Care and Feeding

I’m Working Overtime to Repair Finances My Husband Ruined, but Our Kids Hate Me

He quit his job on a whim and racked up credit card debt, but somehow I’m the bad guy?

A worried woman looking at a bunch of bills.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by 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 had a LOT of jobs over the last two decades. A few months before the pandemic, he quit his job (with benefits for our family) over a bad day at work. I was left, once again, bitter and broken over the lack of consideration for the big picture. We reviewed our finances, and I found he had racked up over $10,000 in frivolous credit card debt. Since we now have one income and someone must stay home with our children to do virtual learning, I am working 50-to-60 hours per week to afford our living and debt expenses.

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I feel like I’m the only one I can trust to financially support the household. I have control over my behavior, the work ethic to keep a job, and I bring in an income. Yet, my kids see it differently. From their perspective, I leave all the time and they resent me for being gone. I have explained myself so many ways, but they feel how they feel, and can I blame them?

My kids feel abandoned by me, and I’m working harder to dig us out of a financial pit that I didn’t make (though I clearly was stupid enough to allow my husband to manage his own finances when they affect me directly). How do I reconnect with my kids and not live in a land of resentment toward my husband? It’s only eating me apart. I have expressed my concerns to him, but it doesn’t alleviate my pain.

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—Overwhelmed and Overworked

Dear O.O.,

Is your husband doing the lion’s share of both the child care and housework? He ought to be doing everything he can to carry his weight in every way imaginable. That means you should be able to sit with your kids and enjoy dessert while he washes dishes, you should sleep as late as possible while he prepares breakfast, and you shouldn’t be on the hook for homework help unless you are literally the only one capable of the assignment. If he isn’t doing as much as possible to prop you up while you clean up the mess he’s made, that needs to change ASAP.

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As far as your children go, I don’t know how old they are and how much they can comprehend about your inability to give them the time they desire, but know that you are not alone in hearing that sort of sentiment from your kids right now. Across the nation, young people are sick of feeling like their grown-ups don’t have time for them. Alas, no one is coming to save us, and the kids are going to have to endure some suffering, just like we are. You’ve told them what it is. You can try and find ways to better maximize the time you do have with them, such as playing a game like “Heads Up” over breakfast, or allowing them to stay up 30 minutes later for some special cuddle time, but you won’t be able to fix this for them entirely and that’s OK. It’s a bad time, and bad times happen.

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In terms of the long-term health of your marriage, and most importantly, your own mental health, I strongly encourage you to speak to a professional. The resentment you feel toward your husband and these circumstances can grow in some truly unhealthy ways; furthermore, he needs to understand what he has done to this family, make amends with you somehow, and address whatever issues might have led him to this place. Sending you lots of encouragement and lots of healing energy, my friend.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m writing to you about my amazing but stubborn friend “Anna.” She immigrated to Canada from Europe after marrying her Canadian husband. The marriage dissolved quickly due to her husband’s extreme misogyny, untreated mental illness, and verbally abusive nature. He kicked her and her two very young daughters out and told them to go to a women’s shelter. Fast forward 10 years, and Anna has completed a distance education program, found a great job she loves, bought a house, and settled herself and her girls into a new city. This is no surprise, as Anna has an astounding work ethic; she is the most generous and loving person I have ever met and an outstanding mother and godmother to my children.

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Anna’s mother was recently given a devastating diagnosis and may not have much time even after expensive treatment and surgery. COVID has complicated matters involving flights and mandatory quarantines. It would be very expensive for Anna and her daughters to fly to her in Europe. She makes a decent amount of money, but I know things are tight, and she’s pinching pennies to save for the trip.

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This is where I need your advice. I have money; my husband recently made some excellent decisions, and we got a significant amount of money in return. We want to pay for the flights and cover the mortgage when Anna is away. But she is so proud and stubborn. For example, we’ve invited her family to join us at a resort as a Christmas present on occasion, but she insists on paying her share. When we decline her money, she gets offended and makes up for it by bringing tons of food and cooking for everyone, so now we just tell her how much it costs so she can contribute. I can’t just give her the money anonymously because I’ve seen how that turned out before; once, while she was going through a difficult time, someone left $1,000 with a note in her mailbox. Instead of being excited, she was driven mad for a week trying to find out who it was from, convinced it was a trick from her ex-husband. How do I help her?

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—Need Help Helping

Dear N.H.H.

It’s great that you want to help Anna, but you won’t be able to force her to accept it if she doesn’t want to. She’s so lucky to have you; I’d kill for friends who could step in and help me out like this—especially without having to ask! Alas, this is her call.

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I would sit Anna down and explain to her that you understand why she doesn’t want to take any assistance, but that you also understand that time is of the essence here. Her mother may not be able to wait for her to raise the funds for this trip, and Anna would be upset with herself for the rest of her own life if she missed out on getting to spend time with her because she simply didn’t want to take a gift from a friend. Let her know that she can pay you back if she insists, and that it would really mean a lot to you for her to please allow you to do this for her and her family. Good luck to you; I hope she comes around!

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m not a parent, but I could use some advice here. I teach at a public school that works with kids who struggled at the regular middle/high school in our district; we are currently on a hybrid remote/in-person schedule. Most of my eighth graders have younger siblings and due to the pandemic, these kiddos are watching their siblings on remote days. I can’t imagine handling a 4- and 5-year-old all day now at age 30, let alone when I was 13. One kid has six younger sibs to watch; he’s done no work remotely, and I don’t blame the poor guy. I have not reached out to the parents about this issue, as my kids are all from lower-income families, and I’m 99 percent sure their parents are essential workers who are working out of the home and don’t have other options. On days they come in, my kids look like they’ve just escaped from the trenches and are relieved to only be on the hook for schoolwork with no siblings nearby. We’re hoping to move from hybrid to full-time soon (our district has low COVID numbers and strict masking rules), but we could be hybrid for quite a while. How can I support my kids here?

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—Sympathetic in Indiana

Dear Sympathetic,

It’s important that your students understand that they have your understanding, and that they know you are more concerned with their well-being than you are hounding them for assignments or attendance. Acknowledge what they are going through and that your goal is to support them as best as you can while helping them to get all they can from this complicated school year. Take time to have one-on-one conversations with each of the kids so that you are clear on what is going on with whom, and what sort of recurrent issues or concerns you may need to address to be most effective.

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Find ways to build community with your classes, which is something that is largely missing thanks to the amount of time kids are spending outside of the classroom. Perhaps you can have a time each week for students to play a game, or to discuss a topic other than schoolwork and the pandemic. Create groups or pairs where kids can work together on assignments and offer each other encouragement. Take time to do activities designed to help them process their emotions about this time period (the Greater Good Science Center at UC–Berkley has some great ideas here).

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Perhaps most importantly, consider how you can adjust expectations and assessments for class participation to reflect what the kids are up against. For example, giving students the opportunity to resubmit classwork when they get a poor grade, extra time to complete assignments, the ability to retake tests, extra credit opportunities that are fun and easily completed. You want them to get all that they can out of this experiment academically, but you must acknowledge that “all” for the 2020–21 school year doesn’t mean what it did a few semesters back.

Finally, while I understand your reasons for not engaging parents thus far, I do think that you should have a line of communication with them and should not assume that they are all simply too busy to be concerned with their child’s academic performance. Unlike in other years, you may consider taking the time to have a conversation with the student in question first to find out what they have shared with their parents about this current school year, as well as what sort of interventions may be useful in terms of getting them to a place in which they are participating to the best of their capacity.

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You want the kids to try to learn and engage, but not at their own expense. Work on figuring out assignments that allow them to feel the gratification of competition, not depletion. Avoid giving failing and low marks to the best of your ability. Remember that everything is a sham around these kids, so there’s nothing virtuous about holding them up to a standard that didn’t work for them before, and that it’s even crueler to do so now. Good luck and thank you for your service.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a 19-year-old university student, and I’ve always struggled to communicate with my parents. They’re a classic case of helicopter immigrant parents, and frankly, not very good people. It’s gotten a lot worse since I started university—my parents don’t seem to understand what it’s like to be a student nowadays. I want to go to grad school, so I’ve been focused on getting research experience and studying for the GRE, but my parents expect me to be available 24/7 for hugs (yes, you’ve read that right) or grocery store trips. My mom throws temper tantrums every time I say something she doesn’t like, or if I word something poorly, which happens all the time because I can’t express myself as clearly in my parents’ language as I can in English. Oh, and she’s also a staunch anti-vaxxer and QAnon proponent. I’ve given up on trying to reason with her.

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My dad is just as bad. He is extremely racist, makes promises that he never keeps, and he seems incapable of understanding that I can’t just flick my fingers and get into Harvard. To him, I’m a mixture of Greta Thunberg and Albert Einstein, while I’m just another mediocre person. To make matters worse, neither of my parents think the pandemic is real. My dad just flew across the country to hang out with his friends (seriously!) and my mom refuses to wear a mask and throws fits when she’s asked to do so. I honestly don’t know how to talk to my parents anymore. They both need massive reality checks. Financial independence is currently out of my reach, but I don’t know how to tell them to look beyond themselves.

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—Mishaps in Montreal

Dear Mishaps,

We can’t choose our parents, but in time, we develop the ability to decide what their role in our adult lives looks like. It seems that you have likely done all that you can do, in terms of trying to communicate with your parents and helping them to lose some of the attitudes that you find contemptable, and that they are firmly set in patterns of behavior that run counter to what you wish to tolerate. With that in mind, the best thing you can do now is focus on your plan to leave their home in the future, while figuring out how to survive them in the meantime.

Put your foot down when it comes to the hugs and the grocery store trips. A daily hug break is fine, just not when you’re in danger of being distracted from your work, and you can offer up specific times when you’re available to run errands, as well as times in which you simply cannot. Resist long debates and arguments, but counter false information about the pandemic and (sigh) QAnon whenever it is presented to you. Protect your peace as much as you can, and count down the days until you get to pack up and head out.

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Also: While you may not be able to “snap your fingers” and get into an Ivy League school, you shouldn’t disparage your father’s belief in your abilities or suggest that you’re just “mediocre.” Maybe his motivation for pushing you isn’t quite what you’d want it to be, and his methods of encouraging you might be anything but inspiring—that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think of yourself as capable of greatness. Furthermore, you don’t have to go to Harvard to be great! You deserve your own encouragement as you try to make your grad school dreams real, and calling yourself “mediocre” does nothing to help. You got this. Hold on and keep pushing toward your goals!

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—Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

I took a job at a startup six months ago and it’s been very rocky. They replaced a team of five with one person (me) and the leadership consists only of the CEO. Today he asked me a question and I gave a suggestion. He then looked at me and, in front of the entire office, said, “That’s stupid.” He paused and called out again, “Guess what guys? I have an idea!” and used my exact suggestion. About 50 percent of the office clapped and laughed while the other half ignored him. I feigned a headache and am now “working from home.” What should I do? Call him out? Work from home until he plays nice? These sorts of incidents are happening daily and I could really use some advice.

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