Care and Feeding

My Husband Sees Himself as a “Helper” Not a “Co-Parent”

A man bottle feeds an infant.
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 the primary caretaker of my infant daughter. I do all the middle-of-night stuff, most of the day stuff, and my husband currently sees his role as “helping” rather than “co-parenting.” We’re working on that, but in the meantime my question is about bedtime feedings. Daughter eats much better for me than for her dad—mostly because I keep encouraging the bottle, trying again, and making sure she’s really full, while her dad stops as soon as she turns her head away. As a result, Daughter sleeps well on nights that I feed her, but she still wakes up at 1 or 2 when her dad does. Which means I also wake at 1 or 2 because, again, I do all the night stuff.

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Help! I don’t know how to thread the needle. Stepping in after my husband is “done” feeding and saying “let me” only validates the idea that I’m in charge of the baby. But I’m tired of crappy sleep on nights when he puts her to bed. What should I do?

—Tired, Literally and Figuratively

Dear Tired,

Your husband needs to do what you do: encourage the bottle until she accepts it. There’s no reason he can’t learn to be patient about feeding, just as you’ve had to do.

You’ll also need to be patient, both with him and with your daughter. Let him get frustrated. Let her get fussy. Stay out of it until they reach an uneasy alliance.

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Explain to your husband what “full” looks like, and make sure he sticks with feeding until he sees the signs. Let him know that you won’t be intervening, even if your daughter wakes up hungry on his feeding days and that he’ll have to handle it until he gets the hang of it. It won’t be easy, but it’s the practice of setting firm, early precedents that shapes how co-parenting will evolve for a couple.

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From this week’s letter, “The Empty-Nester in Our Neighborhood Keeps Trying to Hang Out With Our Kids”: “She’s a bit of an old-school hippie, which is charming, but also: Lady, back off!!”

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My son “Jax” is 6 years old and in first grade. At his annual visit with the pediatrician last week he was diagnosed with ADHD. She based this on a questionnaire we filled out and his kindergarten teacher filled out, and a questionnaire his current teacher submitted had similar responses. Besides the questionnaires, she has also heard my concerns year after year. In prior years I’ve been OK with “let’s wait and see” (if it was just a need to mature more, if it was due to circumstances like COVID and a new baby in the house, etc.) but the past six months it has become so obvious that he cannot control his impulses and we need some help on how to help him (whether it be with therapy or medication). His impulsive behavior scares me—we have four children and he is the one I worry most about keeping safe until adulthood!

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The problem is that my husband does not agree with me or with the diagnosis. He has accused me of seeing only the negative (not true, Jax is seriously such a sweet, snuggly, funny kid) and has declared he no longer likes this pediatrician.

I don’t know how to navigate this at all. I’m heartbroken and don’t want Jax to get more and more impulsive, to struggle with school and friends (which is beginning to happen now), and to lose his love for school because we could have helped him but didn’t. I love my husband but don’t know how to navigate his flat-out denial. Please help.

—Anxious in Albany

Dear Anxious in Albany,

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I’m not sure your husband’s denial is yours to navigate. Your responsibility is to your son, and you’ve been taking it seriously. You’ve monitored his behavior over a number of years, completed the questionnaires necessary to flag his early and ongoing behavioral signs, and now you have a diagnosis.

Next up is a treatment and management plan, and it doesn’t sound like it would be in your son’s best interest or your own to wait for your husband to accept the consensus of two teachers, a pediatrician, and you. He’s outnumbered here. Overruled. And while it can be very upsetting to hear that your child may need medical intervention for his behavioral patterns at such a young age, your husband would do well to at least observe your son’s initial course of treatment and see if he notices a discernible difference.

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Dismissing the diagnosis altogether without offering any alternative for helping Jax to manage his impulses isn’t constructive. Continue taking the necessary steps to figure out a course of action that is.

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Catch Up on Care and Feeding

• If you missed Sunday’s column, read it here.
•  Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am 40-year-old, single, child-free woman. As you can imagine, being my age, I have a lot of people in my orbit who have kids. I like kids, and in an effort to spend time with the adults I care about, I am happy to also spend that time with their kids. The issue lies in what the kids call me. I have a name that is fairly easy for kids to say and prefer to go by just that or, where appropriate, “Auntie First Name.” My last name is hard to say even for adults, and I’m not a big fan of Miss and Ms. I’m open to all the adorable nicknames kids have come up with over the years too.

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Recently, a new co-worker introduced me to her child as “Miss Last Name.” I smiled and looked at the child and said “you can just call me [First Name].” My co-worker glared at me and then at her child and said something along the lines of “Miss Last Name is an adult, and you will address her as such.” I half-smiled back at the child but honestly, I felt like we both had been chastised. This has come up before with a person who told their child to address me by “Miss First Name” and I didn’t like that either but the parent told me “it’s cultural” and I had to live with it.

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I get it that parents get to make rules for their kids, but don’t I get to make a rule about how I’ll be addressed? I understand erring on the side of formality but shouldn’t my wishes be taken into consideration if I give the OK to be less formal? Or is this one of those things I just need to sort of suck it up and deal with?

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—First Name Basis

Dear First Name Basis,

Ideally, you should have a say in how children address you. However, as you’ve experienced in the cases you’ve mentioned, children don’t always have a say in how they address you. If their parents are rigid on the issue, believing it impolite to call adults by first names or nicknames, the child runs the risk of scolding if they don’t tack some sort of honorific onto your first or last name.

The only potential loophole would be if you let the child know you prefer your first name when their disapproving parent isn’t within earshot. But even then, if you encourage them to defy their parent’s standing rule on the issue, you run the risk of creating greater tension, between you and the parent and between the parent and child.

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It sounds like, in both cases you mentioned, you let the parent know your preferences. Continue to do that in new situations. You’ll find that some parents are more flexible on this issue than others. And sometimes it’s just not worth the trouble, especially if you won’t be interacting with the parent and child on a frequent or regular basis.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My mother has Alzheimer’s disease and recently moved to a memory care facility. My 14-year-old daughter “Mae” is struggling with visits to see grandma, and I am unsure of how to handle it in the future. My mother remembers me and my daughter, and it brings her momentary happiness to see Mae. I have kept our visits short, but I know it is difficult for Mae to be there. While the facility is good and Grandma is well cared for it is a sad and stressful situation to see people in such mental and physical decline. It is hard for me too!

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On a recent visit Mae witnessed her grandmother act out physically against another resident. While this is common with dementia, it was very distressing. Mae keeps a brave face and is willing to go when I suggest it, mostly I think because she knows how difficult it is for me as grandma’s primary person (I am an only child and my stepfather passed away). She’s trying to support me which I appreciate and love, but I don’t want her to have to bear an overly heavy, adult burden. I just don’t know if it makes sense to “force” her to go when it is so difficult. Grandma’s short-term memory is gone and she forgets that we were there as soon as we leave. While she is happy to see us in the moment I don’t know how worth it the visits are if they jeopardize Mae’s mental health. Mae is in therapy for depression and anxiety (which really ramped up during the pandemic), and I know she has spoken to her therapist about how difficult these visits are for her. Do I stop taking her? Do I limit the visits to once a month or so? Do I continue making her go weekly for some sort of life lesson? I just don’t know.

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—Sandwiched in San Diego

Dear Sandwiched in San Diego,

I’m so sorry that you, Mae, and your mother are experiencing this. Alzheimer’s is a heartbreaking condition for everyone involved to navigate.

Given Mae’s struggles with the visits, it may be worthwhile to scale her engagement back to once or twice a month. Fourteen seems just old enough to begin learning difficult lessons about following through on challenging situations. She can’t avoid grief and sorrow, whenever she’s faced with it. And this may not be the last time she has to go through the experience of senior visits and elder care. But she’s still a child and shouldn’t have to confront the harsh realities of either quite as often as you do. If she wants to continue supporting you, once a month seems like an appropriate compromise.

If it’s still too difficult for her, even after scaling back, give her permission to opt out altogether. She may have learned all that she can about what her current threshold for discomfort, sadness, and grief. Wishing you both the best.

—Stacia

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