Care and Feeding

I Should Be Grateful for All I Have

But I’m sad, stressed, and overwhelmed.

A woman with a furrowed brow holds a baby.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Drazen Zigic/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’m working part time from home while caring full time for an 8-month-old baby. (I can work flexible hours.) My husband is an essential worker with long and unpredictable hours, so I’m isolated at home with the baby 99 percent of the time. My days are unstructured and lonely and completely exhausting, and by the end of the day when I finally have a window to work, I’m wiped. I’m not productive. I feel sad and stressed and overwhelmed pretty much all the time. But who am I to complain about feeling sad and stressed when there are so many people who are struggling with racial injustice in our country? Or who have lost their jobs in the last few months. Or who have lost loved ones. I just don’t know how to feel right now.

—Working Mom

Dear WM,

These are incredibly tough times for a lot of people. But one person’s struggle does not invalidate another’s; it’s possible to possess privilege yet still grapple with very real problems. Who are you to complain? You’re a person, under a lot of stress—with a spouse doing important work, a new baby and all the attendant responsibilities, plus a job of your own, plus being cut off from friends and family you might normally turn to for support or human communion. This is all difficult, and I’m sorry you’re going through it.

To begin, I wonder if you’ve talked to your physician about whether what you’re experiencing is not just the weight of the world but postpartum depression. An advice columnist cannot help you work through that but a doctor absolutely can. I think that should be a conversation you have soon, because you deserve to feel better.

Beyond the question of depression, I’m curious about your work—whether you need to do it, for financial reasons; whether you enjoy doing it, for personal reasons; or whether it’s just a burden that’s all the more unreasonable since you can’t hire a sitter or use a day care right now. It might be worth thinking about those questions carefully! Balancing even part-time work and caring for a baby (a ’round-the-clock affair) is not easy.

It seems to me wholly reasonable that, after a day with an infant, you’d be exhausted and unproductive. But I wonder if structuring your days might help make them more tolerable. Hopefully your little one is napping twice daily. Could you set aside the morning nap break for phone calls with friends or loved ones (you can do the dishes or fold laundry at the same time if you’re feeling like an overachiever)? Could you give yourself that hour to exercise at home (a simple way to get a natural high) or even just read or do something self-indulgent?

Can you develop a similar routine at the end of the day—eating dinner early, maybe with your little one, so that once it’s bedtime, you’re free to sit down at your desk and tackle your job. You don’t mention what you do, and whether yours is a gig you could chip away at during afternoon naps, or even while strolling around the neighborhood and making work phone calls.

This is a lot. If you’re up for managing the logistics and can afford it, you could also look into finding responsible help, adapted to meet the ongoing public health concerns. This is easier said than done right now. But you should absolutely not be so hard on yourself that you’re having trouble managing something that is so extraordinarily difficult. Good luck.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a 24-year-old woman, the oldest of 10 kids (a mix of full and half siblings). My mother died suddenly at the beginning of March, so I’ve been doing my job remotely and living at home to help my stepdad with the five kids who are still at home (14, 13, and 11-year-old triplets). I recently decided that I would move back home after my lease is up in order to commit to helping out for at least a year.

I have so many questions I’d love to ask, but I’ll stick to the one that is bugging me the most: All five of my siblings are bright and very argumentative. They litigate every little thing with me and with one another. If I ask them to stop doing something because it’s rough or unsafe, they’ll fire back with every reason why it’s OK. If I remind them about something straightforward (“Please remember to put the milk back when you’re done”), I get a blowup or whining. If I try to reason with them, it turns into a back-and-forth power struggle where I can tell I’m getting more and more angry (and I’m a generally patient person), and they’re nowhere closer to doing the thing that I asked.

I’ve started trying to pick my battles, but many things aren’t negotiable. I’m exhausted at the end of most days. In my job, I work with elementary school students, so I thought I had this down, but I realize now I wasn’t prepared for the level of tween attitude here. As a group, they play rough and can be rude and mean to one another and to me, but I know that one-on-one or in pairs they can be sweet and mature. I just need a way to make them understand when they need to actually listen. I dread the next few years when they’re all teenagers. My stepdad helps how he can, but his style is pretty authoritative, which is not how I want to be, and he also has to work and grieve. What can I do or say or change to get out of this daily cycle?

—Teen Talk

Dear TT,

You’re quite a sister. What a comfort you must be to your stepfather and your siblings—even if the latter are a bunch of wiseacre tweens (truly is there any other kind?).

I think you are wise to pick your battles but also smart to understand that you can’t, always, and will still need to remind your siblings about the necessity of putting the milk back in the fridge every day until the lesson sticks. The good news is that I do think it will, eventually; the bad news is there’s no real shortcut.

What I would do is pace myself. Remember that you’re there for the year, and your task is to be a good adult presence in the lives of kids who need that. But remember that those kids are tweens/teens, never the most easygoing cohort, and they’re grieving on top of everything else. There are going to be plenty of days when you’re frustrated about their sloppiness, their roughhousing, their dumb kid antics, and scolding won’t necessarily have any effect on this kind of stuff.

If the kids are as good and reasonable as you say, you might try a candid one-on-one with each of them in turn. Tell them you’re sad about Mom. Tell them you’re there to help them and Dad. Tell them you’ll need their cooperation, and you’d love their respect and their help. Appeal to their sweet, mature sides.

Also, remember you’re not just a traffic cop! Make a family pizza night tradition, or improvise a water balloon war—do simple fun things because you love them. This will make it so much easier to build a relationship with the kids as they grow, and it will be easier for you, too, if you’re as invested in making good moments as you are in addressing the less good moments.

But know that their impulsive tween sides might win out. And that’s OK. Kids make dumb mistakes, and your job isn’t to prevent that, but to help them with what comes next. If you don’t want to be the bad cop taskmaster, don’t be. Handle this new role in a way that feels right, but don’t go it alone. Talk to your stepdad if things get impossible, and make sure you’ve got relationships with any other adults (teachers, religious leaders, even the parents of your siblings’ close pals) who you could call on for backup or even just for some moral support. I’m rooting for you all; your mom would be so proud. Good luck.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have the lowest stakes problem but would like your thoughts. My 5-year-old points with her middle finger. When we read together and she points to words, she uses her middle finger; when she shows me her drawings and describes anything, she points with her middle finger. If I’m next to her, I’ll gently adjust her pointing finger, or if she is further away, I’ll wiggle my own index finger to have her change herself. Am I reading too much into this? Do I let her point the way she points? Are the minor corrections enough to get her to start pointing correctly, and despite pointing this way for her whole life, will she eventually self-adjust? Do I make her do silly finger exercises or something? Will she outgrow it? Should I let her future teacher know I’m working on this? She will be entering kindergarten next year and at some point will have face-to-face contact with the teacher and I see lots more potential for pointing than in pre-K.

—Flipping the Bird

Dear FTB,

You’re right: This is a low-stakes problem! I wouldn’t bother with all the correction and redirection, and you absolutely don’t need to do finger exercises. This gesture means nothing to your kid, nor should it, and it won’t be misinterpreted as obscene in a kindergarten classroom. I’d let her point the way she prefers to. She’ll either catch on, someday, that this might look rude, or she won’t. It simply doesn’t matter. Whew—problem solved!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am due with my first child any day now! My spouse and I are fortunate to have lots of friends and family who are eager to meet our baby. Do you have any advice on how to communicate with our few anti-vaxxer friends that we will be declining any visits from them, until our new arrival can be fully vaccinated against whooping cough/flu? I want to be tactful and not offensive. Once the baby is born, I was thinking of just sending out a group email where we say “can’t wait for all of you to visit, but please only do so if you’re healthy and up to date on whooping cough and flu vaccines until Baby is fully inoculated.” Any better ideas? There are three families in our group who do no vaccinate or get flu shots; both have small children and are around their extended family’s children constantly, all of whom think essential oils are the only “medicine” they need.

—Anti-Anti-Vaxx

Dear AAV,

Congrats on the soon-to-be baby! I understand your desire to be tactful with your friends, but at the same time, I do not consider a disbelief in science a point of view worthy of respect.

I think your email sounds fine, and I encourage you to be really firm about it, on the off chance that one of the families in your orbit wants a bit of leeway so they can drop off a casserole. The very point of vaccines is to protect the more vulnerable—your baby—and that’s that, no debate or discussion necessary. I assume you and your husband are prepared for the fact that your friends might be put off or hurt, and I’m afraid I don’t see much you can do if that comes to pass. I hope they’ll respect your policy on this and come visit after your kiddo has had the most important suite of vaccines (I’d double check when that point is with your pediatrician).

—Rumaan

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