who observe me with my daughter, including her mother, say that I’m a good father.

Speaking of my daughter’s mother, our relationship is complicated at best. We’ve lived separately for about three years, but we spend time together as a family on weekends and holidays. We have years of built-up resentment toward one another, and counseling has not helped at all. We can barely stand to be in the same room together most times, but there was one night where stress and lust got the better of both of us, which led to her current pregnancy.

I was adamantly against having a second child considering our challenges in co-parenting and how we feel about one another, as well as the emotional, financial, and physical costs. However, my daughter’s mother wanted to keep the baby because she is older and this may be her last chance, she’s always wanted more than one child, and she didn’t feel she could or should have an abortion.

As we get closer to the due date, I find myself more withdrawn and depressed. Friends, family members, and my therapist all say I need to focus on creating happiness for myself. I’m developing feelings of guilt because I feel like I’m happier when I’m not around my daughter and her mother. Despite how I feel, I have no intent to abandon my children. Am I just a typical selfish male, or do other people hate being parents? What are some techniques I can use to bring even a little joy into parenting?

—Dad Is Sad

Dear DIS,

I’m glad to hear that you’re in therapy and encourage you to stick with it. It’s unclear if your issues with depression predate the situation with your kids’ mom, but the circumstances surrounding the births of your children are certainly complicated enough to take a substantial toll on your well-being. Even if that weren’t the case, plenty of parents struggle to adapt to parenting under even “ideal” conditions.

There may be some gender-normative stuff showing up here, but there are plenty of mothers and other caregivers who share your issues. If you were “a typical selfish male,” you wouldn’t be taking the time to address how you’re feeling. Instead, you’re taking a proactive approach and doing so before your second child is here, which is great.

What are the things that bring you joy that you can do with your daughter? Adapting to parenthood isn’t simply a matter of learning to incorporate PBS Kids and Candy Land into your life, but also finding ways to enjoy your treasured hobbies, food, art, and other experiences with your little ones. Have you had a pajama dance party with her? Taken her to visit that museum you love? Read her your favorite book from when you were her age? She’ll be excited to see you enthusiastic about something, and hopefully that will help your mood to brighten as well.

Also, are you making time to indulge in your beloved pastimes or do anything outside of the stress of work and family? At a time when your stress levels are high and your spirits are low, it’s important that you are taking time to enjoy yourself when and where you can.

Change your environment as much as you can. Bring brighter colors into your home. Take your daughter to different grocery stores, parks, and restaurants than the ones you usually frequent. Find some new free or low-cost activities that you can do together. And please, please remain consistent with your therapist, who can help you to better understand why you’re having these challenges and what it will take for you to rise above them. Best wishes to you, Dad.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have been very lucky with our jobs and income. We have never spent money carelessly and don’t go on vacations or otherwise “live large,” but we eat out quite a bit and buy the things we need without worry. We always spent way less than we earned so we could enjoy the lifestyle we are used to and have a nice amount in our savings. As of this fall, we are both unexpectedly out of work. My husband was the main breadwinner. I will be getting back to work shortly, but at the level my husband is (C-level), the interview/vetting process takes a few months. So for now, we are adhering to a very tight budget and cutting back on everything.

My question is, how do we properly handle this with our 15-year-old daughter? She knows we have no income at present. We have told her what we’re changing in terms of spending, and we’ve told her not to worry. She has asked for a few little things, but I’ve declined those requests. Are we handling this properly? What about when she wants to hang out with friends (at the mall, the movies, walking around town)? She doesn’t have an allowance, so she doesn’t have any of her own money. Do I give her a little bit so she can do stuff with friends? I’m not sure I can keep her from doing stuff for two months, and I definitely don’t want her to worry.

—The Bank Is Closed

Dear TBIS,

Allocate a modest amount of money per month for your daughter to hang out a few times and have pocket cash for snacks and emergencies. Remind her that the household is under a tight budget for the time being and that she’ll have to be mindful to prioritize activities accordingly. (Perhaps she attends a team trip, but passes on random movie night.) She’s old enough to make sacrifices on behalf of the family and understand why, but I wouldn’t recommend shutting down her entire social life unless absolutely necessary. Be proactive about identifying free and low-cost activities that you can do as a family and that she can do with her friends (a more difficult task, but could work depending on her interests). Good luck with the job hunt!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a 5-year-old daughter, “Sasha,” who was best friends with a little girl named “Nadia.” Recently, my daughter met another girl, “Jaylin,” and started to play with her more frequently instead. Nadia’s mother came up to me and told me that Jaylin and my daughter have been bullying Nadia, making fun of her name and excluding her from their games. I apologized profusely and made my daughter apologize as well. Jaylin’s mother shrugged it off as “kids being kids.”

I later saw firsthand how they interacted: When they went to play on the swings, Jaylin would block Nadia from joining them. When they went to go on the slides, Jaylin wouldn’t let her climb up. I told them to play nice and to include Nadia.

Sasha is more of a follower, and pretty much just follows Jaylin’s lead. I think Jaylin is a bad influence. Her mother has said things about Nadia’s religion that make my skin crawl, and doubtless this has rubbed off on Jaylin. The problem is my daughter loves Jaylin and says she’s her BFF. Her mother invites Sasha over for play dates all the time, but I’ve been making excuses as to why she can’t come. Should I let my daughter play with Jaylin? I’ve sat Sasha sat down and talked to her about being nice to everyone and respecting other people’s beliefs, but it just goes in one ear, out the other. What do I do?

—Not Raising a Racist

Dear NRaR,

Keep your daughter away from Jaylin. She’s obviously hearing some awful things about other cultures at home, and she’s too young to simply be instructed not to speak about those things with her friends—and it sounds like your daughter is too likely to be influenced by them.

Folks who spread hate must face the consequences, but too often, friends and family members choose to turn a blind eye or simply hope that they’ll change by osmosis. While you must continue to teach your daughter about cultural diversity and respecting others, she should not be tasked with converting this little Facebook-voter-in-training into a decent human being. See if Nadia’s mom is open to a play date instead.

—Jamilah

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