Care and Feeding

“You’re Going to Do What?”

How should I respond to my sexist co-workers when they question my decision to work after I have kids?

An infant on the floor watching his mother leave for work.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Tetra Images via Getty Images Plus and Elke Van de Velde/DigitalVision via 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 am mom to a 7-month-old. We live in a pretty conservative area, and I work in a male-dominated industry. In fact, all of my co-workers are men who have or had stay-at-home wives. When I was pregnant, several of my co-workers did not expect me to come back to work. Though I told them we planned on using day care, I guess they assumed some maternal instinct would come over me and I’d quit. They said terrible things to me, like how they’d be worried day care would let their child cry all day.

I need a script for when people express their condolences about our child care. I get comments all the time: “We were fortunate and my wife didn’t have to work.” “My sister-in-law ended up having to work. It sucks.” They assume I’m working because I have to, not because I want to. It’s 2019! Some moms want to work!

Perhaps the reason I haven’t come up with a witty rebuttal is I don’t want to be working—only it wasn’t financially feasible for me to stay home. These guys think moms only work if they have to, when many moms work because they want to. As the only liberal feminist around, I feel responsible for representing that point of view. But I feel weird feigning a passion for work that I don’t have. My husband is in the same boat—he’d love to be a stay-at-home dad, but no one says it’s unfortunate that he has to work.

—Reluctantly Working Mom

Dear Reluctantly Working Mom,

First of all, everyone should be banned from saying terrible and stupid things about day care. Especially, you know, to parents who rely on day care. The jerky things people feel comfortable saying never cease to amaze me.

Anyway. I’m sorry you’re stuck at work when you’d rather be home, and I’m sorry that as an added bonus you have to run around defending the rights of women everywhere to devote energy to their careers after becoming mothers.

You know, of course, that you don’t have to do that. But you’re taking a noble stance, and maybe that fact will make you feel a little better about being at a job you’re not wild about—you might, by example, be making a difference. I think you can address these comments without outright lying: “Well, it’s not so bad and remember: Some moms want to work,” or “Every family runs differently, and this arrangement works for us.”

I’m unsurprised that no one ever says such things to your husband. And I’m realistic about your ability to change minds. But if it’s important to you to defend the rights of all women to choose work as well as family, give it your all! You’re not doing the job you love, but you are still fighting the good fight.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My son is 16 months old and attracts a lot of young female attention. At 10 months, having just learned how to stand, we took him to a live kids music event and a 4-year-old girl ran up to him and told him he was cute and asked him to dance. My husband had to help him stand, but they danced. It was cute, and I didn’t think anything of it.

But as the months go by, it keeps happening. Every time I take him to a play date or kids museum there are toddler girls hugging him, petting him, telling him he’s cute, and getting shy around him. He is unfazed by it, already used to the attention, and it has never upset him—to him, that is simply how he is treated. My husband and I are both pleasant to look at, but our son is far and away more attractive than either of us. I feel ill-equipped to teach him how to deal with the level of interest he receives.

I expected some of this when he was older, but should I be stepping in and brushing the toddler girls off of him, or should I let them fawn over him as long as it continues not to bother him? Can I even protect him from this? Is it anything to worry about? I worry that he is not going to have a normal life, that it can’t be healthy to be constantly objectified like that by his peers, and that I don’t know how to prepare him for whatever lies ahead. What are the downsides to being a stone cold fox and how do I protect my son from them?

—Heartthrob’s Mom

Dear Heartthrob’s Mom,

I’m sure your kid is gorgeous, but you might also consider that lots of little kids are fascinated by even younger kids—a toddler who is not your sibling is kind of an amazing playmate, though maybe plaything is the more accurate word: Younger kids are like animate dolls.

I do think that being very attractive can be a weird and specific burden (we should all be so unlucky I guess). I don’t doubt that really handsome kids are treated differently by peers, but also teachers and authority figures. It might be simple favoritism, or it might tilt into objectification, but there’s very little that you can do to control how other people behave.

What you can do is raise your son thoughtfully. Avoid commenting on appearances, whether your own or other people’s. The world might tell him otherwise, but you’ll find plenty of opportunities to remind him that what matters most is not how people look but how they behave.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a 2-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old nephew, Jason. He’s an only child and has had issues with socialization and behavior. He hits his mother and can be manipulative. I am always cautious when Jason is around my daughter. We do not visit with my sister’s family often, but when we do, Jason is polite and caring. He seems to have improved his behavior, though I do notice that he’s a bit jealous and competitive with my daughter.

Last week, we went to Jason’s house. My sister has a swimming pool that is open, even now that it’s winter. This makes me nervous. Because of the swimming pool, I was always close by. Jason got a toy boat and pushed it into the pool and called for my daughter. My sister and uncle explained to him that we need to keep my daughter away from the pool. Jason seemed to understand. But then he took a ball she was playing with and kicked it toward the pool. They had another talk with him.

I took my daughter back in the house, and my family members asked why I was so uptight. An hour later, my dad had my daughter in the backyard again. Jason ran outside with a fishing pole toy. He started throwing plastic fish into the middle of the pool and calling my daughter to see them. At this point, I told my dad that I did not want my daughter in the backyard anymore.
My family has taken offense to my assumption that Jason was trying to hurt my daughter. They think I am overreacting and overprotective.

I am not sure if a 6-year-old can’t understand danger, or if Jason does not listen to adult instructions. But I keep wondering if I have to worry about Jason doing something that could cause harm to my daughter? It seems strange that he kept trying to get my daughter to play in the pool. My family is planning several more activities for the holidays that include going to Jason’s house. They’ve promised to put a fence around the pool, but I am not sure what to do.

—Safety Patrol

Dear Safety Patrol,

I can’t answer whether your daughter’s cousin means her harm, Bad Seed style. But I can tell you your family is wrong to make you feel you’re being overprotective—pools should always be fenced, and toddlers require monitoring. Jason might have just been excited to play with his cousin. But he’s 6 and she’s 2; keeping a close eye on the two of them at these holiday get-togethers isn’t overreacting, it’s common sense.

Continue to be a vigilant parent. If you see more behavior from your nephew that worries you, you might have to have a difficult conversation with his parents. Or you might have to decide this means keeping the cousins apart until his behavior is addressed. It’s not a great situation, but it’s your job as a parent to be attentive and listen to your instincts, especially when it comes to your child’s safety, even if it causes strife inside the family. Good luck.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I ran to the post office and let my 12-year-old son sit in the car while I ran inside. When I got back, he was a little agitated and said, “Mom, I don’t know how to tell you this, but I need to be honest. I did that.” He pointed to a crack in the windshield that I thought had already been there.

There are two other cracks in this windshield. The car is getting on in years. He said he had been stretching his legs, and accidentally kicked the window. He likely just split the windshield further from its already-cracked state.

The dilemma is he’s really nervous about what Dad will say. He asked me not to tell him, and I said that wasn’t an option. His dad tends to have these knee-jerk reactions to anything our son does and immediately resorts to taking electronics away (Nintendo Switch, iPad, watching TV). My husband and I have had many conversations about consequences that pertain to the offensive action—I try to avoid “undermining” him (his words), even when I disagree with the punishment.

It’s my son’s birthday weekend. Do we ruin the birthday enjoyment? Do I not say anything to my husband? I’m leaning toward having my son be the one to tell him, but I know that despite the car’s condition, my husband will freak out. What would be an appropriate consequence for this? He shouldn’t have to pay for the windshield—it was already damaged. This is another thing my husband tends to threaten every time my son breaks something (he is a bit klutzy).

I try to remind my husband that as kids and teens, our parents never made us pay for those expensive mistakes. But he was apparently that child and teenager who never did anything wrong and was never in trouble. (His mom will back him up on this.)

—Channeling My Mama Bear

Dear Mama Bear,

To my mind, disobedience requires punishment. Bad behavior, willful acting out, the violation of established rules—all of these can and should be addressed via discipline.

Your kid made a mistake. He was honest with you about it. Further, the thing that he broke was already broken—he made it worse, but really how big an infraction is this?

Adolescent bodies are awkward and big; adolescent brains are foggy enough that they’re not guided by common sense. It’s annoying and it can be expensive, but neither can be mitigated by punishment.

It sounds like the real issue is your sense that your husband is maybe a little hard on the boy. Your husband might have been an angel who did no wrong, but he needs to accept his own son for who he is—a kid who made a mistake, not the devil.

Your husband shouldn’t be so quick to discount your objections as undermining. Parenting is a collaborative endeavor, and even if one of you is a disciplinarian and the other permissive, you need to come to a compromise about how to manage discipline and when it’s warranted. Taking away TV is a fine punishment, but it should fit the crime. In this instance, there isn’t one.


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