Care and Feeding

My Wife Is Getting Way Too Lax With Her Parenting

Two kids watching TV.
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 a work-from-home dad, and my wife is a stay-at-home mom to our 3- and 7-year-old kids. I’m working 40 hours a week from 8 until 4 from the office next to the living room, and during that time my wife is in charge of the kids (though I help when I’m free). With our schedules, I’m “out the door” just after getting the kids breakfast, and I take over most kid duty from when I get off until bedtime at 8 p.m.

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Since I am home, though, I’ve noticed over the last four or five months that the kids have been spending an increasing amount of time alone in front of the TV. When I first started working from home, my wife was setting the kids up with the TV long enough for her to get ready in the morning (30 minutes) and to get dinner going (another 30 minutes). But over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed that this TV time has ballooned to 90 minutes in the morning, another 60 minutes in the afternoon, and then another 60 minutes before dinner.

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I totally understand that if she needs a break and I’m not free to help, TV is really her only option. But in addition to the kids spending 3+ hours in front of the TV every day, the kids have started coming to me because mom is “busy.” They’re interrupting meetings, they’re screaming at me for help from the bathroom, and they’re making huge messes (I spent over an hour scrubbing the marker off our couch just last week).

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I do try to take the kids during my breaks and lunch, but I can’t keep dropping out of meetings to help the kids, only to find she’s reading a book or surfing her phone from the other room.

How do I talk to my wife about this without coming across as unhelpful and inconsiderate?

—Struggling From Home

Dear Struggling,

It seems like your wife is completely fried from a childcare perspective, and her disengagement with the kids could be viewed as a not-so-subtle cry for help. You definitely need to have a heart-to-heart with her about the most pressing issues.

To me, having your kids watch 3+ hours of television a day is not the most pressing issue. If so, I think alarms would be blaring in the majority of households across America. I mean, would it be nice if we all had kids who read quietly or worked on puzzles without ever looking at a screen? Sure, but that’s not a reality for many parents who desperately need a break from their children. What is concerning, though, is the kids interrupting your work, which is the primary source of income for your family.

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How you address this could make or break everything, so you need to come from a place of service instead of a place of judgment. You can say something along the lines of, “I’ve noticed that the kids are interrupting my meetings often, and it’s putting a strain on my work. I know being with the kids all day is no joke and I’m dedicated to doing whatever I can in my power to lessen the load for you. I know I can’t be as hands-on as I would like to be during working hours, but please let me know how I can better support you and the kids.” A compassionate message like that could go a long way to letting her know that you have her back throughout all of this.

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So what does “support” look like? You could hire a babysitter to swing by a few hours a week to give your wife a much-needed break. You could devote all of your lunch breaks to hang out with the kids. You could simply tell your wife how much you appreciate the work she does. Based on conversations I have with my mom friends, appreciation doesn’t come as often as they would like.

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Last, but not least — please keep an eye out for signs of depression from your wife. Disengagement is a potential red flag, and you may consider heading to counseling together to get to the bottom of it.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My soon-to-be 6-year-old son “John” has been good friends with two other boys, “Greg” and “Mark” since preschool. We’ve had many playdates over the years. Mark has increasingly become a problem. His parents spoil him, and do little to correct bad behavior. A few months ago, my son and Mark attended the birthday party of another kid from their class. When it came time to sing Happy Birthday, Mark pitched an all-out fit because he wanted to blow out the candles, upsetting the birthday girl. There were other smaller moments too, like screaming to his mom that there were no green bottles of bubbles left. Then, Greg’s birthday party was a couple of weeks ago. Mark had a meltdown because he wanted to hit the piñata first, and because he wanted to open one of the toys Greg got as a present.

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John’s birthday is coming up … and I’m dreading Mark being there. I can tolerate the play dates, because generally my son still enjoys Mark, and I also have no qualms about correcting Mark’s behavior if need be. But, I don’t want him ruining John’s party, especially because for the last two years, the parties were very small and tame. But I would also feel terrible excluding a child. So, how do I handle this?

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—Who Invited THAT Kid?

Dear Who Invited,

I don’t know if it’s the pandemic or not, but my tolerance for nonsense is at an all-time low nowadays. Because of that, my knee-jerk reaction would be to not invite Mark to the party at all to ensure John has the best birthday possible. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, and if Mark was acting out as recently as two weeks ago, there’s a high likelihood it will happen at John’s party.

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However, my second (and less selfish) thought is around John because it is his birthday party, after all. If Mark truly is a good friend of his, then I think he should be there. Unless, of course, John mentioned how troubled he is by Mark’s behavior—then all bets are off.

If you invite him, you could set ground rules for acceptable behavior that are sent to the parents beforehand and are posted in multiple places throughout the party. Then if someone misbehaves, you’ll need to have a plan to address the issue immediately without causing too much drama. You can do that by pulling the kid and/or parents aside to show them the ground rules that you have posted, and hope that will be the end of it. If the unwanted behavior continues, then you may have to deal with the uncomfortable conversation of asking Mark and his family to leave. Again, hopefully it won’t come to that, but you need to be prepared in case it does.

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Also, some perspective is needed here. We’re talking about a 6-year-old’s birthday party — a party that he probably won’t even remember two months from now. Will their friendship end if you decide not to invite Mark at all? Probably not. Will John’s childhood be ruined if Mark rips open John’s presents and blows out his candles? Doubtful.

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You will survive this. No matter what you decide, be sure to put John’s needs and desires before your own.

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 need a gut check on a fairly minor issue: When my family is traveling, or we’re somewhere where we might need to tip someone (e.g. a person who’s handling our luggage, a shuttle driver, etc.), my husband often hands the cash to our 7-year-old so he can do the “tipping.” My husband is a generous tipper, and I know he wants to instill this value in our kid. And our kid finds it fun. However, something about it rubs me a little weird, as I can’t help feeling like a child tipping an adult feels condescending in some way. Also we are a white family, and often we’re tipping a person of color, and I find the image of a little white kid handing a grown person of color some cash… not great? But am I overthinking a perfectly nice thing?

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—Leave the Tipping to The Adults?

Dear Leave The Tipping,

Some may argue that I’m splitting hairs, but I think it’s reasonable for kids to tip adults if they’re the only ones receiving a service. My daughters are 11 and 9, and there are times when I take them to the local nail salon for a mani-pedi day, while I observe from a distance. When everything is complete, occasionally my daughters will hand over a cash tip to the people who served them, which helps to teach them about the importance of being a good customer. More often than not, though, I handle the tipping to ensure there are no weird vibes being sent.

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Regarding luggage handlers, shuttle drivers, and restaurant servers, I believe it’s best to leave the tipping to the adults, because the kids aren’t the only ones receiving the service. Yes, there’s also a micro-aggression component to kids tipping adults that should be addressed — and it’s definitely an issue when white kids tip adults of color. Whether it’s intended or not, many Black people I know in the service industry feel as if it says, “My 7-year-old is giving you money to pay your rent.” It just feels gross.

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As adults, I believe the best thing we can do for our kids regarding this is to model the proper behavior. We don’t think our kiddos are paying attention to us, but they are constantly watching everything we do and learning from us. In doing so, it’s important for kids to understand why tipping is important in the first place—and they don’t have to be the ones handing over the cash to learn the lesson.

More often than not, adults should handle the tipping on their own.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My mother-in-law has had Covid six times since 2020. Yes, you read that correctly. She’s vaccinated and boosted, but she’s far from careful. She never wears masks, goes to crowded casinos to gamble on a nightly basis, and often downplays the severity of Covid by calling it “the sniffles.” My husband and I wanted to go on a quick weekend trip for our 5-year wedding anniversary, and my MIL said she would watch our 10-month-old son while we’re gone. This gives me heartburn. My husband thinks we should take her up on the free childcare, but this is a woman who went on a first date with a man last year without telling him she was Covid positive. I simply don’t trust her judgment. How should I handle this?

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—Vaxxed but Lax in Vegas

Dear Vaxxed,

I’m willing to overlook the wild fact that she’s had Covid six times in the past two years. Heck, I don’t think I’ve had the flu six times in my entire life. However, there’s no way I’d allow my child to be around someone who thinks it’s OK to go on a date with someone while knowingly being Covid-positive. That’s just straight up reckless and your husband should know that.

You should firmly remind him that we’re talking about a vulnerable baby in the sole care of someone who at best makes some questionable decisions. At the very least, you should insist that your mom gets tested for Covid if you decide to leave your son with her, but let’s keep it real—how much fun would you have on that trip knowing that he’s in her care? You would be a constant ball of nerves thinking about your son’s well-being instead of enjoying yourself.

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I suggest finding a trustworthy friend or family member to watch your son instead, or pay a professional to do it. Other options would include taking your baby with you (it’s not ideal, I know) or have a date night instead of date weekend where someone would only be responsible for your son for a few hours.

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Your mother-in-law should be your last option, not your first.

—Doyin

More Advice From Slate

My daughter’s teacher recently told me that my daughter is a great student, eager to learn, and very fun to have in class. But he also mentioned that he often asks her to partner with difficult students in class. When I asked my daughter about this, she said that these difficult students are often boys that don’t pay attention and don’t really want to be in the class. It seems wrong to saddle her with this. What should I do?

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