Care and Feeding

My Husband Is Blind to the Severe Imbalance in Our Marriage

A very tired woman holds her infant.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by 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,

I’m in the thick of things as a stay-at-home mom to an infant and toddler and struggling with the imbalance of parenthood. I find it especially difficult when I’m chronically sleep deprived. My husband does help a lot, especially with our toddler, but reluctantly will help with the infant during the early morning hours and makes comments about how he didn’t get a good night’s sleep the night before and can’t always do this (LIKE I EVER GET A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP??). He tells me he understands my challenges, but then he insinuates that that’s what being a mother is, and I just have to deal with it. He is frustrated because I keep rejecting his offer to hire help, which actually isn’t even realistic given our limited needs and where we live. We both think the other is lacking self-awareness in the situation. How can I get him to have more empathy for what I am experiencing, to realize that the 24/7 schedule of parenting should not fall on my shoulders alone, and that it shouldn’t be viewed as him doing me a favor when he helps out with the less desirable hours/parts of parenting?

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— Drowning Over Here

Dear Drowning,

It sounds like you both need a good long talk, open and completely honest, to get on the same page about what you expect in your relationship. Raising two kids is really hard, and it can feel so isolating when you think that you’re the one shouldering a vast majority of the workload. I don’t know how to give your husband more empathy, but maybe it would help to explain that he works at his job from 9-5, and during that time your job is the kids, but that after work the care of your children is on both of you. If you worked outside the home, that’s how it would be. It shouldn’t be any different that your full-time job is taking care of the children.

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Given that, one thing you two might want to try is to work out a two-part list. The first part is tasks around the house. What are the things that you both agree is reasonable for him to take on? Can he be in charge of laundry? Clean bottles? Make dinner a few nights a week? What could he take off your shoulders on a consistent basis that would help out? The second part is a nighttime schedule. Pick a few days a week where he is in charge during the early morning hours. Make it consistent so you both know ahead of time what mornings you can expect to have the early shift, and then the night before, make sure the one who has to get up early gets a break. Maybe the one on early shift doesn’t do bath or put down and is able to go to sleep early. But balance out the workload between the “late shift” and the “early shift.”  Hopefully with some better communication, and some delineation of housework and after work hours childcare, you’ll be in better sync. And if you can’t seem to get through to each other about your needs, there’s nothing wrong with trying couple’s therapy.

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Catch Up on Care and Feeding

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

I work in stupidly competitive field that does not pay great. Recently, I got the best job offer I have ever received. (Still not great pay, but it has potential for growth.) It is very tempting, but the problem is its location. Right now, we’re within a day’s drive to family. This would make us two days out, and I know that this move most likely would mean that our family visits would go from 4 times a year to one. Because of the distance, pay, and the logistics of this crazy housing market, I’m leaning towards “no.” I lost two close family members in the last 3 years, and as I explained to my husband, I now recognize the time our young kids have with his parents and my dad is really fleeting. My husband thinks I should take the job. We moved to our current location for his work with intent that it would be a short stay. It’s been 12 years. He feels guilty, because his career has kept us here and employment for me has lots of obstacles. I’ve been underemployed for years and was forced to quit because of childcare issues last year. He’s also burned out. His job is high stress and he’s been dealing with both physical and mental health issues. He is finally getting treatment and things have been improving slightly in the last couple of months. I don’t know what to do. What I crave the most right now is stability and family. I don’t always love the community we’re in, but we have some friends and a house here. Moving, renting our house out, apartment hunting, and dealing with two kids who are adjusting to a move while my husband wraps up his job for a few months feels overwhelming. Even though this job sounds awesome, I’m just not sure if it’s worth the cost. Is there any insight you can give?

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— Do I Stay or Do I Go Now

Dear Do I Stay,

Where do you want to be in two years? What about five years? When struggling with a big change that has the potential for a lot of up-front strife, I try to think in terms of what happens next. Yes, moving is a gigantic pain. Getting settled in a new community is hard. But, would you be happier there in one or two years than you are in your current situation? At some point, if you move, the overwhelming part of moving will pass, so the question is: Is the new life past that point better than what you have now?

I completely understand wanting to be close to family, but are there ways to see family more than once a year? Can you alternate with them? One trip to their place and one trip to yours? What about meeting somewhere in the middle and spending a week together in an Airbnb? And, while it’s by no means the same, there’s always Skype and FaceTime.

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Here’s the thing. If you love the job, your family is on board, and you don’t see other options that are as good but in your area, the big question you have to ask yourself is how much does it matter to you and your family that you love your job?

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Submit your questions about parenting and family life here. It’s anonymous! (Questions may be edited for publication.)

Dear Care and Feeding,

After several miscarriages, my husband and I have been feeling called down another path—adopting a child who’s in foster care. We have recently started this process, and most people who we have told have been incredibly supportive. However, we have encountered a few people who have made comments such as, “Maybe you’ll finally have a baby after this!” (which angers me beyond belief because our goal in this is not to be “rewarded” with a biological child), and some people like to give unsolicited advice or discouraging comments about how hard/heartbreaking the process can be. I know that this route won’t be easy, and I’m not living in denial of that, but it also feels super discouraging to hear comments like this, and I don’t want their advice if they don’t know anything about this process themselves. I guess I just feel the need to surround myself with supportive people as we go through this process. Would I be wrong to shut down comments that are anything but supportive? And if so, how do I shut them down?

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—    Mind Your Business

Dear MYB,

As someone who has, and continues to be, living the infertility life, I want you to know, above all else, do what is going to keep you feeling your best, other people’s ideas be damned. If you don’t want to hear their negativity, I give you all the permission in the world to cut them off and tell them to stop or to walk away. You don’t have to, nor should you, listen to what anyone has to say about your journey to complete your family. Period.

That being said, as someone who doesn’t like confrontation, I know that this is all easier said than done. So, a couple things. First, you might consider not telling certain people, or not talking about it with people who have a history of saying dumb things about your life. (Like the people that love to tell you about the woman their friend knows who spent seven years trying but then when she “stopped trying” she just magically got pregnant.) They don’t need to be let into your life or know the details of what you’re doing.

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The other thing you can do is if the subject comes up, and someone starts to say something insensitive (I’d love to have words with the “Maybe you’ll finally have a baby” person!), gently interrupt them, maybe even hold up your hand, and tell them that you aren’t looking for advice right now. And if they keep persisting, or try to act like you’re being unreasonable, walk away. Everything you’ve been through and are going through is hard enough on its own. You don’t need people like that in your life and you owe them exactly zero seconds of your time.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have different views on putting our almost 3-year-old to bed. Bedtime routine starts at 6:30 p.m. (bath, pajamas, brush teeth, brush hair) and by 7:30 we take her to her room to cuddle, read a few books, and turn off the light. That’s where we differ on things. I want to read her a couple books, say prayers, and turn off the light, and leave the room. We put her to bed awake when she was in a crib, but since transitioning to a junior bed we’ve been staying in her room in her tiny bed until she falls asleep which is usually around 9:00 p.m. This is too long for me. We have an infant and both work full-time, and I want to have a couple of hours to myself before we go to bed at 10. Plus, it’s very uncomfortable. If we leave the room before she’s asleep she screams. I don’t want to traumatize her, and I want to let my husband get cuddles which he enjoys, but when it’s my turn to put her to bed I don’t want to be stuck in there for an hour and a half. I love spending time with her, but by 8:30 my patience is shot and I end up losing my cool when she’s not calming down and going to sleep. Then I feel bad for being impatient. I don’t want my husband to have to put her to bed every night because there will be times (when he’s traveling for work) that I will need to put her to sleep. We’ve started giving her melatonin occasionally when she’s extra wired but don’t want to do that often. Will I traumatize my 3-year-old by letting her cry it out until she learns to sleep by herself?

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— Sleep Struggles

Dear SS,

The best thing you can do for a child (and your sanity), I’ve found, when it comes to sleeping is to be consistent. Every. Single. Night. Yes, there will be times when you’re on vacation or the kid is staying with a relative where the routine will be different, and that’s ok! But what you want to do is always keep things as close to the same every night as possible. Which means you and your husband need to work out a routine that works for all three of you and stick with it. From the number of books you read, to the number of songs you sing, and how long you stay in and cuddle. The closer you can get to being the same, the easier it will be for your kid to adjust and for everyone to have a good night.

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By way of example, my partner and I head upstairs with our two-year-old after dinner and play in her room until about 6:30. Then it’s bath time (we alternate who does bath), jammies and further messing around until 7:00. At 7:00 one of us says good night and the other is the Put Down Parent (we alternate depending on who did her afternoon nap). At 7:00, she picks out one book, the Put Down Parent reads her the book, then puts the book away, turns out the lights, turns on the nightlight, and tucks her in. She gets a sleepy song (we each do a different song, which is really the only way it varies) and then gets hugs and kisses and goodnight. Lately she has insisted on closing the door. All of this is exactly the same as her nap routine because, again, consistency is key.

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Whatever your routine is, there is going to be an adjustment period for everyone. And while it’s really hard to listen to them cry and be upset, you don’t have to let it go on for hours and hours to get results. If our kid is having a hard time, we give her a couple minutes to see if she settles down on her own, and if not, one of us will go in for a quick comfort and another goodnight—two minutes tops. Repeat as needed, but keep extending how long before you go in.

We’ve had the benefit of always putting our daughter to sleep while she was awake, and having some flavor of the same routine since she was around two months old.  Because your kid is older, it would probably help a lot to talk with her about the routine before implementing it. Let her know throughout the day, for example, that you’re just going to do one book and ask her what book she thinks she’ll like to read. If you really want those cuddles at the end, you could also set a timer for, say five minutes, and let her know, “I love cuddling with you, but everyone needs to get some sleep. So when the timer goes off we say goodnight.”

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Whatever your routine looks like, just make sure it’s the same for her no matter who gets that last kiss goodnight.

—Cheyna

For More Parenting Coverage, Listen to Mom and Dad Are Fighting

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I have bipolar I disorder, aka manic depressive illness. Compound that with perimenopause, and it can be rough on my husband and son. I’ve responded by not only doing all the medical things one should do, but also by explaining what’s going on to my 9-year-old son. I apologize for my snappiness, anxiety, and rage when they come through. Some people think I shouldn’t be this honest. Am I doing something wrong?

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