Dear Care and Feeding,
I’ve hoped and prayed for a grandchild for years. Finally, my son and his wife welcomed my first grandchild in April. Because of the pandemic, we were not able to go to the hospital to visit, and there was some question as to whether my son would even get to be present. Luckily, he was, and everyone is healthy and happy. The new parents allowed my husband and me to be present when they brought the baby home and have allowed regular visits.
They’ve stated that they would like us to strictly quarantine to prevent any risk of COVID infection. We have mostly done that, besides necessary trips to the grocery or the hardware store, golf outings for my husband (who needs the exercise), and stops by the gas station. We’ve also done a few “social distancing” visits with a couple friends, where we all sit 6 feet apart while we chat.
When my son expressed discomfort with the socially distanced visits, we mostly stopped; however, it is difficult to stay away from family and friends and spend all our time at home. This past week, our state began to allow hair salons to open. I immediately scheduled an appointment with my hairdresser, and my husband did the same. My son mentioned that they weren’t comfortable with this, and I explained the precautions the businesses were taking and that we’d wear masks. In the spirit of honesty, I also mentioned that we had recently visited a relative, but she lives alone and we “social distanced.” Well, before Memorial Day, my son and daughter-in-law told us they wanted to pause in-person visits.
I’m a retired medical provider, and I know better than he does when behavior is risky. I told my son this and mentioned that they needed to focus on bigger issues, like getting the baby to take a bottle, and that he should probably be meeting other people lest he become uncomfortable with strangers. Having visits with other people would also make his transition to day care easier.
My son did not seem to appreciate this advice, but I only told him what he needed to hear (honestly, he’s always been a bit sensitive). Because we no longer had the plans we thought we would for Memorial Day weekend, we had a few social distancing barbecues with some friends. Honestly, we’re doing everything reasonable to keep ourselves and the baby from harm. Besides that, there’s very little evidence that COVID even affects kids that seriously. We just want to see our grandchild and help out. I even offered to watch the baby while the parents work from home, but they’ve refused! What can I do to get them to see how absurd they’re being so that I can finally see my grandson? We’re not trying to invade upon their space, but we do believe we have a right to see the baby.
—Grandparents Have Needs Too
Dear Grandparents Have Needs Too,
Your son and daughter-in-law have been mostly clear about their desires that you and your husband follow recommended best practices: stay socially distant, avoid unnecessary outings, and be generally vigilant. By your own admission, you’ve “mostly” sort of done that. A trip to the golf course is not necessary; neither is a haircut. I’m not saying that it’s easy to upend the usual business of life, simply that it’s what we’ve been asked to do by most authorities, and what you’ve been asked to do by your family.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure grandparents have a right to see their grandchildren. Your son and his wife are taking the precautions they feel are wisest, and that is their right as parents. It’s been a while, so you might not remember how sensitive parents can be in those early, newborn days, especially with their first child. A new parent’s instinct is to cocoon, to keep the baby safe. I cannot imagine how much more imperative that feels when there’s a pandemic sweeping the globe. For your son’s sake, I wish for him a parent who is a little more understanding.
I get that you don’t see eye to eye with him on this; I concede that it’s hard to be parented by your own child. But dismissing this as his “sensitivity” or trying to micromanage how he parents an 8-week-old baby is not going to get you very far. I know you’re desperate to be with this longed-for grandchild. It sounds to me like you’re going to have to make some sacrifices about haircuts and golf games and wine with friends in order to accomplish that; only you know if you’re willing to agree to those terms.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
Some friends and I don’t want to include another of our friends, Erin, on group Zoom chats because her 4-year-old is driving us crazy. He demands her attention the entire time. We aren’t talking about an occasional interruption, but an incessant stream of I WANT TO PLAY WITH MY TRUCKS! I WANT TO GO OUTSIDE! MOMMY CAN YOU GET ME FRUIT SNACKS! Or he’ll start doing something like jumping on the couch or tugging on her clothes, so then we have to hear her scolding him, which then turns to tears and wailing, and everyone has trouble hearing one another over his hollering.
We can’t do it after his bedtime because he doesn’t have one (he stays up as late as they let him, often 10 p.m.). Erin is often the one trying to initiate these calls, and we’ve all just started making excuses when she does. We all still want to talk to each other—and her!—just not under these circumstances. We are trying to be sympathetic—we get it, parenting is hard, especially during these trying times, but it’s not a pleasant experience for anyone.
Having known Erin for years, I can guarantee she wouldn’t see the problem here. I imagine she thinks her friends must accept all aspects of her life at all times, including her child acting like a total lunatic during every single one of our Zoom calls. How do we navigate this?
—No Kids Allowed
Dear No Kids Allowed,
Technology is but a pale substitute for so much. A video call is nothing like a night at a bar with your pals for so many reasons, and yes, one of them is your friends’ annoying kids can’t join you for drinks.
While I understand that you want to see your friend, even if it’s only on-screen, it doesn’t sound like it’s that pleasant for anyone involved. If you decline her invitations, she might be bruised, but if you then organize a call that excludes her, you’re going to hurt her feelings.
I certainly don’t think you’re going to change her parenting style—that’s none of your business anyway—but she’s a good friend and you can try for a little kindness. “Erin, we’d love to have a Zoom catch-up, but it seems like it drives Henry crazy and you can’t enjoy yourself!” If she balks, or asks what you mean, or says Henry’s fine, you can tell her it’s hard for everyone to hear even at the best of times, never mind when there’s a little one on the line. Most importantly, though, it’s not fun for her when her kid is involved, and you want the chance to talk to her! Encourage her to leave her husband in charge and camp out solo somewhere quiet—the guest bedroom, even the car parked in the driveway—to catch up with the gang.
If she can’t (or won’t!), then I think you can meet up with the rest of the gang in cyberspace. Erin may or may not understand, but while she’s deserving of your sympathy during these tough times, her kid shouldn’t be allowed to spoil everyone else’s fun.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I have been working from home since March. My partner is an essential worker and works out of the house, and while they’re working I do my best to also work while caring for our 13-month-old, who was previously in day care. Luckily, my job is flexible, but this is hard, and I’ve been able to let go of always having a clean house or eating home-cooked meals.
The thing I’m struggling with is talking with our baby. I enjoy talking to her while we’re playing a game together. We read lots of books together, which she loves. But as the day goes on, I run out of steam. I find it exhausting to narrate what I’m doing or keep up a stream of conversation while we are on long walks.
I feel the most guilt about (not) talking at mealtime. I find myself so checked out when it is just the two of us all day that I often look at my phone or read a book while she is (happily) occupied with her food. Even when my partner is home, I’ll enlist them to chat with the baby while I read during meals (which they happily do with no judgment). I still feel awful and like I am shortchanging both of them, but I am an introvert and am struggling with a lack of alone time. Before quarantine I had an hour commute to work and an hour lunch break, which I spent reading or listening to audiobooks.
I know this is situational. I also know that some of my anxiety is about this awful situation and socializing our child in complete isolation. But talking is so important for developing babies, and I’m worried I need to be doing more. It might be a long time before we can resume play dates with grandparents or story time at the library.
The baby is too young for screens, so that’s not a solution. How can I get through this with my sanity intact but without harming our baby’s development?
—All Talked Out
Dear All Talked Out,
I’m so sorry. This is such a difficult balance, and it sounds to me like you’re doing a great job. Just as you have relaxed about keeping the house spotless, I think maybe you should relax about family mealtimes.
If you’re reading and playing and singing to your kid during the day, she’s probably getting a lot of stimuli, or as much as a solo adult can possibly provide. And there are other ways! At meals (or whenever you need a break) you could play music or nursery rhymes or audio storybooks for young children, which can divert a kid too young for screens. You can invest in some new educational toys—there are millions—to keep her entertained and developing.
Indeed, there’s no reason you couldn’t play one of your audiobooks over lunch; it’s the sound of human voices, and your little one is too young to follow along even if it’s not strictly kid-friendly. There’s no reason you couldn’t play NPR or a podcast or anything else that might be a little break for you and a little stimulation for her.
It’s not unusual or bad for you to require a little time to recharge yourself, and tapping out of family dinner while your partner does the bulk of the parenting is not bad for your kid and is definitely good for you. I think you should try to go easier on yourself and know that you’re almost certainly doing everything you should be. Hang in there!
Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I have a pretty active sex life, but in the last few months my 13- and 10-year-olds seem to have figured out what our plan is on those particular nights, and now they get up from bed constantly right around the time we’re trying to get to the bedroom.
It’s so frustrating and a total turnoff. I grew up in a conservative household, and although I’m trying hard not to put those same constraints on our kids, I also feel funny saying, “Hey, kids! We are having sex tonight! Please stay in your rooms!” Or do I just really enforce the “Once you go to bed, you stay in bed” rule? Or is there a perfect alternative?
We have white noise machines in all bedrooms, so I don’t think they are hearing anything (except when we walk down our squeaky hallway to get to our bedroom, but we do that every night). My parents didn’t even show affection to each other in front of us kids, so the idea of them having sex, especially when I was a teenager, would have been horrifying to me, so I’m struggling with the best course of action!
—Do Not Disturb
Dear Do Not Disturb,
I doubt your kids have figured out what you’re up to—kids are mostly oblivious to their parents’ sex lives. That doesn’t make it any less annoying or less of a mood-killer to hear the little ones stomping around after hours when you’re trying to find a minute alone.
The white noise machines are a nice touch, but the real problem here is that bedtime needs to be the end of your day as parents and the beginning of your night as a couple. And the pressure is probably all the worse during quarantine. So sit the kids down one morning and break it down for them! The new house rule is bedtime means everyone stays in their rooms. You can all say your good nights, and then the kids can have until a designated lights-out hour to read or draw or unwind in their rooms—no trips for snacks or a glass of water, no calling for the parents, no endless trips to the bathroom.
The truth is you’ll probably still be in your bedroom listening for footsteps in the hallway—parents are pretty much always on the clock—but maybe this will secure you a bit more privacy. Good luck.
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