Care and Feeding

I Thought I Wanted Kids … but Then a Pandemic Happened

Is it a good idea to procreate in Times Like These?

A woman worried about Covid-19 while thinking about starting a family.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos 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,

It feels a bit weird to be sending a question to a parenting column, as I am not a parent, but I’ve seen questions from nonparents before, and I think you can help me. I have always seen children as part of my future, but it’s only in the last few years that I see kids and I feel that longing to start soon. I am in a really good place for a millennial, I have a partner who also wants kids, and we have jobs and even savings.

But … the world is terrifying, and that was before we had a pandemic. I am hoping to find some kind of online support group for people who want kids but aren’t sure about what to do in times like these. Everything I’ve found so far seems to be from people who have already decided, and I’m not even sure what to Google. Questioning parenthood? Child-undecided? I would love to actually talk to people in the same situation, and I’m hoping you might know of resources that might help.

—Undecided

Dear Undecided,

I answered your question during Tuesday’s live video, but I promised you I would respond in greater detail today, after getting a chance to run down some resources. This is the book of essays, Maybe Baby, that I recommended. To that I would like to add r/AskReddit, which, if you search for “having kids,” will reveal literally hundreds of threads in which anonymous people who made either decision speak candidly about their ambivalence, their choices, and how they feel about those choices today. The Atlantic did a fantastic piece on the decision to have children, filled with stories and responses. This website has a neat questionnaire followed by links to a number of resources that you might find helpful. I hope this is useful to you in making your choice.

My own observation is that it does, in fact, sound like you and your partner want to be parents. That’s great! That’s good information to have. Most of the time when I get questions from people who are Undecided About Having Kids, they are coming from a place of profound uncertainty about whether they want to become parents, full stop.

What you have is a very reasonable concern about the world around us. As I mentioned in the live video, there has never been a truly good time in the history of the world to have children. People asked each other this question during the Cold War, during the Blitz, during the 1918 flu, during the numerous catastrophic floods of the Yellow River, during the bubonic plague, and, very, very briefly, as Vesuvius was in the process of erupting. People have also been attempting to prevent having children or limit the size of their families via various methods and with varying degrees of success throughout literally all of human history, and it’s an utter win that we’re now much better at it. It’s also true that it is now more socially acceptable to not have children, which is also a big win.

I do not at all wish to say your concerns are unreasonable—this is a very frightening moment (climate change is terrifying with or without the global pandemic)—but I do want to offer some perspective on how bad the world has always been, for many, many people. If you want to be parents, and you agree that you want to have children and feel like you have the resources to do so, I suggest you trudge forward into the great unknown and make some babies.

You’ll be in good company.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am the mother of a wonderful nearly 2-year-old girl, and I am currently pregnant with our second. My toddler is developmentally right on schedule or ahead and is generally well tempered and delightful.

I feel, in general, I’m a patient, loving mother. I love my daughter more than anything, but when I have trouble with getting her to sleep, I often just feel myself get so angry and frustrated. Lately (over the past three weeks or so), she’s been taking 90 minutes to get to sleep, and it’s starting to drive me absolutely crazy. Her bedtime (which should be 8 p.m.) is now getting to be 9:30–10 p.m. I’ve tried so many times to put her down “sleepy but awake” and let her fall asleep on her own, but she just will not do it. I honestly think she’d be awake until midnight if I just let her go on her own. Sometimes she cries, but often it’s just singing, jumping, rolling around in her crib. This goes on until finally I go in and she lets me rock her to sleep (usually this is after three or four attempts). She used to be rocked to sleep within 30 minutes, tops.

Honestly, I’m just getting to my wit’s end here. She won’t let my husband rock her to sleep at all (and will scream for me when he tries). And I’m so tired of no longer having any time to myself in the evening, and instead just battling a toddler to sleep. I feel so ashamed over how angry and frustrated I get at her sometimes lately. I just don’t know how much longer I can go on with evenings like this, especially when I think about how we’re adding a newborn to the mix in three months.

I guess what I’m asking is, what should I do? Do I just give her a kiss, put her in her crib, and leave her to spin until she eventually falls asleep? Do I stick to my guns and just keep rocking her?  Whenever I look up different methods, it always seems vague on what to do, and nothing has ever really seemed to work. How do I help her become a more independent sleeper?

—Bedtime Woes

Dear BW,

This is really a good time to hit sleep training and hit it hard. You do not want to be dealing with that mess when you have a newborn, and I would like you to log some solid hours of sleep before that next upheaval comes, for the sake of literally anyone involved.

I think you have answered your own question, and I am happy to give you “permission” to, in fact, “give her a kiss, put her in her crib, and leave her to spin until she eventually falls asleep.” She’s almost 2; this is fine. It’s more than fine. Do that. Have a consistent but flexible bedtime routine, do the routine (and try to alternate which parent does the routine, regardless of her personal preferences), pop her in the crib, say lovingly, “It’s time for bed now!,” and go be married to your husband (by which I mean, watch a television show together and go to sleep instead of popping in and out of her room attempting to witchcraft her into entering dreamland).

It’s a little early to drop a nap, but if she is still taking a nap (especially if she is napping for more than an hour), try dropping it. You have nothing to lose at this point. Some kids just stop needing that nap before other kids, and also some kids will always just stay up later, chatting to themselves or looking at books, than other kids. If she’s not trying to break out, let her chatter.

I wish you a safe labor and delivery, and ideally some good sleep before the baby comes.

• Want more advice from Nicole? Join her every Tuesday at 11 a.m. EDT on Facebook Live, and watch the most recent stream here.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I had a bad childhood where my mother favored my brother over me, and an abusive father who used to touch my mother inappropriately and make us watch. Naturally, I grew up to be an individual who avoids all family gatherings and likes my own space. I got married three years ago to a nice man with a not-so-nice mother: She is intrusive, considers it her right to interfere in our personal matters, is loud, manipulative, and downright difficult to deal with. If my words for her sound like an exaggeration, trust me they are not. She uses emotional blackmail to further degrade me.

The problem is that now we have a wonderful baby, and she has taken upon herself to be a grandma/babysitter who offers unsolicited advice, doesn’t care a dime about boundaries, and will do things repeatedly to tell me she is the boss. When our baby was 2-months-old, she started a habit of making him sit in her lap; he had severe reflux, and the moment she would make him sit he would start throwing up. When my husband intervened and tried to stop her, she reacted by making my son sit in her lap whenever she came to our place, repeatedly, so that we would see our value in her eyes.

Now she will be moving in with us because of some circumstances I’d rather not get into. How will I manage her? Please help me. I am a stay-at-home mom so you can imagine how it will be living in close quarters with her.

—Bracing for Impact

Dear BfI,

I will immediately say that, unless the unnamed circumstances are literally life and death (financial life and death included), she absolutely must not move in with you. Because you have not told me the circumstances in question, I do not have a lot to work with on that front, and I will proceed as though you literally cannot survive as a family unless she moves in, but please: Exhaust every other option. Talk to your husband, be excruciatingly clear about how you feel about this, and do whatever it takes to not have your mother-in-law move in with you. I have now said my piece, and will take as our starting point that this woman is moving in.

I am so sorry about your absolutely horrible childhood, and I hope that you have had the opportunity to seek treatment from professionals in the process of dealing with the fallout. I hope you’re still talking to a professional about your childhood, and ideally about your current circumstances. I do not want you to feel like you are overreacting to a person who is behaving atrociously because you are in some way broken as a human being. You could have been raised in the warm embrace of a truly functional and loving family and still be utterly undone by the idea of spending more time with an emotionally manipulative person who has no interest in your boundaries or parenting desires.

You and your husband will have to team up like Megatron to get through this. If you are not on the same page, it’s not going to work. And since you’re the stay-at-home parent, you will be on the front lines every day and will absolutely need his complete buy-in to do his part in managing his mother when he is at home. I think that you might benefit from Henry Cloud’s Boundaries, which has a religious perspective you can utterly ignore; he is coming from a place of trying to convince Christians that they are allowed to have boundaries in the first place, and many, many atheists, including Full-Time Reddit Atheists, have still found his tools and scripts very useful in establishing and maintaining boundaries and recommend them accordingly. Keep what works for you, toss out what doesn’t. If you hate it, email Slate and I will refund your purchase price.

You will have to gather all of your inner resources. Pretend she is not there. Gray rock her when she is begging for a negative reaction. Your baby is your baby. Physically take him from her, and parent the way you want to parent. If she doesn’t like it, she can shriek into the four winds. Let Calgon take you away. You had a bad childhood and you want your baby to have a good childhood, and don’t let anything interfere with that. If she’s like “if you don’t want my help, I’m just going to sit on the couch and Facebook about you,” fantastic. Fantastic! Do not let her be alone with the baby. Anyone who will intentionally make your child vomit in order to prove a point does not get to be part of parenting your child.

This will be very hard. She may tell you that you don’t understand what a family is, because of your childhood. That is horse shit. She is a nightmare person. Unlock your mama bear and relentlessly ask your husband to back you up until he’d rather fight her than you.

And, please, don’t let her live with you.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am six months’ pregnant and have been working from home since early March. As a result, very few of my co-workers know I am pregnant. I told my boss, a co-worker who is also pregnant, and my best friend. We have been friends for 10 years but started working together a little over two years ago. I made sure to tell all (three) parties involved that I would like them to keep my pregnancy to themselves. I was not ready to share in early March, and I didn’t really see a reason to share now, since it does not impact my ability to continue working right now.

I learned today that my best friend “let it slip” on a work call that I am pregnant. She also shared details about when I plan on taking leave—details I have yet to finalize with anyone, including my husband. I shared these details with her because she is my best friend and I wanted her input and support. I am very upset that she did not keep this information to herself. My friend apologized via text, but I have no idea how to respond.

I know it was a mistake, but I am having a hard time getting past this betrayal of trust, and I am mad at her. How do I move forward both professionally and with my friend?

— Not Just the Hormones

Dear NJtH,

Well, it’s happened. I’m very sorry. You are right to feel hurt and betrayed, and the logical consequence of this incident is that your friend will have less access to your private information. You don’t have to get over it until you’re over it.

Professionally, this is very straightforward. Act as you would toward any other colleague when you are interacting in a professional capacity: with civility, politeness, and respect. If a different colleague asks about your leave plans, just say, “My husband and I are still making those decisions.”

Personally? Things that will help: Get on the phone with her (or write an email, which allows you to marshal your thoughts in a medium that prevents interruptions) and tell her that you are upset and why you are upset. Acknowledge her apology, and say the truth: It will take some time for you to trust her again. We all make mistakes, we have all messed up, and then we have to live with the consequences of what we have done.

Don’t tell her anything you do not want printed on the baby announcement sign outside Buckingham Palace, and slowly let yourself move on. I’m sorry this happened.

— Nicole

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