Dear Care and Feeding,
I just returned to work after my 12 weeks of maternity leave, and I’m really struggling with leaving my baby in day care. Quitting my job is not an option, both because we’d have to sell our home and because I have a very niche job where positions don’t come up often. Because of the nature of my job, I can’t transition to part-time or work remotely. Here’s the issue: My husband is entitled to take eight weeks of paid leave in our state, but he doesn’t want to take it. He gives different reasons why not, like that it would be expensive (it wouldn’t—the leave is paid), or that it would be inconvenient for his employer (he’s entitled to take the time whether it’s convenient or not!), but when I push him on it, it seems like he would just prefer to work.
I can’t understand his choice—I would trade anything (except our family’s long-term financial solvency) for our baby to be at home for an extra eight weeks. I know I can’t force him to change what he wants or make him stay home against his will. But how can I come to terms with my husband’s decision to keep working? Every time we both go to work, I feel so upset that our baby is being left with a stranger at such a young age. For what it’s worth, I moved here from another country that has 12-plus months of leave, so this is all completely insane to me.
—Missing Maternity Leave
Dear Missing Maternity Leave,
You are certainly not alone in finding it tough to leave your baby at day care now that you’re back at work, and oh man, do I share your disbelief at the paltriness of 12 weeks of maternity leave. When it comes to your husband: On the one hand, I don’t think it’s the hugest deal that he doesn’t want to stay home alone with the baby given that you’ve got day care lined up, and your infant will surely be totally fine in the hands of professional child care providers. But then again, if I were you, I think I’d most resent that he didn’t take at least SOME paternity leave to help you out in the haywire early days of parenthood—a time that, in my experience, was pretty much a hysterical vortex of diapers and milk production and burping and bottle-washing and screaming into my breast pump. Who knows—maybe you actually preferred to spend that time one-on-one with the baby! But it’s quite a luxury for your husband to decide “eh, no thanks to the time off for newborn drudgery I’m legally entitled to take,” even setting aside the value of parent-infant bonding.
So you can either hate him for this or try to understand the root of his hesitancy. Is it possible he’s just scared to parent alone? Is he generally good about sharing the work of child-rearing, or is this fight a reflection of a broader instinct on his part that “baby stuff” is your domain instead of his? In the former case, I’d recommend attempting to let go of your annoyance that he wants to keep working and focus on the overall picture of his involvement as a dad. But if the latter is true, this is a tension that is sure to keep rearing its head in a whole bunch of different situations, so it’s worth a serious conversation, perhaps even a bit of family therapy. When you broach it with him, I just wouldn’t harp exclusively on the paternity leave situation; make clear that there’s an even bigger issue at stake about how you collaborate and support each other in the crazy new world of parenthood.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My daughter “Julia,” age 23, graduated from college this spring. Shortly after graduating, she was lucky enough to find a job in her field that paid decently and seems to offer room for advancement. Given the situation with COVID, I’m immensely grateful that Julia was given this opportunity, because I know that a lot of young folks haven’t been so lucky. The problem is that Julia’s job is with a company that I’ve been critical of in the past. They have made a number of decisions that I disagree with, and I know that many of my peers feel the same way. It has been a challenge to reconcile Julia’s job with my image of this company, and I still haven’t figured out how to bring it up with others.
Julia has told me that she enjoys her job and gets along well with her co-workers. She knows how I feel about her company, but insists that it’s better that they hire people like her than the sorts of people who might be inclined to engage in the types of activities that I objected to. However, when people ask me about what my children have been up to, I worry that I might be expected to defend the company she works for. I don’t feel comfortable doing that at this time, but I know that I can’t stop well-meaning people from asking me about my children.
How can I discuss my daughter’s employment in a way that respects her accomplishments while also not forcing me to compromise on my beliefs?
—The Fairy Jobmother
Dear Fairy Jobmother,
I very much understand these feelings, and I’m sure you have good reasons for believing that the company where your daughter works is ethically iffy. But I’d urge you to disentangle, as much as possible, your own hypothetical embarrassment in front of “people who ask about what your children have been up to” from your reasonable determination not to “compromise on your beliefs.”
Here’s the thing: Obvious as it surely sounds, your daughter, at age 23, is her own person, and she’s got to learn to forge her own career and decide her own moral priorities. None of this means you can’t express your opinions about the shadiness of her workplace and counsel her to consider other professional options, which it sounds like you’ve already done. It also doesn’t mean you have to defend her job in front of your friends and acquaintances. You don’t owe them any explanation, but if you feel you must, you could go with something like “She is learning a lot, and she’s excited about the chance to bring change from the inside.” Just try not let your daughter’s career choices ding your own ego.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My son has been obsessed with feet ever since he was in baby day care. I would see little crawling babies all swarm the teachers’ feet and “cuddle” with them, so I understood it then. That was the closest thing he could get to if he wanted attention. Now that he’s 2, this behavior has grown exponentially. Not only is it feet—he also works his way up the leg (sometimes shoving up my skirt to get to my thighs) and then my upper arms, sometimes demanding the “other arm.” I get that this might be a self-soothing thing (he also sucks his thumb during it too). But I’m afraid it’s getting a bit odd … mostly because he’ll do it to guests too. Should I try to break him of this habit? Or just distract him from it? He has several self-soothing things and I feel like they’re all getting obsessive.
—Distressed in Detroit
Ah, 2-year-olds! My own 2-year-old has several fun tendencies in the category of “obliviously inappropriate physical contact,” including an obsession with zippers that leads her to—confidently and without warning—attempt to unzip her parents’ flies. In your son’s case, it sounds like you are right that he is clinging to limbs as a form of self-soothing, and it also seems like perhaps the day care provider may have unwittingly created a whole crew of foot-cuddlers by encouraging this as a form of intimacy and comfort. But the good news about kids this age is that they’re getting more humanoid every day—which is to say, more able to process logic and internalize feedback, even if they don’t fully understand what motivates that feedback.
So if I were you, I’d combine the distraction tack you mention with clear, gentle instruction that offers up another, less dicey kind of physical touch. For instance, whenever your son reaches for a foot (or … thigh), you could remove his hands and say: “That’s not the way we hug. This is!” Depending on his enthusiasm for stuffed animals, you could also try carrying around a special toy exclusively for moments like this, and volunteer it whenever he needs to be diverted. (“Let’s hug the Hug Bear instead!”) As for your worry about him doing this to guests, this is perhaps a good opportunity to start teaching him about the importance of keeping our hands to ourselves, a lesson that—if he learns it young—will make him a great influence among his toddler peers.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My son is about to turn 6 and is still a picky eater. I have tried everything: home-cooked meals; serving the whole family the same thing; serving something new alongside several of his go-to’s; modeling trying new things, constantly. Meanwhile, his 2-year-old brother is housing buffalo cauliflower and falafel, and I can’t get 6-year-old to try a pasta noodle with sauce! I’m really at my wits’ end. Asking him to take even one bite of a new food escalates into an all-out tantrum. He is not, and never was, a tantrum thrower except for on this issue. I’m talking about screaming so hard he can’t breathe. When he does this, he also becomes extremely solicitous of my attention. I’ve tried ignoring the tantrum until he’s eaten the bite. I’ve tried literally hugging him as he sits on my lap to eat the bite. I’ve tried bribes. I’ve tried consequences. I can’t have this level of insanity from asking for ONE. BITE. Please help.
—Dinner and a Show
Dear Dinner and a Show,
It sure does sound like you’ve tried everything! But have you tried one of my favorite tactics in this arena, disguising a new food as a boring food you already know he likes? For instance, my daughter is a noodle hound, so sometimes I slice vegetables into spaghetti-esque slivers and douse them in sauce (it helps that she likes sauce!). Like most kids, she loves all things carby and fried, so when I get extra desperate to force-feed her a vegetable, I can sometimes sneak in, like, tempura-style zucchini. Also, given the intensity and consistency of his reactions, it could be worth screening for sensory sensitivity issues, just in case that’s the reason he can’t stand the texture of some foods.
On the whole, allow me to overconfidently reassure you that zillions of kids are picky eaters and are fine. I bet it won’t ruin him to have a limited nutritional palate for a while, and as he gets older, he’ll inevitably get more rational about the benefits of a varied diet. Who knows—if you start to care less about smuggling different bites into his mouth and put a little less pressure on him about it, you might even notice that those attention-seeking tantrums become less frequent too.
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My spouse and I are first-time parents of a 4-month-old. My question concerns the small but crucial difference between the words my spouse and I use when we’re comforting our crying child. I say, “It’s all right,” and my spouse says, “You’re all right.” I don’t think we’re intending to communicate anything different (we’re probably both repeating what we were told as children) so I’m almost embarrassed to say that my spouse’s version is beginning to get under my skin. Of course, right now our child is preverbal, so this tiny linguistic difference isn’t even registering with them. But this won’t always be the case. Am I completely imagining that these phrases carry different emotional charges? To me, “You’re all right” feels sort of dismissive of the child’s underlying emotional state, while “It’s all right” feels more accepting. But does it really make any practical difference which version our child hears growing up? I can’t tell whether this is a very silly thing to be hung up on, or totally crucial to our child’s emotional development.