Care and Feeding

I Don’t Want My Wife to Become a Stay-at-Home Mom

Before the baby, she was ambitious. What happened?

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,

I am a new father to a beautiful 10-month-old girl. My wife’s company has a generous maternity leave policy, and she has been at home with our daughter since the birth and is scheduled to go back to work just after her first birthday in January. She recently told me she doesn’t want to go back to her job and would like to be a stay-at-home parent instead. I asked her why, and she said she enjoys being a mother too much to leave our daughter to go back to work when she doesn’t need to. This is such a departure from our plans before the baby was born. She has a good job that she enjoyed before going on leave, and had always been adamant that she wanted to continue working even after becoming a mom. We met when we worked at the same company many years ago, and one of the things I was most attracted to was her ambition and tenacity. It’s really surprising to hear that her career isn’t that important to her anymore.

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Honestly, I don’t want her to quit her job. She earns about the same as I do, and while we could make ends meet on my income alone, it would impact our ability to save, and we’d need to give up one of our cars and cut way back on “extras” that make life more enjoyable. I also just … don’t want a stay-at-home wife. I really admired my wife for her work ethic, and I want her to set a good example for our daughter, too. Seeing her give up like this is really disappointing.

I gently asked her if she thought her change in attitude could be related to a possible mental health issue or postpartum depression, but she didn’t take that well. She says she only cares about our daughter and that’s where all her energy needs to go right now, and that if I love her, I will let her do this. I do love my wife, and I’m not interested in divorce, but I’m seeing a whole new side of her that I just don’t like or admire. What should I do?

—Suddenly the Breadwinner

Dear StB,

I understand this is a jarring about-face from your wife’s past position on working. I’m not discounting the financial consequences of giving up nearly half the family income, or the great satisfaction many people draw from their careers. I hope that your wife takes the opportunity to talk this through with anyone she needs or wants to talk to before making a decision. Of course there could be other factors at play, like postpartum anxiety, and it would be hard for her and for all of you if she wound up regretting this choice later.

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But based on what you shared, I think perhaps you’re looking at this question in a rather reductive, self-focused kind of way, and without a lot of information about why your wife feels the way she does. The decision to be a stay-at-home parent, if one is privileged enough to have the option (and if it’s not forced on them due to under- or unemployment or a pandemic that’s closed school buildings across the country), is obviously complex and different for everyone, and it’s not as though this country gives parents the best options or support. Having a stay-at-home parent might not be the most practical decision in your family’s case—and I also hear that you’ve always admired your wife’s ambition, which is no bad thing. But it seems unnecessarily harsh to refer to her possibly not returning to work as her “giv[ing] up,” and to imply that it means she would no longer be setting a good example for your child. I’m also concerned that you’d admit to admiring and even liking her less based on this choice.

Few of us remain exactly the same, maintain the same desires and goals, or feel fulfilled by the exact same things over the course of a lifetime. A hallmark of a good marriage or long-term relationship is when it proves safe ground for one or both people to change—sometimes change a great deal—without losing their partner’s support, respect, or love.

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You say you love and want to stay with your wife. So try to understand her better and judge her less, especially at a time when both your lives have already drastically changed with new parenthood. Be patient and supportive as the two of you discuss how she’s feeling and what she really wants. The decision to remain in her current job or not is ultimately hers—just as you’d want to be the one to decide whether you stay in your job. If you value both your wife and your child, you should also be ready and able to value the significant labor she’ll put into caring for your child if she does become a SAHM.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a Latina mother of one, with another on the way. I grew up on the East Coast, in an area full of diversity, and loved it. (I’m a first-generation American.) My husband is Caucasian and grew up in the rural U.S., and this is where we are living now. My in-laws are kind, generous, and have always been accepting of me (albeit with “little things,” like calling me “exotic”). With baby No. 2 on the way, everyone wants to play the name game and get their input in there.

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It’s really important to me to have a name that can be said in Spanish and in English this time around. Our first child has family names from his father’s side. My husband and in-laws keep bringing up only their family names. I had my girl names picked out, but my husband only liked one that happened to be in his family tree: Magdalena (they pronounce it MagdEHlena, not the proper MagDAHlena). His family is already referring to the baby as such—or Maggie, which is the opposite of the Latino connection I was going for. The only nickname I would accept for this name is Magda. My husband says, “I get it, but to English speakers, it’s all the same.” As if people don’t learn to pronounce their favorite artists’ names when it interests them. But also, I haven’t even said yes to this name!

I also would like to give her three first names—I understand the hassle of this, but I’ve given up my maiden name, and this way I could give her a connection to my ancestors as well. This is my last child, so there is no “save some names for the next one.” How do I say in a tactful but stern way that they can learn to say “foreign, exotic” names correctly, with practice, and not take a white shortcut?

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—White vs. Latino Name Game

Dear Name Game,

Unless you have specifically asked for their input, family members (like everyone else) should simply wait to be told what your child’s name will be, whenever you choose to tell them, and then say only positive and supportive things. The end. Alas, that is not the world we live in. I hope you and your spouse, at least, feel entirely free to ignore your in-laws’ suggestions. As parents, you and only you get to make the decisions about names and nicknames, at least until your child is old enough to make those calls herself.

As for what to tell his parents once you do choose, I think you’ve pretty much landed on it already: “You all can learn to say ‘Magdalena’ [or other name(s)] correctly, with practice.” This is straightforward and not tactless at all—it’s just the truth. You can correct them if they call her a nickname you don’t like or get her full name wrong. I don’t think you have to go into long explanations or attempt to justify the name to your in-laws or anyone else unless you really want to. Even if they don’t understand why it’s important to you to give your child a name that reflects her heritage (although they should!), they don’t really have a choice but to accept it: It’ll be her name. They should learn how to say it.

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It would be ideal, of course, to have your spouse’s understanding and full support in this. You mention that he’s also been suggesting names from his side only. I will confess that I don’t love his “to English speakers, it’s all the same” remark (you’re also an English speaker!), and I hope he doesn’t just sit there silently when his parents refer to you as “exotic.” More important than what anyone else thinks is the two of you getting on the same page when it comes to naming your child. I hope you’re able to do so, and then you can present a united front to everyone else.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a 2-year-old who I adore in every way. I theoretically want to give her a sibling, and always imagined I’d have two to three kids. That’s still what I see for my family.

Aside from what I hear are normal concerns (how will I love a new baby as much as I love her?), I absolutely despised the newborn stage. I even enjoyed pregnancy, but then the first three months, my daughter was either in my arms or screaming. It was so hard, I got so little sleep (which continued until she was 6 months old), and it was a pretty rough time in my relationship with my husband. Right now, I honestly can’t imagine doing it again, and especially with a toddler. Will this dread pass with time, and I’ll have the desire to do it again? Or do I just need to make the decision and go for it at some point?

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—Not One and Done

Dear Not One,

Everyone is different! I can’t say if you’ll feel a strong urge to have a second (or third) kid, or if it will be more a sheer force of will kind of thing. It could also be neither: You might not feel a strong pull to have another baby, and you might decide it’s not for you after all.

While the postpartum period is tough for just about everyone, specific struggles do vary, so if you and your husband haven’t already talked frankly about that newborn phase and why it was so hard for you (both?), I think you should. Was everything that was challenging about it also typical of newborn life—a feature, not a bug—or was some of it possibly unique to that particular experience? Now that you know what to expect, can you imagine other things that could have made that challenging time a little easier—things you can plan for this time around? I couldn’t help but notice that you said you got “little sleep” until your child was 6 months old, that she spent most of her early months either screaming or being held by you. Forgive me if this is way off-base, but if that period was more difficult due to the division of labor, for example, perhaps you can discuss that with your husband and plan for more shared baby care next time. If he isn’t willing to entertain that possibility, well, maybe that’s another factor in your conversation about whether there is a next time?

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Sometimes we do just decide to knuckle down and do things that scare us or fill us with dread—like going through the whole exhausting postpartum/newborn phase again, for the sake of having a child we really do want. But sometimes we decide we can’t do the thing after all, or we just don’t want to anymore, and that’s perfectly all right, too. We can change; the things we want can change. It is of course wonderful if you do decide you want to go ahead and have another kid or two, and I wish you well if so! But should that strong desire never materialize, it’s not something you have to force or power through, even if you once imagined having a larger family. You can be one and done if that winds up being the right decision for you.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Since becoming a parent, I’ve become closer to some college friends who all had kids around the same time. We have a very active group chat, though we rarely saw each other in person even before COVID. I was particularly close with Amanda, whose son Sam is only a month older than my daughter Lucy. On the advice of our pediatrician, we recently had Lucy assessed for autism. It wasn’t a surprise when she received a diagnosis, since I am also autistic (though I am not very open about it). I haven’t told many people about Lucy’s diagnosis, but I did tell the group chat.

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Unfortunately, Amanda has reacted very poorly, since her son Sam has many of the same traits. She claims that everyone is autistic these days and it’s become trendy and that Lucy can’t possibly be autistic, because then Sam would certainly get a diagnosis. (Sam’s doctor and day care providers have also suggested they get him assessed, but she reacted angrily both times.) I have never once suggested that she get Sam assessed. Instead, I try to politely assert that I trust the professionals who assessed Lucy. Right now, I feel that I can’t talk about my life in the group chat. Navigating a system that does not value neurodiversity and advocating for my daughter has felt like a full-time job and I would love some support. However, every time I mention it, Amanda flares up and other members either don’t respond or respond with something noncommittal. Amanda often writes long messages about how heartbroken and angry she is that Sam doesn’t interact with her the way she wants, and this always gets her lots of support from group members. This is painful to me, since she’s basically complaining about the prospect that her child might end up like me, or my daughter.

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I haven’t made many other parent friends in our city, in part because making friends is not my strong suit and in part because Lucy’s sensory issues made going to parent-tot groups impossible. COVID has only heightened my isolation. I’ve joined online autism groups, but the autism acceptance groups seemed pretty hostile to parents, and the parent groups didn’t seem to share my beliefs in autism acceptance. I don’t want to lose this friend group, but I also don’t know how to navigate what feels like ableism to me. Should I talk to the whole group? Talk to Amanda directly? Just do the slow fade from the group chat?

—Ableism in the Group Chat

Dear A in the GC,

I don’t think that any of the options you’ve floated are wrong. You could share with the whole group, or you could talk to Amanda one-on-one, although both of these actions might require more vulnerability and labor than you care to offer right now. Ultimately, you don’t owe Amanda or any other friend this type of education—and she might not be at all receptive, given how she’s feeling right now. Even if she is more open down the line, changing her mind doesn’t have to be your job. And in the meantime, it sounds like it might be exhausting for you to either teach her or try to ignore her ableism (which, even if based on understandable fear and anxiety, is still regrettable and will certainly do her child no good if he is autistic).

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You can just quietly ghost the chat, of course. Another option would be to try to cultivate your friendships with the other people in the group—I might lean toward this if you want some more time to consider how to proceed with Amanda herself, and how much time and effort you want to devote to trying to salvage that particular relationship. In the meantime, you still deserve friendship and community and safe spaces to share and vent with fellow parents. Just because you’ve always communicated with this cohort via group chat doesn’t mean all your friendships with them have to begin and end there. Would it be possible to reach out to some of the other people in the chat, individually or in twos or threes, to see if any of them are more likely to be the kind of friends you need without Amanda’s presence or influence?

You have my sympathy. Over the years, I’ve had to distance myself from a few people who said ableist things about my autistic child or others. It can indeed be difficult to find fellow parents all-in on accepting neurodiversity, or even to find fellow parents who haven’t had most of their beliefs about autistic kids shaped by inaccurate and harmful frameworks. But I’ve also been lucky enough to find friends who truly get it, whom I don’t need to spend a lot of time educating, who see and value and love my kids and me as we are. I hope that you’ll eventually be able to find the same—as well as the community you want, to whatever extent you want it.

—Nicole

More Advice From Slate

How often can I let my fifth-grader cajole me into letting him have a play date on a weekday? He begs and whines about this daily, and I feel like a bad mom for saying “not on weekdays.” My son’s school does not give homework other than reading, but I have heard that this really ramps up in middle school—he will be a sixth-grader this fall. I know that play is constructive, but I find it important to balance it with other constructive (and necessary) activities. I’m a working parent with a spouse who travels frequently. As a result, I operate somewhat like a single parent with my kids. Basically, I want him to do something more constructive and to have a more predictable routine on weekdays. I am open to being told I am wrong.


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