Care and Feeding

I’m Drowning in Newborn Care

And my husband is nowhere to be seen.

A dad looks at his phone while he ignores his baby in the background.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by ronstik/iStock/Getty Images Plus and FamVeld/iStock/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 and I had our first baby four months ago, and I can’t seem to get my husband to engage. He’s never been great at helping with housework or cooking but it’s gotten worse since the baby arrived; he forgets or leaves it so late that I end up doing it myself. He doesn’t feed or change the baby unless asked and doesn’t bathe him unless we do it together. He says he is nervous, but he won’t try. He has also started doing a lot of overtime and self-employed projects, so it’s not unusual for him to be gone from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and to be out on the weekend as well. I have tried telling him I’m struggling and feel I’m not coping, that I’m lonely, tired and in pain (I had a problematic delivery), but I’m not getting anywhere. I don’t know what to do, and I want to set up good habits before I have to go back to work.

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—Running Out of Options

Dear Running,

I’ve always believed the most important decision a person will make in their lifetime is who they choose to have children with. I’m not here to say that you made the wrong decision, but there were some signs that he wasn’t the most helpful spouse in the world and now you’re left stranded alone on a parenting island.

Both of you need to get in front of a licensed therapist as soon as possible to work this out. He could be suffering from depression, or he could be a selfish jerk. Whatever the reason is, you need to get to the bottom of it before you lose your mind. In speaking with a therapist, you need to be painfully clear how his behavior is affecting you and don’t pull any punches. Sometimes all it takes is for an impartial third party to tell someone to get their act together for it to resonate.

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Hopefully it won’t get to this stage, but if you discover that he’s unable or unwilling to change, you are going to have to look at your life long and hard. Your son isn’t going anywhere, and you need his main male role model to be someone who’s interested in him.

This isn’t going to be easy, but you have to take a powerful stand by demanding (not asking) that you both seek help to save your marriage. Your family life hangs in the balance.

Help! How can I support Slate so I can keep reading all the advice from Dear Prudence, Care and Feeding, Ask a Teacher, and How to Do It? Answer: Join Slate Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My sister-in-law decided to go ahead with her large indoor wedding in the midst of the pandemic when vaccination rates were still low and variants were on the rise. We expressed concerns about attending with our young children, and the response from our in-laws ranged from snarky, mean letters to phone calls from the bride in tears over the possibility that we might not come. They promised us that every possible precaution would be taken (except, of course, reducing the number of guests or the size of the wedding party), so we agreed to come. When we got there, the exact opposite was true. The only precautions taken were those absolutely necessary to keep the whole thing from being shut down. They constantly said, “See? There’s nothing to be worried about after all!” And our children were used against us, “Let your kid ride on the party bus! It’s only at half capacity, and she is so excited about it!”

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As we finally walked out of the reception, the DJ was imploring guests to wear their masks on the dance floor. Although we were grateful that no one ended up contracting COVID, we felt horribly betrayed by the whole experience. We’ve always been very close with my in-laws. They’re intelligent, well-educated, rational people. It just felt like everything, including the health and safety of our children, took a backseat to this huge wedding. I understand that this wedding meant a lot to the family. They had put a lot of money into it that they wouldn’t get back if they cancelled or postponed. The bride is the only girl and the baby of the family and holds a special place in her parents’ hearts. We wanted to support her and be happy for her more than anything, but the idea that they cared more about having our children there for cute pictures than keeping our kids safe just makes me crazy. We were ashamed that we agreed to come. We felt that we had allowed our children to be used as set pieces. Now, several months later, we are struggling with how to move forward. We love these people, but we can’t seem to get past the anger we feel toward them for the position we were put in. My husband has had a couple of conversations with them (if you can call them that), but he tends to let his anger get the best of him, and I think these were likely more argumentative than communicative. Now he’s ready to move on and stop talking with them altogether.

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I don’t want that. I want to find a way to heal this rift, but I’m not sure how to do that. I don’t want to argue with them about whether they made the right decisions (no one is changing anyone’s mind on that front), but I feel wronged. Worse, I feel that my children were wronged. I’ll never think of them the same way again. We changed our will. Our kids were supposed to have gone to the bride in the event of our untimely simultaneous deaths, but we can’t leave our kids with someone who puts a party, even a party as important as a wedding reception, before their welfare. Is there a path forward? Are we all better served just cutting ties? Do we stuff down our feelings and pretend that nothing is wrong when we see them twice per year? Where do we go from here?

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—Raging or Reconciling

Dear Raging,

Quite frankly, I’d be extremely upset if I was in your position, too. I don’t know if I’d go as far as to change my will, but I certainly won’t fault you for it. Their behavior was incredibly not OK.

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As far as what going forward looks like, I think you should forgive them. People always get confused by the idea of forgiveness as if it means you’ll invite them over for wine and cheese every Saturday night. It just means you’re not going to hold a grudge that will negatively impact your mental health. Just say to yourself, “It’s time to move on, and I’m not going to think about this anymore. I learned my lesson, and it won’t happen again.” In other words, forgiveness is more about doing something nice for yourself than it is about them.

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If you still find yourself being triggered by the mere sight of your in-laws, then it may be best to love them from a distance for the foreseeable future. Limit the family gatherings, Zoom calls, and social media connections indefinitely, or until you feel that you can be around them without your blood pressure spiking.

I truly believe that time heals all wounds and hopefully your relationship with them will improve in time. But if or when that time comes and they pull some similar nonsense on you, then you have the green light from me to cut them off completely.

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

· Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter, Matilda, loves to sing. Singing to her is like breathing. Sometimes she sings well-known songs, sometimes she sings the same line from a song over and over again, and other times she sings songs that she’s made up. Here’s the problem–she sings so loudly. I’m typing this to you from my attic bedroom where I work from home, and I can hear her singing in the back garden with our nanny. It’s getting to be too much. Sometimes Matilda sings so loudly that she scares her younger sister (she’s a few months old). Other times it’s just too much after a long day of work, while I’m trying to get dinner on the table. If I ask her to sing more quietly, she’ll respond with something like, “I guess you don’t want me to sing at all!” Another time I asked her to stop singing because I had a headache and she responded, “It seems like you’re taking care of yourself right now and not me.” Matilda is a very spirited kid; she feels things strongly and always speaks her mind. I love that about her. But I need the singing to stop–at least sometimes. How can I get her to stop or sing more quietly without crushing her spirit?

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—Trying to walk the line

Dear Trying,

Not that you need me to tell you this, but your daughter is completely manipulating you. You’re the boss here, not her. My kids would like to eat Oreos for breakfast every day and will often pull out all of the stops to make that a reality, but that doesn’t mean I let it happen.

It’s completely reasonable not to want a tiny human to sing like a banshee at all hours of the day—regardless of how tired you are or if you have a pounding headache. If you tell her to lower the volume, she responds with a guilt trip, I’d just tell her, “Again, you can sing, but it has to be done quietly. If you’re not able to do that then I’m not going to allow you to sing anymore.” It’s a very fair compromise, and it will teach her that she can’t do whatever she wants on her terms in your house.

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She’ll push back as most headstrong and spirited kids will do, but it will serve as a nice introduction to the world of boundaries. Be firm and completely unapologetic. It’s better that she learns the lesson from you instead of someone who doesn’t unconditionally love her.

Dear Care and Feeding,

This is a low-stakes but serious question. What are the ages that you can’t listen to gangsta rap with your kid in the car? My son is 9 months old, and I really don’t want his first sentence to be about popping a cap or selling rock. Hubby says I’ve got to give it up from now until his teens. I’m inclined to agree with him, but is my son really processing Jay’s flow?

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—Rolling Down the Streets

Dear Rolling,

This question made me laugh, because you’re the type of parent I’d like to hang out with. My general rule is if you don’t want your kids repeating something, don’t expose them to it. I love 90’s hip-hop, but I wouldn’t play it in the car with my kids as babies or now (my kids are 10 and 8) because it’s not for their ears. Just like I’m not having them watch R-rated movies with me.

Not to sound like the “get off of my lawn” guy, but a lot of today’s rap music employs liberal use of the N-word, objectification of women, and glorification of violence. As enjoyable as it is for you to listen to, think about what it would be like for your son to hear that on a regular basis. Probably not too wise, right?

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As annoying as it is, I’d just rock some Kidz Bop when you’re in the car with him and save the rap music for when you’re alone.

—Doyin

More Advice From Slate

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 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. 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. What should I say?

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