Dear Care and Feeding,
My 5-month-old daughter is a happy, wonderful baby who sleeps well, eats well, and is a joy to be around. While my job has made me miserable for many years, due to hefty student loans I have no option. I returned to work full time two months ago and leave her with family or day care during the week.
My husband is generally helpful, but I bear the brunt of the mental and household workload. This worked well when it was just the two of us, as I tend to have control issues and am a perfectionist, but with the addition of baby I am drowning. We tried a chore list to divvy up responsibility, but it lasted all of two days.
So I continue to work and transport my daughter 50-plus hours per week while spending weekends catching up on mountains of laundry and cleaning. I am also suffering with postpartum depression. I was not prepared for the amount of “mom guilt” I feel spending so much time away from her or the exhaustion stemming from the workload I barely keep up with. While I have a therapist and am working on getting medication, I cry daily and generally suffer in silence.
When I tell my partner this, he seems sympathetic and offers his help. However, if I ask him to do a task, I have to follow up multiple times or it is never completed. He spends his weekends entertained with his own pursuits (which I support, as independent interests are important), but sometimes he gets frustrated he has to watch our baby while I clean for hours, which makes me feel worse.
His take is that I feel too much guilt for being apart from my child and I have too much on my mental checklist. Part of me feels this is a normal adjustment to motherhood and that eventually I will adapt. But part of me doesn’t want this to be my new normal. It seems terrifically unfair to feel so overwhelmed and guilty to the point where I do nothing for myself anymore. How do other moms care for their families and the house and be present at work and not feel like they are spread so thin there’s nothing left for them? Are these all just side effects of the postpartum, or is this my new reality?
—My Second Shift Is Too Long
First off—talk to your doctor! Postpartum depression demands to be taken seriously, and your doctor will be able to help. Parenting is hard work, no question, but misery is not your new reality.
I’m sorry you hate your work. That is very difficult, and it is inevitable that you’d feel conflicted having to shuffle off to a job (any job, really, but especially one you find unrewarding) when your kid is so young. But you’ve got family to help, and hopefully your day care is amazing. You are doing what you have to do; that’s not easy, but it’s your reality.
I must object, however, to your argument that your husband is “generally helpful.” If it’s genuinely the case that your issues of control and perfectionism led you to take on the bulk of the housework, well, now is the time to confront and slay those tendencies.
We get so many questions like yours; they are always (always!) about male partners not pulling their own weight. None of this should be your problem to solve, so now I’m going to talk directly to your husband!
Sir: If your wife asks you for help around the house, then do as asked! If she has to nag you into doing the dishes or washing the car or whatever, you’re not helping. Also, maybe she shouldn’t have to ask you in the first place! Don’t you see, too, when the laundry is piling up, or the fridge is empty, or the trash hasn’t been taken out?
Balancing work and baby is tough! And you might want to spend the weekend playing golf or video games or building ships in a bottle or whatever you used to do before you had a baby, but guess what? You can’t. Sorry! Oh, maybe you can build a ship in a bottle during naptime, I don’t know. But you need to keep the house running because you’re an adult and that’s what adults do.
Getting frustrated because you need to mind your own child so your wife is free to clean up after you is so audacious that I almost applaud it. Your wife is in crisis, and until she has her postpartum depression under control, you need to go above and beyond as a parent and partner. That’s the job; that’s the point.
But going forward, too, to what I hope are times of more balance and happiness in your family: You need to pull your own weight and be a decent human being. You’re making every man in America look bad.
Now to both of you I say: Good luck.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My almost 4-year-old son is obsessed with babies and wants to play with every one he sees. It’s super cute, but also a little embarrassing—strangers seem to think it’s sweet until he plays with them for as long as he can, and then it becomes a little awkward. It’s not generally a big deal, but this past weekend at soccer class, he spotted a cute baby with a pacifier (he’s even more obsessed when they have pacifiers because he’s still working on giving his nightly one up).
The family was African American, and my son exclaimed at full volume and very excitedly, “A brown baby?? I’ve never seen a brown baby before!” First of all, that is not true. Also, he is biracial himself: I am white; my husband is Filipino (and quite dark-skinned, which I only mention because my son himself is not super pale). I don’t think I reacted well.
I was mortified and unsure what to do—I just wanted him to stop! We were late to get somewhere, and so I played that up and swept him away quickly, smiling. But then he heard me telling a friend about it later, and I think it reinforced that it was something that would get a reaction, because he did it again the very next day. I know I have to start talking to him about race, and I guess I was putting it off because I didn’t think he noticed much. His preschool is pretty diverse; there are only a handful of white kids, and everyone else is Asian, Black, Latino, or (mostly) biracial like him. And he has never mentioned it before.
I have two questions. Any recommendations on books that can guide us through the conversations (kid books for him or adult books for me)? And what do I do when he does it again?
—Let’s Talk About Race
I think a lot of parents are mortified when they hear their young children talk about race. The fact that kids do say such things (and often) belies the parental hunch that kids haven’t noticed race. That’s wishful, almost utopian thinking, and it’s silly. Kids are smart! And they notice a lot. They notice that people come in different colors and shapes, and they notice that talking about that fact in a certain way can get a rise out of the grown-ups.
Definitely start talking to your son about race in a manner that is forthright and age-appropriate. It won’t necessarily stop him from commenting on the race of strangers he sees, but most people understand that kids need to talk through the world in order to better understand it.
I was a fan of this book when my kids were about your son’s age, but I don’t feel qualified to give you a whole reading list. Some books position race as part of human difference, while others explore the social implications of race; what book would work best for your family really depends on your kid’s maturity level and your own point of view. I would talk to your librarian or a local bookseller and really look closely at some of the texts available and what messages they contain. I found these books thought-provoking, and since you’re raising a biracial child, it might be useful to read specifically with that lens. If cursory internet research doesn’t help you, I would again go to the pros at the library or bookstore.
More importantly, when he does this again (he will!), don’t feel mortified. It’s bad to be a racist, but it’s not bad to talk about race. Model for your son that this is a valid thing to notice and that race isn’t a taboo topic.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m a homebody introvert and always have been. So is my husband. When it was just the two of us, we would spend days without leaving the house, just having a good time together and enjoying the calm.
We now have a baby, and at just 7 months we can already tell she’s an extrovert. She gets so grouchy if she doesn’t go somewhere at least once a day, no matter how much stimulation or play we provide her with around the house. She’ll also be cranky unless she can go see and interact with other people a few times a week. We don’t have a ton of friends around here (we moved cross-country about four months ago), and it’s hard for me to meet new people and make friends because of my anxiety.
I don’t know how I’m going to handle my little social butterfly moving forward. I want to do what’s best for her and nurture her personality and cater to her temperament, but it’s so exhausting. I try to insist on a day at home every once in a while, but I can only put up with so much of the fussing and refusal to be placated because that’s exhausting, too, especially when I know that going out will fix it.
For now, she’s generally content if we take a stroller walk or go to the grocery store, but I know as she gets older, she’s going to want to go play with other kids, go see friends, and do social things, and I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t think I’m ready for a life of constant parties and meeting people, but I know it’s a possibility I signed up for when I had a baby. I don’t want to live my life constantly on edge and worn out so my daughter can have fun and feel fulfilled. That would kind of stink, and eventually she’s going to pick up on that. I don’t want her toning herself down or blaming herself for Mommy’s stress because I know it’s on me, not her. I guess I’m looking for both a “calm down and stop overthinking this” and any tips on parenting an extrovert so that it’s less exhausting.
—Exhausted by My Extrovert
Dear Exhausted by My Extrovert,
Something you knew to be inevitable—parenthood would challenge your own tendencies as a human being—has in fact come to pass. That is stressful! If the anxiety you associate with being out in the world truly feels too much, you ought to talk to a professional, not write a letter like this.
That said—take a breath. I think it’s probably a function of your anxiety that you’re extrapolating years into the future based on the whims of an infant. Yes, personalities are often quite evident in even small babies, especially to the people who care for them around the clock. But I think it’s a stretch to imagine that having a baby who enjoys fresh air and seeing smiling strangers means you’re condemned to spend the next few years constantly attending parties. Please remember that!
Your baby needs you now, all the time. She’ll need you in different ways as she grows. If you see the future as something you’re condemned to, you’re right that she’ll probably sense and resent that. If she does indeed grow up to be an extroverted teen, I don’t know that that will necessarily be cause for discomfort in your own life. I think you should worry less about whether your daughter is fundamentally different from you personality-wise, and focus on your task as parent.
For now, she’s a baby. It’s your job to provide what she needs, and clearly that includes a kind of stimulation she can’t find at home. Certainly no one said that parenting would be an easy job, but I think there are steps you can take. You mention that your husband shares your tendencies, but I wonder whether you’ve talked this through. Maybe he finds a trip to the grocery store more bearable than you do, and that can be a father-daughter outing a couple of times a week.
Activities for babies—story time at the library, music class—probably sound unbearable to you. But it’s worth remembering that infant-focused events tend to, at least, be very short. Could you sit through 30 minutes of shaking maracas? If not, would the prospect of getting to sit that out while your daughter gets that dose of outside time be something you value enough to pay a babysitter for?
No one can promise you that it’s possible to altogether avoid parental small talk or other things that make you uncomfortable at the playground. But some of this is nonnegotiable, the side effect of being a parent. Find coping strategies (simple breath work or more intensive professional therapy) that might mitigate some of the associated stress. Most important among those are, I think, a focus on what is at hand and not in the future. Good luck.
Dear Care and Feeding,
Our daughters, 8½ and 11, carry out age-appropriate chores such as sweeping, vacuuming, folding laundry, taking out the trash. They don’t complain and seem to enjoy it as much as one can enjoy such tasks. What they do complain about, though, is my husband’s responses. He’s a germaphobe and a neat freak and tends to redo or touch up whatever the girls have done, often right in front of them, which they find demoralizing. My youngest recently asked me why I bother to ask her to wipe the counter if Daddy is just going to do it again. I didn’t know how to respond. I’ve asked him several times not to redo their chores in front of them, but he insists that they need to learn to do it right the first time. I agree that they should take pride in their work, but I also want them to feel comfortable doing chores and trying to do new tasks without a lot of anxiety. Can you advise us on a balance?
—Let Them Do It Their Way
I think you should ask your husband how he’d feel if this was how he was treated at work—if his boss insisted on stepping in and redoing every task he’d handled. I can’t imagine he’d like it. Your kids are right to object.
Sometimes you do need to intervene as the kids are learning stuff and help them master a task. But you also need to know when to butt out. The point isn’t that the counters are scrubbed to hospital standards or the laundry precisely folded and piled up—you’re aiming to fairly distribute labor in the household and teach your kids responsibility.
You could reassign things, focusing on tasks even kids their age could handle easily (fetching the mail, sorting the recycling, ferrying groceries from the car, watering plants). But I also think you could push your husband to reexamine his behavior. Ascribing his micromanaging to a fear of germs or compulsion for cleanliness is just an excuse.
He should be thrilled that he’s raised kids willing to help without a lot of drama (chore time in my house is … operatic), and he should communicate this to them by getting out of their way. If he is absolutely unable to cede control over the kitchen’s cleanliness, fine—that can be his chore. But that should mean he butts out entirely with respect to the laundry and other matters.
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