Care and Feeding

My Husband Would Rather Work on His Music Than Do the Baby’s Dishes

Is a little help too much to ask?

Man wearing dishwashing gloves faces the camera, looking outraged
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Deagreez/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,

My husband has recorded an entire album, but doesn’t have time to do the baby’s dishes.

What’s a reasonable expectation for one’s partner to chip in?

We have a 7-month-old, and I stopped working because we felt that day care was too risky due to the pandemic. Now my husband is the sole earner, and I’m home with the baby all day. He typically comes home and watches the baby for an hour while I quickly get some chores done. But then he gets on Facebook or takes a nap or works on music. Meanwhile, when I ask him to do the dishes, he only agrees on occasion—with a big sigh and some eye-rolling. I tell myself that he needs downtime because he’s working all day. Taking care of the baby is not as stressful as working. But something nags at me that it’s not fair. Is it fair?

—Downtime Is for One Person

Dear DIfOP,

It’s not fair and you know it. I don’t know if your husband’s failure to be a good partner is due to the lack of examples in popular culture or in his childhood household, or if he’s just a jerk, but I’m hoping it’s the former. Because then you can do what generations of women before you have had to do: Teach a grown-ass man how to act.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE/QUESTION, and I ask this as a perpetual, possibly hopeless dater of musicians: Whomst, pray tell, is the audience for this album? Are there people who will pay money to hear his music? I’m not saying he’s only being selfish if this is a hobby, but I am curious to know if this is part of his contribution to the household in any way, shape, or form, aside from possible in-house entertainment (if he’s good) and the joy he gets from continuing to indulge in his passions while you don’t have the time to breathe.

Explain to your honeybun that you, like he, work a full-time job and require a break. Taking an hour away from the baby to rush through some chores is not a break. That is simply moving from the fries to the register—just because the temperature changed doesn’t mean you get to relax.

Propose a weekly schedule that allows space for each of you to get some personal time to do things unrelated to caring for the baby or paying bills. You will hate yourself, your husband, and possibly your child if you continue to exist without it. You are not a mule, you are not a servant, and being a stay-at-home mom (either permanently or during the season of COVID) does not mean that you are on 24/7 Parental Duty while he gets to play on his Myspace page or do whatever the hell he feels like. You don’t owe him shit for paying the bills, sis. What you provide in labor as the keeper of the home and the child is equally valuable. You two can learn to honor your respective need to decompress, and you’ll need to hold his hand through that process ASAP—for the sake of your family, and for your own sake. Good luck to you!

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Our daughters, 7 and 9, had a lot of play dates before COVID. They each have a best friend and some other close friends. My younger daughter and husband are both more susceptible to COVID than the average, and because of that, we haven’t done any in-person play dates since March. Over the last month, however, our kids have been increasingly persistent about asking for play dates and outings. I know this is hard on them, and they want to see their friends, but I just feel like it’s an unnecessary risk. Should I loosen up and let them see friends, or take the extra precautions to keep my family safe?

—Quarantine Is Hard

Dear QIH,

I’m so sorry, but I’ll have to remind you like I’ve reminded so many other letter writers—and friends, and family members, and a couple of would-be suitors—that COVID does not give a damn about how bored we are. I’d give anything to go back to how things used to be, but I won’t give my life, or anyone else’s, to do so.

We might only be halfway through this thing, and if we loosen up on the play dates and the outings, we’ll only be setting ourselves up for more time indoors. On behalf of all the other very bored and miserable people stuck in the house, please, please be vigilant. Get more creative with the Zooms, create some outdoor experiences where they don’t actually get close to their friends, cook more homemade meals … hell, let them get some purple highlights. But do not stop social distancing until it’s safe.

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

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have twin daughters in 10th grade. For some reason, the boys in their grade decided to make a “Top 25” list of the hottest girls in the grade. One of my daughters, “Anne,” made the list, while my other daughter, “Kate,” didn’t. Naturally, everyone is aware of and talking about the list. Anne and Kate are identical, but Kate has a bit of an orthopedic problem, which I’m assuming is why she wasn’t on the list. I don’t really know how to respond. Kate is upset, and Anne is pretending to be upset, but I can tell she’s pleased. I can’t even say, “You’re lucky you’re not on those lists” to Kate because that would be throwing Anne under the bus. I’m praying some other school drama will come up so everyone will stop focusing on “the list.” How do I handle this?

—Twisted by the List

Dear TbtL,

Now is a good time to talk about the bullshit that is the male gaze. There’s nothing wrong with the boys in your daughters’ school finding their classmates attractive, and of varying levels of attractiveness (though what is often problematic—that’s an Easter egg for loyal readers of the column—is how those levels are formed). But for them to compile these thoughts and distribute them in such a way is a gross thing to do, and it’s written off far too often as innocent teenage hijinks. It’s a form of bullying (not one that is gender-specific, as girls do participate in creating these lists too, but one that often has higher stakes for girls), and it’s not OK.

Explain that so much of what goes into kids’ minds when creating these goofy lists is pandering to what they think their friends will find socially acceptable. Also, be clear that both daughters’ reactions are to be expected considering their age, but that you hope they can work on getting to a place where they don’t see a good placement on this list as a badge of honor, nor a mark of shame—just something really silly put together by some really silly people. While much of this dialogue can take place as a group, the two sisters may need some solo attention to get through this: You want Anne to understand that the difference that made her “hotter” than her sister was (likely) little more than the work of the genetic lottery, and that she should consider that, and how she’d feel if the tables were turned. And you also need to be prepared to help Kate understand why kids may react differently to her than to her sister, that it’s a failing of society and not herself, and it isn’t reflective of how beautiful she is inside and out.

I’m sure a lot of people will have a “boys will be boys” response to this, but to that I say the hearts and minds of our girls are not collateral damage to be destroyed while they wait for their male peers to “grow out” of treating them like things, not people. Good luck encouraging your girls to feel good about themselves for the right reasons.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

What should I do if I am extremely ambivalent about having kids? Ambivalent as in I could absolutely go either way. I wouldn’t be sad without kids, and I don’t know if I would be happy with kids. It’s literally never something I’ve dreamed of, even as a little girl. Honestly, it seems more like a chore than a pleasure. But I also don’t want to miss out on the chance of having kids and the joy that people say it is (even if I’m a little suspicious of this). The thing that recently changed my mind is that we rescued a dog recently. All my life, I thought I disliked dogs or was ambivalent about dogs, but let me tell you, my heart has grown five times, and I’ve never thought I could love something as much as I love this pup. My partner is 10 years older than I am and is eager to start trying for a baby, and I know that he would be an incredible father. I’m not sure if I’d be a great mom.

I am in my mid- to late 30s and am excited by the directions my career is going now, but I also fear that in 10 years I’ll be just left with a bunch of CV accolades and regretful that I didn’t try. So the risk is: Do I treat having a baby like the surprising joy that having this dog is? Because what if we have a baby and I absolutely hate it, and I’m stuck with that choice … forever? Or what if I am resentful for having to put the brakes on my career just as it’s accelerating? My partner, being 10 years older, is able to feel like he’s reached the “comfortable” plateau in his career development and happy to focus on family and less on work. But I am much more ambitious, and I could see myself really skyrocketing! However, by the time I finish skyrocketing … it might be too late eggs-wise. I wish I felt more strongly YES or NO, but truly I’m left feeling meh. What should I do?

—Baby Ambivalent

Dear BA,

From reading this letter, I know that you are unclear about your interest in motherhood, that you are very passionate about your work, and that you didn’t know your capacity to love until you got a dog. What is not at all clear, however, is how you feel about your partner. You didn’t mention wanting to stay with him long-term, being afraid that this issue could come between you, or wondering if he’d be willing to stick things out if you decided once and for all that you didn’t want children.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into that, and you wrote the letter because you are very committed to keeping this relationship. Or your ambivalence may be toward him. Only you can sort through that. What I’d recommend is that you do it soon; it sounds like your partner is very clear on what he wants, and while men do have an easier road to late parenthood, he’s ready and he doesn’t have forever. He deserves the opportunity to decide if he’d be willing to wait until you know, to potentially be childless with you long-term, or to say that becoming a dad is a bigger priority to him than this romance—that is, of course, if you still want the romance in the first place.

Talk to women in your field who have kids. Hear real-life stories from working moms—good, bad, and otherwise. Talk to your partner about what life with a child could look like. If you still had the time and energy to climb professionally, would you be willing to give motherhood a try? Also, you totally can just skip the whole child thing if you prefer, and that’s totally fine too. Motherhood is not an obligation or a moral duty, and it’s best for all parties if you enter that world enthusiastically. Best wishes, warm regards, and do not accidentally get pregnant—it’s not the best way to get an answer to your questions.

—Jamilah

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