Care and Feeding

I’m Worried I Don’t Love My Newborn Enough

Is something wrong with me?

A mom holding her baby to her shoulder
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo 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,

I’m the new mother of a baby girl who is almost a month old now. I’ve read/heard so many things about how everything would change once my baby was born—how I would feel an overwhelming love for her, my heart would grow, I would only be able to focus on her and would forget everything else, etc.—but I haven’t experienced that. Instead her birth turned out to be almost anticlimactic and kind of surreal. One minute I was pushing and the next I was holding a baby. I thought maybe I’d feel something more once we got home from the hospital and things felt more “real,” but still I feel nothing big.

I mean, my daughter is cute and she’s starting to be awake more and look around, which is fun, but I haven’t had a magical “I’m a mother!” moment. Sometimes I feel like maybe I’m not doing enough with/for her. Like, I’ll usually read a book while nursing instead of gazing lovingly into her eyes. I’ll talk to her and read to her other times when she’s awake, though, and I’m generally enjoying having her in my life. But I’ve heard that some women get so absorbed in their new baby that they forget about their husbands, hobbies—everything—and I still like spending time with my husband when I can, wish I had a little more time for hobbies, and kind of need to keep up on bills and other things, even with a new baby. Honestly, I’ve never been one of those people who just love babies, and I always felt kind of uncomfortable when people asked if I wanted to hold theirs. Because of that, I’ve been impressed with how quickly I got used to holding and caring for my daughter, which maybe sounds silly, but I was relieved and glad.

For what it’s worth, my mom had a lot of miscarriages and infertility issues, so my first trimester of pregnancy was stressful because I was so worried about losing the baby, and I was a little afraid to let myself start looking forward too much in case something happened. I also had a brother who died unexpectedly from a birth defect when he was less than 2 weeks old. But my pregnancy went pretty smoothly until the end of it, when I had problems with blood pressure and had to be unexpectedly induced (as in, I went in for an appointment and left to get my husband and go to the hospital), which was a stressful and sort of awful experience, but both the baby and I came out of it OK, which I know is all that really matters. I think maybe I also feel a little guilty that things went so smoothly for me when it was so hard for my mom and for other people I know (my cousin had to do IVF, my sister’s good friend has been trying to have kids for years but still nothing, and more).

I don’t think I have postpartum depression. I can still laugh at things, I feel fine, and I hate the thought of her getting hurt and wouldn’t dream of doing anything to her myself. Do I love my daughter enough? Is it normal/OK to not have that huge, overwhelming rush of love? I also never had a huge “This is the one” moment with my husband, even though I have no doubts now about my love for him. So maybe this is a similar thing. Still, I feel like I’m missing out on something.

—What Is Love?

Dear WIL,

Many years ago, when I was trying to decide whether to get married, a friend advised me to ask myself a simple question: Is this someone I couldn’t possibly live without? So I tried that thought experiment—but I realized quickly that (although it must have been a good question for her to ask herself before she’d married her husband) this was useless advice for me. Having already lived alone, quite contentedly, by then for over a decade, it seemed to me there was no one I “couldn’t live without.”

I didn’t end up marrying that person (for other reasons), but I kept that knowledge of myself in my pocket when Iater on I did meet the man I would marry. Despite my deep, abiding, and ongoing delight in rom-coms—and despite my childhood obsessive reading of DC romance comics—that was not the way I was going to feel about marriage, I understood.

People experience love differently because we aren’t all exactly the same. There’s a lot of pressure in our culture around how to feel—not just about marriage or about motherhood, but about our parents and siblings … and about grief and anger and ambition and success and pretty much everything human beings have feelings about. It’s easy to feel we’re “missing out” when we don’t feel what we’re told we should. But as you make very clear when you talk about all the things that are in the mix here—your mother’s history, your own child’s birth story, and everything else you mention—feelings are more complicated and nuanced than the version of what one is supposed to feel allows for. I don’t think you’re missing out, and I don’t think she is either. I send my very best wishes to you both.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Should I confront my mother about the fact that she is attempting to rewrite her parenting history? Now that she is in her 60s, my mom has become much more vocal about her beliefs and seems to enjoy fighting with others about them on social media. While I agree with most of what she now espouses, it irks me to no end that she is disingenuous. Case in point: I’ve seen her arguing vehemently with strangers on Facebook that spanking is wrong and stating that “spanking was never done in my home.” Except … it was. My parents were not abusive people, but they did regularly threaten my siblings and me with (and actually perform) spankings, sometimes with our pants and underwear pulled down for an extra humiliation factor. It’s something I still feel resentful about, though I generally have very good relationships with both of my parents as an adult. Another example: Though she is now very pro-LGBTQ, she did teach us when we were children that gay marriage was wrong, that it was against her religious beliefs. While I’m very glad she has evolved on this issue, she now scoffs at the idea that she ever thought differently.

My mother was not a perfect parent, but I do think she was a good one, and I don’t want to damage our relationship. So should I just let this go, or am I justified in pointing out her hypocrisy? It’s really hard to sit by and grit my teeth as I scroll through this stuff on my news feed.

—Fight or Grin and Bear It?

Dear FoGaBI,

I would say that the answer to this question depends on what you hope to accomplish, but I sort of feel that I know what that is. You want an apology. You want her to tell you that she knows she should not have spanked you, that she knows she taught homophobia to her children and now regrets it. You know your mom; I don’t. Is she going to apologize if you ask her to? (And let me say that if you approach her in the spirit of “pointing out her hypocrisy”—and think of this as a confrontation—then chances are she won’t, no matter what she’s like, because most people dig in their heels if confronted. If instead you tell her that you’ve been thinking about your childhood spankings, etc., and wondering how she came to feel differently about them—and other things—it’s possible you two can have a real conversation that culminates in an apology.)

I find myself wondering about a couple of things myself, though. Because you frame your question as a choice between fighting or not, I want to know if you’re itching for a fight. (I’m not saying I’d blame you if you are. I just want you to ask yourself: What would be the point of that?) I want to know if you feel that your memories—the entire experience of your childhood—are being invalidated and mocked. (Again, I get it. That’s a dreadful feeling. It would make me want to lash out.) And then there’s one more thing, and I think it’s important. Do you believe that her current stance does reflect an evolution on her part—that the beliefs she is espousing are sincere? Because if you do, then I would do my level best to bring that energy into your conversation with her.

But if you think she’s only saying these things to perform for social media—or if you think she’s lying to herself as well as to her Facebook friends about who she is (and who she has been)—then I wouldn’t initiate a conversation at all. I would hit those three dots next to her name in your Facebook feed and click on “Unfollow” so that you stop seeing her posts, and she’ll never know. In other words: Think this through before making a decision about how to proceed.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 27-year-old daughter is five months pregnant with her first child. I am thrilled, and so is she, but she doesn’t seem to quite understand what having a kid is like. She’s convinced that her child will never talk back or disobey, that parenting will be a walk in the park. I’m worried that it will be a huge shock when she has the baby and realizes that parenting is none of those things. She refuses to listen to me about this. How do I help her mentally prepare?

—Parenting Is Hard!

Dear PIH,

No one wants to hear when they are pregnant about all the things that might not be great about being a parent. She may have unrealistic expectations, or she may just have hopes and dreams. The “shock” of things not going according to plan is part of what being a parent is about. So stop bugging her about this. Like every parent who has ever lived, she’ll face whatever difficulties come up when they come up. I realize that you are eager to remind her of just how difficult she was (and maybe hoping, just a little, that she’ll get back what she dished out?), but if your own hopes and dreams include being involved in your grandchild’s life—and maintaining (or carving out a new pathway toward) a loving relationship with your daughter—I advise you to hold your tongue.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m back home after graduating from college, and I’m looking for stuff to do with my younger sister. I’m 21, and she just turned 10. My parents can’t work from home. My mom is working two shifts, and my stepdad is out from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. So it’s just my sister and me for most of the day, and I’m worried about her. She doesn’t go outside very often and spends most of her time on her phone playing Roblox. I can’t judge her too hard because I also spend too much time on my phone and wasn’t a sporty kid either, but I’d like to change things up for her. Do you have suggestions for things we can do while social distancing? Some details: I can’t drive, she hates reading (I am very sad to say), she’s the pickiest eater in the world, and she doesn’t really have chores. We have parks within walking distance, but I’m not sure if they’re open, and I don’t know what we’d do there if they were and it felt safe to go anyway. Any advice about things we could do together (and, honestly, ways to support her as a big sister without acting like I’m her mom) would be very helpful.

—More Like Snore-antine, Am I Right?

Dear More,

What a good sister you are!

I’d start by finding out what interests your little sister besides playing games on her phone. Everyone is interested in something, although—as I have learned even when it comes to people your age—sometimes they don’t know yet what that is. If your little sister has no idea what she likes, is good at, is curious about, or would even just be willing to try, you can help her with that. And even if she does have an idea or two—and maybe no one has ever asked her before?—you can help her discover more things.

In case you don’t remember, let me remind you, though, that 10 (“zeroteen,” as Beverly Cleary wisely called it) is hard. And one of the ways that hardness may manifest itself is an unwillingness to admit to an interest in anything, for fear that interest itself is a sign of childishness. So you may have to be patient and remain cheerful as you keep making offers. Your willingness to do things with her, as opposed to pointing her at them and leaving her to it, will likely go a long way toward breaking down her resistance. So what about learning together how to do some very cool magic tricks (I can recommend an excellent book for that) or learning a dance routine together? If she’s into dance or theater, you can take it further—check out this list of options. How about a book on acting that includes a lot of fun stuff like staging falls and fights (safely) and how to cry on command? Or what about learning to draw together? If your family is willing and able to make an investment of about $60 and your sister is up for it, maybe you two could learn to play ukulele—an inexpensive and relatively simple-to-play instrument—together. Or perhaps you already know how to play an instrument and could teach her (for that matter, think about all the things you know that you might be able to teach her, without any online help). Do you both like to sing (who doesn’t)? How about some karaoke together at home (EVERYTHING is on YouTube now, and you can get a cool mic that connects by Bluetooth to your computer or phone).

As you see, I have lots of ideas. I’ll mention two more, and I’m betting that from there you can start brainstorming on your own. 1) Consider one of the five things she’s willing to eat and make it from scratch together. For example, if PB&J is on that list, how about a super simple recipe for jam and a no-knead white bread? This might inspire her to become interested in trying to make (and even eat?) other things. And 2) I know you’ve said she dislikes reading, but does she also dislike being read to? I’ve known kids who think they don’t like reading who can be enticed into a book when someone starts reading it aloud to them. Maybe she’d want you to continue reading it—say, a chapter a day—which would be fun for both of you if you find the right book, and maybe she’ll get so interested, and impatient to find out what happens next, she’ll decide to read it herself despite herself. Take a look at a list of book series that are proven to work magic on 10-year-olds (and let me recommend a series that’s not on this list but that just recently worked special magic on an 11-year-old of my acquaintance who was previously an avowed nonreader: the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace, my own all-time favorite).

Good luck with this project! I hope you’ll let me know it goes.


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