Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m a child care provider for three families. I spend my mornings with one family, the “Howards,” and afternoons alternating between the other two families. I’ve been doing this since September, and so far it’s been good. We have all been transparent about our activities outside of the time we spend together. The Howards planned to travel to spend time with both sets of grandparents over the Thanksgiving holiday. After speaking with my spouse and the other families, we all decided that the Howards would need to quarantine for two weeks and have negative COVID tests before I return to care for their children. The Howards wanted to quarantine for one week. When I told them that we wanted two weeks of quarantine, they canceled their trip. I was glad to hear that they decided to follow CDC advice and stay home for the holidays.
Then, a few days ago, the kids and I were playing in their basement and the 4-year-old said, “We have to clean the basement because my grandparents will be here in three sleeps.” I had the day off yesterday, so today I asked the kid when their grandparents were arriving and got an excited “tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow” response. The parents haven’t said anything about this. I’m worried that they are having their parents come over and are trying to keep it a secret to avoid quarantine. This exposes me, my spouse, and two other families. What do I do? How do I bring this up with the Howards?
—Dreading Confrontation in D.C.
It’s too late to do anything about this situation, but I hope you had the dreaded confrontation, and that you quit working for the Howards. Your situation is precarious for everyone involved, and it’s hard to imagine how you can move forward with this family if you can’t trust them to be honest with you about their potential COVID risks. My extremely optimistic hope is that the other families you work for will recognize that since you’ve made your decision in part to protect them, they have a responsibility to help you recoup the lost income. In addition to an early holiday bonus, they could help you find a more trustworthy third family for your morning shift.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband wants a second child, and I’m not sure whether I do. We have a 2-year-old son and a fairly “traditional” household (much to my chagrin) because he is the primary breadwinner while I have a financially unreliable, creative profession. I’ve taken on the lion’s share of child-rearing duties, which we’d discussed, but it’s become clear to me that I don’t want to become the mom whose identity is first a mom who then does her art on the side. I want to be an artist who happens to have a kid. And I don’t see how with my husband’s line of work and its demands, having a second child will help me achieve the life I want for myself.
I have larger underlying concerns as well. I have complex PTSD from childhood abuse as well as bipolar II disorder—both of which were triggered, however mildly, with the birth of our first child (and unplanned C-section). Although I’m on pregnancy-safe medication that works for me, it’s possible both will be triggered again with the added stress of a new baby. On one hand, if the pandemic persists as it has and child care is not an option, I don’t know how I will manage two little ones on my own because my husband is an essential worker who works out of the house. On the other hand, if we see a COVID vaccine, there would definitely be ways to outsource care that could be positive for our kids (day care, nanny, etc.), but I have too many traumatic associations with being neglected as a child and wishing so badly that my dysfunctional and abusive parents would not have given birth to me if they were going to be so selfish. It’s difficult to reconcile these feelings with my own mom guilt, which then drives me to give my kid 200 percent of me, to my detriment.
Since I know I have that limitation, isn’t it wiser to be “one and done”? My husband feels increasing pressure to have another child. He had a very happy childhood with a brother he loved, and his parents are getting older and always envisioned a big family for him. He is also in his early 40s and I am in my mid- to late 30s, which he thinks adds urgency to this conversation. Is it possible to have a life we can both be happy with while having just one child? So many of my friends (mostly with more than one baby) remind me that while it’s hard in the beginning, I’ll benefit from my kids’ friendship as they get older. Am I operating out of fear and overthinking how hard it will be with a second child?
—Mom of One (For Now)
Dear Mom of One,
You’ve listed a lot of extremely valid internally motivated reasons you’re wary of having a second child and only externally motivated reasons you might consider having one. If you’d said even once “but part of me really wants another kid!” I’d say go for it, in spite of all your excellent reasons not to. But based on your letter it seems like your husband is the one who wants another kid and you really, really don’t—at least not right now. I’m here to say that’s more than OK. Own your decision, feel secure in it, and then be straightforward with your husband about where you stand on this. He needs to quit pressuring you and get on board with your decision. Being a supportive, loving partner entails supporting your life goals and dreams the way you have been supporting his by providing the majority of the child care for the kid you already have, not second-guessing you and making you second-guess yourself.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
How do I do anything but screen time and my job at the same time? I have a 3-year-old and 1-year-old. In the spring, they were home full time with me while I worked. My husband works outside the home as an essential worker. During the spring, it was incredibly difficult, but I made it possible through incredible leniency. I’d put the baby (who was still a baby then) into a carrier, put on a movie for the 2-year-old, and try to get work done. It was awful. But day care reopened in July, and I actually started being productive again. Now, the kids are back home because COVID is spiking again, they’re older, and my tools from six months ago no longer work. The baby only has one nap now instead of two. My older daughter is having tantrums. They love to play on the stairs together. I can’t get any work done. I’m the main breadwinner. I need my job. I can’t bring in a babysitter right now. What do I do other than movies over and over and over again? I feel like a horrible parent and a horrible worker. Are there any options other than movies when I’m trying to have back-to-back meetings over Zoom?
—Defeated in Philadelphia
You’re not a horrible parent and you shouldn’t be made to feel like a horrible worker. We’re in a horrible situation, and it’s not your fault. In the short term, some Frozen marathons and next-level baby-proofing (get the kind of gates made for large dog breeds for those stairs) will get you through. Please try to feel as little guilt about that as possible. In the coming weeks, though, you’re going to have to figure out something more sustainable. If your job is not amenable to any kind of flexibility, leave, or accommodation, maybe there is a sitter who will agree to test, quarantine, and bubble with your family. This may be overly optimistic, but in some states, children of essential workers are given priority in emergency child care arrangements, and though it sounds like you might not live in one of those states, new options may have become available since the last time you checked. Some degree of risk will still be involved, but your livelihood, your mental health, and the kids’ safety may outweigh the risk.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I am Jewish (Reform) and I plan to raise my kids (twins, 3 years old) Jewish as well. I’m not terribly spiritual or observant, but the twins are now old enough to participate in the major holidays, which has been fun. They started preschool this year and are thriving (everybody is staying healthy so far, thank goodness). However, it’s a Christian preschool, and they just sent home the December calendar, and, as you might imagine … things get rather Jesus-y (e.g. chapel, a birthday party for Jesus). They already came home talking about God, which is fine. I was disappointed that they first heard about it there, but that’s on me—largely because I’m not sure how to broach such topics. My question: During the Christmas season, how do I talk to little kids about different beliefs, and try to guide them to the faith I’d like them to have, while respecting the faith of others? What would be the best language or tone or approach, and how do I pitch such abstract concepts to toddlers?
Dear Unsure Semite,
If you plan to raise your kids Jewish, it’s time to put those plans into action! I’m guessing you’re not thinking of uprooting them from their current preschool—I wouldn’t either, Jesus notwithstanding—but as long as you keep them there, it’s on you to provide some counterprogramming. Joining the local Reform temple is a big commitment, and if you’re not ready to do that until your kids are a bit older, or if you can’t find a nearby temple whose politics you agree with, I’m right there with you. Happily, there are a wealth of books and online resources for people in exactly our predicament because it’s such a common one. I’m a fan of the website Kveller, which has pointed me to free Zoom Shabbat singalongs that were an unexpected early-pandemic hit for my family. Start out simple by establishing some family traditions of your own, without trying to compete with Christmas (nothing can, especially not poor old Hanukkah). And when it comes to discussions about faith, you might start by introducing your Judaism-inflected thoughts on toddler-appropriate concepts—like sharing and the cycle of the year—and work your way up to tackling G-d. Also, I wanted to make sure you and all millennial parents know there’s spiritual guidance available via Hulu—specifically, the Rugrats Hanukkah and Passover episodes, which are basically part of the Talmud.
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My friend and I are both women married to men, with kids (she’s bisexual). She’s funny and we have good rapport. But she is constantly saying and doing things that I would find inappropriate and unacceptable from a male friend. In public she calls me her wife and makes lewd comments about our imaginary sex life to retail workers, waiters, you name it. She repeatedly talks about how good my breasts look. She constantly says we should leave our husbands and live together. What should I do?