Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I are expecting our first child. We’re both in graduate school and have a pretty tight income right now.
We have lots of flexibility with our schedules, but both have a lot of work to accomplish, and that work takes a lot of mental energy and focus. We qualify for a child care subsidy that would put day care within the realm of possibility.
My husband is open to this but has offered up an alternative: We each take three days a week “on” and three “off.” When we’re “on,” we’re responsible for being the primary caregiver for the bulk of the day, and when we’re “off” we can go onto campus, get work done, but would split responsibilities in the morning and evening. (We’d share the seventh day.)
I feel heartless, but I’m pretty insistent about day care. Almost every mother I talk to tells me about how difficult it is to send their child to day care and how it’s best to care for your child yourself. But I need to write my doctoral dissertation, and I’m worried that won’t happen if I’m caring for an infant.
I’m also sensitive to equity in my relationship, and I worry that our on/off days are going to slide into more days for me as I’m hoping to breastfeed and that will take time and energy even on days when I’m off. My husband is wonderful, and I know neither of us would plan for that slip to happen, but I am afraid my work is going to get pushed to the side. What would you do?
—First Baby Jitters
Congrats on your impending arrival!
While I absolutely agree that it can be tough to send your little one off to day care, I wish I could yell at the mothers who tell you it’s “best to care for your child yourself.” There are great day care providers out there, and there are plenty of parents who have no alternative but to rely on them. And parenting an infant is a 24/7 task, so you’ll absolutely still be caring for your little one plenty.
I think you’re being practical, not heartless. Your husband’s plan sounds ideal but is … hard to implement. It’s tough to make a workable strategy for dealing with an infant; babies do not follow adult timetables and rules. If you’re on Monday and your husband is on Tuesday, who deals when the baby feels like hanging out from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.? If you’re on child care duty, can you spend the hours she’s napping answering emails, or are you required to deal with the laundry?
Equity is a worthy goal, but bear in mind there may be moments (after, you know, you’ve physically recovered from delivering the baby) when you’re at the library pumping instead of working. You’re rightly going to have a different experience of your kid’s infancy than your husband. Maybe your husband hasn’t thought through those particulars; it can be very hard to envision exactly what life with a baby will be like when the baby is still a distant idea and not a cooing, crying human being. The equity you speak of isn’t about strict division of labor, which is impossible for a human without mammary glands; it’s about your partner listening to your concerns and helping you work through them productively.
Obviously, day care will not solve every logistical challenge—it won’t do the chores, it won’t mitigate the logistics of breastfeeding, it won’t guarantee you a good night’s sleep. What it will do is grant you a handful of hours a day that you can declare are wholly for your work. If your budget can accommodate it, I think it’s a superb investment.
I’m sure you’re stressed about all of this. Maybe it’ll help to hear that when my younger son came home, my husband and I maintained an arrangement not unlike the one your husband is proposing; it was only weeks before we realized it just wasn’t workable. We sent our little guy off to day care where he was loved and well cared for seven hours a day so we could do our jobs. I hope you have as great an experience as we did. (And I hope you kill it on your dissertation!)
Enjoy Slate’s Holiday Advice From the Experts series from our beloved advice columnists.
Keep your sanity intact this holiday season with Jamilah Lemieux’s self-care tips. Nicole Cliffe presents classic gifts for children of all ages. Teacher Carrie Bauer recommends educational gifts your kids will actually enjoy.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I have a 2 ½–year-old and a 1-year-old. This year, we’re spending Christmas at my in-laws for the first time, which is lovely as both my kids adore their grandparents. The problem is that my mother-in-law refuses to tell me what she plans to get them for Christmas.
There’s an ongoing issue where she thinks I’m a killjoy, and I think she disrespects my parenting decisions. It’s my right to know what gifts my toddlers receive and have veto power, right?? I asked her what they were getting, and when she refused to tell me I asked why she wouldn’t tell me, and she just walked away. So now I’m worried about ruining Christmas because there are things that I don’t want my kids having (a sandbox, an iPad or tablet, etc.). I’m baffled as to what to do next.
—Battle of the Gifts
Ah yes … turning the giving of gifts into an opportunity to remind your daughter-in-law that she’s a joyless nag whose authority you don’t respect—the spirit of Christmas!
I’m so sorry. Everyone has their own parenting rules and philosophies, and sometimes these can be especially hard to translate across the generations. I think you need to enlist your husband in this struggle because yes, it is your right as the parent of such small children to determine what is appropriate for them. If you say no guns and no screens, and your mother-in-law gives them iPads and assault rifles, she is feigning generosity while she acts out some weird, misplaced aggression.
If your mother-in-law still maintains that it’s her right to surprise her grandkids with whatever she wants, you’ll have little choice but to repossess any forbidden gifts. I wouldn’t worry about this making you the bad guy; your kids are young enough that they’re easily fooled. And maybe this will show your mother-in-law that you’re serious about raising your children according to your rules. Good luck!
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m married to a devoted family man, thoughtful husband, and loving father. He also has some extreme tendencies related to neatness and predictability. He doesn’t like anything out of place and gets flustered when things don’t go according to plan, no matter how minor.
This was a major issue early in our marriage, but we’ve worked through it. I commend him for learning to keep his agitation in check. He still is bothered by things not going to plan, but has learned to let it go. He can fall back into old habits when he’s stressed or has had multiple frustrations throughout the day. For example, he usually can look past an errant glass on the counter, but will get upset at it if he’s had a bad day at work.
I’m a neat and organized person, and I’ve learned to not change plans whenever possible (if I say I’m making chicken for dinner, I know better to not surprise him with pasta). I’ve also learned to take it less personally when he does get upset over minor things, as I know it’s usually more about other things going on in his life than about the specific thing I did.
In general, we’ve both found a middle ground that we can live with, and our marriage and home life is overall pretty good. The issue is arising now that our kids are old enough that they are starting to internalize his frustrations, and I’m not sure how to support them while also not undermining my husband.
Recently, my 6-year-old daughter wanted to bake and decorate holiday cookies. We had a blast, and enjoyed our one-on-one time together. It’s not surprising we made a mess in the kitchen, but I was cleaning it up when my husband came home (washing dishes when he walked in). He flipped out at the mess, telling us how it was stressing him out after a bad day, and why did we make such a mess, and why didn’t we start earlier so we had time to clean it up before he came home, and why did we need to make cookies anyway? Our amazing mother-daughter day got reduced to the mess in the kitchen and how it was stressing daddy out.
As an adult with 10 years of history with my husband, I was able to shrug it off, but my daughter got upset. She kept apologizing to him, near tears, at which point I told her she didn’t do anything wrong, daddy was just in a bad mood, let’s not let him ruin our fun. And then my husband got mad at me for dismissing his concerns and undermining him in front of our daughter. He later apologized to both of us, but my daughter was visibly anxious about the whole thing.
I’m not sure whether I handled it well and what to do better in the future. I don’t want to undermine my husband—I think parents need to be united in front of their kids. And I don’t want to send the message that any time daddy is upset, my kids shouldn’t take him seriously. A lot of the time, he is justified in scolding the kids when they don’t follow rules. But I also can’t stand by while he instills anxiety in our kids.
I used to bite my tongue when he went off on something minor, but now I’m seeing how it’s affecting them and don’t think my silence is the right approach. They already make comments that show me his reactions are on their minds, like feeling bad about playing with Legos because they make a temporary mess.
—Walking on Eggshells
I like a tidy home myself. But in my experience, a stressful day at the office can be utterly saved by opening the door to find my kids, joyfully lost in the mess they’ve made. Yes, it’s annoying to have to tidy up, but what better reminder of why you go to the office at all?
I think you’ve spent a decade becoming inured to your husband’s behavior, and it’s only in seeing it through your children’s eyes that you realize there’s a problem here. Someone who might fly off the handle at being served pasta instead of chicken is someone who is not healthy. Your husband needs help; you both do, and no advice columnist can provide that. I highly recommend you talk to him and then, together, talk to a therapist.
If your children are anxious about playing because it might upset daddy, what you’re describing isn’t a personality quirk but something closer to abuse. Your defense of your daughter isn’t undermining your husband; it’s justice. Yes, parents are allowed to scold kids for not following rules.
But they’re not justified in scaring them off of ever baking cookies or playing with Legos. If your husband is as thoughtful and loving as you say he is, I hope he can figure out how to get his controlling and illogical behavior under control. Please take this matter to an expert as soon as possible.
Dear Care and Feeding,
When my son was 3, we signed him up for a whiffle ball team at our local park. For the last few years, we’ve been bringing him to various sports clubs for little kids. It gets him moving, he can interact with other kids, learn some direction, and just have fun. Also, it costs us very little.
Unfortunately, he’s at the age where these clubs get serious. And my son wants to sign up for baseball next spring. Here’s the thing: I have friends with children in these clubs, and they hate it (but suck it up for the kids). It’s a major time commitment (they can barely make plans on the weekends), requires travel (a game 1.5 hours away at 8 a.m.!), and it’s not cheap.
I’m sending my son to day camp this summer, so it’s not like he won’t have anything to do. Also (forgive me) he doesn’t display any great athleticism, so I’m not depriving him of some future in sports. My husband offered to shepherd him to and from practices and games, but I worry that gives our son an impression that I’m not completely interested in his life. I know that being a parent means making sacrifices, but this just seems like an unnecessary one to me. Am I a horrible parent for not wanting my son to be involved in these teams anymore?
—Burnt Out Sports Mom
Dear Burnt Out,
Based on the letters we receive, there seems to be a lot of sports team anxiety out there. Here’s the matter as I see it: You’re making a decision that affects the whole family—in terms of time and money commitment. You’re not a horrible parent if you determine that joining this team isn’t the right decision for your family.
I don’t think your son will interpret his father being the designated baseball parent as some kind of maternal rejection. So if you feel truly torn, you could try that arrangement. But I don’t think you feel truly torn; I think you want your weekends to be relaxing and simple, and I don’t blame you one bit.
Your son doesn’t need to join this team; you don’t want him to join this team. It’s not right for you, so be at peace with your decision! (Also: Maybe you should do every area parent a favor and put together an email list of kids who aren’t on a team and invite everyone to meet at the local park every other Saturday at 9 a.m. or something; I think there are a lot of you out there and you don’t need to uniforms and schedules and treks to games for the kids to have some fun.)
More Advice From Slate
My first grader is bright and imaginative, and he seems to be well-liked by his peers. Despite this, he often comes home from school dejected because no one wants to create imaginary play productions during recess. I have encouraged him to join the others and let go of his determination to put on pretend Broadway productions, but this goes in one ear and out the other. Should I say anything else, or let him work these playground politics out on his own?