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.
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
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.
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.
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,
Early in the pandemic, my neighbors did not go near each other. As the months went by, they loosened their restrictions and our kids began playing together. I have one young child. Somehow, my house became the hangout. I am working from home, but the key word is working—I still need to work. Every single day, up to three children show up at my house.
They want lunch and snacks. They use up my craft supplies, dirty every dish, and make huge messes. They stay here for six or seven hours, and their parents never check in or respond when I contact them. When I walk them home, they end up right back here, stay for dinner, and sometimes overnight. I have a lot going on in my own life, including the recent loss of my spouse. I have told these parents this. I don’t have the emotional or financial bandwidth to keep this up, and the other parents don’t seem to care. I don’t know what to do anymore.
— Neighborhood Nanny Not by Choice
Dear Neighborhood Nanny,
Of course you cannot deal with this anymore—it should never have been expected of or forced on you in the first place! I would really like to talk (“talk”) to those other parents; that you have not (I assume) left angry notes and glitter bombs in their mailboxes is a testament to your enormous patience. I’m so sorry you have to endure such inconvenience and presumption during a pandemic, as you grieve for your spouse.
I know you have already tried talking to the neighbor kids’ parents. If you decide to try one more time, feel free to be very blunt about why this situation cannot go on—e.g., “I really need to be able to work, and I don’t have the time or resources to care for and feed your children all day.” And then draw a clear line for them: “From now on, if your kids show up at our door while I’m working, I won’t be able to let them in.”
You shouldn’t have to be so firm—these parents should know better already, but obviously they lack both logic and empathy. It’s depressingly clear that you can’t control their behavior, so regardless of the words you choose, it’s your follow-through that will likely prove most important. Don’t let any of these kids in your house if they show up unannounced. Don’t feel a second’s guilt about turning them away from your door. “Sorry, Billy, you’ll have to go back home,” etc.
If you do want your child to continue to have some or all of these neighborhood kids as playmates, you can leave that possibility open, but stress to their parents that playtime needs to be planned ahead and mutually agreed upon, that it cannot always take place at your house, and that you’ll be limiting it to weekends/times when you’re not working. In the absence of neighbors with a lick of common sense or courtesy, I wish for you the peace that comes with a much-needed boundary and a far quieter house.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m a single mom of an amazing 6-year-old boy. I asked my best friend if she would be his guardian if anything happened to me, and she said no.
She’s always said she didn’t want children, but she’s so great with my son that it really shocked me when she turned me down. I’m not close to my family, and I wouldn’t want them raising him because of our different values. My son’s father has never been in the picture; he would have absolutely no interest in raising my son, and I wouldn’t want him to. My friend has babysat my son and even had him for weekends, so I know how good she is with him and he loves her. She is a great person, but not conventionally attractive, and she’s never been in a relationship. I think she’s always said she didn’t want children because she knew that wasn’t in the cards for her.
Maybe it has become such a habit that she actually believes it now. I think she would make a wonderful mother.
She’s the only person I want to raise my son if I’m not around, so I’m thinking I have two options: 1) Work on convincing her. She always comes around if I keep at her long enough. Or 2) Drop it for now, and express my preference in my will and leave a sealed letter detailing why she’s the only person I trust with my son. Which option is best? Or is there a better way to convince my friend that she should take my son? I’m not ill or dying, I just want this sorted out for my peace of mind.
—Please Be My Son’s Guardian
Both of these “options” are absolutely appalling! Don’t attempt to pester or guilt your friend into changing her mind, and don’t just make her de facto guardian without her consent! NEITHER. NO. ABSOLUTELY NOT. I think you might be working from a very strange definition of “friendship”—perhaps it’s worth stopping to ask yourself whether you’re really this person’s friend. Do you respect her and what she says? Do you genuinely value her as a person and care about what she wants? Or are you only interested in getting what you want from her?
I’m not even going to go into your bizarre, condescending theory that she only said she doesn’t want children because … she’s not conventionally attractive??? Instead, let us focus on the actual facts: Being good with your kid, babysitting him on the occasional weekend, even caring for and loving him, is not the same thing as being his parent. Your friend has told you that she doesn’t want to be your son’s guardian. Even if you are right that she would be a wonderful mother, that is not what she wants. You asked; she said no; that should be the end of it. Respect her, respect her decision, and make a different guardianship plan.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I am a happily child-free woman in my 30s, and I have a group of dear friends I’ve been close with since college. Why am I writing to a parenting column? Because I suspect one of this group will soon be the first (only?) of us to have a child, and I’m dismayed to say the least. I realize I have no right to feel that way, and I will try to hide it from my friend, but still, I feel the way I feel. So, my question is, how can I be a good, supportive friend, when this is something that is so not my cup of tea? I find the idea of pregnancy and birth horrifying, and I do not like children, particularly babies and toddlers. I don’t want to cut off my friend, but I suspect she and this child will be a package deal for quite some time, so I need to learn how to coexist with this potential creature.
Are there books on how to interact positively with small humans? I’m very good with animals, but I don’t think those skills translate. My usual tactic is to just ignore the kid and focus on the person I’m interacting with—is that OK, or is that rude? If I make plans, to what extent do I need to specifically include or make accommodations for a child, versus do things as usual and let her figure out a way to make it work? Are there particularly offensive things that I should not do or say, either to or about the kid? Do I need to moderate my own behavior? (I’m not especially crass, but the occasional bad word or off-color remark will come out.) How do I keep my cool if there’s a tantrum or other super annoying behavior? Assuming there is a pregnancy announcement soon, do I fake happiness and excitement like I’m supposed to, or is there a way I can express ambivalence without being rude or dismissive?
— Trying Not to Be a Jerk
I don’t think this has to present a huge problem for you as long as you’re not, you know, actively mean to your friend or her maybe-future-kid. If and when she tells you that she’s having a baby, all you have to say is “congratulations!” without making any sort of weird face (I’m saying this as someone who just always generally has to watch to make sure I’m not making a weird face that’ll be misconstrued). You can express your ambivalence about it, yes, to other people.
I’m afraid I don’t have a good “What to Expect When Your Friend Is Expecting and You’re Horrified” book to recommend, but in my experience, you interact with small humans much the same way you do with bigger ones: with basic kindness, honesty, and respect. (Oh, and less swearing, ideally, I grant you—at least until they’re much older.) I think you’ll be fine as long as you don’t, say, start a running feud with them—which should be easy to avoid, since they’ll be a baby when you meet. It would be rude to completely ignore/never acknowledge your friend’s child at all, especially once they are old enough to actually say hi to you. But it’s not like you need to split your attention 50-50 between your friend and her child either.
I would try, as much as possible, to keep an open mind, as every kid is different. There are kids I personally like hanging out with and kids I really don’t like hanging out with, and you might find that you like this particular child if you get to know them. That said, you never have to be their favorite babysitter or honorary aunt. As for accommodations and planning for social things, I’d start by letting your friend tell you what’s going to work for her. I think it’s OK to just reach out and kindly ask her whenever you’re unsure—you should still be able to discuss when and where and how you hang out, just as you would if some other situation or life change had an impact on your needs and availability. Let your friend worry about pregnancy and childbirth, what she can and cannot do post-baby, how life will change with kids, her child’s tantrums and annoying behavior, and any and all other parenting matters, because she will be the parent. And take heart: You’ll still have all your other child-free friends to commiserate with.