Care and Feeding

My Husband Insists That I Wear a Bra Around My Stepson at Home

I don’t mean to be immodest, but I also want to be comfortable!

A woman in a bathrobe shrugging.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by excentric_01/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 young adult stepson moved back in with us. He’s generally an easy person to live with, and we are happy he’s here with us. The problem is, I do not like to wear bras when I’m in my own home, but I also don’t feel comfortable walking around without a bra in front of him. My husband also makes a big deal about me wearing bras when his son is here. Last night after showering, I tried out coming into the living room wearing a long frumpy bathrobe that covered up my breasts, and in my opinion, I was merely comfortable, not over-sexualizing my triple-D’s in front of my son. My husband didn’t say anything at first as we cuddled on the couch watching TV, but when stepson came home from work, my husband sent me to our room to change. I’m quite sure my stepson didn’t care. He went off to play video games and didn’t hang out with us. But just the thought of being in the same house with his son upstairs, my husband felt I needed to change. I felt he ruined our snuggle time by controlling what I wear, and instead of changing, I just left and went to bed. My husband asked me to reconsider, stating there are very few things he asks of me. I told him he just doesn’t know what it’s like to wear bras. Sure, I could have changed, and it would have made this not a thing. I want to feel comfortable in my own home. I don’t feel comfortable nipping out or wearing certain shirts braless around my stepson either. But there has to be a happy medium where I can be comfortable. What do women wear at home when they live with young men who are not their husbands?

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—Free the D’s

Dear FtD,

What people who do not have breasts, particularly large ones, do not easily understand is just how restrictive, uncomfortable, and absolutely burdensome bras can be. I’m sorry you are having that issue with your husband. Were you wearing anything at all under the robe? Perhaps it was the possibility of it coming untied and you being completely exposed that bothered him? Far be it from me to make an excuse for a man who “sent” a woman to change, but I am trying to give him the benefit of the doubt since you don’t seem to be implying that he’s been cruel or entirely unreasonable … just clueless, as men so often are.

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It’s not your husband’s fault, nor your stepson’s, nor yours, that our society has this super weird and unhealthy relationship to breasts. And I think you can please everyone and also remind your man that what matters most here is your comfort; again, people who do not have large boobs cannot truly understand the physical strain and discomfort we endure at the hands of our own body parts and the garments designed to restrain them. Many of us have serious back problems, often undiagnosed, and/or chronic aches and pains that are connected to our bosoms. Even if you do not, considering all of the challenges and costs associated with breast ownership, the absolute least that folks who don’t have them can do is to control their eyes when they may be on display inadvertently. Why is there patriarchy if refraining from looking at breasts is too tall an order for the “natural” leaders of the world, hmm?

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In other words, it’s fine if you want to adjust for your own comfort or even out of consideration for your husband’s feelings, but he should not make you feel like this is something that you have to do. And I think you should ask him to try on one of your bras so he can see just how GARBAGE it is to have wire and elastic and tight fabric stretched across your body for 18 hours out of the day.

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If you were truly intent on being as bra-free as possible at home, then I’d offer you some tips for that. But since it seems that you are interested in striking a balance between modesty and comfort, I’d suggest investing in a few soft, wire-free bras that will provide some coverage while also allowing you to breathe. Cosabella has a popular range of bralettes that come in extended sizes, and I’ve also found comfy, perfect-for-around-the-house bras at Target. You can also grab some dark-colored, heavyweight T-shirts for when you just cannot be bothered to wear a bra at all. The compromise here? You will be covered up more often than not, and when you do need to free the nip for a second, these two grown-ass men can deal with it—and the one who doesn’t share a bed with you can also find a place of his own if this is such an issue, which it totally doesn’t seem to be. Cheers.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a 12-year-old female, and I have a 10-year-old sister and an 8-year-old brother. I stay up way later these days than I usually would since I don’t have to be up as early for school thanks to the pandemic. This means I hear way more arguments. Like, at 1 in the morning, I hear my mother say things to my father—things she doesn’t say in front of us. He agrees with her. From listening to their arguments, I now know that they went to counseling when my brother was a baby. My mother has also said that she won’t do “this” for the next 10 years (when my brother will be 18). All this (and a lot more than I mentioned) makes me wonder whether they will divorce. During the day, they seem happy, but the things they say (OK, the things my mother says) make me wonder how much of that is a front. Do you think it is likely they will divorce?

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—Mad Mommy Dearest

Dear MMD,

I’m sorry that you’ve overheard your parents having some conversations that it sounds like they’ve worked pretty hard to keep off of you and your siblings’ radar, and I do hope you’ll consider this experience as a good reason not to eavesdrop. Your mom and dad do have a right to their privacy, and unless they are simply being so loud that you can hear them without leaving your bed, it sounds like you may have disregarded that and made a point to listen in on them.

Of course, it’s understandable why you’d be tempted to keep “overhearing” them, as they have introduced you to a side of their relationship that you did not know much about, one that could have a significant impact on your life. I can’t tell you if it’s likely or not that they will divorce, though I do think it is fair for you to accept that it may be a possibility. However, I also think it would be more useful for you to speak to your parents directly about what you have heard than to drive yourself up the wall trying to speculate on what comes next.

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Let them know that you’ve heard some of their late-night conversations. Apologize for listening in, but explain that it was hard for you not to do so when you realized what they were discussing, and that you would like to talk to them about what you’ve heard. Share how it made you feel. Don’t view this as an opportunity to try and convince them to do anything, but rather to ask questions and share your feelings.

Remember that two adults can decide that they no longer wish to be in a romantic relationship and still work together to ensure that their children are loved and cared for. If, in fact, your parents decide to separate, that does not mean that your lives will be ripped apart or doomed or less happy than they are right now. No matter what your parents decide to do, their commitment to you and your siblings should remain unchanged. But, again, before you give too much energy to the “what if,” you owe it to your parents to have a conversation, and they owe it to you to help you cope with what you’ve heard. Wishing you all the best.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Two months ago, I suddenly decided I wanted a baby. I wanted to hold one, to have one, to care for one. I got baby fever, bad. But I am only 12. My parents are in their early 40s, and they are unable to have another child. I have two younger siblings (10 and 7) and they won’t consider fostering a child. It has gotten to the point where I dream about them, and all I do is think about them. I have always known I would want a lot of children, but this is getting ridiculous. How do I stop thinking about babies every second of the day? I am worried I may fall pregnant in late high school or early adulthood because I want one so much. They are all I think about, all I dream about, and I just want it to stop.

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—Baby Fever

Dear BF,

There are a number of factors that could be driving your new interest in motherhood, but I’d wager that your changing body may have a lot to do with it. If you haven’t started your period yet, it is likely to show up within the next year or so. Your body either is now able or may soon be able to give birth—but only physically speaking, of course. For a host of reasons, having a child is off the table at your age and should remain so for quite some time to come.

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Your hormones will be screaming at (and through) you in a number of ways over the next few years, and this may not be the first or only time you are left to cope with feelings that seem overwhelming or irrational. This is a normal part of growing up.

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Finding ways to satiate that baby fever may not always be super easy, but it’s worth trying. If you are able to spend time in the company of actual infants or small children (this may not be feasible until after we achieve a post-COVID “normal”), perhaps as a volunteer at a hospital or by working at a camp or nursery school, do so. Babysit. Read stories about young mothers caring for kids. You very well may discover, without great difficulty, that the work of parenting is something you’d like to hold off on until you feel truly ready.

The good news is these overwhelming feelings are not likely to last terribly long; though “raging hormones” are a common complication faced by kids from pre-adolescence through young adulthood, they are more often than not manageable.

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If you find after a few more months have passed that you are still obsessing over babies and pregnancy and doing so in a way that doesn’t feel good or right, you should talk to your parents about possibly speaking to a professional for some support. If your interest in babies represents a desire for love and affection, you should absolutely be having that conversation sooner than later. Do not think of pregnancy as something that you can “fall” into earlier than needed, but something that means a lot to you and that you can and will prioritize at a time in your life when you are ready to be a mommy. Good luck to you.

For more of Slate’s parenting coverage, listen to Mom and Dad Are Fighting

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Dear Care and Feeding,

When our son was born, my husband and I established some Christmas ground rules in an effort to steer clear of Christmas excess. The core of this is he may ask Santa for one present only. This has worked out well, and we’ve always been able to fulfill the request without splurging. This year we’ve come across a problem. A few months ago, my husband lost a sentimental item and was upset by its disappearance. Our 4.5-year-old son came up with a solution: He would ask Santa for a “finder.” When we asked him more about this, he said the finder would have a screen and buttons and would show him where to find Daddy’s missing thing. He’s so excited about presenting his daddy with the missing object on Christmas morning—it’s all he wants. We’ve told him how kind he is, but Santa would really like him to ask for something for himself, to which he says the finder is for him. He is undeterred, saying how happy Daddy will be when he finds his lost object for him. The obvious problem is a “finder” doesn’t exist! We’re at a loss of what to do. I’ve suggested we replace my husband’s missing object, thus rendering the finder unnecessary, but this might not solve the problem, especially if the real one eventually turns up. Any ideas on how to approach this?

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—Christmas Conundrum

Dear CC,

What a little sweetie pie you have there! Listen, Santa is a scam that we run on our kids for their enjoyment (and ours), and I say if you’re gonna do it, do it. Go big or go home! It’s time to up the ante on the deception! Write your son a letter “from Santa” for him to receive with his present on Christmas morning that explains that 1) a finder is not a real thing; 2) it’s such a great idea, and if the elves could have pulled it off, they totally would have; and 3) he is such a sweet, kind child for wanting to use his Christmas list to try and do something nice for his dad. The letter will become a bonus gift on top of whatever toy you do get him and everyone will be happy. Ho, ho, ho!

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—Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

I’m a senior at a local university, commuting from home, and my younger sister is leaving soon for a distant school. It’s just me, my sister, and our mother in the house, and I’m worried that I’ll be smothered now that Baby Sis is going away. Mom’s a single parent and does everything she can to keep us close so that she’s not lonely (this includes asking us to sleep in her bed for weeks at a time, and it’s been this way for years). Now that my sister is leaving and it’s just me, I already feel bad about leaving Mom to do homework on campus or stay after class or anything else that keeps me out of the house. At the same time, I don’t want to be stuck at home with Mom for my entire senior year. Is there any middle ground so that I can get out of the house and be a little more independent while making sure Mom’s not too lonely?

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