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,
My husband and I are parents to a 6-month-old. Like all the other babies in daycare she gets sick a lot—colds, ear infections, eye infections, etc. And whenever she gets sick, I always catch it too. My husband, as of yet, has never gotten any of these things. Maybe it’s because I nurse so I have closer contact? Maybe my immune system is shot after a kind of hard time postpartum (two rounds of Covid, latch problems, pelvic floor issues)? Maybe it’s because he gets more downtime than I do? But whatever it is, I get unreasonably frustrated and jealous of him when it happens. He’ll be trying to go to the pharmacy to pick up antibiotics for the baby and me, and I’ll pick an argument because I’m mad that somehow only I get sick. How do I get over this?
— I Love My Germy Baby, But…
Dear Germy Baby,
There should be a universal rule that women in the first year of motherhood get a free pass for whatever mental or emotional state they’re in, and the words or actions that result from it, because it is HARD and it MESSES WITH YOU.
You obviously realize that getting mad at your husband in these situations is irrational, especially because, from what you’ve shared, he’s being helpful. I think that all of your theories about why you’re consistently getting sick are correct, and I would also wager that they are the same reasons you’re getting mad at your husband. Your still-unbalanced hormones, lack of sleep, and any other household or baby logistics you “own” in the marriage, and it’s no wonder you are picking fights. But, as you know, even though it’s understandable doesn’t make it fair.
In the short term, when you find yourself getting riled up, try to interrupt the cycle. Box breathing can be helpful; so can journaling (even if it’s just a furious scribble in a random notebook). In the long term, you and your husband might have to recalibrate the balance of things in your household. Are the home and child obligations evenly shared—especially when you factor in the hours and energy you spend feeding the baby? You may find that if you redistribute a few obligations—whether physical chores or just “mental load” responsibilities—you get more of that downtime back. That will help your immune system, and you might be more able to think rationally about the germs your darling daughter brings home to you.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My 15-year-old son, “Kevin” has been dating a girl in his class “Ashley” since at least early October—well, probably earlier than that, but that was when it got back to me. Ashley comes over frequently and started staying the night more and more often. Now, she sleeps over 4-5 times a week, usually camping on the living room couch.
I don’t have all the pieces, but something is wrong with Ashley’s home life. She asked me to take her to a clinic to get an IUD. When I asked why she didn’t go with her own mother, she said that she and her mom “didn’t talk about stuff.” It’s one of only a handful of times she’s ever volunteered anything about her family, and when I tried to ask my son about her family or anything about her life when she’s not here, it was like a complete personality change. He got very flat, almost hostile, and said that he wasn’t about to tell anything she hasn’t okayed, and she didn’t want me pressuring her to say it’s OK for him to talk about stuff. I can count on one hand the number of times he and I have had a serious issue between us, and he’s never been anywhere close to that defensive before or since.
I’ve mostly let things go as they are. I figure that if her own home isn’t a friendly place, I can provide a roof and regular meals. She and Kevin get on well, although I do have worries that she sees him more as a rescuer than anything else. I guess I’m just not sure what, if anything, I should be doing here. I have worries that one day one or both of her parents is going to realize that she’s almost never around their place and make angry calls, possibly involving lawyers, to get their daughter back. On the other hand, I don’t really know any of the details, and while I could pry to get more, I worry that will just make the two teenagers clam up. Without more information, I’m not sure what else I can do other than wait and be supportive of reasonable requests that come my way.
— Mom at the Edges
The first thing I would do is educate myself—in terms of both child protection and legal risk. The National Child Abuse Hotline can teach you the signs of abuse so you can be on the lookout in your future interactions with Ashley, in case she is in any danger. I’d also call a family lawyer, just so you get some counsel on that front. I don’t think you’re in any legal jeopardy (although I’m not a lawyer) but any peace of mind or advice you can get is worth it—especially if you are concerned about her parents’ reactions. I don’t know where you landed on the IUD situation, but anything medical—especially concerning reproductive health—seems like a pretty clear no-fly zone to me. I love that she’s responsible enough to seek contraceptive care, but I’d much rather she get a ride from a friend in this situation.
I think that beyond that, how you proceed is up to you. You could probably keep going in the vein you are now, ready to respond to the requests or scenarios that come your way. But, if that feels too passive (it probably would to me), I think there is a way to get more information without asking Ashley to divulge sensitive information. You might consider sitting them both down and saying something along the lines of, “I understand that home is not a place where you feel safe or comfortable, Ashley. I don’t need to know the details; I trust you will tell me if I need to know them, or if you need a confidant. I am here with no judgment if that is ever the case. However, I do just need to ask a couple questions to make sure that I am not being negligent. Are you in danger, or is anyone else in your home in danger? Do your parents know where you are?”” Obviously make it a conversation and tailor the questions to what is most on your mind.
It’s pretty clear that Ashley has had a breakdown of trust with the adults in her life. By asking these broad questions but otherwise not invading her privacy, you can demonstrate trustworthiness while still maintaining the boundaries and gentle authority that kids and teens need. Depending on how it goes, I’d also consider a second conversation with just your son; he also might need to be aware of the signs of abuse, or you might just need a game plan between the two of you.
Beyond that, keep an eye on your son’s grades, social habits, and activities to be sure he isn’t getting so wrapped up in Ashley that he loses track of his other passions and responsibilities. Hopefully, no matter what happens between them, you’ll have given her a safe haven in a difficult time of her life, and him the encouragement to help those who need it.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My brother-in-law and his male partner keep buying my daughter gifts, which is wonderful. She is the only child on my husband’s side of the family, and they love doting on her. This is theoretically great. The problem is we live in a small house, and we don’t have enough room for all the things they keep giving her. Both my husband and I have tried talking to them and asking them to stop buying her so much, but the brother-in-law and partner just laugh and don’t take us seriously. I’m glad they love her and I’m glad they want to do nice things for her, but it is getting out of hand, and I don’t know what to do. My husband has suggested telling them to buy her savings bonds, and I’ve also thought about suggesting adventures (though she’s such a mama’s girl she probably won’t go without me). Please help!
— Frustrated and Fed Up
Dear Fed Up,
Have your brother-in-law and his partner been to your house and seen the total lack of space? If they have, and they still aren’t heeding your requests, I’m completely baffled at their behavior.
Regardless, the answer to your question doesn’t depend on them having visual evidence that their gifts are overkill. Speak to them again, before the next gift-giving occasion, and explain in no uncertain terms that unless it’s books, or bonds, or a small-sized toy, you will be returning or donating any large or numerous gifts. If you want to throw them an olive branch, you can ask for consumable items, like bubbles, etc., but you honestly don’t have to go that far if you don’t want. They need to respect your wishes and your limits. If there is a mutual third party in the picture, like your mother-in-law, I would also enlist her help in driving this point home to the guys.
One last idea: since giving her adventures is on the table, I assume the brother-in-law lives nearby. You might think about arranging for their gifts to live at his house, so that she has things to play with when she visits. That way, they get to buy whatever they want, your daughter gets a fun destination play date with her uncles (where she’s hopefully motivated to go without you), and you get a few hours of peace to yourself. Could be a win for all parties.
More Advice From Slate
My daughter has always been an independent soul, from the time she was a tiny baby. In grade school she loved to sneak out and sleep in her treehouse, and she’s done every Outward Bound–style activity she can get her hands on. Now she’s in her last year of high school and has just presented me with an extremely detailed plan she has concocted to spend the summer planting trees in the Canadian wilderness, which is apparently a thing you can do? For money? I’m worried that this is a terrible idea and she’s more likely to fall out of a tree than arrive at university intact. Should I shut this plan down?