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 a woman in her mid-30s. Recently my cousin and her husband had their second child, a daughter. They currently have a 3-year-old son. Her husband’s nickname for their son is “Handsome Guy,” but for their daughter he has settled on “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong.” My cousin’s husband is normally quite socially liberal, but I’m really bothered by the sexist overtones of the name. He says it is from that song in the ’90s. I’m not sure he remembers the lyrics, but to give you a sense of the song, it starts out, “It’s been a whole lot easier since the bitch left town/ It’s been a whole lot happier without her face around.” It’s horrible!
My cousin’s husband and I have had disagreements about my inability to listen well to other people’s points of view, and I’ve tried to work on my listening skills. But now I’m not sure how to approach this given how poorly I’ve behaved in the past. He is generally a great dad—he is there diaper for diaper with his wife, cleaning, cooking, doing laundry, and shouldering nighttime feedings and wake-ups. Should I let it go, or can you help me come up with a script where I can help him see how, as his daughter becomes a woman, this nickname supports all the wrong views she should have about herself?
—Spin Doctors Song, Really?
Good grief, you being up in arms about your cousin’s husband’s nickname for his infant could quite possibly be the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in a while, and that’s saying a lot. I feel like you’re grasping at straws, just searching for a reason to be offended. Short of the dude’s musical taste, he’s doing everything he should be doing as a dad and parenting partner, and those are the things that really matter—not a nickname from a cheesy ’90s song.
You mentioned that you need to work on your behavior and listening skills, so let’s start here: Mind your own business and back off.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m at my wits’ end. I know it’s been a long nine months for everyone. But in those nine months: My husband lost his job and is still unemployed, I technically lost mine but was able to transfer to a different work group and stay employed, and I had a baby. All of those life changes are hard enough when there’s NOT a global pandemic. We had our 4-year-old in pre-K because viral transmission rates/test positivity rates were low, but we pulled her when the test positivity crossed 5 percent. I know children are less efficient spreaders, but we have a newborn to worry about. Our days are fairly chaotic, and I’m barely billing the hours I need to. Scaling back my hours isn’t an option—maybe it would have been if I was the secondary wage earner (which I’ve traditionally been). It also doesn’t help that most people seem to have given up living like there is a pandemic and our positivity rates KEEP INCREASING so my 4-year-old will be home for the foreseeable future, which isn’t good for her (she misses her friends and misses school) or my husband (he can’t handle being in charge of two kids all day long). I need some strategies to keep my 4-year-old occupied BY HERSELF so that when the baby does nap, my husband has some time to actually look for work.
—There Is No Manual for Parenting in a Pandemic
Dear No Manual,
You’re right, there is no manual for parenting in a pandemic. My advice is you gotta do what you gotta do to survive—even if that means putting a tablet in front of your kid’s face for hours on end so your husband can do whatever he needs to do to find work. Screen-time rules aren’t a thing right now, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it.
The line that struck me, though, is that your husband can’t handle being in charge of two kids all day long. Huh? If the tables were turned, I bet you’d be expected to take care of your kids with a smile on your face because you’re their mom. How fair is that? Women are leaving the workforce at staggering numbers to take care of their kids due to the pandemic. When school started back up in September 2020, 617,000 women in America quit their jobs, compared with 78,000 men. Why? I’m sure it’s happening for a lot of reasons, but if you ask me, I think it’s because many husbands aren’t willing to step up as parenting partners due to fear, incompetence, selfishness, or a combination of the three.
Tell him that you’re sorry that it’s hard, but he needs to put on his big boy pants to do whatever he needs to do to make your family function. That’s what you’re doing. He needs to do the same.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My wife and I are high school sweethearts, and I’ve known her for over 15 years. I thought I knew her better than anyone, until the past couple of months or so. We have a 6-year-old daughter, and we live in one of those areas that’s very laid-back about COVID restrictions, so she’s able to participate in a lot of activities. My daughter enjoys playing in the mud, pretending she’s a superhero, and throwing baseballs with me in the backyard. But my wife keeps steering her into stereotypically feminine activities like ballet and cheerleading because, in her words, “I want my girl to be a girl.” My daughter hates those activities. I also overheard my wife make an inappropriate joke about gay and trans kids during Thanksgiving to my mother-in-law. I’m really disturbed by this. I feel like I don’t even know my wife anymore. How should I approach this?
—Baseball Over Ballet
You have every right to be upset. What is she afraid of exactly? That your daughter will be less feminine if she plays baseball with you? Or that she may turn out to be gay or transgender if she doesn’t spend hours practicing arabesques?
Let me start with the obvious. I hate to break it to wifey, but no amount of ballet and cheerleading will have an impact on her sexual preference or gender identity. For the life of me, I cannot wrap my head around how some people believe that the activities kids participate in make a damn bit of difference when it comes to their sexuality. And let’s pretend for a moment that your little one is gay or identifies with another gender—would your wife love her any less? If so, she has much bigger issues to worry about than what extracurricular activities your kid is into.
I tell my two daughters that being a girl means whatever they want it to mean. They both play basketball and can name every member of the Avengers faster than they can name the Disney princesses. But they also love wearing dresses, going for mani-pedis, and getting cute hairdos. Sure, my kids drive me nuts at times—but at least they’re happy. And that happiness comes from being authentic without their parents trying to shove a square peg into a round hole.
I’ll give your wife the benefit of the doubt and assume she wants what’s best for your daughter, which is admirable. But she’s doing a really crappy job of going about it. If she keeps pushing your child down this path, your little one will harbor a hell of a lot of resentment toward her as she grows older. Nobody wins in that scenario.
You should sit down as a family and let your daughter drive the conversation about what she wants to do. If your wife does the “yeah, but” thing, try to steer the discussion back to empowering your daughter. If your wife truly wants your daughter to be successful and happy, your wife needs to step back and let your daughter be who she wants to be. And spoiler alert—human beings always will find a way back to what feels natural to them.
We need to inspire our daughters, not control them. As a dude, you shouldn’t have to remind a grown-ass woman of that, but life can throw us curveballs. Speaking of which, if you teach your little girl how to throw a good curveball, she’ll cherish that memory for the rest of her life, trust me.
Why? Because she’s doing something she loves with a person she loves. And that’s how it always should be.
Dear Care and Feeding,
When our daughter was a toddler, she went through a “DO IT MYSELF!” phase for a long time. She’s now in fourth grade, and she still seems to have this attitude when it comes to school. I work flexible hours, so I’m usually on standby throughout the online school day in case she needs help, and I’ve noticed that when doing group work she blazes through the assignment and then just tells kids the answer when they ask questions or she mutes herself and turns down the volume to do the work herself. I’m glad that she’s independent, but I’m really worried about her teamwork skills. Her teacher doesn’t stay in breakout rooms for long, and I don’t know if she’s noticed.
Her teacher last year often had to remind her to slow down and wait for others when doing group work. I’ve tried reminding her to talk to the other kids as well, but she just says the other kids are “too slow.” Plus, when she speeds through the assignment, she misses several questions, and comes to me rather than her classmates when she’s confused. When I suggest asking another kid, she says they’re probably wrong, and goes back to her desk to sit in silence until the room closes. Other than this she’s a very social kid with several friends, so I don’t know why she’s determined to do everything alone! Is this worth getting her teacher involved? How can I get her to have a discussion with her classmates and accept that she may not have all of the homework answers?
My biggest concern here isn’t her lack of teamwork, but that she’s trashing her fellow classmates for being “too slow” or wrong. It seems like your kid needs to have her ego knocked down a few pegs, because nobody has everything in life figured out—especially a third grader.
There are a couple of things I’d suggest. First, don’t allow her to come to you for help when she should be asking other students or her teacher. If she knows you’re not a resource, I think she’ll begin to lean on her teacher or classmates a bit more. And I’d definitely get her teacher involved to get her insight. Hopefully the teacher can have a chat with your daughter about areas in which she could improve. Some kids believe that the faster they finish an assignment, the smarter they are, which, as we all know, is often not the case. The “slower” kids may be the more thoughtful kids, which will result in better work. Have you checked your daughter’s work for accuracy? If her work contains mistakes, it’d be worthwhile to ask her teacher to highlight that to your daughter as well. In other words, your daughter needs to hear from someone other than you that she’s not always right.
In your daughter’s defense, this distance learning thing is a challenge, and she’s probably acting out because it’s not working for her. Working together on a Zoom call is different from doing it in a classroom setting. Since this is the hand we’ve been dealt for the foreseeable future, unfortunately we have to roll with it. It’s up to you, your daughter, and the teacher to figure out how to make her the most effective student.
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About a month ago, as I was getting my 11-month-old ready for day care, I noticed that the left side of her face was drooping weirdly. My husband and I spent that evening consulting Google and more or less arrived at a diagnosis of Bell’s palsy. I made an appointment with her pediatrician. The pediatrician, who has a stellar reputation, examined her for less than two minutes and announced he would have to immediately consult a pediatric neurologist. He left and returned about five minutes later, when he breathlessly said: “You need to go to the hospital right now.” He said he thought she had a cranial nerve tumor. This diagnosis was, thankfully, wrong, but now I feel severely traumatized by all we went through. Should I continue to go to this doctor?