Dear Care and Feeding,
I love my boyfriend of four years very much. We’re both in our 30s and are seriously talking about marriage and starting a family soon. I have a concern, however, that I can’t seem to shake. My boyfriend has very little patience. For example, he’ll sigh extremely loudly and yell at his computer if it’s not working or the internet is slow. He has never screamed at me or gotten in my face, but definitely in moments of frustration, he’ll raise his voice while speaking to me. He and his family call me the “patient one” in the relationship—his lack of patience is something of a joke among his loved ones (his mother that raised him alone and his brother say they have no idea where he gets this from as they are both patient people). I must mention, he’s never physically broken anything in anger and he certainly has never put his hands on me. I’ve never been afraid of him for one moment. My strategy is usually to calmly tell him to either stop yelling at the inanimate object or to walk away from me until he’s ready to speak at a normal volume (or, if I’m being honest, recite the Anchorman line out loud: “I don’t know what we’re yelling about!!”).
But I can’t help but wonder how he’ll be as a father. I’ve tried to bring this up in little ways by mentioning the research on children who grew up with parents who yelled and how that can impact people for the rest of their lives. I told him it would be unacceptable to me to bring children into that circumstance, but all that happens is he’ll apologize (I believe genuinely) in the moment and then tell me that he can’t wait for kids and how he thinks he’ll be an amazing dad. But I also know switches don’t flip overnight. Am I right to be questioning this behavior now, and is there anything that can be done or is this a trait he’ll always have unless he takes serious steps to make change?
—Prospective Patient Mom
Dear Prospective Patient Mom,
Few decisions are more important in parenting than choosing the person you want to partner with while raising your kids, so you won’t get any pushback from me as far as ensuring you cover every base with your boyfriend beforehand. It seems like he’s either not taking his behavior seriously, or he’s not taking your feelings about his behavior seriously—and both of those things are a problem.
It also seems like he has more of an anger issue than a lack-of-patience issue. I can’t stand long load times on websites, either—but I’m not going to yell at my computer because of it. Instead, I’ll quietly roll my eyes and grab a snack or something. He may not be a physically violent dude, but there are so many ways parents can damage their children by only using their voices—and the fact that you wrote in demonstrates that you’re aware of that.
This is a relatively simple fix: You need to demand that he attends therapy with you for his anger before you agree to have children with him. He’ll probably accuse you of overreacting and will question if it’s truly necessary, but you can’t waiver on this. He needs to understand how serious this is to you, and this is an effective way to do it. If he loves you and wants to improve, then he should go along with it. Keep in mind, that you’ll have to do the heavy lifting of finding a therapist and sitting in with him during the sessions, but you probably already knew that, too.
If you feel that you’re putting too much blame on him by focusing on his anger, you can say that you want to go through therapy as a couple to work through the issues you have with each other. Who knows? You may find out some things that he doesn’t like about you that you weren’t aware of previously. The bottom line is this will be worth it for you and for your future kids in the long run.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
We adopted a cat when my husband and I first married, before we had children. We had constant disagreements over how much money was appropriate to spend on our cat. My husband argued that regular vet checkups, yearly vaccines, and premium cat food were unnecessary expenses. I put my foot down and took great care of our cat. I was away on a work conference and returned to discover that our cat had required emergency surgery, and my husband would not authorize the $2,000 expense so our cat died. I was heartbroken and so incredibly angry at my husband. $2,000 was not an uncomfortable amount for us to pay. I vowed that I would never have another pet with him because our ideologies on how to care for pets were too different.
Our two sons, who are now 10 and 12, were toddlers when our cat died, and they don’t remember her or know what happened. They would like to get a cat or a dog. My husband said yes, and I quickly shut that down and said we were not getting a pet. My husband then began egging our children on with comments about how it’s too bad we can’t have a pet because Mom is being a meanie. Things like that. I spoke to my husband in private and told him he needed to stop with those comments and have my back in this. He did stop making the comments, but whenever the kids bring up getting a pet he’ll shrug in an exaggerated manner and say something like, “It’s up to your mom.” or “Talk to your mom.” That is not having my back!
I am at my wits’ end. His thoughtless comments were bringing up all the bad memories about what happened with our beloved cat, and I hate that I am being put in the position of bad guy here. I’m tempted to explain to the kids what happened in age-appropriate terms, but I’m not sure whether that would help or hurt the situation.
—Not the Villain
Dear Not the Villain,
So this guy let your cat die, and a few years later he stirs up your kids’ hopes for a new pet by making them badger you? Yikes. I’m sure there’s more to your story, but it certainly doesn’t seem like you’ve won the grand prize in the Husband of the Year contest.
You said you’re tempted to explain the fate of your cat to your kids, and I’m wondering what’s stopping you? My kids are 10 and 7, and I wouldn’t hesitate to keep it real with them if my spouse was trying to push a false narrative to make me look bad. All you have to say is this, “Kids, I know you’re probably too young to remember our cat, but she died because Daddy didn’t pay for a procedure to keep her alive when she was sick. Because of that, I’m hesitant to get a new pet right now.” Then you should look at your husband in the eye and ask, “Anything you want to add to this story, honey?”
On a more serious note, I don’t like how your husband is treating you, and I’m sure if we sat down and discussed it, you would tell me about a pattern of undesirable behavior. Being a unified front as parents is essential in ensuring your kids are raised in a way that doesn’t give them mixed messages. Not to mention, you don’t want your kids to resent you for something that isn’t remotely your fault. Put your foot down and demand that he becomes accountable for his past actions. Demand that the backstabbing and passive-aggressive behavior end now. That means he needs to tell the truth to your kids about the demise of your cat, he needs to apologize in front of the kids for blaming you as the reason that you don’t have a new pet, and he needs to demonstrate in a way that would be satisfactory to you that he’s ready for the commitment of a pet.
I’m sure he thinks he’s being funny or clever with his antics, but he’s acting like a jackass. The best time to call him out on his behavior was yesterday, and the next best time is now.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My partner and I are expecting our second child at the end of this year. We have a vivacious 3-year-old who keeps us very much occupied, and we are so excited to grow our family. The issue is I am about to accept my dream job. After competing for a seat at the table as a working mom in a male-dominated field, I am finally being offered one. Professionally I am ecstatic. But you can imagine my concern—I’ve previously experienced the worst of noninclusive working environments, mommy-tracking, etc. I am racked with anxiety over announcing to my new employer (as soon as I am able to) that I will need time off to have a child not even a year into this role. I am concerned what the response will be and how it will affect my relationship with my new co-workers.
I was fortunate to have a really nurturing environment for my first pregnancy—flexible hours and a boss who understood what my workload could be. This role would likely be the opposite—the recruiter warned me that the role is a challenge. I am personally and professionally ready for it; I am no stranger to lack of sleep, and I am up for the challenge. How do I go about establishing myself in this new environment as the leader with experience that I am, and not the woman who started her job pregnant? Part of me knows I should be unapologetic, but the other half knows the new boss and team will be disappointed by this news. The pandemic has forced so many women to sidetrack or cancel their careers entirely, and as a feminist I abhor that and want to be a leader by example. On the other hand, I also know that being a working mom requires understanding from co-workers. Please help me find the right headspace as I start this new journey!
—New Boss With a Bump
Dear New Boss,
You may not want to hear advice from a man on this, but as a Black man, I feel that I can offer some perspective. You mentioned that you’re not a stranger to hard work and sleepless nights, and you’re going to have to put that to the test in the short time you have prior to going on maternity leave. In other words, you’re going need to be twice as good as you’re expected to be in your new role.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not foolish enough to pretend that I have any clue about how difficult it would be to go above and beyond at work while pregnant. What I can offer is the countless examples I’ve dealt with as a Black man in America who had to work twice as hard just to prove that I belonged in a company filled with white people. For one job in particular, I was known to come into the office at 4 a.m. (yes, you read that correctly) to get a head start on my colleagues, and I knew I had to do that in order to prove to the all-white brass that I was a force to be reckoned with professionally. Eventually, I succeeded in doing that.
You, on the other hand, only have a few short months to prove your immense value to the company, and based on how excited you are for this role, I have no doubt you can do it. Be a sponge, lean on the experiences of successful women who walked the path before you, keep your head down, and go the extra mile for your internal and external clients. Bear in mind as you start your new job that you shouldn’t put out a vibe of contrition for wanting to expand your family. That’s a personal decision that you shouldn’t have to apologize for, because you aren’t the first executive to have a baby while working. More importantly, you won’t be the last executive to have a baby while working, which comes with immense responsibility. You can show your kids and other girls/young women that not only is it possible to be a pregnant executive, but that they shouldn’t be afraid of the stigma that comes along with it.
You’ve got this. I would love for my two young daughters to reference your inspirational story if they ever were faced with a situation similar to yours in the future.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My wife and I have been in a COVID bubble with a pleasant couple with two children. “Isabel” is 8 and “Kenny” is 4. Both children seem bright, curious, and physically healthy. Kenny seems to have suffered deeply from lack of developmental opportunities during our COVID shutdown, but I’m now concerned that most of these problems can’t be attributed to COVID alone. I’m no expert in childhood development, but his vocabulary and speaking ability seem stuck at those of a 2-year-old. He has frequent tantrums. The behavior that concerns me most, though, is in his interaction with his sister and parents.
Almost every time we get together, I see this same pattern repeat itself: Isabel finds something that makes her happy (playing with our pet, a toy, etc.). Kenny sees Isabel and, even though he seems happy, he suddenly wants what she has. He goes and tries to take it from her, and she resists, saying something like, “No, Kenny. I was here first.” One of the parents intervenes, often saying something passive like “Kenny, if you ask nicely, then Isabel will give it to you. Can you ask nicely?” Kenny refuses to obey the suggestion, and either the parent asks Isabel to surrender, the parent gives up to “let them work it out,” or Isabel surrenders on her own.
I’ve seen this pattern repeated so many times it is clear it isn’t just happening in front of my wife and me, and I’m concerned. For one, it seems that as Isabel surrenders more often, she has learned that her happiness is subordinate to that of her brother’s. I’m also concerned that the parents are undermining the fact that when she says no to a boy, it means no. I’m also concerned about what this is doing to Kenny. He seems to really be unhappy with the idea of his sister being happy, or else he takes perverse pleasure in denying her happiness. He also seems to be learning that he is entitled to anything she has, and that authority will always be on his side. And lastly, I’m worried that he is learning that when a girl refuses him, it is because he didn’t “ask the right way” or try hard enough, in other words, “no” doesn’t mean no.
All of these seem to be really toxic lessons, and I’m afraid they are ingrained now because Isabel has stopped protesting or arguing, and just surrenders. My wife asked the mother about their behavior casually, and she was told that it was part of some parenting methodology that they were practicing and that my wife wasn’t qualified to understand. She said that it was just that Kenny is having trouble with COVID lockdown and that he isn’t used to being around other people, so the methodology is taking time. I think that was B.S. I’m wondering how I can help these children and their parents without making the mother or father defensive. I love them all. My wife loves them all. We really don’t want to see Isabel end up in therapy over this, and we don’t want to see Kenny turn into an entitled toxic male.
—Not My Kids
Dear Not My Kids,
Your signoff says it all. I appreciate your desire to “save” these kids, but at the end of the day, they aren’t yours. If they were in imminent danger, I would tell you to intervene more forcefully—but that’s not the case here. No matter how you slice it, this simply boils down to a parenting style that you disagree with. You did your part by expressing your concerns to the parents, but if they aren’t willing to listen, then you need to drop it. If you keep pushing it, then your relationship will surely become damaged, they still won’t change their ways, and nobody wins.
Sorry, but you just typed a really long message for me to tell you to mind your own business.
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I am a single mom to an 11-year-old daughter. Up until around age 7 or 8 we were pretty physically demonstrative and would hug and kiss, and I would pick her up and carry her around. That slowly tapered off as she grew, and now we almost don’t touch at all. No hugs and kisses. We don’t avoid touching but don’t initiate at all. How can I feel close to her again?
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