Care and Feeding

I’m a Brand-New Mom, and My Husband Is Already Siding With His Parents About Our Parenting

A woman breastfeeds her baby.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Thinkstock.

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,

We had our second baby about a month ago. I’m breastfeeding and it is going really well, except for one thing. If I’m feeding the baby and my in-laws are present (as they often are), my MIL will turn away and make sure she keeps her back to me until we’re done (and if she forgets for a second while talking to me and accidentally turns around, she stammers and sputters and whips her head back fast). My FIL gets visibly flustered as I set us up for nursing, then leaves the room until he checks with someone to make sure we’re done. I assure you, I’m being pretty modest—there’s really nothing to be seen—but even if I weren’t covering up, my feeling is that this is my home and it’s my right to feed my baby when, where, and how I want to.

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Recently my in-laws seem to have stepped things up: they must have talked to my husband directly about how uncomfortable this makes them, because he brought it up when we were alone. I told him what I’ve just told you, but my husband’s feeling is that if something makes his parents, as guests in our home, uncomfortable, we should respect that and accommodate them. He suggested that I go into another room when I feed the baby and they’re there. I said if my nursing our baby in their presence was that big an issue for them, they could choose to not be at the house when I’m doing it. We never came to an agreement about this, and a week later, as I got ready to feed the baby one evening when they had come over to dinner, my MIL asked when I was going to start pumping for this baby (as I had for our first). I said I had no plans to start pumping anytime in the near future, that I had pumped and bottle-fed our first baby for a year only because she couldn’t successfully breastfeed. My MIL’s response was that if I pumped (when they’re not present, obviously), I could then bottle-feed the baby when they were visiting. I told her that I would continue breastfeeding when and where I found it appropriate to do so and asked her to please not bring it up again. After dinner, I saw my in-laws talking to my husband in hushed voices before they left. And when they did, he repeated his mother’s suggestion! I let him know how much it hurt me that he wouldn’t back me up on this.

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I think everyone is surprised by me standing up for myself so strongly (even I am!), as I’m normally a people-pleaser, but I feel like this is a fight worth fighting. However, it has made the main person in my life upset with me—mostly, I think, because he’s now “caught” between his authoritarian parents, whom he’s used to pleasing, and me, whom I know he loves deeply and committedly. Is there a way I can “recruit” him to my side and see that standing up for me isn’t a matter of being disrespectful?

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—Just Feeding My Baby, Not Filming Girls Gone Wild

Dear JFMBNFGGW,

Let me say at the outset that I believe that nursing mothers should be able to feed their babies whenever and wherever necessary, both in and outside their homes. And also that your in-laws are making me mad. But might I note that they are coming over way too often? Particularly if they don’t like to see a mother breastfeeding her baby? You had this baby a month ago. Nobody with a month-old baby needs that much company. Why are they coming over for dinner when you have a newborn? Whose bad idea is this?

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And given that the baby is a month old and you are exclusively breastfeeding, it seems to me that your suggesting to your husband that his parents not come over when you’re nursing is tantamount to saying they should not come at all (I hasten to say that I don’t blame you, but let’s call a spade a spade)—unless they live around the corner and the plan would be that the very instant you are done with one feeding, you call and say Quick, come over right now! We don’t have much time! Which sounds bananas to me anyway.

You are engaged in a power struggle with your in-laws. Good for you for standing up to them, particularly if standing up for yourself has been difficult for you in the past. But this is a no-win situation if you don’t end this particular war right now. These people are never going to relax about your breastfeeding and accept that it’s a normal, healthy part of ordinary life that they have no reason to be grossed out by. They are never going to stop bugging you about it and making outrageous demands disguised as suggestions. They are never going to stop complaining to their son about it (about you). And your husband is not suddenly going to become a different sort of son and tell them to mind their own business, as I know you wish he would (I wish he would, too). But it’s time for you to make clear to him that his parents are far too involved in his and your life.

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They cannot continue to come over so often. The two of you need to set ground rules. Your husband needs to grow up. It’s quite possible, even likely, that you and your pulled-in-two-directions husband are going to have a fight about this. Don’t be afraid of that. Sometimes arguments between spouses are necessary. Just don’t waste your breath on battling the in-laws.

Slate Plus Members Get More Advice From Michelle Herman Each Week

From this week’s letter, My Husband Thinks I’m Crazy to Reject My Parents’ “Help” With Our New Baby: “Anything I accept beyond the smallest of gifts from them comes with too many strings attached.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I are both Jewish, although he was raised as a secular Jew and my family is observant. As adults, he has become more observant and I’ve become less so, but when we married we decided to raise our children to observe the Jewish faith more than he did growing up but less than I did. We keep a kosher home, observe Shabbat and the high holidays, and are active in our Jewish community.

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I am currently pregnant with our first child, and we are planning on observing many Jewish customs surrounding the pregnancy and birth, but we have recently disagreed on a topic I never thought would be an issue: circumcision. My husband is against it, and I, of course, am for it. Let me preface this by saying my husband is circumcised, and even though his family is not observant, his parents—like many secular Jews—still had both a bris and a bar mitzvah for him, so I do not understand the stance he’s taken. He has been quite vocal about his reasoning (research showing there’s no medical reason for it, unnecessary pain to the baby, etc.) but I cannot accept it. Circumcision is a Jewish covenant! It is an important part of our son becoming part of our community! I am beside myself about this. My husband has researched and provided me with accounts of Jewish families who didn’t circumcise and ways we can have a naming ceremony for a baby boy without a ritual circumcision being part of it, but I cannot wrap my head around having a son who is uncircumcised. I am even too embarrassed to talk about this with my parents. I’ve tried to get my husband to see how important this is to me, but he will not be swayed. He says that he wishes he had been given a choice, and that if our sons want to be circumcised someday, he will support them, but he doesn’t want to alter their bodies without their consent. He says he doesn’t believe our children will be less Jewish if they are intact.

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I know this should be a two yes/one no situation, and if it was just a medical procedure, I would agree, but this isn’t just a medical procedure—it’s part of our faith! We do not know if this child is a boy or girl, but now that I know where he stands, I am seriously thinking we should adopt any subsequent children to make sure that either they are girls or, if they are boys, that they are already circumcised. Am I being totally irrational? How can I talk to my husband about why this is so important to me in a way he will understand? Our rabbi has talked to him, but he is unmovable.

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—Not Just a Medical Procedure

Dear NJaMP,

I think your husband understands perfectly well where you’re coming from. He disagrees strongly. The two of you are at an impasse.

I’m sorry this was not something the two you discussed before your marriage (and I am not going to take up the subject of adoption as a “solution” to this problem in the future, except to say that this is a terrible idea). One of you is going to “win” this fight and one will lose—or your marriage will come to an end (and even then, only one of you will get your way). You won’t want to hear this, I know, but I’m with your husband on this, even though I sympathize with your feelings about it (I’m Jewish too). If I were you, I’d start working on coming around to his way of thinking, taking seriously both his objections and the research he’s done. Your male children will not be the only Jewish boys of their generation to be uncircumcised—and your husband is right: they can have it done later if they choose to. I know it will be difficult for you (and I’m sure it will outrage your parents—which is part of the difficulty for you, I imagine?), but I believe wholeheartedly it’s worth the effort it will take.

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Catch Up on Care and Feeding

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

My ex-husband and I have shared custody of our kids, who are 8 and 6. When my son was 3 and my daughter was 1, I discovered that he had been cheating on me with different women for almost the entirety of our married life, and we divorced. He is a genuinely good father. The kids love him and they love spending time at his house. He’s a fun dad but he also actually parents them. He has rules and expectations that he upholds in his house, the kids have chores, he cooks and cleans, and he takes them to their dentist/pediatrician, etc. for checkups (all of which sound like the bare minimum, but I know a few people with exes who can’t manage those fundamental parenting tasks). He and I talk about the kids and make parenting decisions together, but other than that we don’t really have a relationship. (I don’t know if that’s normal or not. My divorced friends are either best friends with their exes, communicate hostilely, or don’t communicate with them at all.) Recently, my eldest has been asking why we divorced in the first place. Should I tell my kids about why we divorced, and if so, what should I say? I don’t want to tarnish their relationship with their father, but I also don’t want to lie to them.

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—The Ex-Wife

Dear Ex,

I don’t advocate lying to children, ever, about anything (which drives people mad, I know!), but “don’t lie to your kids” doesn’t mean telling them every single thing about your life anytime they ask you. It’s appropriate to keep information from them when they are too young to process it. The appropriate response to an 8-year-old who asks why you and his dad are divorced is, “We decided to divorce for complicated adult reasons, and if you’re still curious about those reasons when you’re older, I’ll consider talking to you about them then.” End of discussion. Repeat as necessary. You’ll know when it’s time—if indeed you ever feel it’s time (and you may not; you may, as years go by, decide you want to continue to keep this information private, and then you can tell them that when they are older—it will be your choice)—to tell them. Their dad may come clean before that, if they ask him. But that will be his decision to make.

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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,

About 15 years ago, I ended my first relationship. He was a narcissist (I know that term is used trendily now, but he really was one). We were together for five years, during which he was emotionally, sexually, and mentally abusive. He cheated on me constantly, and it finally ended when I had the courage to leave after his last affair. It was not a clean break, however, as afterward the last person he cheated with sent me all the messages they’d written to each other while we were still together. She stalked me online and had her friends also stalk me. It was devastating. I engaged with her only to ask why she was doing this and to request that she leave me alone, but I regret ever engaging with her at all when I should have just walked away. Later I heard they had a child together.

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Fast forward to now. I’m married to the most amazing person I’ve ever known. It took me years to recover from my ex-boyfriend’s abuse, but I’m in a good place today. My husband and I have built an awesome life together, which includes full custody of his equally amazing daughter. We recently moved to a great neighborhood and our kid has started eighth grade. She is popular and our house is unofficially starting to become a regular gathering place for her and her friends, as well as some of their parents. I love that they all feel so welcome in our house; I enjoy arranging and hosting get-togethers. But recently this happened: our daughter has started using social media, with supervision from both of us, and I noticed that one of her “friends” (a social media contact, anyway, if not a real-life friend) has the same last name as my ex, and the awful woman he was with has his name too (thanks, social media). Turns out, this girl is their child!

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She isn’t in my daughter’s social circle at school, but they have mutual friends and I think it may be inevitable that I will cross paths with her mother (she and my ex don’t seem to be together anymore) or possibly my ex. I’m not sure how to handle this. No one but my husband knows the abuse I suffered since I was very isolated and cut off from my friends and family at the time, so I went through everything largely alone. It would feel strange to bring it all to light so many years later. My instinct is to not engage with this person—she really was horrible to me at one of the worst times of my life. But would it be weird to avoid her or my ex (if he shows up) at a school function or if it emerges that we have mutual parent friends? I would hate to exclude their daughter from gatherings if my daughter does become friends with her (who her parents are isn’t her fault) but I wouldn’t want to see her parents, and I wouldn’t want my daughter to go to this woman’s house.

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My husband has offered to be the “point person” if we need to interact with them; he also supports me if I’d rather we have nothing to do with them (that is what he wants, I should add, since he is angry about what went down all those years ago and doesn’t want our daughter around those people). But how would I even do that? Do we proactively forbid her to be friends with this girl? Do we tell her why? Am I making too big a deal of this? I could really use some perspective here.

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—At a Loss

Dear AaL,

I’m sorry that this miserable period of your life (and the people who made it so miserable) has reared its ugly head. But don’t let it derail you. You feel what you feel; there’s no such thing as “making too big deal” of your feelings—but that doesn’t mean you have to act on them. I would not forbid your daughter to befriend your ex’s daughter. She is old enough so that you don’t have to socialize with the parents of her friends unless you choose to. If she does indeed become friends with your ex-boyfriend and your ex-stalker’s child, you can decide then how to handle it (I’d cross that bridge only when and if you come to it, as it’s quite possible you won’t; if you do, and you feel strongly that you don’t want your child visiting this woman’s house, you’ll figure something out).

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If you end up in the company of the child’s mother at school or elsewhere, engage with her only to the minimal extent that’s absolutely necessary (a nod will do). But do not turn and run, or hide behind your husband. I know it would be painful to have this chapter in your life pop up again, but reacting to this woman’s presence on the periphery of your life will make things harder for you (and harder for your daughter) in the long run. We all have to face things and people we would rather not. We all have to find ways to handle it, no matter how it makes us feel. And very often “faking it until you make it” helps. If you behave coolly toward this woman every time you run into her, you may eventually become more chill about it.

If your ex—the noncustodial parent, I gather—turns up at school, however, or anywhere else you happen to be, you most assuredly do not have to be polite. Do whatever you need to do to protect yourself.

I wish you strength and courage and good luck.

—Michelle

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