Care and Feeding

I’m Full of Resentment About the One Thing Every Other Family Seems to Have

It’s so bad I’m breaking down in tears.

An annoyed looking woman holds a balloon.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Motortion/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have three great kids who are too young to stay home by themselves. While our eldest could hang at a friend’s house for a few hours, that’s not an option for my younger two. Unlike just about everyone we know, we don’t have extended family available to watch them, either on a regular basis or even just for special occasions. (There are grandparents who aren’t too far away but they don’t drive on the highways needed to come here, and they have pets that my kids are terrified of, so I can’t drop them off there either. There is also a decided lack of interest in babysitting on their part, which is of course their right.)

We bring our kids to places when appropriate but, in other cases, we generally resort to attending social or professional events solo. We have a local babysitter we use maybe three times a year, but paying for care more often isn’t something we are prepared to do, and as you might imagine, we prefer to save the few precious hours of paid child care for evenings out with just the two of us. Besides, for social or professional obligations, I find I can relax and have a lot more fun if I know my kids are with my husband rather than a sitter.

I have struggled a lot with the lack of family support, especially when literally everyone else I talk to has family who provides regular, ongoing help with their children or, at the very least, agrees to do a night every month or two so that Mom and Dad can go out and have fun. We simply don’t have that, and it hurts both because I wish I could do things alone with my husband and because there isn’t the grandparent-grandchild bond so many others have. However, we’ve made it work, and we’re aware that this issue will go away in a few years when the kids are old enough to be home alone. (We are also blessed with a safe house, health, and steady employment so I realize this is a problem of privilege.) I have finally gotten to the point where I don’t seethe anymore when people complain about the things that irritate them about the free childcare their family provides, and I just acknowledge that we all have our own problems in life.

The only issue that remains around all this is that my friends and even members of my family are increasingly insistent that both my husband and I attend events to which we’ve been invited. I’ve tried to gently say that we don’t have anyone to watch the kids, but they simply don’t understand that family care is not an option for us, and I don’t really feel like explaining to them that if we pay for a sitter to go to their event, we don’t get an evening out together this summer. Most of the events we are invited to as a couple have been casual (birthdays, housewarmings, etc.) and there are other people who are there without a partner, so it’s not like I am messing up the vibe. But these invitations come from some of the people I am closest to, and I don’t want to hurt their feelings by not bringing my husband. He is a fun and willing participant when we do things where kids are welcome!

I guess that, as much as I’ve tried to grow out of my jealousy of free and readily available child care, it’s still a sore spot for me. I have gone as far as I’m comfortable in saying we don’t have anyone to watch the kids, and my next step might be to break down in tears, which I don’t want to do either. I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad! Can you give me advice on what to say to friends or even just to myself to get through these conversations and the hurt feelings that result? While I’m ready to go and have a great time, I end up feeling resentful when I’ve been pushed on the subject of why I am there alone, when everybody else is with their husbands, and all of their kids are with their parents or in-laws.

—No Village

Dear No Village,

You may think you’ve reached the point where you’re not seething—and perhaps you’ve replaced seething with grouchiness—but you have not come to any sort of resolution or peace. I’m sorry you feel so resentful: Resentfulness is a poison; like envy and jealousy, nothing good can come from this feeling. I’m sorry too that there is a set of grandparents who live nearby who aren’t interested in babysitting, and with whom it seems your children don’t have much of a relationship. That stinks. But, as you note, this is their “right,” and more to the point, there is nothing to be done about it. Not every grandparent wants to be a grandparent.

I guess what I am most sorry about, though, is that you have trapped yourself not only into a continuous cycle of hurt and disappointment and anger and yes, jealousy, but also into a no-win situation. You cannot afford to (or do not want to) pay for a sitter so that both you and your husband can attend functions together, but you do not want to say this to those who ask, “Where’s your husband? We invited him!” because their question only reminds you that they have something you don’t and makes you sad. The way to handle people’s questions is with a cheerful, casual, “He’s home with the kids! Somebody has to be!” and a change of subject.

But that’s not your real question. Your real question is: How do I get over feeling so deprived? I’m afraid the only answer to this—which clearly won’t be easy for you—is to find a way to truly accept that you do not and will likely never have this thing you so dearly long for and envy other people for having. There are lots of things one wishes one had that one cannot have, often for reasons that make no sense to us (and sometimes for reasons we believe we understand, but that still don’t make us feel any better). But the fact that other people may have what we want is not a good reason to hang on to our unhappiness for dear life.