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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 am a married mom of two kids. My husband is unbelievably selfish. I do pretty much all of the parenting, housework, cooking, driving to extracurriculars, shopping, etc. I also pay for virtually everything (we have separate bank accounts). He works a lot less hours than I do for around the same pay. He spends his free time napping, going to the gym, getting massages … you get the picture. I spend my free time looking after the kids. We’ve been to therapy, and he has stated that this is just how he is. I’m beyond resentful and the only thing he contributes to our household right now is to the mess … that I then have to clean up. We live like roommates to the point that he sleeps in another room.
I’m thinking about separating from him, but the problem is that my 9-year-old daughter Petunia suffers from terrible separation anxiety (she won’t leave my side), and I think it would be so bad for Petunia to be away from me. My husband is an OK-ish dad when he does spend time with Petunia, but I think he is very happy with his bachelorlike life, since I basically serve as a full-time cleaning lady and chef, and I wouldn’t put it past him to try to hurt me for leaving him by wanting the kids half time.
Petunia goes to a counselor to try to deal with her separation anxiety, and it’s helping, but very slowly. She stays with her dad for a few hours if I have errands to run, but that’s about it. My husband and I don’t fight that often and so the kids don’t see that side of us, but I am afraid we aren’t good role models for what a healthy and happy relationship should be. I don’t know if I should keep pushing her to spend time with him without me to prepare her for us separating. Do I stay until she’s older and a little stronger? Will I eventually burst with resentment? Am I damaging her by not forcing her to be away from me? I keep hoping he’ll cheat on me or something that will make the decision easier. She hasn’t spent time with just him in years. I just don’t know what to do.
—Lost and Lonely
Dear Lost and Lonely,
It sounds like you’re deeply unhappy in your marriage. It also sounds like you don’t believe the marriage itself is salvageable. If that’s so, you should consider ending it. Based on the tone of your letter, you’re already feeling a great deal of resentment; it will only grow if nothing between you and your husband changes. That sort of discontent is impossible to hide from your children and you’re right to worry about the example your unhappy marriage sets for them.
That said, if you do decide to dissolve your union, you should do so with a clear understanding that your husband is entitled to petition for visitation and custody, regardless of how you think Petunia will feel about spending time away from you. If her father has been present in your household and his attitude to you and the children has not harmed them, he may be awarded the visitation or custody he requests in court, up to and including joint custody. You can’t control how anyone feels about that, except you. Petunia may not love spending time at her dad’s without you. He may not love having to take on 100 percent of the child care. But they’re entitled to that time together. And if it’s been years since your daughter has spent time alone with her father, they’re well overdue for it.
Staying married because you think your husband will want joint custody “to hurt you” if you leave isn’t a great reason to consign yourself to what you’re describing as a pretty miserable living situation. You mention that the two of you tried therapy, but have you tried sorting your feelings out with a therapist yourself? I think that may be helpful.
Have you considered that your husband may become a more responsible, self-sufficient parent and potential partner if you remove yourself from the equation? Have you considered how much easier your home life would be if you weren’t spending your days calculating how much more labor you’re performing than your partner? What might that extra time free you to focus on? I hope you’ll choose a resolution that affords you favorable answers to these questions.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m stuck on how to manage my daughter’s relationship with some of her male relatives. She’s 4 years old and I’ve noticed she’s holding a grudge against this one uncle and one grandfather specifically. Since it’s been a pandemic, I’ve been with her all the times she’s been with them, so I don’t think anything nefarious is going on. Mainly, I think she takes issue with their gentle teasing—“dad jokes” like “Oh, your name is Samantha? I thought it was Sally this whole time!” Now she has this fixation and every time they’re around she’ll say things like “I don’t like him” or “I don’t want him to play with us,” or she talks to them in a mean tone of voice. I feel bad because I know the relatives are well intentioned, but I can also see her side of not really understanding the “teasing.” What’s my role here? Do I talk to the relatives and try and teach them to interact with her in a more productive way? Do I try and explain to her that they’re not trying to be mean? I don’t want to discount her feelings, but honestly, watching her interact with them, she feels like the bully and I feel like I should be teaching her to be kinder to people.
—Can’t Everyone Just Play Nice?
It’s great that you don’t want to discount your daughter’s feelings. They’re valid. Because she’s only 4 years old, she isn’t able to understand your relatives’ “teasing” as innocuous. To her, it feels mean-spirited, and she’s doing what many young children would when confronted with meanness: responding in kind. She doesn’t have a lot of control in this situation; the only way she knows how to assert what little she has is to make decisions about whether it’s safe to “like” or “dislike” grown-ups, based on how they’re treating her.
Consider that this might be her perspective before moving forward. Then, talk to the male relatives first. Explain to them how their jokes are making your daughter feel. Ask if they’ll refrain from joking with her that way. If so, bring them together for a chat with your daughter. Explain to her that sometimes grown-ups think things are funny that kids don’t. That’s been the case with your relatives’ jokes. But they didn’t mean to make her sad or angry, and you hope they can all have a kinder, more fun relationship together in the future.
It wouldn’t be fair just to ask your 4-year-old to be the bigger person here. Teaching her “to be kinder to people” when they’re older, bigger, and more powerful than she is (and when they’re not necessarily being kind to her) may not set the best precedent. If your male relatives are well intentioned, they should be able to accommodate small adjustments to their own behavior around your child. Good luck!
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m a new mom. My baby girl is 3 months old. The day I had her was the best day of my life. Now, three months later, I feel like I don’t want to take care of her anymore. She’s not a hard baby and I love her so much, but I just feel like a monster for not feeling joyful to be with her. What is wrong with me? I don’t want to talk to anyone about it because it feels awful to admit. I have a friend who had a baby a month before me, and she’s loving it. She posted on Facebook how she is so sad she’s going back to work. Meanwhile, I’m struggling to find joy in taking care of my child. I just don’t want to. I do see a counselor, and I take medication for depression. I’m trying to go on walks with friends and new moms. I even have family that occasionally comes to take the baby so I can have breaks. My husband is great with her, and I even find myself jealous of his joy in being with her. What do I do? It’s just not how I thought this would go. I feel like she deserves a better mother.
You’re not second-rate for feeling underwhelmed by the daily grind of caring for an infant. Joy isn’t the only emotion a new parent feels, no matter what they post on their social media accounts. Most, if not all, new parents have moments (or days, weeks, even months) of frustration, listlessness, and/or sadness. Some mourn the loss of the freedoms they enjoyed before having children. And every parent has moments where they have no idea what they’re doing or how to proceed.
Your feelings are not unusual or uncommon.
You’re already taking the right and necessary steps to care for your mental health. And it sounds like you have supportive friends and family. Continue to rely on counseling, medication, and breaks as you navigate your depression (I hope you’re talking to your gynecologist, too, about your depression, because if it hasn’t already been diagnosed as such, it definitely could be postpartum depression specifically). But also know that motherhood feels different to everyone. Some people love infants; others don’t connect with their children until those children are older, more fully formed and expressive beings. There isn’t a “right” way to feel, and you’re not “wrong” for not enjoying child care. I wish I could assure you that your feelings will pass or that they’re short-term, but I have no way of knowing that. Neither do you. It’s OK to lean into that uncertainty and to lean on those around you. As your daughter grows and changes, you may find yourself going through a similar process of growth and change, and I hope it results in a more peaceful, less fraught experience for you as a mother.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I am currently pregnant. My husband who is American and born to Haitian parents wants to teach our son Haitian Creole. I am apprehensive about this because Creole is not even an official language and it almost seems regressive for our son to learn Creole. The fact is French is the official language of Haiti, but only 5 percent of the population speak French because of limited education of the country. There are three dialects of Creole and my husband doesn’t even know which one he speaks. Additionally, he cannot even read or write in Creole. Creole is not a real language and I feel as though it’s not worth it for him to teach our son. I suggested he teach our son French instead. I’d prefer it over Creole. He says he won’t, and wants to teach him Creole. Am I wrong to think this way? We live in America, and we are both American. I want to focus on teaching our son English and mastering the English language first. What should I do?
Dear Language Differences,
Why is it so difficult for you to accept that your husband wants to share what he knows about his own culture with your child? What’s at the root of your discomfort with raising a multilingual child? What’s stopping you from teaching your child English and French while your husband teaches him a Creole dialect? What’s driving this (erroneous) preoccupation you have with “real” and “official” language?
I want you to really sit with your answers to these questions. Take some time considering why you’re harboring such strong resistance to your husband imparting lessons on his (and your child’s) shared cultural identity. You married someone Haitian American. Your child, the grandchild of Haitian grandparents, will have and should learn about his Haitian heritage. Get comfortable with that reality.
One of the reasons languages and dialects are lost (or become categorized as “unofficial” by people living outside their lands of origin) is those languages are not passed down from one generation to the next. Their nuances are gradually ceded to the assimilation native speakers have deemed necessary to survive. It’s no coincidence that your husband doesn’t read or write in the Creole dialect he learned. He is trying to prevent what spoken dialect he knows from being lost to his child. He wants to pass down what he and his family have worked hard to retain. There’s nothing at all objectionable about that.
You asked if you’re “wrong to think this way,” and the answer is yes, Language Differences. Your attitude in this letter reads as not just wrong but xenophobic and racist. Despite that, I do hope you’re all able to reach an agreement on this issue that works in the best interests of your child.