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’m driving myself crazy, and I could really use an objective perspective here. I have an infant daughter. My husband and I decided on her name a few months before her birth, and we were really enthusiastic about it (it’s a beautiful name and a fairly unusual one). But by the time my due date rolled around we were less enthusiastic about it, to the point that in the hospital I was frantically Googling lists of girls’ names. We couldn’t find one we could agree on, though, and under pressure with no other good option, we went with our original choice. But I can’t shake this worry that we made a mistake! It’s become almost an obsession in the months since she was born. I’ve researched name change procedures (in my state, it has to be done through the courts), and I get a little depressed every time I am introduced to anyone else’s baby girl.
I think part of my regret has to do with the pop culture associations around the name I chose (there are some songs that use the name, and they aren’t great). But the weird thing is I actually like the name itself a lot! I knew before she was born I didn’t want anything too common, but now I find myself wishing we’d gone with something more “safe” or “mainstream.” I find myself feeling ashamed—like I’ve tainted myself and my child with this name I’m not happy with, and I’ve ruined this special time for us both with my mistake.
—Crazy About the Name
The first months of motherhood are hard. Childbirth takes a toll on everyone who’s ever been through it. And then there’s the shock of sleeplessness, the extraordinary demands on our time and attention, the way our lives have changed completely thanks to this little stranger who has come into our lives. Physically, psychologically, emotionally—hell, even when everything is going wonderfully, as it sometimes does for some new parents, those first months are still hard.
You are freaking out, and I get it. But I want to gently but very firmly tell you that this has nothing to do with the name you chose for your daughter. I know it feels like it has everything to do with it. But I promise you it doesn’t. The name you chose will be just fine. It will become a part of her; it will become inseparable from who she is (and Lord knows she will probably play with variations of it at various ages). You haven’t made a mistake. You just made a choice. And you are at a moment in your life (which I would hazard to say began as you approached your due date and started freaking out) when every choice you make feels freighted, heightened, so important that everything depends on it. There is no single choice you make that is that important. Not about her name. Not about where she will sleep, or how you put her to sleep (or put her back to sleep). Not about how you feed her, what you feed her, how often you feed her, or how much she eats. Not about how many or what kinds of gifts her grandparents give her.
We do the best we can at the time, in every moment. As long as you’re doing that, you’re fine. And she’s fine. Stop thinking about her name. It really doesn’t matter all that much. And this idea that’s caught hold of you, that there’s some perfect name out there that you should have chosen, that would set things right, is an illusion. Enjoy your baby. And cut yourself some slack (and, I’m thinking, maybe get some rest, too).
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I am currently eight months pregnant with my first child. My husband and I are looking forward to the baby’s impending arrival and we are mostly ready, but I am freaking out a bit here. This past weekend, my husband and I looked after our 3-year-old nephew and 15-month-old niece while their parents took a well-deserved vacation, and my nephew drove me batty with what were probably completely normal toddler behaviors: repeatedly taking toys out of his sister’s hands, having meltdowns if I said no to him driving a truck through a pile a freshly folded laundry, making requests by whining rather than asking “may I please have … .”
My husband pointed out that by midday Sunday, my interactions with him were going straight to stern correcting rather than making a patient request and allowing him to correct his own behavior (which is what we have agreed on for our own child). He was absolutely right, and I made sure to do better the rest of the day, but I still found that by the end of the weekend, I just didn’t like my nephew all that much, which has sent me into a spiral. Am I not going to love my own child if he or she is just a little bit difficult? Am I going to be a bad parent? Should I have gotten pregnant in the first place? Is everyone around me going to be this annoyed by my children? Help, please!
—I Just Want to Be a Good Mom
A weekend with someone else’s toddler, even your very own beloved nephew, is not a reliable predictor of parenthood. There are a lot of reasons for this, including the fact that your nephew was probably acting out because his parents were away and he was unhappy about that. But the greater truth is that most of us like our own children better than we like anyone else’s. Besides, by the time your not-yet-born child is a toddler, you two will have your own relationship, with its own rules and logic and unspoken language, and—both for better and for worse—a set of predictable child-behavior/parental-response patterns.
You are going to love your child even when he or is she is more than a little bit difficult. You are not going to be a bad parent. (The question about whether you should have gotten pregnant is one I’m not even going to answer—though I remember wondering this myself when I hit my third trimester—because that ship has sailed: It’s a perfectly useless question.) As to whether others will be this annoyed by your children: probably, sometimes. Especially when you leave them with those others while you take a much-needed, well-deserved vacation. That’s OK. It’s the circle of life. (And I am pretty sure that the next time you see your nephew, when you’re not with him round the clock, you will find him as delightful as you used to.)
I’ll close with a couple of anecdotes about my own babysitting-my-nephew experiences, before I had a child of my own. When my brother and his wife had their first child, I was so excited to be an aunt that I insisted on flying to Chicago from Iowa City to be his babysitter on the night they went out to dinner for the first time. The baby started to cry the second his parents left the apartment and didn’t stop until they returned, and I—who had only recently decided that I was dying to be a mother—was sure that my frustration and increasing panic meant that I was wrong, I wasn’t fit to have a child after all. I cried a lot that night, too.
Fast-forward to a couple of years later, when—having not learned my lesson—I enthusiastically volunteered to spend a week with the child, whom I adored, while his parents took a proper vacation. I still didn’t have a child of my own; I had returned to my previous mindset of looking forward to the day I would. But that week was a disaster. Both 2-year-old Sean and I were in tears practically the whole time. Neither one of us slept. I was afraid to turn my back on him for long enough to take a shower (no one had told me how to manage this!). He wouldn’t eat what I offered him. He made constant, unreasonable demands. Even now, more than three decades later, I am horrified to remember how I screamed at him, I was so exhausted—and how he shouted back at me, “I angry at you! I so angry I don’t even want to look at you!” and marched into his room and slammed the door behind him, howling with rage.
My relationship with my daughter never, not once, not even when she was an eye-rolling, you-don’t-know-anything 14-year-old, approached that level of misery. And my nephew Sean and I are great pals. Those babysitting experiences were not predictive of anything at all.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My partner and I are expecting our first child soon, and we know our friends and family will want to send us gifts. Because of my partner’s job, we move internationally every 2–3 years, and while his job will pay to move our things, we still have to curate our material possessions very mindfully as there is a weight limit, not to mention the hassle of deciding what to take or leave with every move. With this reality in mind, do you think it would be poor etiquette to somehow communicate to our friends and family to please ONLY purchase items from our online registry, and not to send us anything that isn’t on it? I don’t want to seem ungrateful for their generosity, but we have a few relatives (or possibly a mother-in-law or two) that I predict will abandon all inhibition at Target. I wish to avoid the potential avalanche of onesies and pacifiers. If you think it’s OK for us to disseminate this message, any ideas how we could do so without coming across as entitled and picky?
—This Does Not Spark Joy
I’m going to make a radical suggestion: Don’t have a registry at all.
Here’s why I’m suggesting this. The way to be certain you aren’t buried in unwanted onesies and pacifiers is not to say, No gifts that we haven’t specifically requested, please!—which is indeed entitled and (more than) picky—but to add a line to the announcement of your child’s birth that goes something like this: We are so happy to share this wonderful news with you! But no gifts, please (we really mean that!). To be sure, many of your friends and family members will follow up with questions, and then you can say, “As you know, we move so often, we just have to keep our possessions to a bare minimum.” And no doubt some people will respond with, “Oh, but surely there must be something you need!” or “Isn’t there any little thing we could do? Anything at all you can use?” Then you can mention something you would be glad to have. “If you insist,” you might gracefully add.
But tread carefully. I don’t think you can have it both ways. A gift is—or should be—a freely offered expression of love, delight, and celebration. It is not a duty or an obligation. I am aware that gift registries are touted as a way to make things easier on potential gift-givers (if this were truly the case, I would be more enthusiastic about them—and I also wouldn’t see so many letters from recipients of gifts who are outraged by the “thoughtlessness” of those who have selfishly bestowed off-registry gifts upon them). I am also aware that by not creating a registry, you are allowing for the slim possibility that you will in fact receive no gifts at all—or far fewer than you are now expecting—and that you will have to purchase many of the items that are now on your shopping list (I mean, your registry). But I think that’s a fair trade-off and a much higher road to take than “Don’t send us anything we haven’t chosen ourselves.”
Dear Care and Feeding,
Here is a horrible new twist on the age-old “unwelcome presents from grandparents” question: A couple of years ago, my mother-in-law started giving us presents with foxes on them, because they’re the mascot of a foreign sports team she began to like after visiting that team’s country. At first, we found it annoying but harmless. A few months later it took on a sinister new significance when we found out that she was having an affair with someone she met in this foreign country. At one point my husband mentioned to his father how distressing we found this motif in light of that, and he said something to her about it (this was not our intention). She got very upset and hurt, but (thankfully) the fox gifts stopped. Briefly. Now they’re back with a vengeance.
We get that foxes are trendy, but if it were just that, there would have been at least one llama by now. Besides, she herself made the connection to the city/team when she gave us the first fox tchotchke, so we know we’re not just being paranoid. What we don’t know is whether she’s trying to subliminally influence our child in favor of her homewrecker base, or if she just really, really loves foxes now and doesn’t care how we feel. But we don’t want to fill our baby’s life with cutesy reminders of the man Grandma left Grandpa for. We want to stay on good terms with her without going along with the charade of pretending that everything is cool and normal and everyone is happy for her. Can we ask her to lay off the foxes, at least? And how?
I don’t understand why it wasn’t your intention to have your apparently long-suffering father-in-law repeat to his then-wife what your husband said. It seems to me that would have been a way to get this out in the open some time ago. But if you and your husband don’t want any more of these gifts, try this: “Mom, please do not give us any more gifts emblazoned with foxes.” If she asks why, try the death stare if the two of you still prefer not to acknowledge this open secret. Or one of you can say, “We really hate foxes” or, more gently, “I believe we have enough foxes.”
Me, I’d come out with it—I always prefer, for better or worse, to be direct. If you and your husband don’t want to “go along with the charade” that you believe the fox-stamped onesies represent, why not say, “You know we love you, but seriously, Mom, this romance-related iconography is no fun for us.” If neither one of you can bring yourself to be that forthright, try this compromise: “YOU KNOW WHY, MOM, for heaven’s sake.” But if she protests that she has no idea what you’re talking about, and neither one of you can come out with it, I’m sorry to say that your home is likely to remain a foxhole for years to come.
I am currently six months pregnant with my husband’s and my first child. A close friend of ours got engaged a few months ago and has asked my husband to be a groomsman. The bachelor party will be in Mexico for five days and will cost roughly $1,500—and it will be happening when our newborn will be only 3 months old. Is it bad for me to tell him he can’t go?