Dear Care and Feeding,
Seven years ago, I was at a Friendsgiving. A friend was talking about her new nephew and how her brother named him a Junior. I was a bit tipsy and blurted out how much I hate that tradition of carrying on names. Part of the group was a man, “James,” who was a cousin of the host. I had never met James before, and we became friends. Months later, James told me he was a Junior—it came up naturally as part of the conversation, but I immediately remembered my declaration and apologized. He laughed it off and didn’t at all appear to be offended.
Fast forward to present day: James and I are married and expecting our first child. Over the years, the “Junior” subject has come up here and there. While never in a serious discussion kind of way, I still have made it clear that I will never agree to name my child a Junior, III, etc. James has always seemed to accept this, as he’s never challenged me on it.
Well, I’m sure you can see where this is going—we found out we’re having a boy, and he wants to make him a III. I got a little testy the second time he brought it up, snapping that I’m not sure what else I have to say to get that point across, and that this better be the last time he brings it up. He then got angry and said I’m being unreasonable for not even giving it consideration.
Now he’s not willing to let this go, and I’m infuriated. I don’t think this was something that actually mattered to him before I got pregnant, which is why he never pressed it, but as soon as we found out we are having a boy, it’s like a switch flipped in him. I have offered a compromise that I think is reasonable, but thus far, he hasn’t accepted that. I don’t know what to do now. It seems awful to start off new parenthood like this, and part of me feels like I should just give in—it’s just a name, and there will be much bigger battles ahead that we will have to work together on. But I feel so disrespected. He’s trying to get me to change my mind on something I’ve been absolutely firm on, and it seems like a harbinger for how things are going to be from now on—him not respecting my thoughts on how we should handle a particular parenting situation. Am I being unreasonable?
—Killing a Legacy
Dear Killing a Legacy,
Your frustration is understandable. Your husband has known your position on this subject since the day you met. Your letter doesn’t mention why you feel the way that you do about passing down names. Interestingly, based on what you’ve shared here, I know more about why your husband would be in favor of it than why you’d be against it; since he’s a junior himself, it isn’t surprising to me that he’d feel motivated to further the tradition, now that it’s a real prospect.
That said, naming a first child is a significant act for parents. Ideally, both parents should have some say in the decision and both of their opinions should be honored. Like much of the parenting process, it isn’t a time to jockey for power. Neither person should have to completely defer to the other. But that’s the ideal. It sounds like your reality is different here. If this is your deal-breaker and you’ve offered your husband a compromise, he should honor your position on this (especially since it hasn’t changed since you met him). It would be unfair of him to demand that you abandon your long-held belief on this, now that you’re carrying a child.
Though I’d caution you not to use this situation as a harbinger of your future as parents, this individual decision does present you both with the first of what will be many opportunities to find a middle ground when you disagree. If your husband’s desire is for his firstborn son to be his namesake, there are other ways for that to happen besides making him a junior. There’s a shared first or middle name only, for instance. Try to reach an agreement on what would satisfy both of your naming needs here; it shouldn’t be a zero-sum game.
Catch Up on Care and Feeding
Dear Care and Feeding,
This past summer, we moved across the country for my wife’s job, and our oldest son, 12, started at a new school for eighth grade. The transition has been rough. Very few kids start at this school in eighth grade—sixth is much more common—and he’s been having some trouble finding his footing socially.
Last month, I found a sleeping pill on the floor of his bathroom. It seems he took it from my mother’s house. We were pretty firm in our explanation that this was NOT OK. From what I can tell, he wasn’t intending to sell it or anything. He’s been having trouble sleeping and knew that the pill would help him.
We took him to a therapist to assess why he’s having trouble sleeping and what’s going on that made him feel like stealing would be OK. He hated it. He said she “asked a bunch of dumb questions” and that he could tell he was way smarter than she is. I hate to say it but—based on my interactions with the therapist—I see his point.
Where do we go from here? We haven’t had any other issues with him, but I’m concerned this behavior is a cry for help.
Dear Now What,
I’m sorry that your son is having trouble sleeping, as well as having difficulty adjusting to life in a new city and school. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for you and your partner not to know the best way to provide him the support he needs right now.
Having trouble sleeping can be a physiological issue as much as a psychological issue. Have you tried a visit to his pediatrician? If your relationship with a family doctor is more established than the one you tried to forge with the therapist, your son might feel more comfortable discussing his sleeping issues with that doctor.
You may also want to try a different therapist. It’s fine that your son didn’t connect with the first one you took him to, but that doesn’t mean you all won’t be able to find someone whose communication approach is a better fit for him. Sometimes, it takes a few tries to find the right therapist. Encourage your son to stay open to the process.
Don’t give up on professional intervention. Stealing a prescription pill from a family member is a pretty serious issue, one you’re right to interpret as a signal that your son needs your help navigating the transition your family has made this year and the struggles he’s having adapting to a new school. You’ve done what you can on your own; keep looking for an extended system of support as a family.
I wish you all well in finding the best way forward together.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I am worried about how my niece is being affected by her mother’s illness. My niece, “Rebecca,” is 10 and tends to come across as more mature than you’d expect from a child her age. She is my brother and his wife’s only child, and I know that they adore her. Unfortunately, my sister-in-law, “Annie,” was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, and it’s taking a toll on the whole family.
Caring for Annie on top of working has been extremely stressful and challenging for my brother, and Rebecca has been helping him with the caretaking. That includes cooking, cleaning, gardening, and helping Annie with her needs when she’s not in the hospital. To her credit, Rebecca has been doing a great job and I know her parents are proud of her and grateful, but she’s only 10. Other family members and I have been chipping in where possible, but my brother and Rebecca, as the people who are actually living with Annie, still are the ones who take the most responsibility for caring for her.
Since her mother fell ill, Rebecca has been confiding in me about her problems because she feels like her parents are already overwhelmed. She expressed that she doesn’t want her issues to add to her parents’ stress, and said that she has to put on a strong and happy face around her parents. She used to go to her parents when she needed advice about school or friends, and now I’m that outlet.
I know that Annie’s illness is out of our control, but I worry that it’s causing Rebecca to undergo parentification. Ideally she should feel like her parents are there to take care of her, and right now it’s the other way around. I don’t want Rebecca to lose out on the ability to be a kid or think that she can’t turn to her parents for support in the future. I’m worried about everyone in this equation, but since Rebecca’s only a kid, I’m especially concerned about how this will impact her development and relationship with her parents.
Is there any way I can help Rebecca and make sure that she gets the support she needs?
Dear Anxious Aunt,
You’re already helping Rebecca by noticing the added responsibilities she’s taking on and being concerned enough to want to intervene. It’s commendable that Rebecca wants to support her parents, and in situations like hers, it’s tempting for the adults in her home to rely on her more. She’s at an age where the desire to be helpful is strong and it’s OK to encourage that, within reason. But you’re right that, at age 10, she should still be treated like a child in need of play, stress relief, space to grieve the loss of her mother’s health and her family’s sense of normalcy, as well as occasional moments of freedom, away from the pressure and trauma her family is experiencing.
Try having a talk with Rebecca’s parents about your concerns. If you have space and time in your own schedule to host the occasional outing or sleepover with Rebecca, ask her parents if she might be able to spend Fridays or weekends with you. During that time away, reassure Rebecca that she’s welcome to talk to you about what’s going on and how she feels about it. Let her know that her time away from home is meant to provide a “fun zone.” She has permission to breathe, grieve, and have a good time in the fun zone, and it’s something she can look forward to as she helps her parents out during the week.
You might also offer to take Rebecca to a support group for children whose parents have serious illnesses or to therapy sessions that encourage play or art-making.
Ultimately, try to work together with Rebecca’s parents to develop a plan for helping her navigate what’s happening to her family. It’s likely that they already know she needs the outlet and just don’t have the bandwidth to provide it on their own. Hopefully, they’ll welcome your intervention on that front.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I dropped out of the workforce during the initial stages of the pandemic because, between elder care and child care, we realized we’d save money if I took over the additional (unpaid) duties temporarily. My husband had better health insurance and so he kept his job. We are getting by, but if I could find work, particularly hybrid/remote, it would be a big help and a huge relief. We are on a bit of a shoestring budget, and if something happened to my husband, we’d be in a real bind. But as I’ve begun to look, I begin to feel quite useless. Nobody is really responding to my CVs, and in the few interviews I’ve been on, people have frankly told me that my skills are a bit outdated (I used to work in the tech sector, mostly as what we called “fluffers,” doing the drudge work of implementing a new technology while the main consultant handled the client).
At first it was surprising, but as I continue to experience these rejections, it’s become downright alarming. I’m really scared and, well, kind of depressed. I do a lot at home and my family is quite supportive of this, but it doesn’t come with a pension, does it? I have friends still in the workforce who tell me to not give up, but I’m secretly crying a little bit in the bathroom every night. I just feel useless and very tired. I’ve tried to implement a plan, but it feels like a stopgap. Basically my days are still filled with all the usual housework, parental care (we have older relatives in the home) and child care and whatnot, and I never quite get very far with any of it, but at least it isn’t left completely undone. And then I spend an hour or so trying for every job that I can find that even remotely resembles work I could do, and I despair that even if I found something, I’d have to fit it in around all I do now, but nobody seems to want me.
Without seeking therapy or job consultations (we simply can’t afford them), is there a sort of other plan you could recommend where maybe I could better handle myself? I think hiding and crying every night as a sort of release before I go online and crank out cover letters and CVs is probably not the best tactic, but I can’t seem to help it. I’m desperately afraid I’ll inexplicably break down in public or in front of the kids or old people, and that would be so awful. I’ve never felt so busy and yet so useless, and I just don’t know how to approach it constructively. I don’t want to say anything to my family members—we’re all under pressure, and the whole environment is just very stressful right now, so saying “I think I’m not financially worthwhile anymore” seems like it will just add to the general tension.
—Valuable but I Need to Be Profitable
First, let me reassure you: You are not useless. Your contributions may not bring additional income into the household right now, but your labor is what affords your husband the continued opportunity to earn. It may be difficult to feel encouraged or validated by that, but it’s true: You’ve been your family’s essential worker throughout the pandemic. It sounds like they’re all appreciative, even though money’s tight right now.
You want to return to the workforce as offices reopen and new positions within them become available. That’s great. I trust that your husband will support your desire to return to work outside the home, but be sure to have a conversation with him about what you might need from him to make the transition smoother. Maybe you need to take a training or certification course at a local community college or online resource, and you’ll need him to cook dinner during your classes. Maybe you need to register with a temp agency and you’ll need him to figure out who can cover before- and aftercare for the kids now that, presumably, they’re back in school during most of the workday. Maybe you’ll have to sit down and budget how much both of you would need to put aside to cover the cost of day care or an in-home worker, once you return to an out-of-home position. Maybe you need to be able to cry about your difficulty finding a job in front of your husband and not feel like you’re burdening him with your very valid feelings.
Whatever the way forward, you shouldn’t feel so alone in this when you live in a house full of people. Let your husband in on what you’re going through. Trust that he’ll be able to make an adjustment for you now, just like you made one for him during lockdown.
I hope this trust will prove well placed.