Dear Care and Feeding,
I became a mom to a beautiful baby girl in February 2021, and since then I don’t think I’ve had one moment to myself. I’m a stay-at-home mom and my husband is an amazing provider, but he’s not the greatest dad. I constantly ask him to help out with diaper changes, baths, and story time, but he always responds by saying that it’s unfair to work long hours at his job and then come back to do more work with our daughter.
Now that you have some background, my question is about Mother’s Day. My sister lives two hours away and wants me to visit her city and have a spa day. My husband said he refused to watch our daughter for the reasons I mentioned earlier, but I still want to go because I haven’t taken one day off since she was born, including my first Mother’s Day. Should I insist that he help me? One of my childless girlfriends said she would watch my daughter, but I feel uneasy putting this on her plate. Any ideas?
—No Days Off
Dear No Days Off,
As a dad, it absolutely infuriates me that these dudes exist. I’m not saying his job isn’t stressful, but does he believe that your job as a stay-at-home parent is a walk in the park? As I’ve mentioned before, I used to be a stay-at-home dad for a couple of years, and that was way more difficult than any corporate job I’ve ever had. Guys like your husband like to talk tough, but if you switched places with him for a week, he would be curled up in the fetal position in a corner before lunchtime on Monday.
I know your question isn’t about him, but you need to question the validity of your marriage if he refuses to let you indulge in some much-needed self-care. Why is it OK for him to put his feet up and watch television when he gets home from work, but you have to be “on” 24/7/365? It’s disrespectful and it isn’t sustainable.
Also, I want you to remove the word “help” from your vocabulary in terms of childcare. You don’t want your husband to help you—you want him to do his part as a parent. When he comes home from the office, the parenting tasks should be divided equally and you should be unapologetic about that. Also, isn’t he remotely interested in building a bond with his child? If so, it doesn’t come solely by delivering a paycheck every two weeks. Remind him of that.
In terms of Mother’s Day: you should absolutely go on that trip with your sister. Start by telling your husband the following, “I haven’t taken one day off for myself since I’ve been a mom, and I’m going to go away for the weekend with my sister. It’s ridiculous that I have to ask my husband to step up and be a dad and support his wife emotionally on Mother’s Day weekend, but here we are. If you’re unwilling to do that, then I’ll ask my friend Suzy to watch her while I’m gone.”
Maybe he’ll fall in line once he realizes that you’re willing to place your baby in the care of someone outside of your family due to his selfishness. If not, then you need to trust that your friend will take good care of your daughter so you can recharge your depleted batteries.
If this behavior continues, then I think you have some serious decisions to make in terms of your future. The last thing you want is your daughter to have a male role model who acts as if we’re in the 1950s.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My best friend, who lives in another state, had her first child 3 months ago and mine just turned 2 years old. She is an incredibly anxious person, and I feel motherhood has amplified those anxieties for her. Because I had my baby at the start of the pandemic, I drew a lot of support from my mom friends over WhatsApp. When my friend got pregnant, I offered similar support especially since I’m so far away.
She tells me that my messages and answering her questions is really helpful and calms her. Her pregnancy has highlighted to me that our approaches to the world are very different even if we fundamentally have the same values. For instance, I recommended Emily Oster’s excellent books, which I found so helpful as I navigate choices by assessing their risk level. My friend found them more stress-inducing because they did not offer definitive advice to follow. She agonized over stopping breastfeeding, because I breastfed my daughter until she was close to 2. We’re finally getting a chance to visit one another. I want to know how best to support her to trust herself in making decisions because I know too well that what might work for one kid or parent doesn’t work for another. She says her doctor isn’t concerned about postpartum depression, but I’m worried about her.
—Why Can’t Kids Come With a Manual?
I’m wondering if your friend has any support (emotional or otherwise) from a partner? Perhaps she had her baby solo, but if she does have a partner, she certainly isn’t receiving the type of support she needs. Speaking from a dad’s perspective, I saw firsthand how overwhelming new motherhood was for my wife, and I did everything in my power to make life easier for her. Granted, there were instances that I made a misstep, but my heart was always in the right place. The power of having unconditional support and love from another adult in the same household is immense, and if you feel up to it, you should remind her spouse of that responsibility.
If a partner isn’t in the picture, then I would suggest having her look into new mom support groups—either online or in-person. I was a stay-at-home dad for a couple of years, and back then there were plenty of options for new fathers that included weekly meetups, venting sessions, and places to get solid parenting advice. I would like to believe that even more options are available for new moms nowadays, which would take some of the pressure off of you.
Last but certainly not least, I think there’s a possibility that she’s suffering from a form of heightened anxiety and/or depression. Just because her doctor is choosing to ignore it doesn’t mean that she should ignore it too. I would highly suggest that she takes the time to meet with a therapist to help her to unpack her anxiety. I’m sure people will offer unsympathetic advice like how she should trust her gut and do what comes naturally as a mom, but as a man who suffers from depression, that would be as tone-deaf as someone telling me that I should just be happy when I’m dealing with a depressive episode. The bottom line is she needs a professional to guide her, and neither of us are equipped to do that effectively.
Catch Up on Care and Feeding
Dear Care and Feeding,
I got divorced a year and a half ago after a very unhappy marriage. I get along really well with my ex now that we’re divorced, and we co-parent very well. Due to financial reasons, I was the one who left and got my own place. It is in a different school district than my kids attend. We decided that the kids would stay at their school since they only have a few years left, so they live with their dad during the week.
Here’s my problem: my father. My dad has been a difficult person to deal with my entire life. He spent my adolescence calling me hurtful, awful names whenever no one else was around, which led to years of insecurity and low self-esteem. He has kind of a Jekyll and Hyde personality, acting like a victim to his friends but a judgmental jerk to my brother and me. He has never put any effort into getting to know my kids and will only preach to them about academics and how they should be constantly studying. My kids don’t want to be around him because he is so egocentric and unpleasant.
He called my son recently to tell him that I “abandoned my kids,” and he can’t believe that I left. He badgered my son about things, asking, “Who makes you dinner? Well, she’s not home when you get home from school, is she?” I see my kids several times throughout the week, as I go over to their house all the time. I take them places, to appointments, out to do things and to my house.
I’m 50 years old, I’ve been mentally tortured by this man my entire life and I don’t want to deal with it anymore. I’m scared of what he might say to my kids, knowing how hurtful he was to me. Is it okay to finally cut him out of my life?
—In Need of Peace
Dear In Need,
I think you already know the answer to your question, but I’ll gladly add some reassurance while you’re here.
Everyone in our lives either brings energy into the rooms they enter or sucks energy out like a blood-sucking vampire. From what I’ve read here, it doesn’t seem as if your dad offers you anything positive.
That doesn’t mean you have to cut your dad off without explanation. The next time you see him or speak with him, you can clearly state that you refuse to take any more abuse, and that if it continues, you will cut off all contact with him. If he laughs it off, gaslights you, or ignores you, then you can cut all ties at that moment. Hopefully he’ll recognize the errors of his ways if it means the relationship with his grandchildren will be compromised, but one thing that many narcissists lack is self-awareness.
If you decide to cut him off, you can’t do it halfway. Truly cutting him off means blocking his number on all of your phones, not allowing him to visit during holidays and birthdays, and moving on. You should also share this with your ex-husband to ensure he’s onboard and doesn’t sabotage your efforts unknowingly. You also need to prepare your family for the chance that you may never speak to him again. Maybe that will be easy for you since he has tormented you all for years.
I know you can’t choose your family, but when you’re an adult, you can definitely choose if you want to interact with them. Being related by blood doesn’t mean you should tolerate toxicity in any form, and you should protect the mental health of your family at all costs.
Like I said earlier, maybe this extreme move will help your dad to see the light and change — but I wouldn’t count on it.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My wife and I recently became pregnant, a few months after my wife’s mother passed away. Mom battled chronic illness for two decades, and was beloved by aunts, uncles, and family friends.
Our pregnancy is a wonderful blessing that has brought great joy to many who are deeply grieving. We are so grateful for the support and love being poured out for us and our upcoming child. We feel that our dearly departed is with us on this journey, but certain family members have taken strongly to the belief that our child is her reincarnation. They have gone so far as to refer to our child by the departed’s name.
Again, we do feel that Mom is an important part of our lives even though she is no longer with us physically. What we want is for our child to be free to be their own person and not feel any pressure to fill the massive hole left by Mom.
How can we show those certain family members that we respect their beliefs, but that we prefer they not convey those beliefs to our child?
—Grieving and Grateful
First off, I’m sorry for your loss. Speaking as someone who lost a deeply-loved parent not too long ago, it’s an incredibly difficult process to navigate. Not to mention, dealing with this drama surrounding your unborn daughter is probably the last thing you want to have on your plate.
This doesn’t have to be difficult or awkward, but I’m always a fan of the direct approach to ensure there’s no room for your words to be lost in translation. You can tactfully say something along the lines of, “I know how much you love Mom, but our daughter is going to be her own person, and it makes me very uncomfortable when you tie Mom’s reincarnation with her. Since she is our daughter, we don’t want this kind of talk to continue anymore.”
Some of those family members will fall in line, but you will surely receive some pushback from others. Keep firmly reminding them that the reincarnation talk will not continue in your presence and if it does, then you will refuse to allow those family members around her. Sure, that’s harsh—but if you’re serious about not putting that kind of pressure on your daughter, then you need to do what you have to do.
To be clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with family members saying that your daughter reminds them of your mother-in-law, but to call her by her name and to say she is your mom is crossing the line. I know your entire family is grieving right now, but it’s best to nip this in the bud now before she’s born.