Care and Feeding

Coronavirus Quarantine Has Revealed That My Husband Is the “Fun” Parent

I do my best to entertain our daughter with curated craft projects, but she clearly has a better time with spontaneous Dad. How do I get over my jealousy?

Father on his knees playing with toddler daughter running around
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Monkey Business Images/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,

Our daughter, Sofia, is 2.5 and will likely be an only child. My husband and I are engaged, consistent parents, and I’m grateful to be able to give her a safe, happy childhood. And of course, as her mom, I feel obliged to say that she’s smart, funny, curious, and surprisingly even-tempered (for a toddler).

As our family’s social secretary, I’m used to filling weekends with outings and play dates (I’m an extrovert by nature). Meanwhile, my husband is much happier at home, gets uncomfortable making small talk in social settings, and is exhausted after an overly scheduled weekend of socializing.

The flip side is that in quarantine he’s doing great at entertaining Sofia at home. He comes up with silly games, runs her ragged in the yard, and wrestles with her on the couch. He makes her laugh in a way that I never can, even with all the tickles in the world.

I can keep Sofia busy with well-researched, neatly curated craft projects and “scavenger hunt nature hikes” (a walk around the block), but it’s clear now that my husband is the “fun” and creative parent. Sofia still comes to me first when she’s upset or scared, but I often feel like an awkward third wheel when the two of them are racing down our halls and singing made-up songs and giggling. I end up keeping busy with housework—which just reinforces the pattern that Dad is fun and Mom does dishes. Not the model I want her to grow up with!

Is it OK that our (likely) only child doesn’t have two fun parents? Am I just jealous that my husband is the new expert in keeping her happy and laughing? How can I let loose a little and play along with their flashlight sword fights and goofy bathtub Daniel Tiger reenactments instead of sulking like a teenager (I’ll have one of those soon enough)?

—Pandemic Party Pooper

Dear PPP,

Kids veer back and forth between “preferred” parents with tremendous rapidity. Right now is your husband’s time to shine, it seems. We are living in a weird situation! It will not last forever. Your toddler is not going to be in her 20s saying, “Man, Quarantine Dad ruled—that’s why I do not talk to my mother, who was always doing dishes.” Also, find something you can do with Sofia while your husband takes a crack at the housework.

You sound like a pretty fun parent to me! We’re not all good at the same stuff. My husband found the baby phase to be more boring than the grave, whereas I love the baby phase, and then once he could do things with them and answer questions about the world, he became The Fun Parent. Once it became clear I had Pokémon Go on my phone, my son switched allegiances very quickly. It’s all a cycle, don’t beat yourself up about it, try to join in when you can (laughter and joy are extremely infectious, if you can lose the mindset of being inadequate), and remember that eventually you will be an Excursion Mom again.

I get this question a lot. It tends to resolve itself. A lot of us are feeling like we’re dropping the ball right now. It will pass.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’d like advice on appropriate ways to stay in my students’ lives now that I’m no longer a teacher. I’m a young woman living and teaching English in another country. I taught students as young as 1.5 years old for more than three years. In those three years, I came to care very deeply about my students, and I was very loved in return. I’ve just started a new job that has absolutely nothing to do with teaching, and find myself missing my kiddos! Many of their parents gave me their contact info and asked that I stay in touch when I quit. I really want to reach out to them, but what’s an appropriate way to do so? I miss being silly and playing with little kids, but it seems odd to text a parent asking if I can hang out … with their child.

—Can I Read to Your Kid?

Dear CIRtYK,

You can read to MY kids if you want, and I don’t know you from a hole in the ground. If parents gave you their contact info for the explicit reason of staying in touch, I cannot imagine a worst-case scenario beyond “We’re doing fine—thanks but no thanks.”

I would email only a few parents to start with (it’s very possible that a great many of your former students’ families will be interested in their bored and glum kids having a friendly face to jabber at) so you do not overcommit your time, and I would just say, “I miss your kid, and since I have some time on my hands, I would be thrilled to say hi over Zoom and read them some stories. No need to respond if you’re not interested!”

They’ll most likely be interested and grateful. Thank you for being a wonderful and caring teacher. You are helping.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

We are at an impasse with my in-laws that I do not know how to reconcile. My mother-in-law who lives 25 minutes away (my parents are two hours away) watches our 5-month-old son while my husband and I both work full time, and has done so since our parental leave ended when he was 3 months old. We could afford day care, but this is everyone’s preference.

For backstory, I had a traumatic postpartum experience that included three weeks of mental health hospitalization (panic and psychosis). While I was in treatment, my husband moved in with his parents, and they took on a lot of baby care day and night. We continued to live with them for another two months while I readjusted to parenting and got back on my feet. I found out from my husband later that when I was in the hospital, his family went to the courthouse to look into taking away custody because they thought that I was a danger to my son—they didn’t want me discharged—and that my husband wasn’t thinking clearly for “siding” with me. His mother claimed that she was using her “mother lion instincts” and that her only concern was his well-being.

We also have parenting differences: She insists on holding my child on her lap with a pillow on the couch in front of the TV for most of his naps. I put up with this because he would still nap in the crib for us on the weekend and I doubted she would listen if we took a stand. Plus, my husband doesn’t care if she parents to her beliefs, and I am too confrontation-averse to try to put my foot down.

Now we have hit the impasse during the coronavirus. We are both teleworking and watching our son, and though it is stressful, he is doing well and we can manage. She is still willing to watch him still, since we are social distancing from everyone but them, so the risk is minimal. However, she refuses to watch him at our house, even just a couple days a week, which is our preference during this. We want to spend the opportunity of this crisis to be around our son more and parent him ourselves as much as we can. Teleworking from their house isn’t an option because I need my desktop computer and internet.

There was a tearful conversation where she asked why we were “doing this to her” and claimed that “the major primary caregiver in his life is gone.” When we asserted that it was better for him to see more of his parents, she asserted that “structure” and their routine is more important. This all together makes me extremely uncomfortable, like she thinks she is more of his mom or a better mom than I am, and exacerbated the jealousy/possessiveness that I think a lot of working moms feel toward caregivers. I’m not sure how to face having to go back to work and leave him with her again all day. I guess how to do this is my question?

—Insecure Daughter-in-Law

Dear IDiL,

This is a real shit show. No one who ever tried to initiate court proceedings to remove my child from my custody would ever have access to my child again. I think that you still feel a lot of guilt over the mental health crisis that followed giving birth, and it’s clouding your ability to unlock your own “mother lion” instincts here. You are a perfectly good mother, you sought and received effective treatment for a temporary (and terrifying) condition, and you don’t have to spend the rest of your life walking on eggshells as though you cannot raise your own child in the manner you and your husband see fit to do.

That said, I want you to be careful, because even though “grandparents rights” vary greatly by state, and very few states recognize said rights in the absence of divorce or the death of a primary parent, this is the sort of woman who would absolutely pursue her legal options if it came to it. She’s done it before. I would consult with a lawyer in your state. I would not encourage you at this point to abruptly end an established relationship (so she can still come over and see him at your house), but she absolutely cannot be your day care, now or in the future. She does not care about your wishes; she has made this clear on numerous occasions.

Your husband is whom you need to get through to. If you and he are not in this together, nothing else matters. It sounds as though teleworking and looking after your son is a little hard (everyone is right there with you) but sustainable. When this is over, your son needs to be in a real day care or nannying situation with caregivers who do not believe him to be their baby. That’s a ticking time bomb right there, and her sense of entitlement will only grow stronger with the more unsupervised access she has to your son.

Her feelings are not your problem. You can say she can come over any time she wants (she would be being foolish with her health to do so) and you are grateful for the care she has provided, but now you are thrilled to have this time with your son and would rather care for him yourself, in your home. You don’t need to say a damn thing about changing your plan for when you eventually return to working outside the home. It’s not her business, and it’s not germane to your current situation.

You are not unreasonable. You are not incapable of being your child’s caregiver. You have legitimate concerns about your mother-in-law’s child care, and you have the financial ability to not be dependent on it. He is only a 5-month-old. He knows you are his mother. He will not be harmed by this. I encourage you to seek out online support from other parents who have experienced postpartum psychosis and, like you, have reintegrated into their parenting lives and had to deal with the aftermath left in the minds of extended family members. You have nothing to apologize for.

He’s your son. I don’t give a rat’s ass about the “structure” she believes can only come from her. You’re going to need to muster your energy and be a parent, and I know you can do it.

Is It OK to Go to the Zoo During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

Dan Kois, Jamilah Lemieux, and Elizabeth Newcamp host this week’s episode of Slate’s parenting podcast, Mom and Dad Are Fighting.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Is there any sort of scientific explanation as to why toddlers seem to have boundless energy? We take our 2-year-old on hikes almost every day (my husband and I are lucky enough to both be on parental leave for our 6-week-old baby). He can do a 1.5-mile hike all on his own legs and is clearly tired by the end, dragging his feet, complaining, etc. Yet after lunch and a short nap, he is back up to 110 percent energy and racing around the house. My husband now thinks we’ve had a fundamentally flawed strategy: We may be tiring him out momentarily but are increasing his endurance and giving him more energy overall. Is it just not possible to tire toddlers out?

— Can’t We Just Cuddle and Do a Puzzle?

Dear CWJCaDaP,

Toddlers defy the laws of thermodynamics. They sometimes seem to have the ability to run in circles for 12 hours a day on what seems like no more than a handful of Goldfish crackers and half a yogurt pouch. I do not think you have accidentally created an ultramarathoner, but you certainly do have an active kid.

If we’re talking about scientific explanations, do a human trial, sample size of 1. Cut out the hikes for a little while (or shorten them) and see if he’s still a Tasmanian devil. I suspect he will still be a Tasmanian devil, only more so.

You probably just have a very, very energetic toddler. You may not be able to tire him out. But you can try to build in more quiet, placid activity time by sweetly leveraging desired items and excursions. “We can go climb the Matterhorn this afternoon if you help me with this puzzle this morning,” etc. He’s only 2, so I do not expect a great deal of comprehension or success with this immediately, but you’re trying to build a foundation of there being a great number of different ways to have fun, not all of which are physical in nature.

—Nicole

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