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 think this is going to sound so entitled and ridiculous to your readers, but I really need help, so here it goes. Before the pandemic, my husband and I both worked away from home, though he only had to go to the office 2-3 days/week. Since 2020, he has been home every. single. day. His job makes a lot more money, is very flexible, and he doesn’t work many hours. My job is the opposite.
Now that our kids are older, he is able to drive them to school, take them to doctor appointments, attend every single practice or game, and pick them up if they are sick. He has become the primary parent making sure they pack their lunches, do their homework, get to sleep on time, and all the other things I used to do.
I usually don’t know what’s happening because he never asks for help or actively keeps me updated, so I always feel out of the loop and like a bad mom. I feel edged out and not needed, which makes me feel very sad and lonely. I try to battle my way back in by asking him to schedule nights away or go to his home office early two mornings a week so I can have time with my kids alone. I rearranged my work schedule to have more time with them. We talk about it. We have been to couples counseling. I have been on antidepressants (so that I can be nicer about it all), but he slowly creeps back in until he’s just there all the time again, doing all the things (happily and never asking for help). I try to focus on the rest of my life (friends, hobbies, work). I want to just be appreciative of him and glad my kids have such an involved father, but I feel constantly irritated instead.
— Husband Does It All
Dear Husband Does It All,
Sure, some catty part of me might initially think this is a great “problem” to have, but I can understand that you want to share the work of childcare with your partner, not outsource it to him entirely.
If, however, that impulse is being driven by guilt about not assuming the stereotypical “mom” role and letting your husband do the heavy lifting while you focus on your career, allow me to remind you that men have been enjoying this dynamic without a second thought for millennia. And my career-focused mom served as a great role model for me even as my dad held down the fort at home during her frequent business trips.
But it sounds like what you really want is to feel more connected to and involved with your kids. To that end, sit down with your husband and talk about specific areas you can realistically stake out to be your exclusive domain, whether it’s clothes shopping or music lessons or bedtime stories. Additionally, get a regular mom-only outing on the calendar for all the kids or each kid individually. You don’t have to do anything extravagant, but it has to be just for you and them, to focus on your relationship.
Lastly, as helpful as your husband is, it’s not really “helping” if you’re creating a dynamic in which you feel like you have to fight to get your needs met. If he really wants to do what’s best for your family, he needs to do a better job involving you in family life, whether that’s texting regular updates and pictures from that sports practice you can’t make and/or taking off for the day and letting you hold the parenting reins for awhile. That’s just as much a part of being a good Dad as packing all those lunches.
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,
How do you mourn and still parent? My best friend passed away suddenly in a car accident. We have been close since grade school and she’s like a sister to me. My kids are 2- and 5-year-old twins, and I’m a single mom. They loved my friend like an auntie but are so young and have complex age-appropriate feelings about death as well as mourning.
I’m not just sad and worried about my kids dealing with death for the first time, I am distraught and exhausted and can’t think. I have alarms on my phone for everything from feeding the kids to pickup/dropoff to bedtime because my mind is so foggy I forget to do basic things. I try to focus on the kids when they’re here and promise myself I’ll feel my feelings when they’re asleep, but I don’t know how to put it away even enough to parent.
I constantly tell myself to suck it up, be strong, it won’t be this hard forever, my kids need me, so I am looking for practical, actionable behaviors and steps to take, not tough love. I am doing my best, but I need a strategy.
— Mom In Mourning
Dear Mom In Mourning,
These questions are submitted to a communal database for any Care and Feeding columnist to answer, but when I read this I felt like it was sent directly to me. Last week, I wrote my brother’s obituary after he died unexpectedly at the age of 35. So like you, I am trying to parent (and do everything else!) through my deep grief, and I have a few thoughts that may help.
First off, the brain fog you’re describing is a very real grief phenomenon. Grief can cause memory loss, confusion, and difficulty focusing and managing even simple tasks. Before I found out about this, I couldn’t figure out why I suddenly couldn’t remember how to use the debit card machine at the store, taking several slow-motion minutes trying to do something I had done thoughtlessly a million times before. It felt like my brain was broken, but our brains are actually working overtime trying to process the loss and make sense of our new realities. This will improve eventually, but in the meantime all you can do is be kind to yourself, set as many alarms as you need, and take care of your physical body as best as possible by eating, sleeping, resting, etc. I have been reading “It’s OK That You’re Not OK” by Megan Devine and I recommend it for more info on the side effects of grief and how to cope with them.
What Devine writes about kids and grief also stood out to me. In addition to being open about the issues of death and grief, she says, “We can let them see our own grief in a way that says, ‘This hurts and it’s OK to feel it.’” She also recommends the Dougy Center For Grieving Children and Families as a source of additional resources.
While I can understand the impulse to compartmentalize parenting and feeling your feelings, ultimately it is good for your children to see you feeling and processing your grief. Children may experience loss, and the adults they turn into certainly will experience loss, so you are modeling an important skill for them. Be honest about the fact that you are feeling sad and will be for awhile, because it’s sad when someone dies, but that you will be okay. Answer their question as honestly as you can while being age-appropriate.
And then just try to be present with them in your grief as best you can. My son doesn’t care if I am struggling or weepy or have to order takeout because I don’t have the energy to cook, he just wants to know that I love him and I’m there.
Slate Plus Members Get More Advice From Emily McCombs Each Week
From this week’s letter, Constantly Telling My Husband What To Do Just Might Drive Me to Divorce: “One year into our first kid, I’ve learned my husband is a “just tell me what you want/need me to do” father.”
Dear Care and Feeding,
My 8-year-old has to get a shot every three months. She’s been getting these since she was five and will continue until she’s about 11. A nurse comes to our house, and she gets the shot in the room she’s most comfortable with, surrounded by stuffed animals, to make it easier for her.
She HATES these. She tries to negotiate her way out of them. She cries, she hides; occasionally I (mom) have to wrestle her to get her to hold still. We’ve tried counting during shots, breathing exercises, etc., but nothing works more than once. I thought she’d settled into them a bit, but the fighting is back again. She has to have them. How can I make this easier for her (and for me!)?
— This Is For Your Own Good, I Swear!
Dear This Is For Your Own Good, I Swear,
I, too, have an medically anxious 11-year-old. There are plenty of resources online with suggested coping strategies, including a tool called “Buzzy” that numbs the area with cold and vibrations. But you’ve probably tried it all and it sounds like deep breathing isn’t cutting it. So here’s the only thing that’s ever worked for us: straight-up bribery.
For my son, that takes the form of a pre-negotiated amount of Robux (if you have a gamer, you know that’s money to be used on the gaming platform Roblox) to be delivered if he can calmly and quickly get through the shot. Call it a rewards system if that is more palatable, but if you can think of a prize or activity your child wants badly enough, it might be worth it. Personally, I’d happily pay triple the Robux to avoid a nightmare scene at the doctor’s office.
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,
My parents are devoted grandparents to my two children, 3 and 5. However, my father is sensitive and rigid; if things aren’t going his way, he can get moody. My mom plays the role of peacemaker/enabler and does everything to try to distract from or compensate for my dad’s bad moods. He takes it personally if the kids say or do something insensitive, as small children can do. For instance, if my daughter isn’t in the mood for a hug and pulls away from him, he sulks.
On the heels of these incidents, my mom will try extra-hard to encourage the kids to show affection to my father – “Don’t you want to sit next to Grandpa?!” “Isn’t Grandpa the best for taking you on a bike ride?!” It’s annoying and worrisome. I haven’t confronted my dad about this, because we have a good but fragile relationship, also related to his sensitivity and rigidity.
We’ve had some major, borderline traumatic blow-ups in the past, and I don’t want to start World War III. But it means that more often than not, when I’m with them I am anxious—on some level I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. For years I would self-medicate with pot before spending time with them, to take the edge off, but I can’t do that with my kids in my care. I know this isn’t healthy, but I don’t know what to do.
Being a grandparent is about all my dad has going on in his life, beyond home repairs and exercise. My kids adore him, and to give him credit, he does try (and succeed) in a variety of ways to be a good grandfather. But he’s one of those men who refuses to go to therapy, so he’s stuck in his ways, and as he gets older I worry that these negative traits will be exacerbated. What do you think?
— Man-Child’s Daughter
Dear Man-Child’s Daughter,
Oh dear. I find this dynamic more than worrisome for several reasons.
First and foremost, children should not be responsible for the emotional needs of adults. Not only is your dad steamrolling over your daughter’s boundaries, I’m afraid he’s sending the message that her needs and desires are not as important as the needs and desires of others, and that expressing them is not acceptable. Your mother is compounding that by catering to and accommodating your father’s moods. (This is also something women and girls are often socialized to do.) I’m afraid your daughter could end up internalizing the idea that her needs are unimportant, or a burden to others.
This feels particularly dangerous when it comes to things like being pressured to give an unwanted hug. It’s important that your daughter knows she is allowed to set boundaries around her own body, and that her “no” will be respected. For this reason, I think it’s particularly important that you at least set a boundary with your parents that demanding physical affection from your daughter is not OK.
If your father is stuck in his ways and unwilling to change this behavior, I’d consider supervising visits so that you can help reinforce your kid’s boundaries and get her out of there if Dad starts to spiral into one of his moods. Maybe that consequence will serve as a wakeup call to work on changing his ways. Either way, let your daughter know that even if people get upset when we say no to them, they will be okay. It isn’t her job to make herself uncomfortable so your father won’t be.
More Advice From Slate
I’m a single mom of an amazing 6-year-old boy. I asked my best friend if she would be his guardian if anything happened to me, and she said no. She’s always said she didn’t want children, but she’s so great with my son that it really shocked me when she turned me down. What should I do?