Care and Feeding

I Can’t Shake My Longing for Another Baby

Should I tell my husband?

A woman holds baby shoes and looks at them longingly.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by SPmemory/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,

Should I tell my husband I want another baby even though we can’t have one?

We already have two sons, and we had always agreed on two kids. But from the moment my second was born, the feeling that our family was complete never materialized. Part of it is that we’d always hoped for a daughter, but I know my husband is happy with his two boys. I just can’t seem to let go of this longing.

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There are thousands of reasons we shouldn’t have a third, starting with the fact that I have no idea how we’d afford it. I’m past 35, so getting and staying pregnant could be hard. We have loving families, but we don’t live near them and it’s been tough raising two children without close support. My husband has made it clear that he’s done having kids. On the pro list? I just want another baby. I want this amazing family-making time of life to not be over with.

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Most days are fine, but it’s a sadness in the background, and every so often something (like seeing a ring I once thought I’d give to my daughter) starts me crying. I’ve been able to hide these feelings from my husband, and I can hardly stand the idea of naming them out loud to him because I know what I want isn’t what he wants—it’s awful to imagine him feeling like the “bad guy” for still wanting to do what we always said we’d do.

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I’ve tried getting more excited about the life ahead of us. I’ve bought cute new clothes; I’m tackling challenges at work; I’m working on my mental health. I’ve been getting rid of baby stuff to try to accept that this is how our family is going to stay. When I imagine bringing another baby into our lives, it seems overwhelming and selfish, but I don’t know how to make this longing go away either. Is there anything I can do to hurry up this grieving process? And should I tell my husband about it, even though it will only hurt him?

—No More Babies

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Dear No More Babies,

I think what you’re feeling is completely normal and I would venture to guess that many parents reading this have felt the itch to have another baby even when they were planning to be “done.” As long as you have a strong relationship with your husband, I think he would react to you with kindness and empathy instead of harsh judgment if you talked to him about your true feelings. Of course that doesn’t mean he’ll actually go through with trying for another baby, but at least you know you’ll have talked to him about it.

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I do have a few concerns, though. If your husband agrees to try for a third child, there are, of course, no guarantees you’ll get the daughter you’re yearning for. Would you spiral into an even deeper funk if you had another boy? I have a female friend who wanted a daughter really badly, and five sons later, she still doesn’t have one. Are at least some of these feelings part of a slow grieving process of moving on from this “new family” stage that will happen no matter what, whether after two, three, or five kids? How will you feel if your husband agrees grudgingly, but then you’re overwhelmed, or it’s not what you thought, or it does stress your finances to a degree that it affects your marriage?

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Speaking of resentment, in the event your husband decides not to go along with your new plan, will you harbor some ill will toward your two boys due to not fulfilling your dreams for having a daughter? Also, do you think some of that resentment will spill over onto your husband?

I want you to truly unpack all of the outcomes so nothing hits you by surprise. This seems to be the type of situation that would benefit greatly from therapy. You stated that you’re working on your mental health, and maybe that means you’re already meeting with a therapist, and if so, that’s great. I also believe that you should meet with a therapist along with your husband to come to some sort of resolution. My biggest concern for you is what if the void you have in your life has nothing to do with wanting a daughter? I’m not a mental health professional, so it’s outside of my pay grade to determine if that’s the case for you—but I don’t think it should be left unchecked.

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I’m not going to say that you should be thankful for your two sons, because I’m sure that you already are. Instead, I’ll say that I hope you and your husband will be on board and do whatever it takes for you to feel fulfilled and happy no matter what path you choose.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a “little free pantry” in front of my house that I’m happy to host for neighbors in need. I live in a neighborhood that’s somewhat mixed-class—many single-family homes, town houses, apartments all on the same block. But the neighborhood is on the higher end of well-off, or at least it was before the pandemic hit nearly everyone, and at least my immediate neighborhood is very white. One of the only Black families in the area has a 7-year-old boy “Joe” who is on-again-off-again friends with my 6-year-old boy. I often see Joe coming to the pantry, and when he comes to play in our yard, he sometimes opens a bag and snacks on it—but leaves it there. (I’ve recently seen him do this with both cereal and a box of dry spaghetti.) Usually the food I see him get is on the snacky side. He’s occasionally told me that he hasn’t eaten a meal, and they have a lot of people to keep up on a single income: He lives with a working-class father, an elderly great-grandparent, and a small cousin, but I’ve only met the GG as he seemed hesitant to go get the dad when I went to introduce myself. So to my question: Part of me thinks I should talk to the dad about his son’s (mis)use of the pantry—I’d want someone to tell me if my son was doing this. But the other part of me isn’t sure it’s my business, and I don’t want to embarrass the father or cut off a source of food for Joe if he really needs it. What should I do?

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—Concerned Neighbor

Dear Concerned,

First off, I think it’s wonderful that you’re providing free food to families in need. I’m also glad you’ve noticed that this boy may not be eating well, because that could be a sign of serious issues.

Before you get the family involved, I think you should contact the school to mention to the school counselor what he has told you about possible food insecurity, so that they can ensure—if needed—that the boy is getting free meals at school. Many kids of that age may be unaware of the resources schools provide, and that could potentially solve the problem without having to endure an uncomfortable encounter with his dad. I’d go that route rather than talking to his guardians directly about food resources, because you don’t want to come off as a white savior who is taking it upon yourself to rescue this child (you mentioned that you live in a predominately white neighborhood, so I’m under the assumption you are white as well). I offer that warning because many Black people despise receiving unsolicited parenting advice from random white people, regardless of their good intentions.

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Regarding the lower-stakes issues, maybe I’m missing something here, but this seems to be a pretty simple fix. It doesn’t matter if your concerns are with how he’s disposing of trash or with him taking food that requires cooking—if you have something on your property that’s being misused, you have every right to instruct the person how to use it. Even though we’re talking about a 7-year-old child, it can still be done effectively as long as you approach him with kindness and empathy. I mean, how many kids that age would understand “free pantry etiquette”?

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Don’t talk about the things he’s doing wrong when you speak with him, because that will only make him feel a sense of shame over something he has no clue about. Instead you should discuss the desired outcome by saying something as simple as “Hi, kiddo, just so you know, this is how we should use the pantry. Let me know if you have any questions.” Chances are that will be the end of it and you can move on.

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In the event the undesired behavior continues, you’ll need to determine how high the personal stakes are for you to have that behavior corrected. Personally, it wouldn’t be a big enough deal to me to escalate matters by approaching his dad, but you may feel differently and that’s perfectly fine. In doing so, you should be aware of the potential of his son being disciplined over his misuse of the pantry, and I’m pretty sure we can both agree that would be awful.

I think the best move here is to coach the child in private—maybe even more than once if necessary, but outside of that, I think you should let it go. As annoying as the behavior may seem to you, the main thing is you’re providing a food source to a child who apparently needs it, and that’s worth a lot.

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Catch Up on Care and Feeding

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am an older white woman. While on an empty bus recently, a black mom, her two preschool sons, and her sister got on. The aunt handed each of the two boys a powdered doughnut, which they were eating happily. At first, mom didn’t object to them having the doughnuts. Well, the powdered sugar got on their coats, and mom had a fit. She brushed the sugar off their coats, and then slapped both boys across the face! She told them how terrible they were to make a mess! The boys looked so sad, and she told them they had better not cry, or she’d hit them again. I was angry with her, and wanted to come to the boys’ defense, and honestly I wanted to slap her! Why would she let them have them only to slap them? Everyone knows powdered doughnuts make a mess! I sat there and did nothing for those boys, mostly out of fear that she may punish them worse, or that she would attack me physically. I know parents have differing ideas of discipline, but this crossed the line in my opinion. What can I do if this happens again? Can I help the kids at all without being seen as a judgmental white woman? My heart broke for those boys.

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—Brokenhearted

Dear Brokenhearted,

As many of my readers know, I don’t think there’s any excuse for grown adults to hit defenseless children. However, there’s a line between discipline and abuse, and the laws differ depending on where you live. (I always like to direct people to this resource when it comes to educating yourself on signs of child abuse and neglect.)

Most people of sound mind understand that powdered doughnuts will make a mess even for the most careful eaters, so the fact that this mom lost her mind over her kids getting some powder on their clothes illustrates to me that she’s at the end of her rope. Does that excuse her behavior? Of course not, but like I mentioned, if a law wasn’t broken, then you don’t really have much recourse other than to give her a piece of your mind. If she seemed to be as unstable as you described her, then there’s a higher likelihood that she could get violent with you as well.

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Now, if you feel that the line was crossed from discipline to abuse in terms of one slap turning into multiple slaps while the child is cowering in fear, then you definitely should take some action. One nonconfrontational way to do that is to use your phone to take video of the incident and then share it with the appropriate authorities. Just remember that you can’t just run to the cops whenever adults lay their hands on their kids because every situation is different.

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Words cannot describe how much I hate this for those kids, but you’re wise in checking in before taking action.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

This is just an observation, and I wanted to see if anyone else has noticed this (maybe I’m remembering wrong!). When I was growing up in the ’80s, kids usually had their hair neatly done—braids, ponytails, curled sometimes even. I remember having my parents brush my hair a lot—like before dinner, before going out. We washed our hair a lot. I don’t have kids, but I’ve noticed that my young nieces and most of my friends’ young kids (girls and boys) rarely seem to have their hair “done” or even honestly look like their hair has been brushed lately. Sometimes their hair even smells a little bit—are they not even washing it regularly?

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Am I remembering the ’80s right with the neater hair? And do people not “do” kids’ hair anymore? Perhaps it was just my family—my parents were extremely gentle when brushing and doing my hair (both my mom and dad liked brushing it), and I remember it being very pleasurable—like a caring activity between me and my parent. They seemed to enjoy it too.

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—I Want to Brush Your Kids’ Hair

Dear I Want to Brush,

I know you’re not technically asking for advice, but I couldn’t resist tackling your question. I grew up in the ’80s and went to high school in the ’90s, and I can tell you in my experience there isn’t that much of a difference in terms of hair care for kids then and now. Granted, I’ve shaved my head since I was 17, but many of my childhood friends took great pride in their hair then and still do.

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I’m a dad with two young daughters, and I do their hair every time they get out of the shower, before they go to school, and before basketball games. Heck, I even went viral for a photo I posted of doing my daughter’s hair back in the day. As you mentioned, I used that time as a great bonding opportunity as we talked about everything going on during that specific day.

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To be clear, I’m not an amazing hairstylist by any means—but I also believe there’s no excuse for parents not to be somewhat competent in doing their kids’ hair nowadays. I’m a proud graduate of YouTube University and I learned everything I currently know by watching a ridiculous amount of videos on making ponytails, French braids, and everything else. Also, one of my friends told me something so powerful that always sticks with me: “Your kids won’t remember how messy their braids and ponytails were, but they will absolutely remember that you cared enough about them to try.”

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So if there’s any advice in here to give, I would challenge parents (especially dads) to learn how to style their young kids’ hair. Doing so will only enhance the relationship you have with your kids now and many years down the road.

—Doyin

More Advice From Slate

Nearly two months ago, I met a guy on Tinder, expecting nothing more than a casual hookup. However, we ended up clicking really well and have gone on a lot of real dates since then. I think I’m falling in love with him (and vice versa), and we are exclusive. There’s just one little problem: I never told him I have a kid. I’m a single mom, no dad in the picture, and my child is 3. I didn’t think to mention it initially, not expecting to enter a relationship, and since then I’ve just never found the right moment. I totally know this is wrong and my fault, but at this point I’m not sure how to break the news. We can’t keep on seeing each other only at his apartment or when my kid is at Grandma’s, and I really want my child to meet him. How do I get out of this mess?

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