Care and Feeding

My Husband’s Reasons for Not Stepping Up at Home Totally Baffle Me

A man goes to work.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by PeopleImages/iStock/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 need help guiding my kids—8 and 6 as I go back to work. I love my kids deeply, which I feel like won’t come through in this letter. My career is hugely important to me, and I need an identity outside the house. Prior to the pandemic, my husband and I both worked and paid for childcare. My company folded in 2020 and my husband’s job was stable, someone had to manage virtual school etc., so I stayed home. After school went back in person, we couldn’t afford childcare, so I still stayed home.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

I felt like a caretaking robot, and the worst version of myself as a mother. I felt disconnected from my children, was diagnosed with depression, stopped eating, lost all interest in sex or hobbies and everything overall. My husband thrived during this time—two huge promotions at work, a great professional mentoring relationship. This year our kids are old enough not to need the expensive type of childcare, and I am back at work. I love my new job, I’m building new skills, feeling like a competent adult. I could not have imagined this in 2021.

But for the kids the transition is rocky—they complain I’m always at work, or that they hate after school care, or the different way our household runs. Since my husband’s job is nearer to school and has flexibility, he’s now the designated sick and classroom call person. He complains it dings his “professional image,” and is (intentionally?) bad at it which our kids pick up on and it forms a loop. I know I can’t swoop in because that will just reinforce it. How do I help my kids through this time? If my husband doesn’t get onboard, I am seriously considering divorce, which would mean even more transition for them, but I want them to know they’re safe and cared for even if they can’t have what they want.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

—Having It All

Dear Having It All,

For starters, I need to address the comment about it not seeming like you love your kids deeply because you want to work outside of the home. Maybe it’s me, but I don’t think any reasonable person would believe that. No mom should ever feel guilty about wanting a career. I know I’m speaking as a dad, but I can’t count the number of women I’ve come across who silently suffer as stay-at-home moms because they’ve submitted to what society or their inner circle expects of them.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Let me be clear that there’s nothing wrong with being a stay-at-home parent. Heck, I was a stay-at-home dad for almost three years. I’m just saying that not everyone is built for it, and in order to be the best versions of ourselves for our kids, we need to live lives that make our souls sing.

Advertisement

Before we get to how to help your kids, let’s address a couple of things. My heart breaks for you after reading about your decline in mental health, and I know this should go without saying, but hopefully you are seeking professional help to navigate through it.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Regarding your husband’s comment about his professional image being dinged: I’m rolling my eyes so hard that I can see through my rear end. I know plenty of highly respected and thriving executives who leave their offices early to pick up their kids from school. He should be reminded that in the modern world, we have a thing called the internet where a sizable portion of the workforce can complete their tasks without being tethered to their offices. There’s no reason why he can’t pick up his work later on in the evening. Not to mention, when is being a good parent who wants to be there for his kids viewed as a bad thing? I could go on for a while on that point alone, but my answer would require chapter and verse.

Advertisement
Advertisement

You certainly don’t need me to tell you how serious divorce is, but before you take that route, I’d suggest marriage counseling where you deliver a warm demand of what’s expected of your husband regarding childcare. If he refuses or continues to do a crappy job, then I wouldn’t fault you for taking steps that you deem to be appropriate.

Advertisement
Advertisement

This may sound trite, but no matter how annoyed the kids may seem at how things currently are, they will be fine. Kids are resilient and adaptable. However, the one big thing you can do to help them handle their emotions is to constantly remind them of how valued and loved they are. Put thoughtful notes in their lunchboxes so they know you’re thinking about them when you’re not around, allow them to vent and complain without judgment, let them have ice cream for dinner on some nights, be as present as humanly possible with them while you’re all at home together. The possibilities are endless, and there really isn’t a wrong way to do it.

Advertisement

Want Advice From Care and Feeding?

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a few friends with babies and young toddlers. I’m currently childless but plan to have kids in a couple years. One of the things that has struck me as I hear my friends’ baby stories is how often the whole family is sick. I’ve heard plenty of jokes about kids being little disease vectors over the years. But the sheer amount of illness they talk about is pretty alarming to me. I check in with these friends about once a month, and they’re almost always sick. Two families have a toddler and a baby under 1, all in daycare at least part time.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

In some ways, this seems silly to worry about when there have been much bigger illness issues to deal with (looking at you, COVID). But one of my friend’s babies was recently hospitalized due to yet another of these illnesses, so it’s not just annoying runny noses (she’s ok!).

Advertisement
Advertisement

Does every parent (and kid) just suffer through this? Is there any way to tamp down on such excessive illness, when babies and toddlers lick everything? I could see people who can afford a nanny over daycare might be spared the worst of it, but maybe they just get hammered when school starts.

I’m looking ahead at having my own kids and adding this to the list of reasons to kick the can farther down the road. This honestly sounds like an awful way to live for such a long period of time.

Advertisement

—Sniffles, Sneezes, and Snot

Dear Sniffles, Sneezes, and Snot,

Becoming a parent separates your life into “the before” and “the after.” I’ll spare you the graphic details, but trust me when I say that things you thought you could never tolerate before becoming a parent will seem like a walk in the park when a tiny human appears in your world.

Advertisement

Yes, young children with developing immune systems get sick more often, but that’s how their immune systems develop and mature. And this is a part of parenthood just as much as the thrill of your child’s first steps, the warmth of their arms around you, and the tears of joy when they hit you with an unsolicited “I love you.”

Advertisement

Parenthood comes with ups and downs, but humans would cease to exist if the cons outweighed the pros. If you think about it, the love a parent has for a child is really the only unconditional love that exists (no, you won’t change my mind on this). If parenthood is something you truly want to experience, it is an adventure like none other. And all of the sniffles, sneezes, and snot will be worth it in the end.

Catch Up on Care and Feeding

Advertisement

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m looking for the right words to talk with my 11-year-old daughter about her comfort level around my dad. My dad is socially awkward, moody, and has a weird, unpleasant energy, but doesn’t necessarily do or say things that cross a clear line. My dad and I aren’t close and my daughter has never been alone in his care, but he does visit for some holidays and occasions throughout the year. Since she was little, my daughter has always seemed a little shy and slightly uncomfortable around him. He does not make any real effort to connect with her, but does with my son, who shares some of his interests.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

During a visit yesterday, I realized my daughter doesn’t make eye contact with him and her body language seems notably different when he speaks to her than when she talks with anyone else in our family. I know I need to ask her about it, but I’m a bit stuck on finding the right words to bring it up. What’s the right language here? If I’m misreading things and she’s fine, I certainly don’t want her to feel like she needs to change her eye contact or body language when she asks why I’m asking about it. And if she is uncomfortable by his weird energy and personality, but there’s no abuse, should I cut ties with him? It would be hard to further reduce our interactions without a total cut off, since we already see each other so infrequently. I personally can’t stand the guy, but I don’t want to rob my kids of a relationship with their only living grandfather if they do want him around.

Advertisement
Advertisement

—Weird Dad Energy

Dear Weird Dad Energy,

Your last sentence spoke volumes. Whether it’s because of childhood trauma, personality issues, or something else, I’m going to trust that you have very good reasons for why you can’t stand your dad. If that’s the case, why would you have him in your life or your kids’ lives? It’s not like you see him all of the time, so what value does he add? You’re not robbing your kids of a relationship with the guy if he’s toxic. In fact, you’re protecting them.

Advertisement

Most importantly, if your gut is telling you that something is wrong regarding your daughter and your dad, it’s probably right. When you talk to her, pull her aside privately and be clear that you’re giving her a safe space to share her true feelings. You can say something along the lines of, “Honey, I’ve noticed a weird energy when you’re around grandpa and I want to make sure everything is OK. I’m not here to make any judgments, and I promise that anything you tell me will stay between us.”

Advertisement

In an effort to protect your feelings or to avoid an awkward conversation she may respond with, “Everything’s fine, mom”—but if you’re like me, you can easily tell when your children are lying. If that’s the case, you don’t have to call her out for not telling you the truth. Just calmly state that you’ll always be there for her to discuss anything that bothers her. Whether she comes around or not, you know that you should move forward with cutting your dad off indefinitely. As I’ve said many times before, some people are best loved from a distance.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

The last thing I would add is to monitor your daughter’s mental health. If you feel that she’s acting “off” even when your dad isn’t around, you may want to have her speak with a mental health professional to nip any potential issues in the bud.

Advertisement

Dear Care and Feeding,

A neighbor who happens to be in my book club is one of the millions of white people who were clearly disgusted by Disney rebooting The Little Mermaid to feature a Black Ariel. I’m not friends with this woman at all, but we often cross paths in the neighborhood since we usually walk our dogs at the same time. Yesterday I was walking our dog with my 14-year-old daughter and we crossed paths with this woman in front of a Black family’s house that has a large inflatable Black Santa Claus in their front yard. The woman said, “I love this Santa! Isn’t he adorable?!” After we went our separate ways, my daughter expressed her confusion at why this woman was so angry about one Black fictional character, but was OK with another Black fictional character. I doubt that she changed her ways because she still makes throwaway comments that could be deemed as racist in our book club. How can I explain this to my teenager?

Advertisement
Advertisement

—Confused White Mom and Daughter

Dear Confused White Mom,

I obviously don’t know your neighbor at all, but I can offer my best guess based on past experiences with people just like her.

Do you know what every racist person has in common? They’re afraid of something. Maybe they’re afraid of being treated as poorly as people of color are in America. Maybe they’re afraid of the fact that the population of people of color is increasing at exponential rates. Maybe they’re afraid of white people losing their grip on power in this country. Don’t let their tough talk fool you—every single one of them is scared to death at their core.

Advertisement

On the surface, your white neighbor doesn’t view an inflatable Black Santa Claus as a threat to white supremacy, because it’s an isolated thing that few people will see. When a huge company like Disney invests millions of dollars to remake a classic film with a Black lead that millions of people will watch, however, she’ll lose her mind because she views it as a threat to white people being in charge. She knows that if that movie makes a ton of money (and it will), it will open the door for more movies just like it. In other words, all it will take is a big budget remake of A Christmas Story with an all-Black cast to see your neighbor get riled up about a Black Santa.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

How to explain this to your daughter? Inspire her to be just as loud in her beliefs for an equitable world for everyone as racists are in their beliefs for the opposite. As a Black man, it’s incredibly inspiring when I see white people who are unapologetic and vocal about their anti-racism stances. Find a way to do that today and every day.

—Doyin

More Advice From Slate

My son “Michael” is 15 and may or may not be exploring his gender and sexual identity; the majority of his friends are LGBTQ+ but he has not yet self-identified as anything other than straight and male. He has a “best friend” who is a straight girl, and I am beginning to suspect she may be wanting something more from this relationship and that he may be cluelessly or unintentionally leading her on. What should I do?

Advertisement