Care and Feeding

I’m Paranoid My Absent-Minded Husband Will Harm Our Baby

A thirtysomething man holds and kisses his infant.
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 is warm, caring, and creative. He’s also always been a bit of an absent-minded professor type: everything from forgetting to lock the front door to ruining a very expensive camera because he got overly excited about taking some pictures in (yes, IN) a lake. We’re hoping to start a family soon, and while I fully believe that he’ll be a wonderful dad (with a few foibles), there’s one dark fear I can’t shake: I am terrified there will be a situation where he leaves our baby in the back seat of a hot car. This is such an easy thing to do for even the most conscientious parent, and the news stories about it are utterly tragic. I know all the tricks about putting your wallet in the back seat, etc. But how do I share this fear without sounding overly paranoid? It’s not that I don’t trust him as a person … I just don’t trust his brain! Thanks for your advice.

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—Paranoid Polly

Dear Paranoid Polly,

I’m not going to say that your fears are unfounded because, sadly, kids die every year due to being left in cars. But I also think that a “switch” appears in new parents’ brains when a baby appears.

I’ll give you a personal example. My wife was concerned that I was going to be “lazy” and that she would be stuck doing all of the work for a baby prior to us becoming parents. It was mostly because I loved taking two- to three-hour afternoon naps on weekends, and I spent a lot of my free time after work playing video games or watching sports. She mentioned that concern to me multiple times, and I was offended at first—but in hindsight, she wasn’t wrong for feeling that way.

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To her surprise, I was a completely different person as soon as my oldest was born. My afternoon naps ended, I changed 95 percent of her diapers during all hours of the day/night, I read her stories every night, I was her designated hairstylist, and I spent all of my free time with her instead of being in front of the television. Don’t get it twisted—I don’t expect a statue to be built in my honor for doing what any dad should do, but I bring it up to say that my wife’s fears were completely eradicated.

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I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you bringing up your fears with your husband now (and multiple times, if needed) to let it sink in that you’re concerned. However, I strongly believe that the same “switch” that was turned on for me will turn on for him when he’s responsible for the life of a tiny human he helped to create. As I’ve said before in this column, unconditional love is the most powerful force in the universe, and it has changed countless lives—including mine.

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You can test this out in a safe space first, of course. See if he’s absent-minded at home with the baby—like forgetting to change her diaper when he said he would, for example. If that happens, you’ll have ample evidence to say, “See? This is what I’m talking about! Now do you see why I’m worried about you leaving her in a hot car?” No grown man wants to be micromanaged by having his wife supervise his car trips with his baby, so that could snap him out of it.

In the extremely unlikely case that his brain isn’t functioning the way it should, then you may have to look into medical intervention to find out the root cause, but I doubt you’ll need to go that far.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a Black mom with a Black 18-year-old son. As everyone knows, there’s a significant rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in America right now, but when I discussed the topic with him yesterday, he said, “I couldn’t care less about what happens to them. Why should I stand up for them when they don’t stand up for us (Black people)?” How can I get it through to him that this way of thinking is completely wrong? I feel like I failed him.

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—Angry Black Teen in Tennessee

Dear Angry,

Sadly, your son is not alone—I hear this perspective often in my work as an anti-racism facilitator, about how Black people feel about racism toward not just the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, but other minority communities too. I’ve always believed that the heartbeat of white supremacy is fueled by two things: good white people who do nothing to stop white supremacy and infighting among minority groups. Your son’s behavior qualifies as the latter.

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I totally understand his impulse. Although I know many Asian allies (I’m married to one), it would be naïve of me to say that pockets of anti-Black racism aren’t present in the AAPI community—I’ve experienced them, too. But that’s because pockets of anti-Black racism exist EVERYWHERE.

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In weak moments when I need to combat the sorts of feelings your son has, I always go back to a lesson my mom taught me when I was 10 years old. I was at the store with my mom, and I held the door open for a lady who was carrying her groceries. The woman didn’t look at me or thank me—she just kept walking as if I was supposed to hold the door open for her. I was pissed.

Then my mom hit me with this: “You don’t hold open doors for people to get a thank-you. You do it because it’s the right thing to do.”

Standing up against racism in all of its forms—including against the AAPI community—is simply the right thing to do. If your son truly wants to uplift the Black community, he should fight to uplift every marginalized group that’s victimized by racism. As I said earlier, white supremacists want us to fight against one another because it stops us from collectively fighting against them.

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It’s like politics. If you’re an elected official, are you only going to work for the people who voted for you, or are you going to work for all of your constituents? The same applies here. Your son can’t pick and choose the marginalized racial groups he wants to stand up for unless he wants to be outed as a bigot and a fraud.

Unless all of us are free, none of us is free.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m 30 years old, and I am the only one in my group of friends to have a child. I don’t know if it’s the pandemic or new motherhood, but I am really feeling like I can’t connect well to others right now. I want to have someone besides my partner to share things with, like my excitement for my napping baby or my inner feelings of inadequacy and defeat. But my friends consist largely of a group text with girls I have known since I was 3 years old. All of our parents still live on the same block and talk—about us—daily. I had already been feeling like I no longer belonged in this clique, but having a baby made that even more clear. I am different from them and feel like continuing to try to fit in is not healthy.

That said, I am a bridesmaid in two of their upcoming weddings. Their parents want to be involved in my daughter’s growing up, and they expect all of our kids to grow up together as well.

I do have other friends, but they go out until 2 a.m. while my new bedtime is a comfortable 8 p.m. I have really good relationships with them, but they seem very judgmental and don’t get it. I am so worried that I will be completely lost in being a mom that I shut out the world and forget who I am later on. I want to show my daughter how to have friendships and hobbies and how to be independent. Am I wrong in feeling like I want to distance myself from past relationships? How do I address this?

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—In Need of New Feathers

Dear New Feathers,

I feel you on this. When I became a new dad, some of my childless buddies believed a fun Saturday night meant playing a round of Edward Fortyhands. Like you, I was happy to be in bed by 8 p.m. I still loved them, but sometimes people grow apart in life, and that’s fine and normal. This will probably be the case for you and your friends as well.

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You should definitely keep your commitments for your friends’ weddings, but you shouldn’t feel obligated to live your life in a way that makes other people happy. Doing so will only make you miserable and resentful, which serves nobody—especially your daughter.

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Have you considered branching out and making new friends who also have young children? Doing so is pretty easy now that we all have social media at our disposal. Some of my best friends now are parents I didn’t even know prior to becoming a dad. Having that common bond goes a long way.

In terms of how you plan to address it with your current group of friends, you don’t have to send an announcement that you’ve outgrown them. If you focus on your interests and they focus on theirs, everything will happen naturally.

Your parents and their friends may be a bigger challenge that could require confrontation. If they shame you for being difficult (meaning you’re not following their plans for your life), straight-up tell them that you’re doing what’s best for you and your daughter, not them. It may be uncomfortable to do so, but at least you’re showing your daughter the importance of standing up for what you believe in.

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It’s natural for humans to evolve, and that’s exactly what you’re doing.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 15-year-old daughter has understandably spent increasing time on social media throughout the course of the pandemic, and late last spring, she began an account where she comments on racism in pop culture. My husband and I were proud she was choosing to use social media in this way—rather than gossiping about classmates or engaging in negative behavior—and we generally supported her efforts.

Well … things have blown up. Last month, it appears my daughter “canceled” someone in our city for racist social media activity a few years ago. This “canceling” included publishing screenshots of the offensive language, personally identifying details about him, and a call for followers to hold him accountable. One of the man’s friends created an entire account centered around the “canceling” and attacked my daughter (and her followers) verbally—though no doxxing, thankfully. My daughter was spending three to four hours per day dealing with the fallout.

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Though we initially took away her access to social media to give her a chance to “detox,” the loneliness and isolation of the pandemic convinced us to let her back on her accounts, so she could maintain connections with friends and classmates. This snowballed into her spending hours online daily. She’s sadder than she used to be, receiving negative messages by the hour, and has even been called “toxic” by a former friend who apparently no longer believes in canceling as a form of social justice. Honestly, we’re exhausted by this. I want my happy, loving, checked-in daughter back. I feel like we have a ghost who lives entirely online and it’s making her lose her spark for life. We’re on the waitlist for therapy for her. I will also admit I find “cancel culture” detestable but I generally identify as liberal—so I don’t know how to handle this topic in my own life, much less my daughter’s. I have no idea what to do from here. Please help.

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—Canceled in California

Dear Canceled,

I find the term cancel culture ridiculous because I’m old enough to remember when it was just viewed as accountability for one’s actions. If you say racist stuff and do racist things, then you should pay the price for it—or as the kids say nowadays, “Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.” That said, I think your daughter has put her admirable efforts in the wrong place.

First, many racists have no desire to change and will only apologize when they’re caught. More important, you and your husband should step in to educate your daughter on the consequences of her actions. If she keeps it up, it’s highly likely she will get doxxed (aka having her private information published publicly). She could even see her enemies show up on your doorstep. I’m not saying that to scare you, but this is America in 2021, so you have to be prepared. This type of work is not for the faint of heart.

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Help her channel her energy in a healthy way. I’m glad you have her on the waiting list for therapy because I believe that will help her immensely, but you need something to help her now. I think the best course of action is to find ways outside of social media to fight against racism in her community and beyond. She can address racism in her school’s curriculum by talking to her teachers and administrators. She can organize racial justice Zoom calls with her classmates and her neighborhood. She can spend her free time bolstering her anti-racism education through courses, books, etc.

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The goal is to show her there are many options she can use to achieve her goals of racial justice without being tethered to her phone for multiple hours a day. Calling out individual racists is fine, but it’s more productive for her to help with the bigger picture of fixing the system. In other words, she should stop focusing on the sharks, and focus on the ocean.

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Please keep her spark alive for doing this important work. We need more people to fight against racism, not less. In the meantime, she may consider using a group chat thread to communicate with her friends instead of social media until this dies down. There’s also software available to monitor your daughter’s online activity if she continues to use social media. This company does an amazing job in that regard.

I know it seems overwhelming right now, but the storm will pass eventually.

—Doyin

More Advice From Slate

I’m a single mother, sole parent to a 6-year-old son. Next month I will be starting a new job, working 12-hour night shifts in a hospital two hours away from our home. (I’ll commute and will sometimes stay up there without him.) He seems prepared for me not being with him overnight sometimes and not seeing me for a couple days, but he recently asked for a phone of his own so we could exchange messages. Is this a crazy idea?

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