Care and Feeding

My Husband Can’t Bear to Watch Me Pump

He says it kills the intimacy.

A woman holds breast pumps.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Oleksandra Troian/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.

Click here to read Open Book, a Slate series about the new school year.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a first-time mom to a beautiful 2-month-old daughter. My company has generous maternity leave, so I’m not expected back in the office until the end of the year.

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Since I’m home for the rest of the year, I’m spending a majority of the time breastfeeding, which is going pretty well. I started pumping about a month ago so my husband could start introducing our baby to the bottle (and give me a break). While I’m only pumping once a day to ensure there’s a backup in the event I’m away from the baby, my husband has made it clear that he is uncomfortable with me pumping in his presence (and says it kills the intimacy), which has left me feeling upset and unsupported. Eventually I’m going to have to increase the frequency as the baby sleeps for longer stretches, and I’m nearing the end of my leave, so he’s going to have to be around it. Do I just hide away and pump so he doesn’t have to deal with it, or is there a way to help him get comfortable with this arrangement?

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—Breast Intentions

Dear BI,

I’m sorry but you don’t have anything to do to “help him get comfortable with this arrangement.” He needs to just get over it. I understand it can be … complex to see your partner’s body given over to maternity. But this is how biology works. Your husband’s failure to understand that you now physically (for a while anyway!) embody the role of both his partner and your child’s parent is his failure, not yours.

I think you should tell your husband that he’s being hurtful. Tell him that you feel upset and unsupported, and point out that you shouldn’t have to hide inside your own home in order to pump. I’m not sure what else I can say here; you deserve better, and I hope that if you’re honest your husband will realize that he’s in the wrong and work to right things.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have an almost-3-year-old and a 15-month-old. I’m a stay-at-home mom and my husband works (from home, now). My oldest has a generally good temperament (for a toddler) but lately he’s been refusing help from anyone but me. He loves his dad, but he’ll throw a huge fit if Dad tries to help him with bath, bedtime, using the bathroom, fixing his plate, getting dressed.

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I’m so tired of having to handle all these myself. My husband is hands-on and knows how to do all the things the same way I do. He will try to help in other ways, but sometimes it’s such a pain to stop what I’m doing to help my kid. Especially when his dad is there, ready, and willing to help.

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The only way he doesn’t throw a fit is if I’m not in the house. I started to sneak off to my bedroom before dinner was over so my husband could do bath and bedtime. But my son has caught on, and now he’s upset anytime I leave the room. We tried just telling him his dad will do it, but he cries through the whole bedtime routine. I know kids go through phases, but I can’t deal with this anymore. Do I just refuse to do bedtime for a few nights? I don’t want to screw up my kid. And not to mention it’s no fun for my husband to put a crying kid to bed. But if you tell me I have to soldier on and keep being the default for now, I will.

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—Mommy Is Dearest

Dear MID,

I think you’re right that kids go through phases, but I know from personal experience that’s cold comfort when you’re in the midst of one of those phases with no sense of when it’ll be over. Of course you are tired of being the favorite parent, especially when that manifests as being the parent who does all the work. You’re fortunate that your husband is an active partner in the parenting, and I think you simply need to remind yourself that leaving your kid with a parent who adores him is in no way damaging!

Talk to your husband and work out a plan, even if it’s totally absurd. Tell your son that Mommy has a meeting, then slip away from the dinner table, get into the car, and drive to a local park—or stroll around the block and listen to a podcast, or think about nothing, or tiptoe over to a neighbor’s porch and sit there and enjoy the silence. It doesn’t matter what you decide, and it won’t be too hard to pull the wool over a toddler’s eyes. Just choose a little lie that will afford you a break.

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You can do this every night or every other night or only on weekends, whatever seems simplest. Even if toddlers can’t tell one day from the next, hopefully your son will acclimate and come to understand Mommy sometimes being away is part of the routine. Forcing a bit of distance might help your son get over this particular developmental hump; being out of sight might put you temporarily out of mind. At any rate, don’t feel guilty for taking some space to just be a human being for 45 minutes a day!

Help! How can I support Slate so I can keep reading all the advice from Dear Prudence, Care and Feeding, Ask a Teacher, and How to Do It? Answer: Join Slate Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I don’t know how we will get through a fall (or a year?) of remote learning. Our school is still planning to open for the younger grades (school starts after Labor Day here), but that feels like it could get pulled out from us any day now. The spring was a nightmare. One of my children was miserable. I don’t think people understand what remote schooling was like for him, and thus by extension for the rest of the family. He was having tantrums, acting out, breaking things, and yelling, and just being so sad.

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The second we threw in the towel on school, it got slightly better—he was allowed to listen to podcasts and play on his own while everyone else worked. I do not think he was acting out because he is spoiled—we started with discipline and consequences for misbehavior, until it became clear this was not misbehavior but virtual school being genuinely damaging to his mental health.

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But that was kindergarten, and now here we are with first grade staring us in the face. I’d like to have him assessed, but our pediatrician said he couldn’t refer for that without feedback from teachers, who said they saw nothing of concern when they were in-person school. (He loved school before March.)

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We have demanding jobs, and my partner absolutely refuses to consider any version of a plan that brings another human into our home and also hates the idea of a pod. (Please don’t suggest either; it is a beaten path we cannot go down again.)

Can we just opt out of first grade? He’s a fall birthday, already old for the year. Do I have to quit my job? I think there are children for whom this situation is just … harder. Certainly of my children, he is the only one who seems profoundly damaged by this. He had the chance to participate in some outdoor activities with peers this summer (wearing masks, distanced, the works) and for those brief moments was back. I just don’t know what to do. And I’m so scared. If our school manages to open in person, I’m going to send him, because the alternative seems unfathomable, but I think that unfathomable alternative must be reckoned with.

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—Home-School Skeptic

Dear HSS,

As the parent, you’re the expert in what your child needs. If small stabs toward socializing (like a pod) are not right for your family, and if the substitution of screen for school reduces your kid to tears, then I don’t see why you can’t opt out of first grade. The point of first grade is more than just the mastery of skills like reading and math; it’s to learn sharing and taking turns and how to exist within a group of peers.

The question is what “opting out of first grade” means to you. The extant requirements for home-schooling parents vary by region; there may be forms to fill out and curricula you’re required to (nominally) teach. Your local district may have a remote-learning option, and you might elect that and simply not force your son to participate often or participate in such a way that he does minimal required work on your own timeline, with you and your husband. (Anecdotally, I’ve heard many teachers, particularly of kids your son’s age, understand that not every student can show up online every day.) If you really want to “defer” enrollment to first grade for a year, you’ll need to investigate your district’s policies—it may not be possible.

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Your kid loved school, as have my own children, and what’s not to love? The attention of a caring teacher, a classroom filled with books and things to do, a day packed with activity and stimulus. Recreating this at home is impossible, never mind once you add into it that you and your spouse both have jobs to do. I’ve no doubt you can provide him a rich experience—mixing play with audiobooks, conducting simple lessons and yes, watching the occasional movie. Your kid will survive without traditional school for a year; he might even thrive. Instead of being scared of forcing him into something you know to be bad, get creative on how to make this year a good one for him and the rest of the family. It’s not easy, I know, and I wish you luck.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m currently expecting my first child with my wife. We used an anonymous sperm donor, and our son will be able to contact him, if he chooses to, when he’s 18. But now we’re facing a problem. We’re moving to my wife’s home country before our due date, and we won’t be able to use the same donor for any future kids.

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It’s causing me a lot of stress, because where we’re currently from you have to have counseling before you can proceed with donor insemination, and the one thing the counselor said was “make sure you use the same donor for all your kids.” Obviously we’ll be upfront with our kids about how they came into the world, but how do we do that without making our firstborn feel a little left out? What if we use the same donor for another three kids, and then it’s the three siblings … and the other one? Do we use separate donors for all of them and call it a day? Am I overthinking this?

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For the record, my wife’s take on the situation is that we can’t preach about how our son will be her son, despite not having a biological relation to her, and then also make a big deal about using the same donor. I understand and agree with that, but would a little kid?

—What Makes a Sibling?

Dear WMaS,

Indeed, I think you’re overthinking this! Your wife is right—the biological relation pales in comparison with the familial relation, which you will prove, daily, is the thing that makes you a family. You don’t even have one child yet, let alone the theoretical four you’re talking about! You’re firmly in cart before horse territory.

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I understand. It’s nerve-wracking, waiting to become a parent, and your intention is only to be the best possible parent to all of the children you hope to someday have. Your desire to be a good parent to this still-an-embryo and their future siblings is admirable; I’m sure you’ll find a way to be a good parent. I’m sure your counselor had their reasons for urging you to use the same donor for all children, but the simple fact is that many happy families are a patchwork genetically. There’s absolutely no reason your own family cannot be among them. Good luck with the new baby!

—Rumaan

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