Care and Feeding

I’m Drowning

I can’t do my job and take care of my baby.

Collage of a woman looking at her phone while a baby in a child seat cries behind her.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Ljupco/iStock/Getty images Plus and yourstockbank/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,

I have a 10-month-old. Next week I will find myself working from home without child care for the first time. I am in a sales role and have to make calls throughout the day, which I’ll try to plan during her naptime. That said, how on earth can I manage a 10-month-old and a full-time workload? I know the recommendation is no screen time before 12 months, but Sesame Street won’t seriously damage her, right? I’ve got a playpen, play yard, bouncer etc., but babies need a lot of social interaction. How do I manage this without stunting her development or feeling like I’m failing her?

—Grasping at Straws

Dear Grasping,

It was already a delicate balance to parent a baby and work full time; what’s happening now underscores that, I think. As you understand, a baby requires interaction and attention, and at that age, I’m not sure how much television will engage her, especially for any significant length of time. I know you don’t have child care, but you don’t specify whether you have a partner in parenthood; I know you have work to do, but you don’t specify whether this is something that needs to be done between 9 and 5, or whether you have a boss who might be willing to talk about an alternative arrangement as long as we’re in this crisis.

I think the best thing you can do here is manage your own expectations. I don’t see how working full time making telephone calls is feasible with so young a child around. You can’t negotiate with a baby, but maybe you can with your boss. Talk to work about adjustments to your schedule. Hopefully your kid is a great napper and you’ll be able to clock a couple hours work in the afternoons; perhaps you can sneak in 20 minutes of screen time and deal with some emails; maybe you can stay up late after she goes down so you can get more things done.

Let’s say your boss is inflexible, or the particulars of your job require you to keep regular hours. Your clients will probably understand if they hear a baby cooing in the background. Also listening to human speech is good for babies, if you want to search for the silver lining.

Still, this is a long day for you—an endless cycle of child care and work. I understand that you need to work, but I don’t want you to try to meet some goal that’s truly impossible. It is little consolation to know you’re not alone here, but many families all over the country are negotiating this right now. I hope you land on a sustainable arrangement, one that lets you be a good parent and allows you to be kind to yourself.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Ever since school closure due to COVID-19, my usually easy 7-year-old is having a terrible time managing his emotions. He’s always been an emotional kid, but it generally manifests as him being kind and considerate of other people’s feelings. For the past two weeks, he’s collapsed in tears when he doesn’t win a game, accused others of cheating, or said he’s a bad kid (words we have never used).

We’ll take a break from games for a few days, but when we try again, he reacts the same. Even a game where there is no winner will cause him to break down! Everything we play is age-appropriate. We aren’t a competitive family and don’t push winning as a value but we (usually) don’t let him win. I want to help my boy become a better and more honorable sportsperson. What can I do? We will go crazy over the next few weeks if we can’t use some sort of family game as entertainment.

—Mom to a Sore Loser

Dear MtaSL,

Under normal circumstances I’d agree that there’s a value in teaching your kid the value of sportsmanship—it’s valuable to know that you can’t win them all, and how to handle the inevitable loss with grace.

But these aren’t normal circumstances! Of course our kids are having complex emotional responses—fear, curiosity, confusion all mixed together as they navigate the loss of their burgeoning independence and their peers and their relationships at school that have nothing to do with their family life. It’s a lot, and they’re young enough that you can forgive their inability to articulate these complicated emotions or to even realize they’re happening.

If for whatever reason losing a game is throwing your kid into a state, stop playing games. Do jigsaw puzzles, collaborate on a graphic novel, build a complicated Rube Goldberg, listen to audio books, bake cupcakes for no reason, or settle in and watch a favorite movie. He can learn to be a gracious loser later.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 5-year-old’s preschool is having once-a-week online meetups to keep in touch. This is not academic, but we get to all say hi and hear a story, which is nice. My son will not participate at all. He doesn’t want to say hi or sit still for the camera. He runs around or hides. We are most likely out for the rest of the year and then going to kindergarten next year, so it’s unlikely we will see his classmates or teacher again, though I haven’t really told him that yet. Should I keep signing in for it? Should I sit there in front of the camera while he’s out of frame?

—No Time for Circle Time

Dear No Time for Circle Time,

I feel for all our children. This is such a baffling and weird time. But why make it harder than it needs to be? I can understand why you might want this check-in as an activity to fill up the day, but no, I don’t think you should bother doing this anymore!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a question about child care and social distancing that I don’t seem to be able to find guidelines on, so maybe you have some ideas or know where to reach out: Can my parents provide child care for my children while my husband and I work? We have all been socially isolating since March 11. The only breaks to our being with our immediate family unit have been a few grocery store and pharmacy runs, but we now have someone whom we are paying to make such runs for us. My husband and I are both working from home and splitting the day for child care.

My parents are retired and have also (to the best of my knowledge) been socially isolated since mid-March, except for grocery runs. They are in their late 60s and early 70s and are in generally good health with no underlying conditions, except for my father’s chronic bronchitis. My mother really wants to see and hold her grandkids, my kids really want to see their grandparents, and we would be grateful for the help, but I remain worried that this is risky, though I know lots of people with less choice than we have whose parents are watching their kids. Is there any formal public health verdict on whether two isolated households can interact with each other during this pandemic?

—Desperately Seeking Guidance

Dear Desperately Seeking,

One of the more frustrating things about all of this is the utter lack of guidance. I think most people genuinely want to follow the rules, but there’s not much clarity on what those are or ought to be.

As you said, you’ve been isolating your own family unit and believe your parents have been as well, but it’s simply so hard to know. The one thing that has been clear is that you can’t really go wrong in exercising caution. Your father has a tendency to respiratory illness, the nature of this virus is such that it could be lurking without presenting any symptoms, and true isolation is so hard to manage—you still have an outside party delivering necessities, for example.

I understand your parents’ desire to see their grandchildren, and I can certainly understand why you and your husband would love to hand off child care duties. But this does entail risk to every person involved. Only you and your family can decide what level of caution and risk you’re willing to live with. I’m sorry you’re facing this decision, and I wish I had real information to impart. That’s what we all want right now, and I hope it’s coming.

—Rumaan

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