Care and Feeding

Third Time’s a Charm?

I desperately want another child. My husband does not.

A woman lies on her back with her hand to her forehead as a child lies on her stomach.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo 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 and I are at a stalemate about whether to have another child. We have a boy and a girl, 6 and 3. After my daughter was born, I knew I wanted another one. My husband is against it and says he will only agree to it if I take two years off from work. He says the children only become “bearable” after two years. I already know that if I want two years off, I am going to be quitting forever.

When my son was born, my husband had a hard time, and we had a lot of marital problems. He accused me of ruining his life, ruining his career, told me my parents are pests, and yelled at my dad to get out of the house when they were visiting. These are the worst moments. In between, he was cold to me, and I was apologizing constantly for making him miserable, though I was not entirely sure what I had done wrong.
Obviously this all sounds terrible.

After a few years, he improved a little, but he is still pretty moody. We do have good moments in between. One of the reasons he cites for not wanting another child is that my son didn’t sleep through the night until he was 2. I read tons of books about baby sleep, but every method led to him crying, and I am opposed to letting him cry it out. My husband says he does not want to lose sleep again. He didn’t get up once to help with my daughter.

Before we had kids, my husband used to cook at least once a week and help with chores, but now he cooks a couple times a year and will occasionally take the trash out. I know that if we have a third, he will expect me to do everything. In general, my husband has always been a loner. He has never had any close friends, and he does not have any desire to make friends. He doesn’t say anything when we are with other people, and he barely has a conversation with his parents when they call.

To be honest, I just don’t think he likes human interaction very much, and I think he would have been better off on his own. Maybe this is why he doesn’t want to add another person to the family. So obviously our marriage has been less than ideal, but he is not willing to go to couples therapy. But the kids are the joy of my life! I feel so sad about not having the big family that I wanted. I know that I will have to do everything, and my life will be crazy if we have a third. How do I get over this? Am I selfish and crazy for wanting another?

—Desperate for Number Three

Dear DfNT,

You are not selfish and crazy. I wonder whether you are, though, motivated to have another child because your family feels incomplete—and it will remain so as long as it contains a husband this indifferent and cruel. I don’t know what’s wrong with your husband, but it certainly sounds as though something is.

Before you embark on adding to your family, it might be worth thinking how your husband’s approach to being a parent is affecting your children. What you describe does not sound like the kind of partnership I would want to model; I’m sure you want to raise a son who will, someday, get up to tend to his own infant, or a daughter who will, someday, expect her partner to approach household responsibility equitably. You can do all the chores and get up for all the feedings and make every meal, being superhero more than mother, but you cannot prevent your husband from having some effect on the kids you’re doing the work of raising.

I think you deserve better than what you describe. Since your husband won’t join you in couples therapy, I urge you to speak to a professional on your own. It might help clarify some things about you, and your spouse, and the marriage. I understand your kids bring you joy—but there may be more than one path toward fulfillment.

That said: Maybe you really want another baby and have made your peace with doing so as essentially a single parent. You don’t need anyone’s permission to make that choice, but that, too, might be worth sussing out with a therapist or someone else you trust. You owe this to your kids, both the ones you have and the one you might someday have, and also, you owe it to yourself. Good luck.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

After school, my kindergartner occasionally goes home with a friend. Yesterday he told me that they play a funny game where the make prank phone calls to businesses and ask each one if they’re a Pizza Hut. I thought he might be making it up because he doesn’t know how to access phone numbers, but he explained that they use Alexa to look up numbers and call them.

They have been making prank calls to 911 as well. I had a long talk with him about the seriousness of calling 911 for non-emergencies. But should I tell the other boy’s mother? I don’t want to seem as though I’m questioning how well she’s keeping an eye on them, but it sounds like this is something he does regularly even when my son isn’t present.

—More Than Childish Pranks

Dear MTCP,

Of course you should! I think it’s as simple as saying Helen, you should know what the boys got up to last week instead of Helen, you’re a terrible parent for letting the boys get away with this last week. If you say the former, I don’t think she’ll infer the latter, and even if she does, honestly, I still think you’re obligated to tell her.

I think more broadly you’re asking about something that can be complex—the necessity of honoring other families’ rules and parenting styles and also what you, as a guest, can control of interactions for which you’re not present. If Helen says fine wear your shoes on the carpet and you say always take your shoes off, well, it’s her living room. If Helen says prosciutto for snack and you say we keep kosher that’s another matter altogether. I think you know when to speak up and when not to, and in this case, kindergartners calling 911 feels serious enough to warrant saying something. Parents should be allies! I don’t think you’re pointing fingers, and I don’t think your passing this on will feel like you’re blaming anyone (except for Alexa, who is at fault here!).

Dear Care and Feeding,

I grew up in a family where dinner was family time, meaning it was about being emotionally present and sharing about our day. My husband’s family, on the other hand, had dinner together every night but was less communicative in general (the goal was to eat and escape as soon as possible).

It wasn’t like we had smartphones or even cellphones during those years, but I think our upbringing influenced our respective attitudes. He has no problem pulling out his phone and playing games or surfing the internet while eating together. I find it rude but have lately found myself slipping into it too when conversation has stalled.

Now that our toddler is starting to understand and interact with us, I’m hoping to agree on a family policy that discourages screen time at meals. The twist is that I’m the one with a job that requires me to be on call periodically overnight, meaning I have to answer phone calls in a timely fashion even at dinner (a regular occurrence).

It feels hypocritical to ban phones at meals for everyone except me. And we use our phones for reasons that feel legit, such as taking photos—the first time trying to eat with a spoon!—or FaceTiming relatives. What is a realistic and fair approach toward using our smartphones?

—Is Dinnertime Sacred?

Dear Dinnertime,

First, just to make you (and me!) feel a little better: I don’t think taking the occasional mealtime snapshot inhibits bonding. I think the ability to FaceTime with grandma is a marvel! And I understand that sometimes duty calls and you have to step away from the table to get some work done.

The extreme measure—leave phones in the other room—isn’t really an option for you. But I don’t think fairness should be considered here. Meals with toddlers are not that long, and your husband doesn’t need his phone for work in these moments! Why can’t you just experiment: He puts his phone on airplane mode and it’s nearby for pictures only, while you leave your ringer on and in the other room, so you can step away if work needs you?

Phones are fun, but it’s important to think of this not as a punishment but a strategy for making your non-phone life fun, too. I think living comfortably with technology requires a negotiation—why not start there and see what develops?

Read Jamilah Lemieux’s response to this question in Slate Plus.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I recently hired a very sweet part-time nanny who helps watch my 8-month-old while I work full time from home. How much am I obligated or not obligated to step in when there is a non-life-threatening issue (e.g., my son is being extra fussy/crying for no reason)?

I’m comfortable letting her figure it out with him, but I almost feel rude not helping. What is the etiquette/protocol? As a former nanny, I always watched kids whose parents went into an office though I don’t think I would have expected them (if they were home) to help me. I am a people pleaser by nature so I am feeling very anxious about all this!

—Mum’s the Word?

Dear Mum,

Don’t feel anxious! You have a job to do that just happens to be at home; your nanny has a job to do, too. I think you should defer to her authority when she’s on the clock; it’s respectful and a wise thing to model for the baby. Yes, obviously if there’s some crisis, you can intervene, but you shouldn’t feel rude for not doing her job for her. You should feel lucky that you found a sweet nanny you trust with your son.

—Rumaan

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