Care and Feeding

My Grown-Man Husband Keeps Calling Our 3-Year-Old a “Butthole” and “Turd”

The kid can be frustrating! But he’s got to stop this, right?

A dad and a toddler both pitching a tantrum, against an abstract background.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by ozgurcoskun/iStock/Getty Images Plus and katrinaelena/iStock/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 have a 3-year-old son. My husband has never been a patient man, and our son has hit an admittedly very frustrating phase of stubbornness and attitude (he is very much a “threenager”). I’m not perfect, and do sometimes run out of patience myself, so I understand my husband doing so as well.

My frustration, though, is how my husband responds. I generally go with telling my son that he isn’t making good choices and that he isn’t being nice or kind, or that what he said/did hurt my feelings based on the situation or behavior. When he reaches his limit, my husband quickly goes to calling our son a “turd” or a “butthole,” and this really bothers me. I don’t want our son to learn that calling others names is OK, and I don’t think calling our son names is helpful (and it honestly just seems childish to me that a nearly 40-year-old is calling a 3-year-old a “turd”). Am I overthinking this/being too sensitive?

—No Potty Mouth

Dear NPM,

You are right and he is wrong. You can call your newborn a “turd” in a sweet voice to blow off steam; that’s totally fine (you can also watch a full season of Game of Thrones while breastfeeding; newborns are a freebie). You absolutely cannot call your very garden-variety aggravating 3-year-old mean names.

If he has “hit his limit,” he needs to tap out and walk away. I assume you are present in these moments, because I doubt he cheerily announces “I called our son names today!” when you return from work or the store. I suggest coming up with a neutral signal for when he wants to communicate “I’m fucking losing it” but instead sounds like “I’m going to see if the oven is preheated.”

If you are not present to tap in, then he needs to just suck it the hell up and work on his patience; he’s a grown man. Plop the kid in the Playard and walk away for a few minutes. Put on a meditation app. Try to see the absurdity of arguing with someone whose skull plates haven’t even closed yet.

But no, this is not OK. You are correct to cut it off at the knees now before your kid’s first memory is his father calling him a “butthole.” It may help to share all the moments where you have wanted to say or do something ill-advised. It will not help your husband to feel like a jerk or a monster. Try to meet him where he is, empathize, and talk about your own strategies.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I know you have strong feelings on “name-stealing” but believe me, this is something special.

I am half-Indian, and my husband is Japanese-French. We adopted twin baby girls from India two years ago, and while their first names are French to honor my husband’s family, their middle names are my Indian grandmother and great grandmother’s names. My husband’s brother is engaged to a very nice woman (who is white), and they are expecting a baby girl. At the baby shower, “Sally” told me that she loved my older twin’s middle name and wanted to name her baby that. I was of course shocked, since her baby is not Indian, and the only connections to India they have are me and my daughters.

I pointed this out, and the fact that it was a very distinctly Indian name. Sally then replied that her baby “was a quarter Asian anyways so it was fine.” I was seeing red. I explained to her curtly how disrespectful it was, and then quickly grabbed my daughters and left, crying in the car. These are the names of my dead grandmother and great-grandmother, which I had been hoping to pass down to my future children since my grandmother passed away.

My husband and I are very angry at Sally, and although my brother-in-law keeps reaching out to try and “compromise,” we’re not talking to them. Everyone from both my and my husband’s family agrees that this was culturally insensitive, and that she has to choose a new name. But I still feel like I overreacted and that I may have just ruined any relationship my girls may have with their cousin. How should I deal with Sally now?

—Upset About the Name Game

Dear UATNG,

I was sufficiently intrigued by your question to take it on (after texting some Desi friends to make sure I wasn’t going to miss vital cultural context in the process).

If Sally had written to me, I would have told her that she should have sounded you out on the name (not in the context of a busy baby shower, or as a fait accompli). But she didn’t. It just happened the way it happened, and I’m sorry it did.

Let’s take a beat here and remember that you gave these important family names as middle names, which people are far less likely to see as “stealing.” I think, too, that if you have residual grief around the loss of your beloved family members, that’s valid, but you are better off not letting that grief run the show on a vital family relationship with your husband’s brother and his wife. Was she dismissive of your feelings? Yes. Am I impressed with “well, she’s a quarter Asian, so…” Not even a little. Other people will roll their eyes on your behalf. Do you still need to talk to them and try to come to a place of peace? Absolutely.

Have a practice conversation with your husband first, letting him play the role of Sally. First, let it all out, and then try to have a more productive version of that conversation.

You still gave these beautiful, meaningful names to your children. Nothing can take that from you. And babies are lovable. You may discover your feelings are very different when you actually meet a beautiful niece who shares this beloved name. It may be a joy. It may be an irritant for a time, perhaps always. But please, don’t let this mess up such an important relationship.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

At 24 weeks pregnant, I lost my baby due to a genetic abnormality. My husband and I were and remain devastated. It has been four months. We have more good days now, but the pain and grief can still be overwhelming. This pregnancy was our first, and some of the devastation stems from losing the hopes and dreams we had for our life as a family of three. We are still working on recalibrating our vision of the future and learning to live with grief. I know it will always be there, and we’re still early on this path.

Through this experience, I have learned how bad people are at comforting those who are grieving. We received good support from our parents and some people in our lives, but grief is so uncomfortable for so many people. The holiday season and making it to the due date were so hard because we would have been preparing for the arrival of our child, and my heart ached at having to sort through being postpartum with no child. We are in our early 30s, so a lot of our friend group is pregnant or have young children. We have tried to still be as social as we are able, but it has been extremely difficult for me to interact with our friends’ children, or to see young families when we are out. It still feels like a gut punch.

I am working with a therapist and have been since the loss, and that is extremely helpful. I want to be able to attend baby showers or hear about pregnancy announcements, or just simply be around babies or young children without feeling overwhelmed by my grief and sadness. I tend to over worry, and I have this fear that we may not ever have a living child. I know that I have feelings of jealousy and anger, as well as grief and sadness. We really wanted to have our baby.

There have been many aspects of my recovery and the aftermath of the past few months that our close circle has no idea about. I know having to sink my energy into these aspects has likely delayed some of my healing. I do carry some resentment that people just do not understand grieving.

I want to be able to silently wish joy to a pregnant woman I see without feeling jealousy. I want to hear about pregnancy or birth announcements of friends or acquaintances without feeling like my heart is cleaving in two. I don’t want to become bitter or unable to be at showers or events until I do have a child. At the same time, it hurts so badly some days, and being at social events, or sometimes just even the grocery store, with lots of children makes the hurt worse. Do you have any tips or suggestions on how to navigate my loss and grief, while still being a part of the world?

—Grieving in the Pacific Northwest

Dear GitPN,

I am so sorry. My heart breaks for you. People are, as you have observed, bad at dealing with grief, for a variety of reasons: simple clumsiness, fear of making the situation worse, casual self-absorption, and a deep lack of understanding at the unpredictable length of grief, especially since such a grief can be eternal.

Being in therapy is great. But I want you to protect yourself. I want you to treat yourself like you are your most loved friend. I think you would tell your most loved friend to skip the baby shower, to avoid events with children and babies until they are able to do so with a pang but not a panic attack in the bathroom.

Don’t put yourself on an imaginary timeline and beat yourself up when you fail to hit the milestones. You experienced a terrible loss, and being in a state of active grief is a painful place to be—I do not fundamentally believe anyone spends longer in it than they absolutely must. Don’t worry about “wallowing.” You have to do the work, you cannot put it off; please try to be a partner to each other in your grief, and one day you will look up and realize you didn’t think about it for half a day. And then burst into tears because “you forgot.”

You are in my thoughts. I feel such softness toward you, please be soft to yourself. Protect your heart, but try to live in the world again when you can.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Two separate but related questions. First, the more serious: I am a first-time mother to a wonderful 9-month-old. He is normally a pretty easy child, but when he’s difficult, I get angry with him. Today, he just kept trying to squirm and turn himself over when I was trying to change his diaper and put his clothes back on. I know it’s completely normal behavior, he’s not trying to make my life harder, but my instinct is to use harsh tones with him, to not be as careful about keeping him from hitting himself on something while he’s flailing. It’s horrible, because I know that he can’t or shouldn’t learn right now through physical pain, because he’s scared of me, or because he sees that I’m displeased, but my brain is screaming at me that I must get him to stop and that these are effective behavior modification techniques. How do I stop these thoughts instead? What can I say to myself?

Relatedly, I think it’s obvious I’m in need of therapy. How do women with children actually do that? He’s home with me all day when most psychologists would have office hours. Should I try to figure out a babysitter just so I can go for a couple hours? Do some therapists let you bring your baby?

—Frazzled

Dear Frazzled,

Babies can be so hard. SO hard. I’m glad that our culture has overcorrected a bit into “IT’S A G-DDAMN NIGHTMARE” instead of “LOVE EVERY MOMENT,” even though neither are true or possible.

There are absolutely therapists who let you bring your baby. There are even more therapists who let you do Skype sessions with your baby present. I think that’s a great idea. Being home all day with a baby is not for everyone: It’s also not how anyone was expected to raise babies until very recently in human history. The multigenerational family home had plenty of issues as well, but there was a lot to be said for having other trusted caregivers to toss a baby at so you could just go to the damn store and talk to an adult about which oranges look good this week.

You recognize your coping skills are bad, and you want to do better, and I believe you will. But it will take work: Professional help is a tremendously good plan, and remember, a 9-month-old can absolutely be safely put in a crib and left for 15 minutes while you shower and collect yourself. Even if they are not in their billion-buttoned outfits.

Get on this now, and you will not be calling your 3-year-old a butthole. I believe in you.

—Nicole

More Advice From Slate

For husband and I are expecting our first (likely only) baby this spring. We are super fortunate to both have good jobs, and I’m wondering how to make a baby registry for a shower that doesn’t come off as obnoxious. Don’t register at all? Don’t put any big-ticket items on them? On shower invites put “no gifts, your presence is enough”? Suggest donating to a diaper bank instead? We certainly would appreciate any gifts given; I just don’t want anyone to feel like they have to bring a gift just to come to celebrate at a shower. Am I just overthinking this?