Care and Feeding

No One in the Family Can Stand Being Around Our 18-Month-Old

Most days, I’m left alone trying to entertain him while he screams.

Crying baby all alone.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Gelpi/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My wife and I have three boys (7, 4, and 18 months). Due to the pandemic and lack of reliable child care, we have chosen to weather the storm and care for them from home ourselves. Since my wife and I both work full time, this has created a weird dynamic. I have a more flexible schedule, so I take the early shift, getting everyone up, breakfast, dressed, and ready for the day. My wife and the eldest then do work and remote schooling, respectively, while I entertain the younger two boys until around the afternoon and then head into work for an evening shift. Obviously, this is an exhausting routine.

However, my main issue is the way the youngest gets treated. At 18 months, he is a handful, and everyone avoids him constantly. My wife logs on to work ASAP in the morning (“Can’t watch the baby now!”), the eldest hides away in a reading nook (“He’s tearing apart my books, so I need to get away!”), and the middle child berates/hits/yells at him for the most meddlesome things. Most days, I’m left alone trying to entertain a toddler while he screams for his mother and brothers and, well, it’s getting to me.

I like to think I’m a good dad. I’m stern and sometimes yell, but we have a strict rule of no corporal punishment and an established points/demerits system for rewarding behavior. However, I’m starting to resent my youngest as I can’t fulfill his needs for the rest of the family’s attention, and he also definitively prefers anyone’s attention to my own. What can I do to get the rest of the family to contribute to his needs and not abandon us?

—Tired of the Toddler Tedium

Dear TTT,

It sounds like it’s time for a couple of meetings: first, one with your wife, and then, the two of you with your two oldest kids. They need to hear your feelings and understand just what you are going through right now. While it’s not necessarily the case that you’ll be able to evenly divide the care of your youngest between you and your wife, it should be the goal to improve how his needs are carved up and addressed. Furthermore, while your oldest kids should be able to focus on school and have a chance to decompress/play/read without a grabby toddler around, they are part of the family and should not be entirely off the hook for spending time with him either. Stand up for yourself and ask for the support you deserve.

Also, if you are able to speak with a mental health professional, please do. Many of us are resenting our kids, at least on occasion, right now. These are complicated feelings during complicated times; getting some support in managing them is key. Wishing you all of the best.

—Jamilah