Care and Feeding

My Family Claims They Can’t Pronounce My Baby’s Name.

And more problems from new parents.

A pregnant woman holds her stomach on which there is a "Hello my name is" sticker.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by tatyana_tomsickova/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

Our advice columnists have heard it all over the years. This week, we collected archival letters with advice for new parents. Slate Plus members get more Care and Feeding columns every week.

Dear Prudence,

I’m married to a Korean man, and we’re expecting our first child. We’ve decided to give our baby a Korean name. When my parents and sister’s family heard the name, they quickly came up with an Americanized nickname because the name we’ve chosen is “too hard for them to pronounce.” I’ve pushed back and asked them to use the next four months to learn how to pronounce our baby’s name. This matters to my husband and me. It will take some effort to learn how to pronounce the name, but plenty of Americans have learned how to pronounce Jung Ho-seok and Jeon Jungkook. They can also pronounce words like Tchaikovsky and Marseilles, so it doesn’t feel like a lot to ask them to spend the next four months learning our baby’s name. Are we being unreasonable? My mom also worries that choosing a Korean name will “other” our baby. How much can you ask of other people when it comes to pronouncing unfamiliar names?

Choosing a Korean name for your baby will simply mean that your baby has a Korean name. I’m not quite sure why your mother thinks it’s a “gotcha” to point out that not all babies have Korean names. Your request is not unreasonable, but your side of the family is certainly signaling well in advance just what they expect from you: to downplay and minimize your husband’s and your future child’s Koreanness. Giving a group of adults four months to learn how to pronounce a single unfamiliar word is not asking too much. Now is a great opportunity to make it clear to your side of the family just how little time and energy you plan on expending as a new parent on their racial comfort. Your child is going to have a Korean parent, a Korean name, Korean heritage, and Korean culture all as a part of their life; that’s not a “difficulty” you’re inflicting on your non-Korean family but a core part of your child’s existence. —Danny M. Lavery

From: “Help! My Son’s Boyfriend Is HIV-Positive. Am I Allowed to Be Concerned?” (April 21, 2020)

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m the new mother of a baby girl who is almost a month old now. I’ve read/heard so many things about how everything would change once my baby was born—how I would feel an overwhelming love for her, my heart would grow, I would only be able to focus on her and would forget everything else, etc.—but I haven’t experienced that. Instead her birth turned out to be almost anticlimactic and kind of surreal. One minute I was pushing and the next I was holding a baby. I thought maybe I’d feel something more once we got home from the hospital and things felt more “real,” but still I feel nothing big.

I mean, my daughter is cute and she’s starting to be awake more and look around, which is fun, but I haven’t had a magical “I’m a mother!” moment. Sometimes I feel like maybe I’m not doing enough with/for her. Like, I’ll usually read a book while nursing instead of gazing lovingly into her eyes. I’ll talk to her and read to her other times when she’s awake, though, and I’m generally enjoying having her in my life. But I’ve heard that some women get so absorbed in their new baby that they forget about their husbands, hobbies—everything—and I still like spending time with my husband when I can, wish I had a little more time for hobbies, and kind of need to keep up on bills and other things, even with a new baby. Honestly, I’ve never been one of those people who just love babies, and I always felt kind of uncomfortable when people asked if I wanted to hold theirs. Because of that, I’ve been impressed with how quickly I got used to holding and caring for my daughter, which maybe sounds silly, but I was relieved and glad.

For what it’s worth, my mom had a lot of miscarriages and infertility issues, so my first trimester of pregnancy was stressful because I was so worried about losing the baby, and I was a little afraid to let myself start looking forward too much in case something happened. I also had a brother who died unexpectedly from a birth defect when he was less than 2 weeks old. But my pregnancy went pretty smoothly until the end of it, when I had problems with blood pressure and had to be unexpectedly induced (as in, I went in for an appointment and left to get my husband and go to the hospital), which was a stressful and sort of awful experience, but both the baby and I came out of it OK, which I know is all that really matters. I think maybe I also feel a little guilty that things went so smoothly for me when it was so hard for my mom and for other people I know (my cousin had to do IVF, my sister’s good friend has been trying to have kids for years but still nothing, and more).

I don’t think I have postpartum depression. I can still laugh at things, I feel fine, and I hate the thought of her getting hurt and wouldn’t dream of doing anything to her myself. Do I love my daughter enough? Is it normal/OK to not have that huge, overwhelming rush of love? I also never had a huge “This is the one” moment with my husband, even though I have no doubts now about my love for him. So maybe this is a similar thing. Still, I feel like I’m missing out on something.

Many years ago, when I was trying to decide whether to get married, a friend advised me to ask myself a simple question: Is this someone I couldn’t possibly live without? So I tried that thought experiment—but I realized quickly that (although it must have been a good question for her to ask herself before she’d married her husband) this was useless advice for me. Having already lived alone, quite contentedly, by then for over a decade, it seemed to me there was no one I “couldn’t live without.”

I didn’t end up marrying that person (for other reasons), but I kept that knowledge of myself in my pocket when Iater on I did meet the man I would marry. Despite my deep, abiding, and ongoing delight in rom-coms—and despite my childhood obsessive reading of DC romance comics—that was not the way I was going to feel about marriage, I understood.

People experience love differently because we aren’t all exactly the same. There’s a lot of pressure in our culture around how to feel—not just about marriage or about motherhood, but about our parents and siblings … and about grief and anger and ambition and success and pretty much everything human beings have feelings about. It’s easy to feel we’re “missing out” when we don’t feel what we’re told we should. But as you make very clear when you talk about all the things that are in the mix here—your mother’s history, your own child’s birth story, and everything else you mention—feelings are more complicated and nuanced than the version of what one is supposed to feel allows for. I don’t think you’re missing out, and I don’t think she is either. I send my very best wishes to you both. —Michelle Herman

From: “I’m Worried I Don’t Love My Newborn Enough.” (May 31, 2020)

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I are expecting our first child in February, and our families are very excited. We’re also very excited, and it’s getting to be about time for us to start setting up our nursery in earnest. The minute we told my family that we’re having a baby, however, my parents immediately started telling us all about the old baby stuff of ours that they’ve saved from back in the ’80s, which of course we’ll need for their grandchild! This includes a crib, a rocking chair, two high chairs, two strollers, maternity clothes, baby clothes, baby toys, bottles, cloth diapers, baby carriers, and all manner of other items that the grandparents-to-be have been dutifully “saving” for the last 30 years. It’s more than enough to fill a nursery and then some—I don’t think my parents ever threw a single thing of mine away.

I know that I should be grateful to have so much free baby stuff being offered to me, but I was really looking forward to buying new (or at least recently manufactured) things for our baby, not to mention the fact that other friends and family members want to contribute things, too. I’ve taken a few smaller items—mostly old toys that I liked, and one cute baby outfit—but my parents are asking when they ought to bring the large furniture over, and at this rate, we won’t have room to store anything that wasn’t made before 1995! My husband and I don’t need to rely on hand-me-downs to provide for our baby, and I don’t even think that a lot of these items are up to code by today’s baby safety standards. Of course, if I mention that to my parents, they get offended and remark that they used these supposed death-traps with me every day when I was a baby, and I turned out fine. (For this reason, I’m also a little hesitant to recommend that my parents keep the items themselves and use them while babysitting.)

I wish that they’d given these items away decades ago to someone who actually needed them—they’re probably not donateable now, so if I don’t use them, I suppose they’ll end up in the trash. I also feel guilty about that—who says that my special baby MUST have brand-spanking-new furniture, clothes, and toys? But of course, my parents won’t understand why buying a crib that was used last year is different from using a crib that’s sat in a basement since the ’80s. I know that they just want to feel useful and included during my pregnancy, and that all of these items have tremendous emotional significance for them. My family is very big on saving things for children and grandchildren (there are some mild-to-moderate hoarding tendencies behind this), and the fact that they’ve kept all of these things for me for the past three decades is a source of great pride. I just feel like everybody’s getting to pick out things for my baby to use except for me! What do I do?

In this case, there is a right answer and a perfect justification for it, which you’ve already touched on in your letter—the decades-old baby furniture probably doesn’t meet current safety standards. You don’t just want new stuff for your baby; you need new stuff. This is about your child’s safety, not you wanting a shopping spree or an excuse to spoil your kid. (Note: You cannot actually “spoil” a newborn, a being who would be blissfully unaware if you put them down to sleep in a dog bed—which of course wouldn’t be safe, either, but I trust you get my point here.) I understand it’s a bit jarring for some people when younger parents do things differently—I know people who’ve gotten into actual arguments with their parents over the necessity of putting infants down to sleep on their back. One of our relatives got annoyed with me for not taking my screaming infant out of the car seat to nurse and calm her while the car was moving (they wanted her to be quiet; they did not want to pull over so I could unbuckle her safely). Someday, maybe you and I will be the folks wondering why new parents are so hung up on doing things the new-fangled way they do, but I hope we’ll just find it in our hearts to accept it once we’re told it’s because it’s safer for the baby. It really shouldn’t feel like a personal slight to anyone when best practices and safety measures evolve over time!

You’ve already tried to tell your parents your reasons for wanting to buy new baby furniture and other items, and they haven’t been receptive. I hope they change their minds, but if they don’t, you don’t actually need them to understand or be pleased about your consumer choices as a parent—you’re the parent, and you’re trying to do the best thing for your baby by ensuring they sleep in a crib and eat in a high chair that meet today’s safety standards. You can thank your parents for the offer of their old stuff, acknowledge their feelings, pick a few things of sentimental value to keep for your baby, and then gently but firmly reiterate your (correct) decision. If they keep trying to guilt you, let them know that you’re following the advice in all the baby books; your mind is made up, and that’s the end of it. Try not to let this bother you too much—parenthood is an ideal time for your priorities to shift from making your parents happy to focusing on what’s best for your kid, and hopefully your families will be so over the moon about having a new grandchild that they’ll get over this quickly. —Nicole Chung

From: “Dear Care and Feeding: My Parents Expect Us to Use All the Baby Stuff They’ve Saved From My Childhood.” (Sept. 8, 2021)

Dear Care and Feeding,

Can you please weigh in on the subject of “who should one love more” between a spouse and your children? My husband and I recently had an argument (the first of 2020, actually) over this issue. He believes spouses should love each other first and “more” than they love their children. His reasoning is that this love provides the stable base for the family, and our partnership comes before the children.

Until now, it has been my opinion that a person who puts anyone, even a spouse, before their child is wrong, and I know many moms who would call me a bad mother for sharing his opinion. “No man comes before my child,” so to speak. I did research online and found many articles sharing my husband’s opinion, so I am now rethinking what I originally thought was a no-brainer. I’m incredibly conflicted and confused. What do you think?

It’s a bullshit comparison is the heft of my answer. I think that the love and commitment between myself and my husband is the core of our family, and that, if possible, modeling a happy and respectful and affectionate partnership is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children, and letting that slip by the wayside to overfocus on those same children can be a real problem. Someday, God willing, they’ll be out the door and we’ll have each other, and we certainly don’t want to feel like confused strangers.

That being said, I would expect that in a Deep Impact scenario both my husband and I would save our children before saving each other, and each of us would be equally incandescently furious to wake up alive in the hospital to discover the other had made a different choice.

We love people in wildly different ways. We love our children (ideally!) unconditionally, and in even the happiest marriages our love for our spouse remains conditional, so if you have some extra energy, you might as well toss it in their direction.

Stop arguing about this and just do your best for each other and your children. Life is not a game show where you have to vote someone off the island.

The dog comes first. That’s my true answer. —Nicole Cliffe

From: “Who Should I Love More, My Husband or My Children?” (Jan. 6, 2020)

More New Parenting Advice

My husband and his ex-wife divorced after 12 years mainly due to his ex’s wanting children and my husband’s opposition to that. Two years later, when he met me, I was upfront that at 27, I was not sure whether or not I wanted children, but I was not going to make my decision based on a third date. We agreed to address it whenever there was a change in feelings. Three years into our relationship, I decided I wanted a kid, he decided he wanted a kid with me, and now we have a baby boy, born in the pandemic. My husband made a general Facebook post—”Baby boy born at 9 pounds, 2 am, mom and baby fine” sort of thing. And now I have a voicemail from his ex in which she is crying and angry that my husband “stole” her ability to have children.